Seek Political Solution to ‘Protection Crisis’ in Occupied Palestinian Territory, Deputy Relief Coordinator Urges Member States
The Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process called today for leadership and political will among both Israelis and Palestinians, warning that rising extremism and the risk of war are eroding the viability of a two-State solution to the conflict.
Briefing the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov said that unilateral measures, ongoing violence, financial pressures and the lack of progress towards peace have combined to exact a heavy toll. “What is needed, first and foremost, is the necessary leadership and political will for change,” he emphasized. “Until that will can be found, Palestinians and Israelis will continue to slide into increasingly hazardous territory.”
Mr. Mladenov, who is also the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the Middle East, reviewed the latest developments, citing the Palestinian Authority’s growing budget deficit, Israel’s decision to withhold the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues and the suspension of United States assistance to Palestinians, in addition to violence perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians on the West Bank and protests in the Gaza Strip. He also expressed regret over Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), established in 1995 under the Oslo II Accords in response to the massacre of Palestinian worshippers at a mosque in that city the previous year.
He went on to emphasize that elections across the occupied Palestinian territory may be the only way to break the impasse between Palestinian factions, while calling upon both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to recommit to the principles and vision enshrined in United Nations resolutions as well as bilateral agreements.
Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that, at its core, the situation remains a “protection crisis”, with violations of international humanitarian and human rights law being key drivers of acute vulnerability among Palestinians. “It is for stakeholders to continue to work towards a viable political solution,” she stressed. With the humanitarian situation deteriorating, Member States should intensify support for the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, which requires $350 million to provide basic food and services for 1.4 million Palestinians, a drop from the 1.9 million targeted in 2018, she noted, cautioning, however, that considerable funding gaps exist and urging Member States to increase their support.
She went on to state that funding cuts forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to suspend assistance to 27,000 people and reduce rations to another 166,000 beneficiaries. “In order to reduce vulnerability, it is also critical that all parties uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” she stressed. “And, ultimately, the solution is not humanitarian,” she added. “It is for stakeholders to continue to work towards a viable political solution.”
In addition, there is mounting pressure on human rights defenders as well as attempts to delegitimize humanitarian action in the occupied territory, she warned. Medical personnel must be protected and emergency fuel supplies secured so that hospitals can carry out essential services, she stressed. Noting that Palestinian families face growing pressures, she expressed concern for the safety of nearly 7,000 Palestinians in the H2 section of Hebron, adding that many families also live under the threat of eviction orders.
Echoing the Secretary-General’s call for Israel to ensure compliance with international law when its forces respond to public demonstrations, she also called upon Hamas, as well as protest organizers and demonstrators themselves, to ensure that their activities are non-violent.
During the ensuing discussion, Kuwait’s delegate said Israel is taking advantage of the Council’s inaction, adding that hate speech and inflammatory rhetoric by Israeli officials and members of the Knesset are undermining hopes for peace. Emphasizing that UNRWA’s funding is an international responsibility, not one for specific Member States, he rejected attempts to limit the Agency’s role and called upon the international community to fund it in a sustainable manner.
Several speakers addressed Israel’s decision on the TIPH, with Indonesia’s delegate describing it as the latest in a series of polices “that defy common sense and logic”. Voicing concern about Gaza’s humanitarian situation, the growing number of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and the shift towards a “one-State solution”, he declared: “The lives and freedom of the Palestinians are at stake because of our inaction.”
South Africa’s representative lamented the lack of real progress in the 70 years that the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been on the Council’s agenda. “On almost any other issue that this Council deals with, if there was a similar magnitude of violations or deterioration of the situation, we would waste no time in taking decisive action,” he noted.
Also speaking today were representatives of Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:15 a.m.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, briefed via video-teleconference from Jerusalem, reporting that prospects for sustainable peace are fading by the day as the spectre of violence and radicalism grows. Current efforts are focused on preventing an economic implosion in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and on preserving the slim hope that Israelis and Palestinians will one day live side by side, each in their own State, he said. However, the viability of a two-State solution is being eroded, with extremists on the rise again and the risk of war looming large. “It should never be about Israel or Palestine,” he emphasized. “It should always be about Israel and Palestine.” Calling for leadership that believes in the possibility of peace through negotiations, and for the international community’s recognition that the Palestinians need its support more than ever, he stressed that unilateral measures, the ongoing violence, financial pressures and the lack of progress towards peace are exacting a heavy toll.
He went on to note that the Palestinian Authority had a budget deficit of $1.04 billion in 2018 — expected to increase in 2019 — recalling that the Government of Israel unilaterally decided this week to withhold the transfer of $140 million in Palestinian tax revenues. “These are serious developments that put at risk the financial stability of the Palestinian Authority and ultimately the security of both Israelis and Palestinians,” he cautioned. The recent halt in United States assistance to Palestinians may also impact efforts to bridge divisions, he warned, also expressing regret over Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), established pursuant to the provisions of the Oslo II Accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Despite Egypt’s concerted efforts to bring Palestinian factions together, their recent political moves could further widen the divide between the West Bank and Gaza, he reported, citing differences between Fatah and Hamas over the way forward, including whether to hold long overdue elections. Underlining that elections throughout the occupied Palestinian territory that meet international democratic standards may be the only way out of the impasse, he called upon Israeli and Palestinian leaders to recommit to the principles and vision enshrined a quarter of a century ago in United Nations resolutions and bilateral agreements. Steps to support the Palestinian Authority’s stability must be matched by political moves, including an end to settlement construction, he emphasized.
He went on to summarize recent violent incidents in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which claimed several Israeli and Palestinian lives, amid the continuing demolition and seizure of Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank. The upsurge in violence perpetrated by settlers over the past year remains a serious concern, he added. The situation in Hamas-controlled Gaza, which is still subjected to Israel’s restrictions on access and movement, is approaching breaking point, he warned, pointing out that with the prospects for intra-Palestinian reconciliation dimming, its people feel increasingly left to their own devices. Ultimately, only sustainable political solutions — including reuniting Gaza and the West Bank under a single Palestinian governing authority — will create real change, he stressed.
Turning to the wider region, he expressed concern over recent incidents on the Golan Heights, noting that on 11 February the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) observed Israeli military forces firing rounds into the area of separation between Israel and Syria. In Lebanon, a Government was formed on 31 January, he recalled, nine months after parliamentary elections, and the Cabinet laid out a wide-ranging economic reform agenda a week later. The situation in southern Lebanon and along the “Blue Line” remains generally calm, he reported, adding that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is awaiting a date upon which to independently verify a sixth tunnel discovered by the Israeli Defence Force last month.
He concluded by recalling that he has repeatedly raised the alarm about the dangerous trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Recommendations by the United Nations and its partners, if implemented, would begin to establish an environment conducive to the resumption of negotiations, he said, emphasizing in particular that the recommendations contained in the 2016 report of the Middle East Quartet (United Nations, Russian Federation, United States, European Union) remain deeply relevant. “What is needed, first and foremost, is the necessary leadership and political will for change,” he stressed, warning: “Until that will can be found, Palestinians and Israelis will continue to slide into increasingly hazardous territory.”
URSULA MUELLER, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that, at its core, the situation remains a “protection crisis”, with violations of international humanitarian and human rights law being the key drivers of the acute vulnerability among Palestinians. Ultimately, the solution is not humanitarian, she said, emphasizing that people’s lives and well-being must be placed beyond political considerations, and that humanitarian assistance must be facilitated and supported. Noting that the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory has deteriorated since 2018, with growing casualties at a time when Gaza’s health system is at risk of collapse, she said 27,000 injuries were reported since March of that year.
Outlining current challenges, she echoed the Secretary-General’s call for Israel to ensure that its use of force in response to public demonstrations is in compliance with international law. She also called upon Hamas as well as protest organizers and demonstrators themselves to ensure that their activities are non-violent. Medical personnel must be protected and emergency fuel supplies secured so that hospitals can carry out essential services, she said. While the Qatar-funded boost to Gaza’s electricity supply has provided power for 9 to 12 hours daily, emergency fuel supplies are running out at a time when medicine and medical supplies are scarce, she cautioned, pointing out that the ongoing internal Palestinian divide contributes to this deteriorating situation, including the freezing of salaries, rising unemployment and food insecurity.
Meanwhile, Israel expanded the fishing zone off Gaza by 6 to 12 nautical miles in January, which could help to revive the sector and become a sustainable source of income, she noted. As for the West Bank, she said that although the situation there is less acute, Palestinian families face growing pressures. Citing individual examples of settler-related clashes, she expressed concern about the safety of nearly 7,000 Palestinians in the H2 section of Hebron facing harassment and violence by settlers. She said many families also live under the threat of eviction orders, including 32 members of the Sabbagh family, noting that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have both called upon the Israeli authorities to halt such actions.
Such deteriorating conditions increasingly constrain the ability to provide humanitarian assistance, she said, noting that funding reached a low in 2018, when only 46 per cent of the appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory was funded. Such cuts forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to suspend assistance to 27,000 people and reduce rations to another 166,000 beneficiaries, she pointed out, warning, in addition, that there is mounting pressure on human rights defenders as well as attempts to delegitimize humanitarian action in the occupied territory. The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan requests $350 million to provide basic food and services to 1.4 million Palestinians, a drop from the 1.9 million people targeted in 2018, she noted, cautioning, however, that there are considerable funding gaps and urging Member States to increase their support. “In order to reduce vulnerability, it is also critical that all parties uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” she stressed. “And, ultimately, the solution is not humanitarian,” she added. “It is for stakeholders to continue to work towards a viable political solution.”
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said Israel continues to take advantage of the Council’s inaction by persisting in its illegal policies and practices in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Hate speech and inflammatory rhetoric from Israeli officials and Knesset members are undermining hopes for peace. The termination of the TIPH is unjustified, he said, citing calls from Kuwait and Indonesia for Council consultations on the matter. Pointing to a 57 per cent increase in settler violence in 2018, he said Palestinians must be provided with international protection, as their situation is untenable and could lead to more tension and instability. The Council must not stand idly by, he said, adding that the mandate of the TIPH must be renewed and that the occupying Power must abide by relevant Council resolutions, the Oslo Accords and international law. Describing an incident at the Al-Aqsa Mosque earlier this month involving Israel’s Minister for Agriculture and several settlers as a provocative act, he called on the Israeli authorities to ensure safe access to places of worship as a human right. He further called on all States to refrain from decisions that could undermine the status of Jerusalem, including the establishment of diplomatic missions. Emphasizing that UNRWA’s funding is an international responsibility, not one for specific Member States, he rejected attempts to limit the Agency’s role and called upon the international community to provide it with sustainable financing.
JERRY MATJILA (South Africa) said Israel’s decision on Hebron regrettably undermines one of the situation’s few confidence-building mechanisms. “We have regrettably done very little or, more often, nothing at all,” he said. “On almost any other issue that this Council deals with, if there was a similar magnitude of violations or deterioration of the situation, we would waste no time in taking decisive action.” In December, South Africa and several other countries wrote to the Secretary-General and the Council President raising concerns over the lack of implementation in relation to resolution 2334 (2016) on Israeli settlements, including the need for the former to provide written reports every three months. The Council receives reports on other matters and the situation in Palestine should be no different, he stressed, also voicing concern about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and reiterating South Africa’s support for a two-State solution.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said the decision to terminate the TIPH is another in a series of policies that “defy common sense and logic”. Citing the occupying Power’s numerous violations of international law, he noted that the Council failed once again to express its position in a presidential statement due to a single member’s objection. For more than two decades, the TIPH’s civilian presence helped to mitigate tensions between Palestinians and Israelis in Hebron, he said. “At a time when Palestinians were left defenceless, it offered [them] a minimal sense of protection.” Voicing concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza — as well as expanding Israeli settlements and the shift towards a “one-State solution” — he said no prospects for a political solution are visible. “The lives and freedom of the Palestinians are at stake because of our inaction.”
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) reiterated his delegation’s support for a two-State solution. Expressing concern about the deteriorating situation in Gaza, he called upon the Council and United Nations agencies to mobilize assistance in order to ease the suffering, which is exacerbated by the lack of jobs, housing and essential services. Commending Switzerland’s $200 million contribution to the restructuring of UNRWA, he reiterated that the Agency’s mission is to serve the 5.4 million Palestine refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank. Failure to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians could risk regionalizing it, he warned. Côte d’Ivoire supports the international consensus for relaunching the peace process, he said, emphasizing that it remains the only way to find mutually acceptable solutions to crucial issues, including the status of Jerusalem, lifting of the blockade on Gaza, halting settlement construction and expansion, and ensuring the safety of Palestinian people in Hebron.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, expressing concern about Israel’s decision on the TIPH while saying he anticipates action to address the consequences. Turning to Gaza, he expressed regret that people on the ground have no jobs and only limited access to basic services. Voicing support for the Secretary-General’s call for Israel to lift the Gaza blockade, he also called upon the Palestinian authorities to ensure security in the enclave. The Palestinian question remains a threat to international peace and security and cannot be neglected any longer, he stressed.