Global consensus on the question of Palestine could be eroding, making it more difficult to achieve concerted action at a time when it was more important than ever, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told the Palestinian Rights Committee as it opened its 2018 session.

“Negative trends on the ground have the potential to create an irreversible one-State reality that is incompatible with realizing the legitimate national, historic and democratic aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.

Ongoing settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, illegal under United Nations resolutions and international law, must be halted and reversed, he said, adding that violence and incitement continued to fuel fear and mistrust.

The humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza was dire, he said, expressing extreme concern over the latest shortfall in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  Not only was the human security, rights and dignity of 5 million Palestine refugees across the Middle East at stake, but also the stability of the entire region, he said, appealing to the generosity of the international community.

Reiterating the importance of advancing Palestinian unity, he said the two-State solution was the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and to secure a sustainable solution.  “There is no Plan B,” he stressed.

Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, Deputy Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, said his people faced an existential crisis.  The year had begun on a demoralizing note, with reckless decisions that further denigrated Palestinians’ rights and aspirations and dismissed a global consensus — based on Security Council and General Assembly resolutions — which had prevailed for decades.

She said the United States decision on 6 December 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move its embassy there, combined with subsequent punitive measures, had emboldened Israel’s impunity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem.  Further deterioration in the humanitarian situation loomed following the United States’ decision to dramatically reduce funding for UNRWA.

Underscoring the Palestinian leadership’s call for a collective peace process under international auspices, with the United Nations playing a central role, she said Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, would address the Security Council on 20 February.  He would call on the Council to ensure implementation of its resolutions, salvage peace prospects, appeal for the rights of the Palestinian people, and press for a just, lasting and peaceful solution to a tragic situation, she stated.

Fodé Seck (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, conveyed the body’s deep concern over recent measures taken by Israel, including the adoption by its Parliament of a law that would prevent future Israeli Governments from ceding any part of Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, to an independent Palestinian State.  Illegal settlement activity meanwhile continued at a faster pace, despite Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), he said, also expressing concern over the situation in Gaza and that of Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Condemning all forms of violence and incitement to hatred and extremism, he called on the international community to pursue its long-running efforts towards inter-Palestinian reconciliation, to guarantee the financial viability of Palestinian State institutions and to strengthen the capacity of Palestinian officials to administer an independent State.

He drew attention to a Security Council meeting on 18 December 2017, during which most members rejected the United States decision on Jerusalem, and to the 15-nation organ’s failure to adopt a resolution in that regard, owing to a veto cast by that country.  He also recalled the General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution declaring null and void any and all decisions aimed at modifying the character, status or demographic makeup of Jerusalem, and calling on all States to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in that city.

He said Committee activities in the past year included missions to Mexico and the United Republic of Tanzania, discussions in Nicaragua with members of the Palestinian diaspora in Latin America, and a Headquarters forum from 28 to 29 June 2017 — coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation — that featured a frank exchange of views between Israelis and Palestinians, he said.

At the outset, the Committee unanimously re-elected Mr. Seck (Senegal) as Chair and the following Vice-Chairs:  Mahmoud Saikal (Afghanistan), Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo (Cuba); Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia); Neville Melvin Gertze (Namibia); and María Rubiales de Chamorro (Nicaragua).  Carmelo Inguanez (Malta) was re-elected Rapporteur.

Also today, the Committee approved its draft work programme for the 2018 session (document A/AC.183/2018/L.2), which outlined such activities as a United Nations forum on the question of Palestine to mark the seventieth anniversary of the 1948 war and the Nakba, to be held at Headquarters on 17 and 18 May.  It also featured an international conference on the question of Jerusalem, in cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in Rabat in late June; and Committee visits to Latin America, the European Union and Uganda.

Several representatives took the floor to express their commitment to the two-State solution and support for UNRWA.  Some also called for the State of Palestine to be granted full membership in the United Nations.

Ms. Rodríguez (Cuba) said the United States decision on Jerusalem was a grave and flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and relevant resolutions.  She also expressed concern over “economic blackmail” related to UNRWA’s funding, she said, urging the Committee to act in that regard.

Mr. Djani (Indonesia) emphasized the Committee’s role in raising awareness among Governments and other stakeholders, saying he was worried that the Palestinian issue would be overtaken by other emerging crises.  On UNRWA’s funding, he said new ways must be found to avert further suffering among Palestinian refugees.

Amal Mudallali (Lebanon) said the only solution to the crisis was a comprehensive and lasting peace through the establishment of an independent Palestinian State with pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital.  Lebanese as well as Palestinians were very passionate about Jerusalem, she said, adding that any procrastination in resolving the question of Palestine would give rise to a vicious circle of violence.

Also speaking today were representatives of Venezuela, Namibia, Nicaragua and Afghanistan, as well as of the League of Arab States.

For information media. Not an official record.