26 JANUARY 2021

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

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**Middle East

Back here, at least virtually, Tor Wennesland briefed the Security Council this morning for the first time in his new role as the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.  He told the members that Nickolay Mladenov’s performance as Special Coordinator is a hard act to follow.

He added that he joins the Secretary-General in welcoming the presidential decree issued by President Mahmoud Abbas to hold legislative, presidential and Palestinian National Council elections this year.

Mr. Wennesland warned that the COVID-19 crisis continues to take a staggering toll across the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Israel.  Concerted efforts to contain and halt the spread of the virus have succeeded in lowering the overall number of active cases in the West Bank and Gaza.  However, the cost in lives and livelihoods remains high, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

In this context, he said, the UN continues to encourage Israel to help address the priority needs of the Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to support COVID-19 vaccine availability more generally.

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Questions and Answers

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Question:  Okay.  I want to ask about the Middle East meeting today.  Clearly, we heard from the new Special Coordinator, Mr. Wennesland, but we didn’t hear his reaction to some of the things that happened later in the meeting.

So, first, what is the Secretary‑General’s reaction to the fact that you now have a US Administration laying out its policy on Israel‑Palestine and it has now returned to the international norm of a two‑State solution, pretty much what is laid out in UN resolutions, which hasn’t been the Administration’s policy…  the previous Administration’s policy for the last four years?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, with…  I will say that we obviously welcome the US’ renewed focus on international cooperation globally, and we will engage with the US on this and other issues.  I mean, I’m not going to get into…  I don’t want…  we obviously welcome these comments, but I’m not…  I don’t want to get into the analysis of what each Member State said.  We will…  we work with one Administration at a time, and we look forward to working with this Administration.

Question:  I don’t want to get into an analysis of what each Member State said, but the Russian Foreign Minister made a new proposal, which was either an international conference or he suggested the idea of a ministerial meeting this summer with the Quartet plus a group of Arab countries, as well as Israel and Palestine.  What is the…  what is the Secretariat’s view…?

Spokesman:  We will analyse the proposal.  We’ve always called for a renewal of the activities of the Quartet, which is something that we hope we will see.

Question:  Could a conference be helpful, an international conference?

Spokesman:  I think let’s…  let me stay for there right now.  Thank you.

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Question:  Yeah, no, sorry.  One other question about today’s Security Council meeting, which was Mr. Wennesland said that he would like the Israelis to provide more help to Palestinians with regard to vaccinations.  Does the UN believe it is an obligation of Israel as the occupying Power to start vaccinating those that are living in that occupied territory?

Spokesman:  Look, we’ve had…  what I will say is that we’re continuing to encourage the Israelis to help address the priority needs of Palestinians in the OPT, support the vaccine.  I think this is critical to support of the broader efforts of the Palestinian Government to control the pandemic, also in line with Israel’s obligation under international law.

I think it’s also important to note that Israel has worked very closely with the UN and partners throughout the course of the pandemic to ensure that equipment and supplies have been delivered throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.  And Palestine is also eligible for support through the COVAX facility and that we anticipate an initial allocation of vaccine batches to cover priority groups to be available in the first half of this year.

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For information media. Not an official record.