With nearly 6,000 housing units advanced, approved or tendered, recent weeks have seen the largest expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in two years, the senior United Nations official coordinating the Middle East peace process official said today, as he briefed the Security Council on the flagging implementation of its resolution 2234 (2016).
Speaking at the outset, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process declared: “Developments during this reporting period cannot be divorced from the broader context of Israel’s continued military occupation of Palestinian territory and settlement activity, Hamas’ hold over Gaza and military activity, the threat of war, unilateral actions that undermine peace efforts and severe challenges to the fiscal viability of the Palestinian Authority.” In addition to the 6,000 housing units advanced, approved or tendered, he said the demolition and seizure of Palestinian-owned structures also continued throughout the period between 25 March and 10 June.
Providing updates on several cases before the Israeli authorities, he said violent and provocative acts — as well as incitement and inflammatory rhetoric — also persist. The Israel Defense Forces struck 300 militant targets and 21 residential buildings in Gaza, from which incendiary kites and other devices continued to be launched into Israel. In addition, the situation in the Gaza Strip remains perilous and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) — which continues to carry out its work in Gaza — is now operating on the basis of a projected $211 million shortfall on its $1.2 billion annual budget. “Negative trends continue to overshadow positive developments,” he noted.
With Council members taking the floor, several expressed concern that Israel is failing to implement resolution 2334 (2016), which calls for the cessation of settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and states that such activities lack legal validity. Others spotlighted the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza — as well as UNRWA’s severe funding shortfall — while calling for an end to violence and escalating rhetoric on both sides.
In that vein, the representative of Kuwait, Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, emphasized that stopping Israeli settlement expansion is central to establishing peace. He called upon Israel to end those activities — as well as the forcible seizure of Palestinian land and the withholding of tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority — expressing concern that its military attacks, threats and provocative statements also continue unabated. No real political progress can be seen without lifting the long‑standing blockade imposed against Gaza, he added.
Indonesia’ representative echoed the concern of other speakers that the developments outlined by the Special Coordinator continue to erode the chances of reaching an agreement acceptable to both sides. “The hope for a better future is fading away,” he warned, pointing out that the occupying Power continues to dismantle past political agreements and parameters. Calling attention to UNRWA’s important role against a backdrop of worsening economic and social conditions, he said the generous contributions of many nations are a clear demonstration of support. Indeed, the Agency’s existence is “the least the United Nations can do to help the Palestinians, given the failure of this Council to act authoritatively on its own resolutions”, he said.
France’s representative stressed that Gaza’s future cannot be separated from a two-State solution, which, in turn, is threatened by Israel’s continued settlement expansion. Israel’s continued settlement-expansion policy continues to undermine the latter, she said, stressing that France does not recognize its sovereignty over any of the occupied territories. Indeed, economic peace cannot replace the quest for a real political settlement rooted in international law, and attempts to deviate from the latter are doomed to fail, she warned.
South Africa’s representative said “we are fiddling, while the reality of an independent, safe, security and self-sufficient Palestinian State is slowly dwindling”. Emphasizing that historical injustices against the Palestinians must be addressed, he said direct negotiations between the two sides is vital to identifying a mutually acceptable path forward. Pressing Council members to exert every effort to bring all sides to the table, he stressed: “No people can be repressed forever.” He added: “The Palestinian people will continue to resist. That was true for all of us.”
Also speaking were representative of the United States, Côte d’Ivoire, Poland, United Kingdom, Peru, China, Dominican Republic, Germany, Belgium, Equatorial Guinea and the Russian Federation.
The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 12:03 p.m.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, said: “Developments during this reporting period cannot be divorced from the broader context of Israel’s continued military occupation of Palestinian territory and settlement activity; Hamas’ hold over Gaza and military activity; the threat of war; unilateral actions that undermine peace efforts, and severe challenges to the fiscal viability of the Palestinian Authority.” The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is now operating on the basis of a projected $211 million shortfall in its $1.2 billion annual budget and facing serious cash‑flow issues, he added.
Presenting the tenth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016), covering 25 March to 10 June, he said Israel advanced, approved or tendered nearly 6,000 housing units in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, during the reporting period. Constituting the largest settlement advance in two years, the project includes plans to build 4,450 units in Area C settlements, of which 200 have reached the final stage of approval. The plans also include 700 units in Efrat and 600 in Ma’ale Adumium, while other plans would retroactively regularize the illegal outpost of Haresha, under Israeli law, incorporating it into the Talmon settlement.
Meanwhile, demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures continued across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, he reported. Some 92 Palestinian structures were demolished or seized because their owners had no building permits issued by the Government of Israel, which resulted in the displacement of 104 people. As the Middle East Quartet noted in 2016, he recalled, permits are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain. Expressing concern over the situation in the Wadi Yasul area of East Jerusalem, he said the Israeli army’s conduct of military training in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank forced 184 Palestinians — 80 per cent them women and children — to evacuate temporarily from the Tell al-Khashaba, Lifjim and Humsa al-Baquai communities on 11 occasions, including during Ramadan.
Turning to the Gaza Strip, he said the Israel Defense Forces hit 300 militant targets in the enclave, striking 21 residential buildings. Incendiary kites and other devices continued to be launched from Gaza, starting fires in southern Israel. In the West Bank, meanwhile, four Palestinians were killed by Israel’s security forces, including during demonstrations, he said, citing the 27 March killing of a 17-year-old Palestinian medic near Al-Duheisha refugee camp in Bethlehem. Several other incidents of violence occurred during the reporting period, alongside settler-related violence in which 1 Palestinian was killed and 32 others were injured.
He went on to provide updates relating to cases before the Israeli authorities pertaining to perpetrators of violent acts, and on provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric, which persisted during the reporting period. On 15 May, a senior Hamas official in Gaza warned Israelis that “the day of your slaughter, extermination and annihilation is near”, he noted, recalling that Israeli officials also made highly provocative statements, with an outgoing member of the Knesset threatening to eliminate the families of Palestinian prisoners and “bury [them] with pigs”.
The international community, for its part, continued its efforts to address the dire situation in Gaza, he said, adding that the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee met in Brussels on 30 April to reiterate support for the implementation of urgent humanitarian and economic interventions by the United Nations. Qatar also pledged $480 million in financial assistance to Palestinians. Nevertheless, “negative trends continue to overshadow positive developments”, he said, noting that despite intensified efforts in Gaza, the enclave’s humanitarian, security and political situation remain deeply worrying, exacerbated by the temporary closures of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings. There has been no resolution of the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis after Israel’s decision to withhold part of its revenues, he added.
Reiterating that the expansion of Israeli settlements has no legal effect and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law, he said the threat of demolitions and displacement of Palestinians in Area C, East Jerusalem and Hebron’s H2 area are also of concern. “The situation in Gaza continues to be perilous,” he added, unequivocally condemning all attacks on Palestinian and Israeli civilians. Expressing deep concern over the clearance of Palestinian Authority revenues, he urged Israel to restore the transfers in full. He also pressed Palestinian factions to engage with Egypt on reconciliation, expressing the steadfast support of the United Nations for Egypt’s efforts in that regard.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) said the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop that his country will co-host in Bahrain on 25 and 26 June will offer an important opportunity to galvanize economic support for the Palestinians, as well as to discuss ambitious solutions for economic development and rapid private sector growth. However, the United States is aware that only by resolving final status issues will a new economic vision be realized, and that can only happen “if and when there is peace”. Calling upon all concerned to keep an open mind, he emphasized that all nations care deeply about the issue and want to see peace.
ANNE GUEGEN (France), expressing concern over the deteriorating situation in Gaza, emphasized: “We must do all we can to prevent an escalation that could lead to a new conflict.” The humanitarian situation remains disastrous and France has pledged to double its contribution to UNRWA in 2019. Calling for the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, credible security guarantees for Israel and the re-launch of political negotiations, she stressed that Gaza’s future cannot be separated from the notion of a two-State solution. Israel’s continued settlement‑expansion policy continues to undermine the latter, he noted, underlining that France does not recognize that country’s sovereignty over any of the occupied territories. She went on to condemn the hate speech described by the Special Coordinator, while warning against the pursuit of unilateral measures instead of adhering to agreed international frameworks. Indeed, economic peace cannot replace the quest for a real political settlement rooted in international law, she said, emphasizing that attempts to deviate from the latter are doomed to fail.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) declared: “We are fiddling while the reality of an independent, safe, secure and self-sufficient Palestinian State is slowly dwindling.” Pointing out that Council resolution 244 (1967) calls upon all parties to end territorial claims and respect sovereignty, and for Israel to withdraw from occupied territories. “Fifty-two years later, this has still not happened,” he said, insisting that historical injustices against Palestinians must be addressed. It is vital that the parties hold direct negotiations towards a mutually acceptable path forward, including on the issues of borders, the status of Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees, he said. Pressing the Council to exert every effort to bring all sides to the negotiating table, he recalled its failure to address the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to rectify injustices caused by illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank. Congratulating the State of Palestine on joining the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as an observer on 18 June, he stressed: “No people can be repressed forever,” adding: “They will resist and resist. That was true for all of us. It will be true for Palestinians. This Council must take note of that.”
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to focus on negotiations based on relevant United Nations resolutions. Endorsing the concept of a two-State solution, he warned that escalating political and security challenges are threatening it. All parties should exercise restraint and respect international law and Council resolutions — especially resolution 2334 (2016) — he said. Expressing support for both Israel’s security and the Palestinian ambition to establish an independent State, he called for the re‑launch of peace talks. He went on to underline the importance of supporting UNRWA’s critical work in assisting populations in distress, and expressed support for the upcoming Bahrain workshop, as well as other initiatives aimed at providing support on the ground.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said the firing of rockets into Israel must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, reiterating his country’s recognition of Israel’s legitimate right to self-defence. Hamas and others in Gaza must refrain from provocations against Israel, including incendiary kites and balloons launched with the aim of damaging Israeli property and assets. The only way forward for the Palestinians and Israel is the negotiation of a two-State solution, based on 1967 borders and mutually agreed land swaps. The goal should be restoring a “political horizon” for a resumed peace process, she said, stressing that inter-Palestinian divisions only aggravate the situation of Gazans and weaken national aspirations. Underscoring the urgent need to relaunch the intra‑Palestinian reconciliation process, she said the idea of a two-State solution continues to be dismantled by Israel’s settlement‑building. “All settlement activity is illegal under international law,” she stressed. “It not only erodes the viability of the two-State solution and the prospects for a lasting peace — we have to be honest with ourselves — it is an obstacle to peace.”
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said it is disappointing that Israel continues its escalation of settlement activity in the West Bank, contrary to international law. She also condemned rocket attacks against Israel, calling upon Hamas to put a permanent end to their incitement and rocket fire into Israel. Recalling an aid worker’s death, she said it is hard to understand the killing of those delivering medical and humanitarian assistance. A long-term political solution must include bringing the Palestinian Authority back to Gaza. Given the religious importance of the holy sites, all parties are required to maintain their status, she said. “A sustainable peace requires a safe and secure Israel living alongside a vibrant and viable Palestinian State,” she said, emphasizing that Israel needs security arrangements that prevent the resurgence of violence and the Palestinians need respect for their sovereignty. She called upon the United States to bring forward detailed proposals on a peace solution, reiterating that the only way to achieve peace is through substantive talks leading to a two-State solution. More must be done to empower the Palestinians to trade with the rest of the world, she said, also calling for donors to fund UNRWA.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said the concerning patterns on the ground coupled with the Council’s inaction continues to threaten prospects for a political solution. Unilateral actions could trigger another round of violence, he cautioned. While condemning Hamas for launching rockets into Israel, he emphasized that Israel’s defensive actions must abide by international law and Security Council resolutions. “There is a pressing need to end settlement activities and demolition of homes,” he stressed, noting that these practices chip away at the likelihood of a two-State solution. The socioeconomic conditions in Gaza continue to fuel radicalism, he said, emphasizing that purely temporary measures must be replaced with long-term plans, including the restoration of Palestinian Authority control over Gaza. He also expressed concern over Israel’s decision to withhold large amounts of Palestinian remittances.
WU HAITAO (China), echoing expressions of concern over continued clashes and the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, emphasized that safeguarding the rights of Palestinians is an international responsibly. Relevant parties must cease all settlement activities and Palestinian home demolitions, as well as prevent violence against civilians. Underlining the need to seek a proper settlement on the final status of Jerusalem — a complex and sensitive issue — he said parties should respect the plurality of history and abide by relevant international laws and Council resolutions. The prolonged blockade of Gaza has led to a severe humanitarian situation and is not conducive to peace, he said, calling for its immediate lifting. Voicing concern about the withholding of tax revenues from Palestine, he said the Middle East urgently needs peace and emphasized that there is no alternative to a political solution. The parties should commit to a negotiation-based approach leading to a lasting, just and comprehensive agreement, and the establishment of an independent, sovereign State of Palestine, he said.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), voicing disappointment over the provocations by the occupying Power, emphasized that, with no sign of political talks in sight, the living conditions of Palestinians continue to deteriorate. “The hope for a better future is fading away,” he stressed, adding that the occupying Power continues to dismantle political agreements and parameters “before our eyes”. Noting that it also withholds Palestine’s tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, stressed that the latter’s refusal to accept a transfer that is less than the amount owed should not be questioned. Turning to UNRWA’s important role against worsening economic and social conditions, he said the contributions of many nations are a clear sign of the international community’s support and responsibility. The Agency’s existence is “the least the United Nations can do to help the Palestinians, given the failure of this Council to act authoritatively on its own resolutions”. Drawing attention to status‑quo violations at Al Haram al-Sharif, he called on Israel to respect history, as well as the status quo, and to avoid policies that could have destabilizing effects.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said voicing concern — as is often done — does not absolve the Council from action. Its passivity only risks entrenching the status quo. Palestinians’ aspirations to establish their own State are dashed and hope dies as innocent women and children fall victim to violence, on both sides. “Pessimism reigns,” he said, reiterating his country’s respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of all people. He denounced Israel’s illegal expansion of settlements. Recognizing the spiritual, cultural and religious heritage of Jerusalem, he opposed any action that would alter its status quo. He condemned the use of lethal force against protestors and categorically condemned rocket fire from Gaza into Israel by Hamas and other militants. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is particularly alarming and commended UNRWA for its work. “By speechifying month after month, we will go nowhere,” he stressed. “If we really want to end the violence, it is time to put an end to the hate speech we hear from both sides.”
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) underscored his country’s commitment to a two-State solution that meets both Israeli and Palestinian security needs, and ends the occupation that began in 1967. The conflict is a political one requiring a political solution, he emphasized, stressing the need to improve Palestinians’ socioeconomic conditions. Israel’s occupation and settlement‑expansion activities are a serious obstacle to peace and he called on Israel to end the demolition of Palestinian homes, stressing: “There is no right to annexation.” Germany will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, other than those agreed to by the parties through negotiations. Resolution 2334 (2016) must be fully implemented, especially as pertaining to inflammatory rhetoric. He condemned all attacks on Israel in the strongest possible terms, stressing that Germany is fully committed to supporting Israel as a Jewish State. “We will not be silent when Israel’s security or right to exist is threatened,” he said. UNRWA remains indispensable for providing critical assistance and services to Palestinians in the region, he added.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being further bogged down by the constantly deteriorating situation on the ground. Emphasizing that peace can only be comprehensive and lasting if it fulfils the legitimate aspirations of each party, resulting in two independent States, he said that, while that goal can be supported by economic measures, those efforts cannot replace a political settlement. Moreover, no true economic progress will be made until the occupation ends and Palestinians are able to take part in the regional market. Describing Israel’s settlement policy as a flagrant violation of international law and Council resolutions, he warned that it compromises a two-State solution in a manner that may soon prove irrevocable. Meanwhile, no acts of violence — no matter the perpetrator — can be seen as acceptable, and impunity must not prevail. Urging the parties to avoid provocations, he spotlighted the situations in Hebron and East Jerusalem, and urged respect for international law and the protection of civilians. Calling for the complete lifting of the Gaza blockade, he also urged parties to pursue efforts towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) said last week’s two-pronged attack violated the recently negotiated ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Expressing support for Israel’s right to defend its people from such attacks, he nevertheless stressed that its actions must always be carried out in line with international law. Peaceful protests should be respected and permitted, without interference by Israeli forces, but Islamic militants must not be allowed to exploit or hijack such protests for their own purposes. Noting that the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains critical, with little access to basic services and widespread insecurity, he called on Israel to review and amend its blockade policy and urged the international community to support the process of intra-Palestinian reconciliation. Meanwhile, donors should step up support to UNRWA, allowing the Agency to continue to deliver critical assistance. The two sides should sit down and analyse any initiative that could bring them closer to peace, he said, associating herself with the Council’s various conflict resolution efforts in support of that goal.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) expressed particular concern over the escalation between Israelis and Palestinians, emphasizing: “There is a need for an urgent de-escalation and a resumption of dialogue.” Security must be guaranteed for every person and no preference can be accorded to one particular State, he emphasized. Noting the humanitarian assistance being provided to Iraq, he said the United Nations and Member States are also undertaking efforts to bolster action against terrorism. However, the key Middle Eastern issue remains deadlocked, he said, adding: “We see no alternative to a two-State solution.” There have been many years of international consensus on this issue, as outlined in various Council resolutions, and no unilateral steps could ever change that reality, he stressed. The Russian Federation has historically supported good relations with the Israelis and Palestinians, and remains convinced that a political resolution based on a two-State solution can meet the security concerns of both sides, he said, adding that a strong and unified League of Arab States is instrumental to reaching that goal. The offer to hold a summit in Moscow for both the Palestinians and Israelis still stands, he added. Commending Egypt’s efforts to advance the peace process, he said rebuilding Palestinian unity is essential to that end. He also pledged to support UNRWA’s work, which is “humanitarian in nature but also has a political component”. Interfaith dialogue is essential to protecting Christians, who have been in the region for thousands of years, many having fled escaping the threat of genocide, he added.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, expressing regret over the information provided by the Special Coordinator — in particular, the fact that Israel is failing to implement resolution 2334 (2016) and continues its settlement expansion. Ending such activities is central to establishing peace, he emphasized, calling upon Israel to cease immediately and completely while also ending the forcible seizure of Palestinian land and its withholding of tax revenues. Meanwhile, Israel’s military attacks continue, as do threats, as well as provocative and inflammatory statements, he said. Turning to Gaza, he stressed that there will be no real progress in the enclave without the lifting of the blockade, pointing out that Israel also continues to violate the sanctity of Christian and Muslim holy sites while attempting to change the character and demographic composition of Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem. Underlining that the Council will not recognize any such unilateral changes, he stressed that the international community must not remain silent as the crimes against Palestinian civilians continue. He went on to reiterate his delegation’s support for UNRWA, pointing out that Kuwait has contributed $113 million to the Agency in the last four years. He also joined others in calling for the re-launch of negotiations, and in expressing support for a two-State solution, in accordance with the Arab Peace Agreement and other relent frameworks.