Despite reprisals between Palestinians and Israelis, and the ongoing ravages of COVID-19 on a region struggling to staunch its spread, achievement of an elusive two-State vision remains possible, the senior United Nations official for Middle East peace told the Security Council today, hailing a 15 January decree announcing the conduct of Palestinian elections in 2021 as “a crucial step” towards Palestinian unity and the building of a democratic State.
“There are opportunities unique to this moment that should not be missed,” said Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefing the Council’s videoconference meeting from Jerusalem for the first time since assuming his role in December 2020. Upcoming talks in Cairo to resolve outstanding issues concerning the polls will be important for the preparatory process, he observed.
According to the long-anticipated decree, issued by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, legislative elections will take place on 22 May, he said, followed by presidential elections on 31 July and voting for the Palestinian National Council on 31 August. An amendment to the elections law, meanwhile, raised the quota for female representation from 20 per cent to 26 per cent. In a separate development, he noted that Israel’s Knesset dissolved on 23 December 2020 after failing to pass a budget, with general elections now slated for 23 March 2021.
Turning to the issue of settlements, he expressed concern over Israel’s advancement on 17 January of 800 housing units in Area C settlements, as well as its publication of tenders for 1,900 units in that Area, and 210 units in East Jerusalem, a day later. Of the units advanced and tendered, most are in settlements in outlying locations, deep inside the occupied West Bank, he said. More than 200 are located in illegal outposts that Israel is retroactively regularizing under its law.
On 19 January, the Jerusalem District Court denied a request for an interim injunction to freeze the tendering process for 1,200 units in Givat Hamatos, he continued, stressing that “settlements are illegal under international law”. He went on to detail Israel’s moves to demolish, seize or force owners to demolish 71 Palestinian-owned structures, with the Magistrate Court in Jerusalem on 23 December 2020 upholding an eviction order against four Palestinian families in the Batan al-Hawa section of the Silwan neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.
More broadly, he said violence persists, marked by rocket fire from militants in Gaza on 25 December 2020, followed by three additional firings from Gaza towards Israel on 18 and 19 January 2021. A month earlier, on 21 December 2020, a 52-year-old Israeli woman was found killed near the Tal Menashe settlement in the occupied West Bank, having been attacked with a stone. And on 24 December 2020, a Palestinian man in the village of Tura, near Jenin, was arrested on suspicion of the killing. Settler-related violence also increased, notably following the death of a 16-year-old boy from the Bat Ayin settlement, he added.
On the political front, he said the Envoys of the Middle East Quartet met virtually on 23 December 2020 to discuss the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Noting that the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan likewise met in Cairo on 11 January, he said their joint statement emphasized support for the two-State solution and urged all parties — including the Quartet — to work towards launching negotiations.
In the wider region, he described conditions in the Golan, where the ceasefire between Israel and Syria has been generally maintained despite violations of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement by the parties. There were also reports of air strikes attributed to Israel on locations in Syria on 25 and 30 December 2020 and 6, 13 and 22 January 2021, resulting in casualties.
In Lebanon, he said consultations to form a Government continue, with participants at the 2 December 2020 Paris Conference, co-chaired by the United Nations and France, expressing concern about the political deadlock. While the situation in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) area of operations was generally stable, there were increased violations of Lebanese airspace by Israel.
“As we contend with one urgent crisis after another, we must not lose sight of our overarching goal: supporting Palestinians and Israelis to resolve the conflict,” he said, by ending the occupation and achieving the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security, based on the 1967 lines. In that context, he welcomed the agreement signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, expressing hope that recent accords penned between Israel and Arab countries will lead to a more peaceful Middle East. That outcome, however, requires leaders “on all sides” to re-engage and return to the path of negotiations.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, noted that Palestinians suffered unprecedented pressure during the past four years from the former Administration of the United States, which chose to adopt dangerous, unjust measures and to freeze funding for UNRWA. Recalling that country’s decades-long role of mediator in efforts to end the occupation and establish an independent Palestinian State, he said that settlement was sidelined by the main actor in the peace process. Instead, Israel increased its settlement activities and annexed territory, as the former United States Administration laid the foundation for a new settlement based on imposing the status quo, he added.
The Council continues to believe, by consensus, that the two-State solution is the only way forward, and that settlements and the declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital are illegal, he continued. Going forward, there must be concerted efforts to reaffirm the two-State formula and resolve the conflict in a comprehensive way, he stressed. The Arab League anticipates that the new United States Administration will correct unhelpful measures and policies and relaunch the political process, he said. That would give Palestinians hope. Welcoming the announcement of elections, he said that step will unify Palestinians and deserves international support.
Riyad al-Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Observer State of Palestine, warned that the countdown to the demise of a two-State solution is under way, pointing out that some critics say that time has already elapsed. They point to the responsibility to salvage the process before it is too late, he said, noting that others wonder if this is even the right time for peace. However, the reasons for the difficulty of the task at hand — mistrust and unilateral actions — should motivate international involvement “since we all agree, we are running out of time”, he emphasized.
Asking the Council to consider how much trust existed 30 years ago, when the parties met in Madrid, he wondered how willing Israel’s Prime Minister was to make peace or how pleased the Palestinians were that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) could not send its own delegation. “The world decided it was time to solve this conflict and was not going to take no for an answer,” he recalled, asserting: “Without Madrid, we would not have made it to Oslo.” He stressed that momentum is something people create — not wait for — and reiterated the call for a collective approach that mobilizes the international community and demonstrates resolve. He likewise called for the revival of the Quartet on the Middle East, its engagement with partners and parties, mobilization by the Council and the holding of an international peace conference to signal, as in Madrid, a turning point in the conflict. Final status negotiations, based on international parameters, also must be launched.
He went on to question whether anyone believed that Israel had dropped its annexation plans, or instead, was advancing them through accelerated demolition of Palestinian homes and record high settler violence. Israel’s goal has always been the same: grabbing maximum Palestinian geography with minimum Israeli demography. “Who would accept that?”, he asked, stressing: “We cannot.” The central question hinges on convincing Israel to choose peace over annexation. He pointed to the adoption of resolution 2334 (2016), outlining a road map for salvaging a two-State solution, and warned against the risks and narrowed choices borne from passive resignation. Noting that the last four years have tested collective resolve, he said the international community faced the challenge by standing up against annexation, reaffirming support for Palestinian rights and supporting UNRWA.
“Now is the time to heal and repair the damage left by the previous United States Administration,” he said, expressing hope for resumed engagement with Washington, D.C., reversal of the hostile measures taken by the previous administration and working together for peace. He welcomed the United States decision to rejoin the international law-based order and voiced his expectation that it will play a key role in creating peace in the Middle East. “This is not the time for passive resignation,” he said. Resolute action is needed, without which reversing trends on the ground and resuming final status negotiations will be impossible.
He went on to question whether the world had used the tools available to end the occupation and the conflict, proposing that international observers be deployed to assess compliance, and questioning why one side should fear the consequences of breaching commitments or reject the idea of binding timeframes. “This is the path towards changing the dramatic reality under way in Palestine,” he said. Palestinians will continue to fulfill their obligations. “An entire nation is yearning for freedom and its calls must be answered,” he said. They are asking for nothing more than what is outlined in the Charter of the United Nations — nor will they accept anything less, he said, stressing: “We cannot accept a future of walls and of blockades.”
With that, he advocated for the creation of a sovereign, viable, contiguous and democratic State of Palestine, based on 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, through peaceful means. He also called for immediate protection for Palestinians, until such time the Government can protect them as a sovereign State, and support to ensure the integrity of Presidential and legislative elections, notably by helping to remove any obstacles to their conduct foisted by Israel. “With your help, may our future be one of freedom, security and prosperity for all,” he said.
The representative of Israel said he hoped the new Special Coordinator will bring fresh energy to help to resolve the issue and recognize Iran for its role as the real threat to the region, including Tehran’s call for the destruction of Israel and denying the Holocaust. Indeed, the Council should be focusing on Iran today, as that regime has made its nuclear-weapon aspirations clear, he said, noting a recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report and stressing that the most dangerous regime in the world must not be allowed to possess atomic weapons. Emphasizing that Israel has no grievances with the Iranian people, who are victims of the regime’s ideology and actions, including the recent death sentence of a journalist, he said thousands of Iranians are paying the price of the international community’s complacency.
The reality in 2021 is not the reality of 2016, he said. Iran did not use the removal of sanctions to improve conditions for its people, but has built an arsenal of missiles, funded terrorism and is threatening regional and international peace and security. A recently discovered secret archive has demonstrated that Iran failed to disclose its massive nuclear weapon programme, deceiving the world when it signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Council must not give in to this nuclear extortion, he said, adding that measures should ensure that Iran truly abandons its atomic weapon aspirations. Appreciating the international community’s efforts to block Iran’s intention of developing nuclear weapons, he warned that lifting sanctions will prevent the achievement of this goal. Israel knows how to protect its citizens. It will never allow Iran to become a nuclear‑weapon country and will work with the United States to achieve this goal.
He expressed hope that the Council’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will change and focus on the real threat to the process — Palestinian incitement and terrorist attacks. Israel remains ready to negotiate to resolve the conflict and will make peace when there is a willing partner, which can be seen in agreements signed with Egypt, and more recently, other countries in the region. If President Abbas was truly serious about peace, he would stop inciting violence and come to the negotiating table instead of calling for another international conference. He said that, after 15 years of avoiding elections, President Abbas has now coincidentally announced elections at the dawn of a new United States Administration.
However, the Middle East of today is no longer the old Middle East held hostage by the Palestinians, he continued. The new peace accords with several countries bring stability and new hope for the region, he said, asking Palestinians to explain why they call these agreements a “stab in the back”. Addressing false claims about Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination programme, he said a successful campaign involves including all parts of society, and Israel’s experiences will be shared with other countries in addition to contributions of millions of dollars and cooperation with United Nations agencies. The Palestinian Authority is responsible for the health care of its people and has requested vaccines from the Russian Federation, he said, adding that Israel will provide whatever assistance it can in this endeavour.
In the ensuing dialogue, ministers and representatives from around the world affirmed their support for a two-State solution and condemned the violence by both sides. Many denounced Israel’s settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as illegal under international law, called for upholding the spirit and letter of resolution 2334 (2016) and pressed parties to re-engage in meaningful peace negotiations.
Mohamed Ali Nafti, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia, Council President for January, speaking in his national capacity, said the overarching goal is to end the conflict and ongoing violations of human rights and to reach a peace agreement. However, Israel has rejected measures and continues to occupy Arab territories. It is unacceptable for the current situation to continue, he said, expressing hope that the Council will be able to achieve a breakthrough and paradigm shift to end the impasse. He called for the international community to unite in efforts coordinated by the Council, Secretary-General and the Middle East Quartet to create an environment conducive for relaunching serious negotiations within a determined timeline to reach a fair, comprehensive peace in the Middle East. To do so, the international community must hold Israel accountable for violations and ensure it withdraws its occupation, ends the illegal Gaza blockade and halts annexation plans. Relaunching negotiations cannot occur with these breaches of international law and violations of relevant Council resolutions. All issues must be settled, including the status of Palestinian refugees, he said, expressing hope that international efforts will help the Palestinian authorities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, with UNRWA continuing to discharge its important mandate. Expressing support for all efforts to revive the peace process, he said the world faces a historical moment, and the international community must support the peace process. Let the United Nations seventy-fifth anniversary be the occasion to do so, he emphasized.
Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence of Ireland, reaffirming his country’s commitment to a two-State solution, said that, ultimately, there is no substitute for direct negotiations between the parties. “It is time to look afresh at how we can assist Israelis and Palestinians to bring new momentum to resolving this conflict,” he said. He encouraged regional players to identify concrete ways to help the two sides build trust and cooperation, noting that new partnerships between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco could contribute to resolving the Israel-Palestine issue. He called for the Quartet to play a reinvigorated role and looked forward to fresh engagement by the United States under its new administration. He also requested more details about President Abbas’s proposal for an international peace conference. He went on to say that Ireland stands ready to assist plans for free, fair and inclusive elections in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. He also urged Israel to halt all settlement expansion and demolitions and called for an immediate end to missile attacks from Gaza into Israel. Turning to other Middle East hotspots, he welcomed the Al-Ula declaration, calling it a key milestone towards stability in the Gulf region, and urged greater efforts to end the conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
Sergey V. Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said that achieving a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement should remain a focus for the international community. Questioning “geopolitical experiments” promoted by Western countries, he said that unilateral acts can only push away prospects for the fair settlement of current issues. Normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries should aim at stabilizing the region, and not to push aside the Israeli-Palestinian issue to so-called “better days”. He stressed the need for direct dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians, based on Council resolutions and the Madrid principles, among other foundational documents, with Israel’s legitimate security concerns taken into account. Financial support for UNRWA must continue. He went on to say that international efforts to relaunch direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is critical to resolve the whole range of final status issues. In that regard, the Quartet, in close cooperation with the parties to the conflict and key Arab countries, can play a very effective role. The Russian Federation is in favour of an international peace conference as proposed by President Abbas, he said, adding that thought should also be given towards a ministerial meeting among Quartet member States and Arab countries, with the participation of Israel and Palestine. Such a meeting could become a working platform to analyse the situation and help launch dialogue. He also said that Moscow stands ready to host a high-level Israeli-Palestinian meeting.
Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said the responsibility for a resumed peace process depends on Israelis and Palestinians alike. Mexico is particularly interested in multilateral initiatives to achieve a solution, whether through revitalization of the Quartet or the holding of an international conference. Any diplomatic effort is welcome, he said, urging parties to refrain from actions that might hamper the peace process. Further, resolution 2334 (2016) must be enforced, as it states that a halt to settlement‑building is crucial for achieving the two-State solution. He called for an immediate cessation of settlement activities and demolition of Palestinian structures, noting more broadly that the normalization of ties between Israel and Arab countries will provide an opportunity to relaunch the peace process. As long as the conditions for a political solution are not met, it will be difficult to address Palestinians’ needs. He urged parties to avoid violence, and to protect the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis, condemning attacks against Israel by groups in Gaza, and the disproportionate responses to them. He acknowledged UNRWA’s efforts in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, drawing attention to Mexico’s recent $750,000 contribution and stressing the need for mutual respect and full compliance with the rule of law.
Ine Eriksen Søreide, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, said resumed negotiations should build on previous agreements, based on international law, Council resolutions and internationally agreed parameters. Expressing strong support for a two-State solution and saying Palestinians and Israelis are destined to live peacefully side by side, along safe and recognized borders, she said this approach is the only one that has the commitment of leaders from both sides and is backed by international consensus. For the formula to work, it must be viable: Palestinians cannot exist without an end to the occupation and prerequisites for growth in place. A Palestinian State needs strong, transparent institutions, with continued support for reforms, she said, welcoming the upcoming Palestinian elections and drawing attention to a shared responsibility for ensuring UNRWA has the resources needed to fulfil its mandate. The Palestinian State-building process deserves recognition and Norway will call for greater international support for that purpose at the next meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which will also focus on the situation in Gaza and the need to complete basic infrastructure projects. Expressing concern over Israel’s ongoing settlement‑building in the West Bank, she said normalized relations between Israel and other States offer “a glimmer of hope”, as they create new dynamics that the international community should capitalize on to foster peace in the region. A reinvigorated Quartet will also be important for the process to succeed, she added.
Rein Tammsaar, Deputy Foreign Minister of Estonia, expressed support for all efforts to resume negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians on all final status issues, based on international law, relevant Council resolutions and agreed parameters. He expressed hope that the normalization of relations between Israel and certain Arab States will help revive the Middle East peace process aimed at achieving a two-State solution. Pressing all stakeholders to support the holding of free, fair and inclusive elections for Palestinians throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he urged all Palestinian factions to commit to international law and democratic principles, and on Israel to facilitate the holding of elections across all Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. Parties likewise should refrain from unilateral steps that undermine the viability of a two-State solution, he said, calling on Israel to halt its settlement expansion and demolitions, and denouncing in particular its recent decision to advance settlement‑building plans in Givat Hamatos as “contrary to international law”. Estonia has increased support to UNRWA in recent years and he urged others to do likewise, he added.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines echoed President Abbas’ call on the United Nations to convene an international conference in early 2021 to launch a genuine peace process. Honouring the Palestinian peoples’ long-held quest for self-determination and statehood by revisiting the question of full membership at the United Nations is a matter long overdue, and an essential component of a lasting two-State solution. Expressing deep concern about unlawful measures and practices by Israeli authorities, he said that all settlement activities violate international law. Turning to the internal political situation in Palestine, he welcomed the announcement by President Abbas to hold the parliamentary elections on 22 May, presidential elections on 31 July and the Palestinian National Council elections on 31 August.
The representative of the United States, recalling comments made today, shared elements of the Biden Administration’s approach, including its firm support for a two-State solution, which remains the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish State and the Palestinians’ aspiration for nationhood. Active consultations with both sides are essential, he said, emphasizing that, even though trust among the two parties is at a nadir, this does not remove the responsibility to ensure a two-State solution or to address humanitarian conditions on the ground. Confidence can be built on both sides through constructive actions, he said, adding that the Biden Administration will restore relations with the Palestinians and Israelis. Washington, D.C., will also restore assistance programmes to help the Palestinian people and reopen offices that were closed under the former United States Administration. At the same time, the United States will maintain its steadfast support for Israel, opposing one-sided resolutions and actions that unfairly single it out. The Biden Administration welcomes recent agreements normalizing relations between Israel and several Arab States. Indeed, peaceful cooperation among States in the region is crucial, and the United States will work to normalize relations among more countries. Doing so will benefit the region as a whole, unlocking new possibilities to advance a two‑State solution, he said, adding that the United States looks forward to working with the Palestinians, Israel and the Middle East Quartet in the coming years.
The representative of Kenya, condemning all acts of violence that endanger Middle East peace and prosperity, said that the practicality and full implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) on Israeli settlements must be addressed. He called for greater cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to ensure the delivery of critical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for the international community to support international and regional efforts geared towards the resumption of peace talks. He expressed hope that all parties will come on board, including through participation in the proposed international conference.
The representative of France said the parameters for resolving the conflict are well-known: two States living in peace and security on the basis of 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as their capital. It is for the parties alone to resume discussions on this basis, make any necessary modifications and conclude all final status issues together. He expressed alarm over the multiplication of Israel’s fait accompli acts, undermining a two-State solution, and condemned its moves to advance or approve settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and notably in Givat Hamatos and Har Homa. Israel should not implement these decisions. He likewise expressed alarm over the sharp rise in the demolition of Palestinian structures, notably those financed by France and the European Union, stressing that France will not recognize any change to the 1967 lines other than those agreed by the parties. All parties must distinguish between Israeli territory and the occupied territories of 1967. Greater cooperation will be needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and he recalled Israel’s responsibility as the occupying Power on the issue of vaccines. He concluded by stressing that France and its partners will work to achieve a fair, lasting solution in the Middle East, based on international law, and welcoming the rejection by the United States of any unilateral actions that undermine a two-State solution.
The representative of Viet Nam expressed support for the Arab League to play a greater role in regional issues, including the Palestine question. Welcoming the recent announcement of the Palestinian Authority on the parliamentary and presidential elections to be held later this year, he said the long-awaited polls will be a crucial step to consolidate the solidarity of the Palestinians and help them overcome the multiple challenges and achieve progress in the peace process. In this regard, he called on the United Nations and all relevant parties to support the holding of free and fair elections with the participation of all eligible voters from all parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. As the challenges in the peace process are further compounded by humanitarian ones, the international community must continue its efforts to help address the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The representative of Niger, highlighting current challenging conditions facing the Palestinian people, expressed hope that elections would lead to the resumption of talks to negotiate a two-State solution and to addressing these and other pressing issues. Observing the recent détente between Israel and some countries in the region, he remained concerned about worsening relations with Palestinian authorities. Supporting the work of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he highlighted a range of ongoing issues, deploring Israel’s settlement activities, including calls for building 2,500 more housing units and policies for destroying Palestinian homes. These and other flagrant violations of international law and Security Council resolutions jeopardize talks to establish a two-State solution and must not be tolerated. Concerned about conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Niger is alarmed about the 13-year-long Gaza blockade and other Israeli actions. As such, the international community must support President Abbas’ call for a conference to advance the goal of establishing a Palestinian State, he said, expressing hope for future success in ending the conflict.
The representative of India said his country has always called for a just and comprehensive solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and welcomed all peaceful efforts to achieve a two-State solution. Reiterating his India’s support for President Abbas’ call to hold an international peace conference, he noted that New Delhi has made a multi-year financial contribution of $5 million to support UNRWA's work in providing humanitarian assistance and essential services. As an incoming UNRWA Advisory Committee member, India will continue to strengthen its contribution to the Agency. His country supports Palestinian nation-building and is currently undertaking several projects in health, education, technology and other sectors. It also provides over 250 scholarships for Palestinian youth and officials annually and has supplied critical life‑saving drugs and medical equipment to Palestine as assistance during COVID-19.
The representative of the United Kingdom welcomed the announcement of dates for Palestinian presidential and legislative elections for the first time since 2006, encouraging leaders to work towards strong, inclusive and accountable democratic institutions, based on respect for the law and human rights. She expressed the United Kingdom’s long-standing support for a negotiated settlement leading to a safe, secure Israel living alongside a viable, sovereign Palestinian State based on 1967 lines with agreed lands swaps, Jerusalem as a shared capital and a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement of the refugee issue. She condemned the 20 January decision to award tenders and proceed towards construction of settlement units in Givat Hamatos in the West Bank, stressing that “settlements are illegal under international law” and threaten a two-State solution, and urged Israel to cease all such activity. She condemned the murder of Esther Horden by a Palestinian on 20 December 2020 in Tal Menashe, as well as all violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians. Further, she called on Hamas and other terrorist groups to end their rocket fire against Israel, urging parties to prioritize progress on a durable solution for Gaza and encouraging Israel to take practical steps to ensure the area’s reconstruction.
The representative of China said Palestinians’ legitimate demand for a State cannot be delayed indefinitely. “New changes are on the horizon,” he said, calling for a greater sense of urgency to achieve peace through diplomacy. The two sides should rebuild trust and find a way to peacefully coexist, while the international community should establish a multilateral mechanism for promoting peace talks. Expressing support for the position of Arab countries, he said the proposal to hold an international peace conference deserves consideration. For its part, the Council must promote resolution of the Palestinian question, listen to the voices of regional organizations and work to resume dialogue. China will continue to push for the Council’s greater role in the Middle East peace process, he said, welcoming the decision by Palestinians to hold elections. The land‑for‑peace principle, the Arab Peace Initiative and a two-State solution all point in the right direction, he said, calling them the “basic tenets” for resolving the Palestinian question. Drawing attention to resolution 2334 (2016), he expressed concern over Israel’s significant expansion of settlement activities and called for their cessation. Israel also must stop destroying Palestinian property, prevent violence against civilians and lift the Gaza blockade. Its right to peaceful coexistence should be guaranteed, he added.