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SC/14560
24 June 2021
8804th Meeting (AM)

Israel Must End Settlement Activity, Special Coordinator Tells Security Council, Stressing Need for Restraint on All Sides

Delegates Call for Ceasing Measures to Alter Demographic Composition, Character, Status of Occupied Palestinian Territory

The new Government of Israel must cease its settlement activity and all sides must exercise maximum restraint to preserve the fragile ceasefire which ended 11 days of bloodshed in May, the United Nations official in charge of the Middle East peace process told the Security Council today, as members called for the cessation of all measures designed to alter the demographic composition, character and status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the 15-member Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) (document S/2021/584), while emphasizing that the cessation of hostilities reached in May between Israel and Hamas remains fragile.  He provided an overview of recent developments, including the swearing in of Israel’s new coalition Government on 13 June, recent threats of eviction facing Palestinians in East Jerusalem, settlement-related clashes in the West Bank, violent rallies held by both sides, the launching of incendiary balloons and the subsequent, retaliatory air strikes between 15 and 17 June.

Recent months, he reported, have seen hostilities between Israel and factions in Gaza “at a scale and intensity not seen in years”.  Spotlighting concerning attempts to exploit the sensitive status of Jerusalem to justify a broader armed conflict, he called on Hamas and other Palestinian militants to immediately cease the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars at Israeli civilian populations, and on Israel to take all precautions necessary to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure in the conduct of military activity.  He also emphasized that Israel must cease its settlement activity in accordance with resolution 2334 (2016) and end the demolition and displacement of Palestinian property and people.

Turning to the humanitarian situation in Gaza, he detailed United Nations efforts to coordinate the delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance to the 2 million people living in the area, despite the ongoing closure of the Kerem Shalom border crossing.  Calling on Member States to ensure the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has the resources it needs to conduct its operations, he also highlighted “the urgent need to re-establish a political horizon and restore hope to Palestinians and Israelis”.

As Council members took the floor, many expressed hope for constructive engagement with the new Israeli Government while calling on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and refrain from inflaming tensions.  Many speakers also condemned Israeli settlement activities, noting that they are undermining the peace process.  Delegates also underscored the need for all concerned parties — especially Israel — to adhere to their obligations under resolution 2334 (2016) and work towards a two-State solution to end the conflict and restore hope to the region.

The representative of Niger, voicing regret that the Secretary-General’s latest report brought with it “the usual news of death, destruction and despair”, recalled that the goal of resolution 2334 (2016) was to preserve the two-State formula after years of gridlock by calling on Israel to cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Five years on, Israel continues to contravene those terms and a range of related resolutions, as its practice of expropriation and colonization of Palestinian land enters a new, alarming stage.  “The despair of those thrown onto the street can only fuel future conflict,” he stressed, calling on the global community to pressure Israel to end its practices.

China’s representative also stressed the need for Israel to adhere to resolution 2334 (2016), as continued, illegal settlement activities compromise peace in the region in total disregard of the international community’s objections.  Further, less than a month after the Council welcomed the ceasefire on 22 May, Israeli authorities approved an incendiary parade in the holy city of Jerusalem and, once again, conducted airstrikes against Gaza.  Noting that the May conflict worsened the humanitarian situation in Gaza, he urged Israel to facilitate humanitarian access, rather than creating obstacles and setting preconditions.

The representative of the United States said that, for its part, her country announced in May $38 million in new humanitarian aid to the West Bank and Gaza, while also extending $75 million in additional development and economic assistance for their recovery.  She emphasized, however, that Council members must coordinate to prevent Hamas from diverting those resources and ensuring that relief aid reaches its designated beneficiaries.  Stressing that the situation requires more than emergency assistance, she underscored her expectation that the new Israeli leadership make serious headway on pending issues.

Vikas Swarup, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of India, echoed calls for immediate, monitored aid delivery complemented by a revitalized peace process.  Stressing that urgently needed humanitarian assistance must reach the Palestinian people through verified channels, he encouraged increased cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian authorities towards that end, including in the delivery of food and medicine and the movement of patients in and out of Gaza.  He emphasized, however, that “the peace process can no longer be kept on the back burner”, and called for the immediate resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

Also speaking were representatives of Tunisia, Viet Nam, Kenya, Ireland, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Russian Federation and Mexico.

The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:12 a.m.

Briefing

TOR WENNESLAND, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) (document S/2021/584), said the cessation of hostilities reached in May between Israel and Hamas remains fragile and stressed that “everyone must do their part […] to avoid another devastating escalation in Gaza”.  Acknowledging the new Israeli coalition Government sworn in on June 13, he detailed other recent developments, including the continuing threat of eviction facing Palestinians in East Jerusalem, settlement-related clashes in the West Bank, violent rallies held by both sides and the launching of incendiary balloons and retaliatory airstrikes between 15 and 17 June.

Turning to the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016), he expressed concern over continued Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, particularly the approval of a plan to expand the Har Homa settlement in East Jerusalem.  Noting that the ongoing establishment of settlement outposts has led to protests and clashes “with tragic results” — as demonstrated recently at the Evyatar outpost — he called for the immediate cessation of all settlement activity, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and a major obstacle to a two-State solution.  He also called on the Israeli authorities to end the demolition and displacement of Palestinian property and people.

Noting that recent months have witnessed hostilities between Israel and factions in Gaza “at a scale and intensity not seen in years”, he expressed particular concern over attempts to exploit the sensitive status of Jerusalem to justify a broader armed conflict.  Hamas and other Palestinian militants must cease the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars towards Israeli civilian population centres, and Israeli authorities must take all feasible precautions to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of military activity.  He further called on Hamas and Israel to honour their obligations under international humanitarian law regarding returning the remains of those killed in armed conflict.

Turning to the situation in Gaza, he said the United Nations continues to coordinate the delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance to the population, moving quickly to ensure a well-coordinated international response focused on the 2 million people in Gaza “who have suffered for far too long”.  Expressing concern that the Kerem Shalom border crossing has been effectively closed for over five weeks, he stressed that it must be opened for regular, non-sensitive trade.  He also highlighted the $150 million budget shortfall facing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), calling on Member States to ensure the Agency has the resources necessary to conduct operations.  Recent events, he added, have also “highlighted the urgent need to re-establish a political horizon and restore hope to Palestinians and Israelis”.

Statements

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), welcoming the recent cessation of hostilities, stressed that ending violence is only the first necessary step, but “not the end of the story”.  It is therefore essential for both sides to avoid provocative actions.  In May, the United States announced $38 million in new humanitarian aid to the West Bank and Gaza, and it has also decided to extend $75 million in additional development and economic assistance for their recovery.  Calling for a mechanism to prevent Hamas from diverting resources, and urging all Council members to coordinate efforts to prevent such diversion, she emphasized that relief aid must reach its designated beneficiaries.  The situation, however, requires more than emergency aid.  It will take the serious commitment of both parties to chart a sustainable path forward.  Underscoring her expectation that the new Israeli leadership makes serious headway on pending issues, she said both Israel and Palestine equally deserve peace and security.

TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) said the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remains alarming despite the ceasefire, and expressed concern over the potential for renewed violence given ongoing provocation by groups of settlers and the occupying forces against Palestinian civilians and holy sites in Jerusalem.  He cautioned the occupying Power against continuing to demolish homes, confiscate property and evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem, particularly in the neighbourhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.  The international community, he stressed, must pressure the occupying authority to respect international law and refrain from any unilateral steps that might escalate the situation and undermine prospects for peace.  He further called on Member States to guarantee protection for Palestinian civilians, hold the occupying Power responsible for its aggression against the Palestinian people and respond to humanitarian needs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

VIKAS SWARUP, Vice‑Minister for Foreign Affairs of India, said the international community’s attention should not be diverted from the immediate need for humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population, particularly in Gaza.  Such aid should reach the Palestinian people through verified channels, he said, calling for reinforced cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities in the area of humanitarian delivery, including of food and medicine, and the movement of patients in and out of Gaza.  Noting that Gaza’s rehabilitation and reconstruction should also be prioritized, he referenced the postponement of the reconciliation meeting of all Palestinian parties, which had been facilitated by Egypt, and expressed hope that they will overcome the current stalemate as intra-Palestinian unity is critical for achieving a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.  “The peace process can no longer be kept on the back burner,” he stressed, underscoring the need for immediate resumption of the Middle East Peace Process and direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam) deplored the use of excessive force and live ammunition against civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, warning that, if those incidents continue in one place, it is only a matter of time before they spark the next cycle of violence in other places.  Calling on the Israeli authorities to exercise utmost restraint, he expressed regret over reported inflammatory rhetoric, particularly racist slogans against Arabs.  “Neither anti-Arabism nor anti-Semitism are acceptable as they not only erode trust, but also undermine any chance for reconciliation,” he stressed, calling for every effort to bring the parties back to negotiations towards a two-State solution, including the establishment of the State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital alongside the State of Israel.

ZHANG JUN (China) expressed concern that, less than a month after the Council welcomed the ceasefire on 22 May, Israeli authorities approved a parade in the holy city of Jerusalem that escalated tensions, and once again, conducted air strikes against Gaza.  Urging all parties — especially Israel — to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any action that might intensify frictions, he also called on Israel to uphold and respect the status of Jerusalem and protect the religious rights of Muslims living there.  Israel’s illegal settlement activities compromise peace in the region in total disregard of the international community’s objections.  That country must adhere to resolution 2334 (2016) and immediately cease such activities, as well as the demolition of Palestinian homes, evictions and settler-related violence.  He added that the May conflict damaged civilian infrastructure and worsened the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, noting that China provided $1 million in emergency humanitarian assistance.  Against that backdrop, he urged Israel to open crossings, lift the blockade and facilitate humanitarian access, rather than creating obstacles and setting preconditions.

ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) said the Secretary-General’s latest report has brought with it “the usual news of death, destruction and despair”, underscoring that today’s briefing “is in no way a cause for optimism”.  Recalling that the goal of resolution 2334 (2016) was to preserve a two-State solution after several years of gridlock by calling on Israel to cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he voiced regret that Israel continues to ignore those terms as well as those laid out in other resolutions.  That country’s practice of expropriation and colonization of Palestinian land has entered a new stage with its eviction of Palestinians from the neighbourhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. He highlighted the alarming fact that, over the last three months, Israel has demolished or seized 72 structures and subjected 970 people – including over 400 children – to eviction proceedings.  “The despair of those thrown onto the street can only fuel future conflict,” he stressed, calling on the global community to use its influence to end all practices that jeopardize peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya) said the status of Jerusalem is becoming the core of clashes and confrontations, with different parties trying to exploit the sensitive issue to commit violent acts.  Urging the new Israeli Government to pursue actual solutions in the face of possible forced evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, he condemned the recent launches of incendiary devices from Gaza by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups.  No cause can ever justify the deliberate targeting of civilians.  Among other things, he said, the practical and full implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) will need to address the issues of settlements, territorial contiguity and the viability of the two-State formula.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), echoing the Secretary‑General’s call for an integrated, robust package of support for a swift, sustainable reconstruction and recovery of Gaza, reiterated her country’s support for UNRWA).  Welcoming the new Israeli Government, she said her delegation looks forward to constructive engagement, and urged Israel to take steps to address the root causes of conflict by ending the expansion of illegal settlements, demolitions and the threat of forced evictions, and by allowing for legal construction by Palestinians.  As resolution 2334 (2016) makes clear, such steps are essential for salvaging a two‑State solution and reversing the negative trends that imperil the vision of a viable, contiguous Palestinian State on pre‑1967 lines, alongside a secure State of Israel, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States.

INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said her delegation is deeply troubled by the deterioration of the situation on the ground, which is moving a two-State solution further away.  Strongly condemning Israeli’s air strikes in Gaza on 15 June in violation of the announced 20 May ceasefire, she called on all parties to refrain from violence and any acts that would impede the resumption of constructive dialogue between them.  She rejected the status quo of the continuous Israeli occupation and displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the blockade of Gaza, which led to the recent hostilities.  The Council must assume its responsibilities in maintaining peace and security and send a strong message to the Israeli authorities, she stressed.

ALEXANDER V. REPKIN (Russian Federation) expressed concern over Israel’s continued, illegal settlement activities, which present one of the main obstacles to achieving peace through a two-State solution, and over the recent increase in the issuance of construction permits for new housing units and the seizure of Palestinian property.  Tension in East Jerusalem is not decreasing, he noted, as clashes continue between Palestinians and Israelis across the West Bank and “at any moment, can spiral out of control”.  He called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint, and on the new Israeli Government to reject unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions.  Further, it must work to solidify the fragile ceasefire and respect the status quo of holy sites monitored by Jordan.  He also voiced support for the work of UNRWA, and called for stable, predictable funding for the Agency.  To achieve long-term stability in the region, he added, the Russian Federation’s colleagues in the Middle East Quartet (namely, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union) must work to facilitate dialogue among concerned parties.

ENRIQUE JAVIER OCHOA MARTÍNEZ (Mexico) urged the Palestinian Authority to convene elections again, stressing that their holding is a cornerstone of a democratic State.  Prosperity for Palestinians will in turn foster peace and security in the region.  Describing movement restrictions as a main driver of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and a heavy blow to its economic activities, he said it is therefore vital to lift the blockade.  Jerusalem must be an example of tolerance and coexistence where people can live in harmony, he said, condemning attempts to alter the demographic composition of the city and urging Israel to stop the eviction of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem.

For information media. Not an official record.