As Palestinian Authority Reacts by Ending Security Cooperation, Oslo Accord Commitments, Council Members Call for Return to Peace Talks
Israel’s stated intention to annex parts of the occupied West Bank will deal a devastating blow to the two-State solution and close the door to fresh negotiations with the Palestinians towards peace in the Middle East, the top United Nations official for the peace process said during a videoconference meeting* of the Security Council on 20 May.
In the coming weeks and months, all sides must do their part to preserve the prospect of a negotiated two-State resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in line with internationally agreement parameters, international law and United Nations resolutions, Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said.
“These efforts must begin immediately. There is no time to lose,” he said, three days after the formation of a new Government in Israel and one day after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian Authority will no longer abide by its security and other agreements with Israel and the United States. “The fate of the Palestinian and Israeli people must not be determined by destructive unilateral actions that cement divisions and may put peace beyond reach in our lifetime.”
He added that the ongoing threat of annexation would constitute “a most serious violation of international law” that would also deal a “devastating blow” to the idea of two States, one Israeli and one Palestinian, living side by side in peace and security on the basis of pre-1967 borders. It would moreover close the door to renewed negotiations and threaten efforts to advance both regional peace as well as international peace and security.
“Israel must abandon the threats of annexation, and the Palestinian leadership [must] re-engage with all members of the [Middle East] Quartet,” which for its part must quickly draft a proposal that would enable it to take up its mediation role and work jointly with others in the region to advance peace prospects, he said, noting that Israeli public opinion is divided on the issue of annexation.
He went on to describe the Palestinian reaction as a “desperate cry for help” and a call for immediate action. “The Palestinian leadership is not threatening. It is calling for urgent action to preserve the prospect of peace,” he said, announcing that he planned to meet Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on 21 May to better understand the decision to cease respecting the Oslo Accords.
Turning to the immediate situation on the ground, he said that it remains dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with Palestinian and Israeli authorities — despite political tensions — still coordinating their efforts to limit the spread of the deadly virus, carefully reopen their economies and lift virus-related restrictions on movement.
Relatively successful prevention efforts have so far ensured that the limited capacity of the health system in the Occupied Palestinian Territory has not been overwhelmed, but the ability of the Palestinian health sector — particularly in Gaza — to deal with a potential surge in cases remains a major concern, he said.
Test kits, personal protective equipment, ventilators and essential material for intensive care units remain in short supply due to funding gaps and insufficient global supply, he said, adding that the United Nations and its partners are working to address those gaps and their ramifications.
In the discussion that followed, most speakers insisted once again that negotiations must resume towards a two-State solution to the long-running conflict and emphasized the Council’s need to act. They also urged Israel not to go ahead with annexation, saying it would jeopardize chances for a durable peace.
The representative of the United States acknowledged that many Council members have objections to elements of the “Vision for Peace” blueprint unveiled in January by President Donald J. Trump. “But statements of concern from Council members will only get us so far,” she said. The Council cannot dictate an end to the conflict, but only encourage the parties to sit down together and determine how they wish to move forward. “If both sides are serious about their talking, it is time for both sides to prove it, and if this Council is serious about wanting to see progress in the Middle East, then I urge each of you to look seriously at the steps you can take to encourage direct negotiations.” She added that the Council must encourage the Palestinians to view President Trump’s realistic and implementable proposal as both a starting point and an opportunity to realize their aspirations. She went on to say that the Council must focus on bringing the parties to the table, and not on statements “that I think we all have to admit have grown a little bit repetitive”.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that now more than ever international cooperation and action is needed to advance the peace process, which would be undermined by annexation. With the Palestinian Authority free of its commitments under the Oslo Accords, the door for any prospects for a two-State solution may be closed. As a Quartet member, the Russian Federation is ready to support and facilitate efforts to salvage the peace process and to engage with key regional countries. He added that Palestinian unity is needed more than ever and urged Palestinians and Israelis to continue to coordinate their COVID-19 response.
France’s representative said that the inauguration of the new Israeli Government brings the prospect of annexation closer. He reiterated that any annexation of any part of the West Bank, including settlements only, would violate international law and imperil the two-State solution, adding: “Annexation is neither in the interest of the Palestinians nor of the Israelis nor of the Europeans nor of the international community.” It would further put regional stability at risk and harm Israel’s role in the world, he said, emphasizing that annexation will have consequences for the European Union’s relations with Israel. “We are today at a crossroads for the Middle East peace process. It is our responsibility as Council members to unite to promote peace and not chaos,” he said.
Likewise, Tunisia’s representative said that it is high time that the international community, in particular the Council, assumes their responsibility to compel Israel, the occupying Power, to abide by its obligations under international law, end its aggressive policies, cease all settlement activities and refrain from any attempts to implement its long-planned illegal de facto annexation of Palestinian land. “This is a moment of truth for all of us,” he said, recalling that the Council of the Arab League called on 30 April for the Quartet to convene an urgent meeting to salvage the prospects for peace and a two-State solution. Talk of annexation demonstrates once again the Government of Israel’s complete disregard for international law, including Security Council resolutions and agreements signed with the Palestinians. He warned that growing frustration and feelings of helplessness and persecution — alongside the pandemic, harsh living conditions and the humanitarian situation in Gaza — will further complicate the situation and undermine peace prospects. He went on to stress the need for the international community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Germany’s delegate said that now is the time to engage the new Government in Israel through dialogue. “As close partners and friends, we […] strongly encourage the Israeli Government not to implement any measures which would constitute a violation of international law,” he said, adding that ways must be found to revive the political process and resume direct negotiations between the parties. The format for such talks must be agreed by both parties, he said, adding that Germany would support reviving the Quartet or establishing an alternative multilateral format. He also called upon Israel and the Palestinian Authority to remain committed to the Oslo Accords and to the obligations contained in those texts.
Belgium’s representative said that his country, together with its European partners, will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including Jerusalem, that are not agreed by the parties through direct negotiations. “As friends and close partners of Israel, we strongly advise the Israeli Government against any step towards annexation,” he said, calling on the international community, and especially those States with influence, to do all they can to prevent any such steps. He warned against unilateral decisions that would undermine or seriously hamper prospects for negotiations and called on the parties to continue implementing all agreements and understandings.
The representative of the United Kingdom, also voicing deep concern about the prospects of annexation, said that his delegation appreciates the Palestinian Authority’s proposals for renewed dialogue, but it is disappointed by President Abbas’s decision to no longer abide by security agreements. Now is the time for more cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, not less. The two sides must work together to meet their obligations under the Oslo Accords and refrain from unilateral actions. He also once again called on Israel to halt settlement activity and for the Palestinian Authority to tackle incitement and anti-Semitism.
China’s delegate urged the relevant party to stop any unilateral actions, and refrain from escalating conflict and tension, adding: “It’s also our firm position that no country should back such unilateral actions.” The Council should discharge its mandate and do its part to prevent such dangerous unilateral actions. The Palestinian issue is testing human conscience and international justice and the Palestinian people’s right to statehood is not something for trading. Turning to the COVID-19 pandemic, he encouraged Israel and Palestine to strengthen public health cooperation and called for an end to the blockade of Gaza. For its part, the international community should scale up assistance to the Palestinian people, including through increased financial support to UNRWA.
Indonesia’s delegate said that the Council has a solemn duty to act against annexation. “There should be no ambiguity on this matter,” he said. Israel’s insistence on continuing along the path of annexation will devour peace prospects, create regional instability, usher in a new cycle of violence, and eventually undermine Israel’s security interests. Rather than stand idly by, the Council must address Israel’s illegal actions. He also urged the international community at large to stop Israel’s creeping annexation through various means, including halting any support to settlement-related businesses.
South Africa’s representative said that “we have again failed the people of Palestine”. The Council, the wider United Nations membership and the international community cannot allow flagrant violations of international law to continue. Israel is exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to further advance its de facto annexation of Palestinian land. Any Middle East peace plan must not see Palestinian statehood devolve into an entity devoid of sovereignty, territorial contiguity and economic viability. “The actions of a few in the coming days and months, will determine whether future generations will continue to live under the threat of the scourge of war or if they will be able to enjoy the freedoms and peace envisaged at the founding of the United Nations,” he said.
The Dominican Republic’s delegate said that, at this particular juncture, conciliation efforts must be redoubled with the support of the international community. Unilateral actions must be avoided at all costs. The COVID-19 pandemic is a common enemy for both Israelis and Palestinians and the only way to fight it is through collective action based on solidarity and a common sense of humanity. He welcomed Israel’s reopening of several border crossings, enabling thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank to seek work, adding that coordination between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities can promote much-needed dialogue to relaunch peace talks.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines urged Israel, the occupying Power, to reverse its settlement policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. A comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the Palestinian question should take into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. It should also include internationally guaranteed provisions to an end to the occupation and achieve a two-State solution. She also went on to urge the international community to keep funding UNRWA and bilateral programmes to improve access to health care in the West Bank and Gaza.
Viet Nam’s delegate, commending coordination efforts to tackle COVID-19, remained concerned about deteriorating conditions in Gaza and ongoing violence. Sharing concerns about settlement activities, he called on Israel to halt such practices and to fulfil its obligations under relevant resolutions. Viet Nam fully supports the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Special Coordinator, he said, also expressing hope that the Quartet would play its role in encouraging the resumption of talks on the basis of internationally agreed parameters, including relevant United Nations resolutions.
Niger’s delegate said that while existing General Assembly and Council resolutions should pave the way for dialogue and a lasting peace, not much has been achieved towards those goals. In the spirit of cooperation, seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, Niger hopes that Israelis and Palestinians can overcome differences and return to the negotiating table. He urged both sides to respond favourably to the Secretary-General’s appeal to build a framework for cooperation and to pool their efforts in order to effectively combat the spread of the coronavirus and its disastrous consequences on populations already exposed to various deprivations. “May this blessed month of Ramadan strengthen this nascent dynamic of cooperation between Israel and Palestine, and may it enable the peoples of this region, cradle of the three great religions, to enjoy peace, security and development,” he said.
The representative of Estonia, Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, congratulating Israel on the formation of its new Government and calling upon it and the Palestinian Authority to keep coordinating their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that the recent United States initiative “has given us impetus to revive the Middle East peace process”. Israelis and Palestinians should take steps towards resuming negotiations in line with relevant United Nations resolutions. He also called on the Palestinian Authority to reconsider its decision to terminate agreements with Israel and the United States and to remain committed to the obligations contained therein.
* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division.