Against the backdrop of a tenuous calm, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process today warned the Security Council that the Gaza Strip remains on the brink of an armed conflict that holds catastrophic consequences for some two million impoverished Palestinians living there.
Nickolay Mladenov briefed the 15-member Council via videoconference from Jerusalem, recalling that between 11 and 13 November one of the fiercest exchanges of fire since the 2014 Gaza conflict had been trigged by an Israeli Security Defence Forces operation inside the Gaza Strip. A local Hamas commander and six other Palestinians were killed, sparking clashes in the following days. Those included some 450 rockets and mortars launched by Gaza-based militants into Israel, as well as Israeli airstrikes against 160 militant targets. Welcoming the restoration of a precarious calm, he urged all stakeholders to support it as a matter of priority.
The situation’s fragility underscores the urgent need to change the dynamics on the ground and address underlying political issues, he stressed, noting that the latest escalation came just as the United Nations and its partners were intensifying efforts to alleviate Gaza’s humanitarian and economic crises. “The clock on intra-Palestinian reconciliation is ticking,” he added, voicing support for Egypt-led efforts to advance that process. Meanwhile, illegal Israeli settlement expansion continues to eat away at the viability of a contiguous Palestinian State. “If any side fails, every side fails,” he warned.
Many Council members also voiced concern about the further erosion of a two-State solution, long supported by the 15-member organ and reflected in its resolutions. Speakers expressed alarm over escalating inflammatory rhetoric and calls to violence, while some cautioned their fellow delegates to avoid taking unilateral action that could further heighten tensions between the parties.
The representative of Kuwait, recounting his delegation’s efforts to provide Security Council responses to the Israeli operation that started the fighting, said Israel continues to blatantly target civilians in Gaza through its use of excessive and arbitrary force. Urging the Council to implement its resolutions on the protection of Palestinian civilians, he said that if Member States stand together they could successfully compel Israel to end its unjust actions. Warning that the current humanitarian situation in Gaza will lead to an explosion, he called on Israel to lift its blockade and end its violations of holy sites in Jerusalem.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, cautioning against aggressive attempts to revise previously reached agreements, including Council resolutions, warned that a two-State solution is becoming “ever more distant”. Citing the recent escalation of provocative rhetoric, unilateral actions and calls to violence, he urged restraint and an end to all hostilities. International partners should respect sensitive “final-status issues” — including the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees. Those cannot be simply taken off the table before the parties themselves are even able to address them, he stressed.
The representative of the United States, meanwhile, described the Special Coordinator’s briefing as incomplete, having ignored other serious Middle East conflicts, including Iran’s increased terrorist activities. The Coordinator’s statement also omitted the provocations that caused Israel’s military responses, she said, underscoring that the targeting of civilians by Gaza militants demonstrate that they are a terrorist group. Also citing the existence of Islamic Jihad — an Iranian proxy group — she observed that only one side attacks indiscriminately and terrorizes to achieve its objectives.
Ethiopia’s delegate echoed expressions of concern — raised more broadly by Council members today — about the recent escalations as well as the severe and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza. Spotlighting the lack of essential services, water, fuel, electricity and health access, he said they must be restored as a matter of priority. All sides must exercise maximum restraint and efforts to renew the peace process must be advanced or else “this latest tragedy will only be repeated”, he cautioned, emphasizing that the two-State solution remains the best and only realistic option.
Also speaking were representatives of Netherlands, France, Bolivia, Poland, Kazakhstan, Peru, Côte d’Ivoire, United Kingdom, Equatorial Guinea, Sweden and China.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:39 a.m.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council via videoconference from Jerusalem, stressing: “In recent days, we have witnessed another dangerous escalation in violence in Gaza that risked unleashing an armed conflict with catastrophic consequences for two million impoverished Palestinians.” Noting that those civilians — having endured three wars and crippling Israeli closures — are living under the control of Hamas, he said that a precarious restoration of calm has now thankfully been achieved.
It was critical that all stakeholders work to maintain this calm, he continued. The period between 11 and 13 November saw one of the fiercest exchanges of fire since the 2014 Gaza conflict, trigged by an operation by the Israeli Security Defence Forces inside the Gaza Strip in which a local Hamas commander and six other Palestinians were killed. One Israeli Security Defence Forces officer was also killed and a second was injured in the incident. In the following days, militants in Gaza launched some 450 rockets and mortars at Israel, killing one Palestinian civilian and seriously wounding one Israeli civilian. An Israeli Security Defence Forces soldier was also seriously wounded by a targeted anti-tank guided missile on a bus transporting military personnel, after which the Israeli forces responded with a series of airstrikes on 160 militant targets.
The fragility of the situation underscores the urgent need to fundamentally change the dynamics on the ground in order to address underlying political issues, he stressed, pointing out that the latest escalation came just as the United Nations and its partners were intensifying efforts to alleviate Gaza’s humanitarian and economic crises and to provide space for Egypt-led efforts to advance intra-Palestinian reconciliation. Emphasizing that such efforts are critical to ending the occupation and resolving the wider political conflict, he pledged to continue to engage with the Palestinian Government, donors and partners on the ground to expedite humanitarian interventions in Gaza.
“The clock on intra-Palestinian reconciliation is ticking,” he stressed, urging all parties not to waste time. Instead, they should engage in earnest and work to achieve visible progress in the next six months. “If any side fails, every side fails”, he stated, adding that Hamas and other militant groups must stop all provocations and attacks and Israel must significantly improve the movement and access of goods and people to and from Gaza.
He also expressed concern about Israel’s persistent use of live fire against protesters, calling on those authorities to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from using lethal force except as a last resort. Noting that Israeli settlement activity only increased over the reporting period — eating away at the viability of a contiguous Palestinian State — he reiterated that all such activities are illegal under international law, as well as an obstacle to peace. They must cease immediately.
The thirtieth session of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council, which was held in October in Ramallah, reaffirmed its recent decisions to suspend recognition of the State of Israel until the latter recognized the State of Palestine, he said. A follow-up committee chaired by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was established to discuss the implementation of those resolutions. If taken, such measures will not only substantially reverse progress and undermine the 25-year effort to build Palestinian national institutions, but also make a return to negotiations more difficult.
Turning to the situation in Lebanon — where political actors have yet to reach an agreement on national unity — he cautioned that such delays jeopardize the country’s stability and economic prosperity. As the Council will consider that situation this week, he encouraged stakeholders to put the country’s interests first and quickly reach an agreement that preserves Lebanon’s stability and its ability to deliver on international commitments.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) said that while the Special Coordinator’s briefing was detailed, it was incomplete; it ignored other serious conflicts in the Middle East, including increased international terrorist activity by Iran. Since the last briefing, plots had been uncovered to murder Iranian dissidents on Danish soil just days after French intelligence accused Iran of planning a bombing of an Iranian resistance gathering in that country. Such attempts reflected the true nature of the Iranian regime and were an illustration of the behaviour that caused the United States to re-impose sanctions on it. She called on the international community to unite in efforts to stop such conduct. The Special Coordinator’s reporting also missed the provocations that caused Israel’s military responses. The fact that the Gaza militants target civilians show that it is a terrorist group, with Islamic Jihad an Iranian proxy group in that context. Only one side attacks indiscriminately and terrorizes to achieve its objects, she stated. While both sides must compromise to achieve the necessary peace, such compromise can only be based on a complete account of the facts on the ground. Without that, there will be no peace.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that the United Nations role, through multilateral measures, must be strengthened to prevent another war in Gaza. The Council’s ongoing practices have resulted in a lack of trust that allows Israel, the occupying Power, to continue violations of international law. He recounted his delegation’s efforts to provide Council responses to the Israeli operation that started the fighting, averring that Israel continues to target civilians in the Gaza Strip in a blatant way through excess and arbitrary force. Calling the casualties of the protests at the fence crimes against humanity, he urged the Council to implement its resolutions on the protection of Palestinian civilians. If the Council stood together against Israeli’s actions, that country would not continue its unjust acts. The humanitarian situation will lead to an explosion, he stressed, calling on Israel to lift its blockade and end its violations of holy sites in Jerusalem. Noting his country’s contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) of some $215 million, he reaffirmed his support for the Palestinian people and stressed the need to reach a comprehensive, just resolution along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), condemning the indiscriminate firing of rockets on Israel, said the country must nevertheless ensure its responses are proportionate and in line with its obligations under international law. The recent escalation reminds the international community that a sustainable solution for Gaza is needed and that the humanitarian and economic situation must be improved. Crossings must be opened and the restrictions on the movement of goods and persons must be eased, while taking Israel’s security concerns into account. As part of the Gas for Gaza project, the Netherlands made an additional contribution to UNRWA of €6 million and remains committed to doing its part. Amid rising tensions and the loss of life on both sides in the West Bank, the suspension of the demolition of the Khan-al-Ahmar community is a positive development. However, the plan must be withdrawn definitively. Meanwhile, his Government is concerned about the announcement of new settlements for East Jerusalem and Hebron which are illegal under international law. More broadly, the current situation is a painful reminder of the lack of progress on the peace process, he said, calling for the parties to return to the negotiating table.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) warned that the “false status quo” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory masks a daily deterioration of the situation which could, at any moment, devolve into a full-blown crisis. The escalations from 11 to 13 November in Gaza approached a tipping point. All parties must exercise restraint and avoid actions that could further intensify tensions. Condemning the unprecedented air strikes launched out of Gaza this month, he also expressed concern over the humanitarian crisis unfolding there and condemned the disproportionate use of force against protesters at the border with Israel. Indeed, the latter must respect Palestinians’ right to peaceful protest and its obligation to protect civilians. Calling for an urgent acceleration of the humanitarian response to Gaza’s emergency, he said the lifting of the Israeli blockage and better coordination among humanitarian actors are critical. He also voiced support for the Egypt-led political talks, declaring: “There can be no peace in the Middle East without peace between Palestinians and Israelis” and, in turn, no such peace is possible without the establishment of an independent Palestinian State. The Council must speak with one voice. Despair is on the rise and efforts to achieve the two-State solution are approaching the point of no return, he warned. Addressing the United States delegation in particular, he warned that any peace plan that neglects internationally-agreed parameters on the status of Jerusalem is not a viable option.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) expressed extreme frustration at the inability of the Security Council to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and stem its expansionist policies. She called on the international community to refuse to recognize any revisions to the 1967 borders. Condemning brutality toward Palestinian civilians, she also categorically condemned the firing of rockets into civilian areas of Israel. Women and children faced the highest price, she said, recalling that her country signed on to the Safe Schools Declaration. The efforts of Egypt to mediate a ceasefire in Gaza must be respected by the parties. Describing the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza, she condemned the high casualty toll of the protests and called for lifting the blockade. Israel must comply with its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention [Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War]. She voiced her support for all initiatives that would provide a framework to ensure progress to a two-State solution in line with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said that constant calls for de-escalation in the Middle East have not been heeded. After weeks of relative calm, Gaza is now facing one of its most violent periods since the 2014 war. Condemning the rocket attacks carried out by Hamas and other militant groups, she said there is no justification for deliberate acts of violence against the civilian population. At the same time, Israel’s response must respect the principle of proportionality and be carried out within the framework and limits of international humanitarian law. She also expressed support for a two-State solution that respects the Palestinian right to self-determination, as well as Israel’s right to security and the normalization of relations with Arab States. However, the political track has been almost entirely blocked. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is getting more and more desperate each day, which could easily lead to an escalation of tensions and further destabilization. To improve the situation in Gaza, progress must be made towards reuniting the West Bank and Gaza under the Palestinian Authority. In that connection, she expressed support for the Egyptian-led efforts to achieve an intra-Palestinian reconciliation.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) welcomed the decision by Israel and Hamas to hold a ceasefire, expressing appreciation for the political will of the Israeli Government, as well as hope that a full-fledged peace treaty will result. Noting the contribution of Egypt to calm the situation, he encouraged other Member States, including the United States, Russian Federation and the European Union, to encourage Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations. These should be based on mutually accepted principles of the coexistence of two States based on international law and Security Council resolutions. While acute food shortages persist due to the blockade of Gaza, he noted that fuel shipments under United Nations supervision are flowing unhindered. Palestinian ranks must consolidate on a common political platform as a necessary condition for achieving their legitimate aspirations for an independent State. To that end, he called for “two States for two peoples”, creation of a sovereign Palestinian State within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, while also acknowledging Israel’s right to security and recognition.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) expressed deep concern over the unabated cycle of violence in the Middle East which is fuelling mistrust between the parties and making a peaceful solution more difficult to achieve. He called for an end to the targeting of civilians and the disproportionate use of force. He also called for a long-term ceasefire in Gaza, along with resumption of Palestinian Authority control there, and welcomed financial support for UNRWA. Maintaining that Israel’s settlement and eviction practices deal a body blow to the two-State solution and must stop, he said that hate speech and antisemitism are equally harmful. The leaders of both parties must set an atmosphere of restraint and reconciliation, which must be encouraged by the Council. Peru, he pledged, will join any effort to end the cycle of destruction and re-start negotiations between the parties.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) urged collective efforts to find political solutions to the many crises in the Middle East, particularly the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He called on all parties to exercise restraint toward that end and reiterated support for the security of Israel as well as independence for Palestinians. Expressing concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza, he welcomed all actors who are relieving suffering, citing Qatar and Kuwait in particular. The international community must mobilize to further ameliorate the situation and to remedy the financial straits that UNRWA has found itself in. Inviting the Israeli and Palestinian sides to return to the negotiating table under the good offices aegis of the United Nations, he called for Palestinian reconciliation toward that end. He also expressed hope that the ceasefire in Gaza will be made durable in order to allow dialogue toward lasting peace and stability in the area.
TAYE ATSKE SELASSIE (Ethiopia) echoed the expressions of concern about the recent escalation of violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Gaza Strip in particular, saying they undermine hope for peace. Reiterating his delegation’s support for the Special Coordinator’s work as well efforts by Egypt to restore calm and reduce tensions, the deteriorating political, security and humanitarian situation in Gaza — as well as the lack of essential services, water, fuel, electricity and health access — are extremely worrying, he said, emphasizing that basic goods and services must be restored urgently and the movement of people, goods and services allowed as a matter of priority. Promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation is equally critical, he said, voicing support for efforts to bring Gaza under the Palestinian Authority’s control as laid out in the Cairo Agreement. All sides must exercise maximum restraint and the peace process must be advanced, or else “this latest tragedy will only be repeated”, he cautioned, echoing other speakers in expressing strong support for a two-State solution. That remains the best and the only realistic option for the future, he stressed.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) expressed regret over the recent string of crises between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the obstruction of Council resolutions calling for the establishment of an independent Palestinian State existing side-by-side with Israel in peace and security. Warning against aggressive attempts to revise previously reached agreements — including Council resolutions — he said that a two-State solution is becoming “ever more distant”. Citing the recent escalation of provocative rhetoric, unilateral actions and calls to violence, he emphasized that restraint must be maintained and the parties must cease all hostilities. Commending Egypt’s efforts to that end, he said urgent measures are also needed to rectify the dismal conditions in the Gaza Strip, in close coordination with President Abbas and in accordance with efforts to restore Palestinian unity. Emphasizing the need to respect sensitive final-status issues — including the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees — he warned that those “cannot be simply taken off the table” before the parties themselves are even able to address them. Fait accompli realties on the ground are unacceptable, as are expanding illegal Israeli settlements and the displacement of Palestinians from their homes, he stressed. He also cautioned against efforts to hold illegal municipal elections in the occupied Syrian Golan, saying that could set a dangerous precedent. Voicing support for renewing the mandate of the Middle East Quartet, he urged Member States to support UNRWA’s ability to “live and function fully”. He concluded by underlining that Council members themselves should work to build trust, avoid confrontational policies and refrain from making unfounded allegations.
DAVID CLAY (United Kingdom), expressing deep concern over the recent violence in and around Gaza, said everything must be done to prevent the recurrence of an armed conflict there. Strongly condemning the launching of projectiles into Israel, he said Hamas and other factions must stop such actions immediately and the Palestinian Authority must return to the Strip. He called upon Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Israel to exercise restraint, saying discussions are under way with the Government of Israel on allowing much-needed supplies to flow more freely and noting his country’s support for rebuilding Gaza’s infrastructure and for UNRWA. Expressing his delegation’s strong support for Egypt’s efforts, the Special Coordinator and other actors, he emphasized the need for immediate and urgent steps to address the underlying causes of the overall Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well so that a two-State solution can be realized.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), also expressing deep concern over exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas, called upon all parties to refrain from provocative unilateral actions. Despite much effort and resources spent on settling the Arab-Israeli conflict, it remained unresolved, he noted. However, “we must not give up”, he emphasized, adding that the Council must maintain its unity to facilitate dialogue and negotiations leading to a two-State solution — Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security. He stressed the necessity of intra-Palestinian reconciliation for that purpose, also welcoming the announcement of contributions to UNRWA.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) condemned the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups, while expressing regret over the loss of life on both sides. “While recognizing Israel’s legitimate security concerns, we underline that the Israeli response must be proportionate,” he emphasized, warning that another full-fledged conflict in Gaza would be an immense tragedy. Commending Egypt’s mediation efforts, he said that while calm has been restored for now, the relief remains temporary. The situation for the people of Gaza is untenable, he said. Indeed, it is a humanitarian catastrophe affecting 2 million people without the freedom to move in or out of the enclave. Unless it is addressed holistically, a new flare-up of violence will be just around the corner, he predicted, calling for urgent, concrete humanitarian interventions, the easing of restrictions and better access and movement into and out of Gaza, and steps to further Palestinian reconciliation, allowing the Palestinian Authority’s return to Gaza. “This Council has a responsibility to actively contribute” to the ongoing reconciliation efforts led by Egypt, he said, also underlining his own country’s role. “We cannot allow the viability of a two-State solution to move beyond reach,” he stressed.
MA ZHAOXU (China), Council President for November, spoke in his national capacity, expressing deep concern over the recent escalation in Gaza. “Responding to violence with violence does not end problems,” he stressed, calling on the parties to exercise restraint and engage in negotiations. Urging the international community to encourage the parties to implement Security Council resolutions and return to the negotiating table, he also called for the end of settlement building and violence against civilians. New mediation mechanisms must be found to break the impasse in peace talks. For such talks to succeed, negotiations on the status of Jerusalem must be done in a sensitive way that respects the diverse history of the city. Reaffirming his support for the two-State solution, he pledged his country’s continued readiness to support any efforts for a just and lasting peace.