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21 July 2020

Palestinians Witnessing ‘Crushing of Their Dream’ of Own Independent, Sovereign State, Veteran Academic Tells Security Council

Support has gradually tilted in favour of a one-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past decade among Palestinians due to the grim reality on the ground, a veteran researcher told the Security Council in a 21 July videoconference meeting*.

“Palestinians witness the crushing of their dream of one day seeing the ending of the Israeli occupation of their land and the building of their own independent and sovereign State,” said Khalil Shikaki, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

In May, more than three quarters of Palestinians surveyed did not believe that a Palestinian State would be created in the next five years, he noted.  Most are torn between insisting on their national aspiration for decolonization, building a State of their own, and their recognition that it is not feasible anymore because of the grim reality on the ground in which Israeli settlement expansion destroys day by day the chance for peace based on partition.

Many of them, particularly the youth, driven not only by this reality, but admittedly by a high degree of discouragement given their own domestic shortcomings, have come to embrace a one-State solution, one in which all Jews and all Palestinians have equal rights, he said.

Turning to the United States plan on the Middle East peace process, titled Vision for Peace, he said that if implemented, it would create a one-State solution in which Palestinians are denied their basic right to elect those who set the important rules by which they are governed; a future invitation to greater discrimination and violence between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Trump plan and its annexationist corollary send the message to Palestinians and Israelis that the two-State formula is out of reach, perhaps dead and buried, Mr. Shikaki said, urging Council members to stand up to the current United States and Israeli Administrations and protect the norms and rules of the international system.  “Afterall, protecting that system is your own raison d’être,” he said.

“Our findings clearly show that the two publics are not an impediment to peace,” he said.  “With the right leadership and the right incentives, the two publics can be brought to support a detailed identical vision of peace based on a real, not make-believe, two-State solution.”

Also briefing the Council was Daniel Levy, President of the United States/Middle East Project, who urged the 15-member organ to explore, together with the Secretary-General, a mechanism to assess and evaluate its record and effectiveness on the Israel-Palestine issue and consider convening a commission or other appropriate vehicle to appraise anew approaches to resolving this longstanding conflict.

He said the prospect of the partition question needs to be revisited in the not-too-distant future.  Given the gap between what is necessary for a genuine two-State outcome and the reality on the ground, the Council should consider, alongside expressing a preference for two States, acknowledging a readiness to engage with other ideas, so long as any alternatives respect one irrevocable standard, namely full enfranchisement, equal and democratic rights for all of those within the political and physical space in question.

Noting that as of 21 July, there has been no further Israeli annexation on the West Bank, he stated that this is not a moment for self-congratulation.  “Keep Champagne on ice,” he said, adding that refraining from de jure annexation carries no reward and avoiding criminality is normative, not prizeworthy.

He urged the Council to ensure accountability, pointing out that occupation has become cost-free for Israel while it should be costly.  The issues of human rights and international legality should no longer be subordinated to maintaining a peace process and must be front and centre, he added.

A plan that strips all attributes of sovereign Statehood cannot offer a path to peace, and pre-emptively normalizing regional relations with Israel while occupation continues is to indulge maximalism, he said.

Presenting periodic updates on the situation in that region, Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative, said that the ferocity of the COVID-19 virus and its devastating human and economic toll demand extraordinary measures beyond politics-as-usual.

“We must use the opportunity presented by the current crises to move forward, and to regain the path towards a negotiated two-State solution, built on a just and sustainable resolution to the conflict in line with relevant UN resolutions, bilateral agreements and international law,” he said.

Stressing the need to restart diplomacy, he reiterated the Secretary-General’s call to the members of the Middle East Quartet, the Arab countries, and the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to urgently re-engage.

He noted that Palestinians and Israelis are grappling with a complex and potentially destabilizing three-pronged crisis:  First, an escalating health crisis as both struggle to contain the rapid spike of coronavirus cases.  Second, a spiralling economic crisis as businesses close, unemployment soars, protests increase, and the economy suffers the financial impact of months of lockdowns and restrictions.  And third, a mounting political confrontation, driven by the threat of Israeli annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, and the steps taken in response by the Palestinian leadership.

In recent weeks, the region and the broader international community have continued to express their firm rejection of annexation, he said, reiterating the Secretary-General’s call on Israel’s Government to abandon plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

In the ensuing discussion, Miguel Berger, State Secretary of the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Council president for July, spoke in his national capacity, saying that the two-State formula remains the only viable solution.  An Israeli annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, on the other hand, would bring the two sides closer to a one-State reality.  Noting a visit to Israel and Jordan in June by his country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas, he called for a resumption of direct and meaningful negotiations, with all sides showing flexibility and openness.  Reactivating the Middle East Quartet would be the best option to discuss the way forward.  He also called upon Israel to end settlement expansion, the confiscation of Palestinian land, and the demolition and seizure of Palestinian-owned structures.  He urged both sides to fully implement resolution 2334 (2016) and appealed for intra-Palestinian reconciliation, with the West Bank and Gaza coming under one government.  All those steps would be building blocks for a positive agenda, he said, requesting the Council and the parties to consider them.

The representative of the United States said that while Mr. Levy and Mr. Shikaki were entitled to their opinions, much of their remarks were “opinions”.  Although several factors contribute to the desperate situation in Gaza, the oppressive rule of a terrorist organization, Hamas, is at the centre.  Hamas’ charter states “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.”  They are more willing to subject the Palestinian people to despair and perpetual conflict to fulfil their violent vision and appease the hegemonic aspirations of sponsors, such as the regime in Iran, than to forge a future of peace and prosperity.  Trapped in such a cycle of madness, it is not surprising that the youth in Gaza have lost hope.

What’s worse is the prospect that the regime in Tehran is poised to unleash even more misery and bloodshed, not just in Gaza, but in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, should this Council allow the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran, she said.  Arguably, this session and future meetings on the Middle East should be focused on this great threat to peace and security.  The Council should be discussing how to get responsible Israeli and Palestinian leadership to sit down at the negotiating table.  United States President Donald J. Trump introduced his Vision for Peace to do exactly this and give the young people on both sides the opportunity for a prosperous and peaceful future.  Some have rejected the elements of the United States plan, but no one has offered an alternative that is both realistic and credible.

China’s representative said that the international community has been loud and clear in rejecting the annexation of parts of the occupied Palestinian territory.  Such a move would imperil the two-State solution, he said, adding that no country should support unilateral actions.  It is equally imperative to stop settlement activities, while the Council should ensure that its decisions, including resolution 2334 (2016), are fully implemented.  “It is a critical moment to advance the Middle East peace process and resume equal and meaningful peace talks between Palestine and Israel,” he said, underscoring China’s support for an international peace conference and an enlarged multilateral peace mechanism.  The voices and concerns of the Palestinian people and countries in the region should be heeded, while those States with influence on Palestine and Israel should remain impartial.  He described China as a sincere friend of the Palestinian people whose President, Xi Jinping, in a telephone call with President Mahmoud Abbas on 20 July, reiterated its firm support for Palestine’s just demands, the two-State solution and all efforts conducive to resolving the Palestinian question.

Estonia’s representative said that his country’s Government remains committed to a negotiated two-State solution, considering the legitimate aspirations of both parties and Israel’s security concerns.  Noting the announcements on the readiness of the Palestinian Authority to resume peace negotiations as well as the counter-proposal submitted to the Middle East Quartet, he said both parties should take steps towards resuming direct and meaningful negotiations to resolve the final status issues and achieve a just and lasting peace.  Speaking against any unilateral steps, he said that a possible annexation by Israel of parts of the occupied West Bank would undermine the prospects for a negotiated two-State solution and threaten the stability of the region.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, welcoming the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to resume negotiations with Israel under the auspices of the Middle East Quartet, said that direct negotiations can bolster the prospects for a negotiated two-State solution.  The serious socioeconomic and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip necessitates an urgent political solution to facilitate lifting the 13-year Israeli blockade, she said, calling on the international community to ensure that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is properly funded.  She went on to say that while Israel did not proceed with its annexation plans on 1 July, the threat of annexation has not disappeared.  “It is imperative that we work collectively to discourage any possible initiative towards annexation and to promote the internationally-agreed two-State solution,” she said, supporting the call for an international conference.

Niger’s representative said that now more than ever it is time to give hope to the peoples of the Middle East.  Their genius extends beyond the region and they deserve solidarity and unwavering support.  Underscoring the impact of COVID‑19, he commended those Member States that are contributing to United Nations coronavirus intervention programmes and to UNRWA’s daily work on the ground.  He added that it is incumbent today on the Council, the Quartet and the international community to spare no effort to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on the basis of unanimously accepted ideals and principles, in particular through resolution 1515 (2003) which enshrines the two-State solution.

The Dominican Republic’s representative said that given the long-standing dire situation of the health system, particularly in the Gaza Strip, now with the global COVID-19 pandemic, its collapse is imminent.  All acts of violence by any of the conflicting parties have a particular impact on women, he said, calling for their full, equal and meaningful participation in all actions towards peace, including addressing the disproportionate impact of violence on females as a central issue.  His delegation stands with both parties in their search of such a goal.  But Palestinian national unity and Israeli political will need to precede any meaningful dialogue.  The only way forward for Palestinians and Israelis is to negotiate their way out of this long and painful conflict and lead their own paths towards lasting peace for present and future generations.

The representative of the United Kingdom said that the priority must be on preventing annexation and finding alternative ways for the parties to engage, reiterating that his country will not recognize any changes to the 1967 lines except those agreed between both parties.  Ultimately, both sides need to make meaningful steps towards a just, fair and agreed settlement and return to the negotiating table.  Now is the time for Israel to make clear that it will not take any unilateral steps towards annexation, and now is the time for both parties to resume cooperation, particularly on security.  Now is the time for the Palestinians to reach out to the United States and Israel.  COVID-19 remains a serious and significant threat in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.  Welcoming the cooperation between United Nations agencies, the Palestinian Authority and Israel during the first wave, he called on the parties to resume cooperation.

Belgium’s representative recalled that an overwhelming majority of the Council took a clear stance in June against the stated intention of Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, considering it an illegal act.  Indeed, a unilateral decision formalizing an annexation, regardless of its size, would constitute a flagrant violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, which strictly prohibits the acquisition of territory by force.  Such an act would be considered null and void and would not change the status of the West Bank, which will remain occupied territory; nor will it change Israel’s obligations as an occupying Power under international humanitarian law, and more specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention, he said.  In line with the European Union’s position, his delegation will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including Jerusalem, other than those agreed upon by the parties through direct negotiations, he added.

Tunisia’s representative said that it is regrettable and scandalous that Israel, the occupying Power, persists in blatantly disregarding all legal obligations and repeated calls by the international community for ending its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory.  The Quartet, with the support of the Council and other international actors, could live up to the challenge of preserving a two-State solution and relaunching the peace process.  Turning to the humanitarian situation worsened by COVID-19, UNRWA is also confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from the pandemic.  Additional funds are urgently needed to ensure the continuity of the Agency’s essential services.  Tunisia has recently announced a symbolic contribution to the Agency’s budget in solidarity with Palestine refugees.

Indonesia’s representative said that formal annexation may seem to be on pause for now, but the occupation continues.  Palestinian suffering is real and deep, and it is never on pause.  He urged Israel to abandon its annexation plans and called upon all parties to restart negotiations.  “The outpouring of support for the Palestinians and condemnation of Israel’s annexation plan need to be translated into action.”  He urged the international community to mobilize support for the resumption of credible multilateral negotiations, guided by the internationally agreed parameters, with the aim of implementing the two-State solution.  He called upon all parties to ensure access for humanitarian assistance and support UNRWA, emphasizing that “our fight against COVID-19 is far from over”.  The Council has an obligation and a solemn duty not only to stop Israel’s vicious annexation plan but to ensure that Palestinians receive their long-awaited justice.

France’s representative, reiterating his country’s support for the two-State solution, urged Israel to abandon any plans to annex parts of the West Bank, “whatever the perimeter”.  Among other things, annexation would strengthen the enemies of peace to the detriment of Israel’s security and efforts to achieve regional peace.  It would also have consequences for the European Union’s relationship with Israel, he said, emphasizing that the Council must remain mobilized to prevent any such decision.  He underscored France’s determination to work with Arab and European partners towards the resumption of credible and ambitious negotiations between the parties, based on international law, Council resolutions and internationally agreed parameters.  The path to peace will be long and difficult, and it will require courageous political decisions, but the conflict will not be resolved through unilateral decisions, he stated.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that crises in the Middle East are either provoked from outside or complicated by external interference on the part of those who think they know how to solve a particular problem through one-sided approaches.  Local opinions are often ignored, while core principles of international assistance are twisted.  The international community, primarily the United Nations, should help countries break deadlocks themselves, starting from the principle of “do no harm.”  There is no alternative to two States, Palestine and Israel, coexisting peacefully, he said, adding that final status issues must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two sides.  Such negotiations should begin as soon as possible.  The Russian Federation urges its Quartet partners to intensify cooperation, he said, adding that Moscow also stands ready to engage in dialogue with key regional players.  He went on to say that international support for UNRWA is needed more than ever and that Moscow is cooperating with various Palestinian representatives to help them overcome their internal differences.

Viet Nam’s representative expressed a deep concern about the humanitarian challenges Palestinians have been faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is causing severe impact on that population’s socioeconomic development.  These challenges can be even more compounded by a second wave of infections in the region.  However, the pandemic is just one among the deep-rooted concerns the international community has regarding the prospects of the Palestinian people, he said, noting that the most serious concern continues to centre on plans of Israel to annex large swaths of the occupied Palestinian territory.  It is high time to redouble efforts to defuse tension and resume dialogue, he said, calling on Israel to stop all unilateral actions and abandon all annexation plans.  Welcoming the recent statement by Mr. Abbas that the Palestinian Authority is ready to resume the long-stalled peace talks with Israel, he stressed that the only option towards peace there is a two-State solution.

Also speaking were the representatives of the South Africa, Israel and the State of Palestine.

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* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division.

For information media. Not an official record.