Reporting to the Security Council today that prospects for a two-State resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians continue to fade, the Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace called for the international community to go beyond rhetoric when encouraging progress.
“We must take concrete action,” Nickolay Mladenov said during his regular monthly briefing which, this month, focused on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) and covered the period between 12 September and 6 December (document S/2019/938). As detailed in the report, he said, “no steps were taken during the reporting period to cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” as demanded by the resolution.
In the three years since the resolution was adopted, plans for over 22,000 units have been advanced in West Bank settlements, he reported. He stressed that settlements must cease immediately and completely. Continued seizures of Palestinian structures, including internationally funded humanitarian projects, must also stop and affected populations must be compensated.
In addition, he said that despite the resolution’s call for steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, attacks continued in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Violence against civilians, terrorist attacks and incitement must stop, as must indiscriminate launching of rockets, he stated, also calling for the end of inflammatory rhetoric.
Further, threats by Israel to annex parts of the West Bank are also destructive to prospects for peace, he noted. Spotlighting the urgent need for Palestinian reconciliation, he called for international support for proposed Palestinian elections, which must be inclusive and comprise both legislative and presidential polls.
Also briefing the Council, Adele Raemer spoke, via videoconference from Tel Aviv, recounting her personal experiences living in Kibbutz Nirim on the border with Gaza since 1975. Conditions have only gotten worse since shrapnel ripped through her bedroom in 2014, she said, with frequent rocket fire and new terror tunnels discovered minutes from children’s facilities. She called on the Council to compel Hamas to abandon violence and to empower everyone on both sides of the border to enjoy their human rights. The conflict can only be resolved by courage and diplomacy, not by weapons, she added.
Council members reaffirmed the need for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with most speakers calling for an end to Israel’s settlement activity in compliance with resolution 2334 (2016). Many speakers also cautioned against threats of annexation of areas of the West Bank and called for an end to violence from both sides.
Kuwait’s representative, as well as others, called for more frequent written reports on the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016). He also urged other countries to remain neutral and not take unilateral measures to support Israel’s illegal measures and the continuation of the occupation.
The Russian Federation’s representative also urged compliance with the resolution, saying that support for Israel’s unilateral actions from the United States represents a gross violation of international law. Expressing firm support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he said it is short-sighted to blame the Agency for the continued existence of Palestinian refugees.
However, the representative of the United States described resolution 2334 (2016) as another example of the Council’s one-sided treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the Council. The resolution, which also condemns violence against civilians, has not prevented rockets from raining down both on Israeli and Palestinian civilians. Questioning whether the Council will also condemn those violations of the resolution, she reaffirmed the need to put an end to violence and for the resumption of direct negotiation between the parties.
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, however, stressed that without accountability following the Council’s adoption of resolution 2334 (2016), Israeli exceptionalism and impunity have continued. That has emboldened Israel to entrench its illegal occupation to the detriment of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Peace requires the fulfilment of those rights and not the acceptance of continued denial, he stressed.
Israel’s representative said Ms. Raemer’s personal experience illustrated how Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorize civilians on both sides of the Gaza Strip perimeter. Those groups will ensure that funds from the Humanitarian Response Plan do not help people but go towards violence. In fact, Iran’s proxies in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria do not care about civilians in their pursuit of an extremist ideology, often using them as human shields. Those civilians are counting on the Council to protect them, he stressed.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Peru, United Kingdom, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Poland, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, South Africa, France, Germany, Belgium and Equatorial Guinea.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 12:20 p.m.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) (document S/2019/938), covering the period between 12 September and 6 December 2019. As detailed in the report, he said, “No steps were taken during the reporting period to cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” as demanded by the resolution. Demolition of Palestinian-owned structures also continued.
In addition, despite the resolution’s call for steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, violence resulted in injuries and property damage to Palestinians in various clashes in the West Bank, he said. Some 38 Palestinians in Gaza were injured near the border fence during protests that occasionally turned violent and one Palestinian man was killed by an Israeli drone as he approached the fence, bearing arms, according to Israel. Provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric also continued during the reporting period in violation of the resolution.
In recent weeks, the United Nations has continued its engagement with Palestinian officials and different factions in the effort to hold inclusive elections throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he continued. On 10 December, the Palestinian Authority announced that it had officially sent a request to Israel to allow Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to participate in the potential presidential and legislative elections.
In the three years since the resolution was adopted, plans for over 22,000 units have been advanced or approved in West Bank settlements, he noted. He stressed that settlements must cease immediately and completely. Continued seizures of Palestinian structures, including internationally funded humanitarian projects, must also stop, and affected populations must be compensated. Continuing violence against civilians, terrorist attacks and incitement must also stop, as must indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars towards the Israeli civilian population. At the Gaza perimeter fence, security forces must exercise maximum restraint, and Hamas must stop the firing of rockets and ensure that protests are peaceful.
Furthermore, children should never be put in harm’s way or targeted, he stressed. In addition, more measures must be taken to ensure that Israel fulfils its obligation to protect Palestinian civilians from violence, including by Israeli settlers. Leaders and officials on both sides must set a tone that facilitates dialogue and must refrain from inflammatory rhetoric. Calling racist statements that aim to spread hatred particularly appalling, he added that threats to annex parts of the West Bank are destructive to prospects for peace.
Noting that some investments in humanitarian and economic interventions for Gaza are due to end on 31 December, he warned that without additional funding and further Palestinian and Israeli commitments, Gaza could once again be pushed to the brink of collapse. He urged Israel to ease restriction on movement of people and goods. It is also crucial to end the militant build-up in Gaza, the constant threat of rocket fire and the separation of Gaza from a single Palestinian authority. He reiterated the United Nations’ firm support of Egypt’s efforts for Palestinian reconciliation and called for international support for credible Palestinian legislative and presidential elections.
He also called for further measures to restore all revenue transfers between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and adequate funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), along with support to the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan for the occupied territories.
Since the adoption of resolution 2334 (2016), he said he remains greatly concerned at the lack of progress towards ending the occupation and realizing a negotiated two-State solution. It is not enough to call for renewal of efforts, he added, emphasizing that “we must take concrete action”. Otherwise, the situation will continue to worsen. He called once again on leaders on all sides to summon the political will in support of lasting peace.
ADELE RAEMER, speaking via videoconference from Tel Aviv, recounted her personal experiences living in Kibbutz Nirim on the border with Gaza since 1975. When the warning of incoming rockets sounds, she has 5 to 10 seconds to get to safety. From her kitchen, she can sprint to a safe room in three seconds, but if she is in the shower, “I’m out of luck”, she remarked. In the past year and a half, some 1,800 rockets were launched at Israeli communities, she said, adding that in August 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, deadly shrapnel ripped through her bedroom. Nothing has changed since that summer and, if anything, it has gotten worse. Describing a now-neutralized terror tunnel five minutes from her house, she asked Council members to consider how children in her community must feel knowing that terrorists can emerge from the ground at any time.
Within the past two years, Hamas has organized weekly riots along the border every Friday after prayers, prompting those living on the Israeli side to brace for a possible escalation of violence and rocket fire, she continued. Just last night, her kibbutz was on alert after the Israeli military killed another armed terrorist attempting to cut through the border fence. New threats include balloons, kites and drones carrying hot coals and explosives that set fire to crops, forests and nature reserves. Some of the balloons carry booby-trapped books and toys, while 17 more terror tunnels have been discovered during the past two years. People seeking psychological assistance has risen 231 per cent in the past five years, with more than half being children.
Everyone in the area, both on the Israeli side and in Gaza, are hostages of Hamas, some literally so, she said, referring to two Israel citizens being held in Gaza along with the remains of two Israel soldiers. Hamas, and Hamas alone, decides when there will be a ceasefire, she said. It keeps its population poor while lining its pockets with international funds; it brings Gazans, including women and children, to border riots to lose life and limb; and it aims rockets at Israeli communities knowing the Israel Defence Forces are reluctant to retaliate when innocent civilians could be harmed. “I know that not all Gazans are part of Hamas,” she said, recalling that when she moved to her kibbutz, her family would drive to the beach or market in Gaza and that Gazans would come to her area. She went on to discuss the environmental impact of Gaza’s crumbling sewage system, adding that until there are more jobs for people in Gaza, safety on the Israel side will remain compromised.
Hamas must stop investing in terrorism and incitement to hatred and start making choices to enable the people of Gaza to thrive and prosper, she said, adding that the Government of Israel and Palestinian leaders must get to work on a long-term political agreement. For its part, the Council must compel Hamas to abandon violence and empower everyone on both sides of the border with the conditions to live in a way that enables human rights of all to be respected. The conflict can only be resolved by courage and diplomacy, not by weapons, she emphasized.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH.A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), noting that biannual reports on the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) are expected, said that the latest report shows that Israel, the occupying Power, shows no heed to the Security Council by continuing to expand settlements and allowing violence against Palestinians. He condemned such activity in the strongest terms and reaffirmed that such settlements have no legitimacy. Peace will not be achieved if the parties do not abide by previous agreements. Other countries must remain neutral to encourage such peace and not take unilateral measures to support Israel’s illegal measures and the continuation of the occupation. He reaffirmed the Arab position which stipulates that peace was contingent on establishing a Palestinian State based on pre-1967 borders.
HUMBERTO VELÁSQUEZ (Peru) said that indiscriminate attacks against Israeli civilians and disproportionate response must both be condemned. The situation, along with the Council’s failure to take action, has raised tensions. The only viable solution is the two-State agreement negotiated directly by the parties. The parties must show political will and replace unilateral actions with actions that show commitment to the two-State solution. Therefore, expansion of settlements must end, as must inflammatory rhetoric. The Council must also be able to reach minimum consensus to act when needed. In order to meet the humanitarian needs of Palestinians, it is important to promote sustainable peace, as well as provide aid. Calling for a redoubling of efforts for Palestinian reconciliation, he added that he hoped that the report on implementation will be provided twice yearly as required.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), expressing concern over non-compliance with the resolution, affirmed that settlement activity must cease, as must demolition of Palestinian structures. As well, threats of annexation were also contrary to international law. Indiscriminate attacks against Israeli citizens are also unacceptable and responses to attacks must be proportional and avoid civilian casualties. Encouraging Israel to investigate all such casualties, he also urged that country to thoroughly investigate all incidents of settler violence and ease restrictions on Gaza. In addition, dependable funding for UNRWA was needed. In order to finally reach a resolution of the conflict, the parties must show real leadership, he emphasized.
WU HAITAO (China) said that, three years after the adoption of resolution 2334 (2016), the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories is continuing to deteriorate. All parties must implement that resolution, stay on the right path to a political solution, adhere to the principles of fairness and justice, and give full play to the key role of the United Nations. Emphasizing the need to adhere to the two-State solution, he said foreign occupation is an underlying cause of the situation. Both sides should be encouraged to relaunch peace talks, he stressed, adding that the economic and humanitarian situation of the Palestinians must be improved by promoting peace through development.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) noted with regret that the Secretary-General’s latest report once again underscored the lack of implementation of resolution 2334 (2016). The parties must abstain from any provocation that would increase tensions leading to violence, he urged, also calling for the need to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, which has not moved forward since Oslo. As well, any new initiatives must centre on the two-State solution. He went on to express concern about the humanitarian situation, including massive youth unemployment, and welcomed the prospect of Palestinian elections in 2020. For its part, the Council must stand united, send a single message of peace and compel the parties to reopen talks under the aegis of the United Nations.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) reiterated her country’s position that Israeli settlements under international law is illegal and erodes the viability of a two-State solution. She expressed great concern regarding demolitions and seizures of donor-funded humanitarian projects, noting that Poland had encountered such problems within development projects it had sponsored. Calling the situation in Gaza dire, she urged that the closure policy be ended and crossing points have sustained openings. At the same time, Israel’s legitimate security concerns need to be addressed. While highlighting that the inter-Palestinian division only weakens progress, she welcomed the first Palestinian elections since 2006. It was critical that the Egyptian-led intra-Palestinian reconciliation efforts continue. She also spotlighted the importance of UNRWA as a key contributor to the stability and security of the region.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) affirmed the importance of implementing resolution 2334 (2016). He urged Israel to immediately cease all settlement activity in that regard, underlining the need for the Council to devise means to ensure implementation, as well as the need for more concerted action to support the Palestinian cause in general. The international community has the obligation to act in that regard, including through differentiation between Israel and the occupied territories in all interactions. In addition, he called for further support to UNRWA. As well, his country will continue to support capacity-building among Palestinians to govern themselves. The resolution is a beacon of hope for the Palestinian people, he said, adding that its implementation will indicate whether progress can be made towards peace.
JOSÉ MANUEL TRULLOLS YABRA (Dominican Republic), reaffirming his rejection of Israeli settlement activity in violation of the resolution, said such activity undermines the possibility of a two-State solution. Intra-Palestinian reconciliation is also critical to bring about that resolution, as well as credible Palestinian elections. Restoring hope for Palestinian youth should be a priority for the Palestinian Authority. Expressing concern over the situation in Gaza, he added his support to the humanitarian response plan and encouraged donor countries to increase their assistance. Calling for the end of indiscriminate rocket attacks and for all parties to act with utmost restraint, he underlined the need for all parties to de-escalate the situation.
MARTHINUS VAN SHALKWYK (South Africa) said the continued disregard for long-standing internationally accepted concepts, such as the two-State solution, cannot be allowed, particularly in regard to the circumvention of final status issues such as the borders, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of refugees. Expressing concern about continued settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories, he condemned the disproportionate response of the Israeli security forces in Hebron who fired teargas canisters and stun grenades at schools in response to children throwing stones at a military patrol. “We cannot allow children to fear the places that are supposed to be places of learning and refuge,” he said, also urging all parties to cease the violent attacks in Gaza. Welcoming the Special Coordinator’s efforts towards the holding of inclusive Palestinian elections, he called on all parties to ensure that they are safe and inclusive.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), noting his regret that resolution 2334 (2016) remains unimplemented, added his concern regarding ongoing settlement activity that could undermine the territorial continuity of a future Palestinian State. Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank would constitute a serious violation of international law, he said, calling on the Israeli authorities to avoid policies that might result in a fait accompli. Turning to the situation in Gaza, he said that Israelis and Palestinians have a right to live in peace, dignity and security and that the 14 November ceasefire must be fully respected. Credible Palestinian elections will be a key step towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation. Noting that France has doubled its contribution to UNRWA, he emphasized that there is no alternative to a negotiated settlement based on the two-State solution. He also noted the European Court of Justice’s recent decision regarding the labelling of goods produced in Israeli settlements, which dovetails with the provisions of the resolution.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said the absence of negotiations towards a comprehensive political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a source of frustration for the region’s people. The parties to the conflict, as well as all international stakeholders, must refrain from taking any measures which undermine the viability of a negotiated two-State solution. Resolution 2334 (2016) must be fully implemented, not only with regard to settlement activities but also with regard to acts of terror, violence against civilians, incitement, provocative actions, and inflammatory rhetoric. Calling on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to stop firing rockets into Israel, he said that the three military escalations in and around Gaza in 2019 highlight the urgent need for sustainable long-term solutions to the ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis there.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) said the situation on the ground is stuck and there is no reason to be optimistic. She called on Israel to end its illegal settlement policy, observing that it has continued at a fast clip. Belgium will not recognize any Israeli annexations on the West Bank, she said, underscoring also her concern about the demolition and seizure of humanitarian projects in Area C. Describing the security situation in Gaza as extremely fragile, she called on the parties to exercise the greatest possible restraint to avoid fresh outbreaks of violence. Violations of international humanitarian law must be investigated. Palestinian elections must take place in all Palestinian territories, she emphasized, calling on all parties, including Israel, to facilitate the process.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) expressed deep concern over the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace or Palestinian reconciliation over the whole period of his country’s tenure in the Security Council. As a friend of both Israel and Palestine, he urged the former to end settlement activity and the demolition of Palestinian structures. Expressing concern over Israel’s security as well, he called on Hamas to lay down its arms and end rocket attacks. The political elite in Palestine should reach for people-centred reconciliation. Stressing that violence will not end the conflict, he also called for negotiation towards two States living harmoniously together.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), noting his country’s ongoing support for a fair resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said that the support of unilateral Israeli actions by the United States are gross violations of international law. The only way forward is negotiation between the parties, he said, adding that the fact that the Palestinian issue is not resolved is a key factor in the instability of the region. Constructive action by the international community is needed to create the conditions for a political solution; it would be helpful if the Council could visit the region. In addition, settlements and violence must stop, and peaceful coexistence of all religions must be ensured in Jerusalem. Expressing firm support for UNRWA, he called it short-sighted to blame the Agency for the continued existence of Palestinian refugees.
KELLY CRAFT (United States) reiterated that Israel’s people live in constant fear of attack that is not allayed by the Council’s constant criticism of that country. Resolution 2334 (2016) is correspondingly one-sided. However, it also condemns violence against civilians and that has not prevented rockets from raining down both on Israeli and Palestinian civilians. She asked whether this Council will also condemn those violations of the resolution. The resilience shown by Israel’s people despite living under constant attack is the factor that keeps the hope of a peaceful solution alive, she said, pointing to that country’s development of universities, technologies and other advancements while under threat. What is needed for peace is for both parties to return to the negotiating table and cease from violence, she added.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said: “Two words - confinement and expansion - can summarize the map of the Palestinians’ reality,”, adding that Palestinian Christians from Gaza were being barred by Israel from celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, two cities separated by a wall. While 2 million Palestinians are besieged in Gaza, those in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have been confined to the areas where they already lived in 1967. In Area C, which makes up 60 per cent of the West Bank and includes the Jordan Valley, only 1 per cent of the land has been planned for Palestinian development while 70 per cent lies within the borders of the regional councils of illegal Israeli settlements. Similarly, only 13 per cent of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction and 35 per cent has been confiscated for settlements.
The purpose of this policy is to acquire maximum Palestinian land with minimum Palestinians, he continued, emphasizing that the illegal annexation of Palestinian land is the overarching objective of the Israeli occupation. Had there been enforcement and accountability after the Council’s adoption of resolution 2334 (2016), the Secretary-General’s report today would have been much different. But, instead, Israeli exceptionalism and impunity have continued, emboldening Israel to pursue and entrench its illegal occupation to the detriment of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Peace requires the fulfilment of those rights and not the acceptance of continued denial.
Noting that the General Assembly is adopting a resolution on the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and an independent State, he said that such texts are firmly rooted in the Charter of the United Nations, international law, human rights and Council resolutions. Yet they are described as biased and one-sided, with Israel’s representative calling the Assembly “morally bankrupt”. Israel cannot commend the Assembly for adopting resolution 181 on 29 November 1947 and then dismiss all other resolutions since then. Its selective approach to United Nations resolutions and international law should not be condoned or encouraged.
“The claim that the United Nations passes a disproportionate number of resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a distortion that dismisses key facts and context,” he said, underscoring that the real bias lies in the Council’s paralysis. In the past decade, the Council adopted only two resolutions – resolutions 1860 (2009) and 2334 (2016) – on the conflict, plus three presidential statements. Moreover, no resolution has been adopted under Chapter VII. The fate of the Middle East lies to a great extend in the international community’s capacity to demonstrate that its will to achieve peace is greater than Israel’s will to colonize Palestinian land, he said, calling on the Council and all States to act now to advance accountability and justice, freedom and peace, for the sake of Palestinians, Israelis, future generations, regional and global peace and security and the international rules-based order.
DANNY BEN YOSEF DANON (Israel) said the briefing illustrated how Iran-funded Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorize civilians in the Gaza Strip. On the Israeli side, he added, an entire generation is suffering trauma and fear that the noise they hear at night is that of a terror tunnel being dug under their bedrooms. It is also hard to be a civilian in Gaza and in all other places that the Iranian regime’s tentacles of terror have reached, he said, emphasizing that Iran’s proxies in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria do not care about civilians and use them as human shields in pursuit of that country’s extremist ideology. The regime funds Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, helping them to launch rockets into Israel and to build terror tunnels instead of schools and hospitals, he continued. Although many hope the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2020 will help Gaza’s people, it will not. Once again, it will be wasted on furthering an extremist agenda, he predicted, declaring: “You can be sure that the money won’t serve its purpose so long as Hamas is in power with the support of Iran.”
He went on to reiterate that Iran does not care about civilians, but only about its extremist ideology, noting that its proxies have abused demonstrators in Iraq protesting against corruption. In Lebanon, it provides Hizbullah with kits for turning rockets into precision-guided missiles that could provoke a war in the Middle East, he warned. In Yemen, the Islamic regime funds, arms and trains Houthi forces and bears responsibility for prolonging the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, he said, adding that in Syria, meanwhile, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Quds Force and Iranian intelligence have all been deployed to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power, regardless of the cost. In Iran itself, where 57 million people are forecast to find themselves living below the absolute poverty line, the regime is abusing civilians, killing more than 200 participants in the recent protests and injuring thousands more, he noted, citing in particular the case of a 27-year-old electrical engineer shot dead in November who, on his way to a demonstration, told his 14,000 Instagram followers not to miss the opportunity to destroy a criminal and corrupt regime.
Describing Iran as the biggest threat to stability and security in the region, he said many Council members and others in the international community nevertheless try to appease the regime. For years, Israel warned that Iran’s nuclear programme is a global threat, yet “your appeasement has done nothing to slow it down”, he recalled. Returning to Ms. Raemer’s briefing, he said the Council could have heard similar remarks from civilians in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria or Iran. Civilians across the region are doing all they can to oppose the Iranian regime and it is time for the international community to take action and join them, he emphasized, encouraging Member States that have signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme to follow in the footsteps of the United States, leave that deal and apply more sanctions. Insisting that Iran does not care about civilians in the region, he stressed that those same civilians count on the hope that the Council will.