Political Horizon Never So Uncertain, Notes Chair, as Permanent Observer Stresses: ‘We Have to Put Our House in Order’
Marked by sporadic deadly violence, the current situation in Israel and Palestine is untenable in terms of advancing the agreed-upon two-State solution, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told the Palestinian Rights Committee today.
“There is no ‘Plan B’,” he emphasized, while commending the ongoing efforts of that body – known formally as the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People – to foster progress. “Unfortunately, over this past year, no progress has been made towards achieving such a solution,” he said. “Instead, the situation on the ground has deteriorated and the possibility of establishing a viable, contiguous Palestinian State continues to erode.”
He went on to note that, after more than half a century of occupation, Israelis and Palestinians continue to suffer needlessly from cycles of violence. Expressing shock over recent events, including the murder of an Israeli teenager, and concerned by Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, he said hopes are fading for intra-Palestinian reconciliation despite Egypt’s tireless mediation efforts, calling upon the leaders concerned to take decisive action to resolve the political impasse.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip must be addressed, he stressed, calling upon Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of goods. He also highlighted that country’s construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank, saying it is deepening a sense of mistrust and scuppering efforts for the implementation of the Oslo agreements and relevant United Nations resolutions. He went on to underline the financial crisis confronting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and thanked donors for their support for its critical work.
Appealing to both Israelis and Palestinians to exercise restraint in the face of continuing clashes, he stressed: “Leaders have a responsibility to take concrete steps that will reverse this negative trajectory.” He continued: “Young Palestinians and Israelis should not be condemned to a future defined by endless conflict,” adding: “We must create the conditions for a future in which both sides can coexist in their respective independent and contiguous States, and contribute to building a prosperous and peaceful Middle East.”
Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, thanked Egypt and other stakeholders for their efforts to effect reconciliation, while emphasizing: “We have to put our house in order.” Going forward, “we will double our efforts” for the objective of achieving a two-State solution, he said, expressing hope that change is possible given the current situation. Appreciative of the assistance given to UNRWA, he applauded the Agency’s work in helping 5.5 million Palestinians until the current situation is resolved.
Committee Chair Cheikh Niang (Senegal), noted that although the parameters of a definitive solution are clearly identified and known to all, the political horizon has never seemed so uncertain. Seventy-one years after the General Assembly adopted resolution 181, and a quarter of a century since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the situation on the ground is not only volatile, but looking increasingly like a single State, he pointed out. Only a definitive solution will make it possible to address other Middle East challenges, such as terrorism, violent extremism, poverty and exclusion, he emphasized, cautioning that colonization and occupation, as well as violence, incitement, the catastrophic Gaza situation and intra-Palestinian dissension are among the factors sapping confidence among the parties. He reiterated the Committee’s condemnation of all forms of violence and incitement to hatred, he said the best way to create favourable conditions for sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians would be to renounce violence and fait-accompli politics and return to the negotiating table intent on achieving an overall solution giving each party the right to a sovereign State.
Concerning the question of Jerusalem, he called for respecting the status quo pending the definitive resolution of the holy city’s final status. Regarding Gaza, he warned that the risk of a fourth military confrontation between Israel and Hamas persists, despite efforts by the United Nations and Egypt to maintain the fragile ceasefire in place since 2014. As for UNRWA, he urged Member States to guarantee the Agency’s access to predictable, sufficient and sustained resources. The international community must work, in a spirit of multilateralism, to relaunch the peace process on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions and with all pending issues on the table, he stressed.
He went on to summarize recent and upcoming Committee activities, noting that it held meetings with civil society organizations from Israel, Palestine and the United States, as well as interlocutors at the London-based Palestinian Refugee Centre. Upcoming events include a briefing session for United Nations delegates on 26 February and a mission to the European Union and Belgium to enhance diplomatic and political support for recognition of the State of Palestine, among other goals.
At the meeting’s outset, the Committee approved its agenda and re-elected its Bureau as follows: Mr. Niang (Senegal) as Chair; Adela Raz (Afghanistan), Ana Silvia Rodríguez (Cuba), Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia), Neville Melvin Gertze (Namibia) and Jaime Castillo Hermida (Nicaragua) as Vice-Chairs; and Carmelo Inguanez (Malta) as Rapporteur.
The Committee then heard a briefing by Laith Abu Zayed of Amnesty International, who presented, via videoconference from East Jerusalem, the findings of the human rights group’s recent report, “Destination: Occupation, Digital Tourism and Israel’s Illegal Settlements”. Focusing on four companies – Airbnb, Booking.com, TripAdvisor and Expedia – he said their claims of respect for high ethical standards and the rule of law do not seem to apply in the case of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. By listing accommodation, attractions and tours on their websites, those companies help sustain an illegal situation, as well as a regime that abuses Palestinian human rights, he said. The financial gains that the four companies and the Government of Israel are making can only be imagined, he said, emphasizing that the Government has political and ideological reasons for developing tourism in the Occupied West Bank, where many settlements are located next to archaeological sites.
Noting that the West Bank was on the itineraries of almost half of the 4 million tourists who visited Israel in 2018, he stressed that the four companies must halt their listing of tourist accommodation, activities and attractions run by Israeli settlers in the Occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and to extend compensation to affected Palestinian communities. Member States should, meanwhile, take regulatory action to prevent digital tourism companies domiciled or headquartered on their territory from providing or facilitating tourism services in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He recalled that, before releasing its report, Amnesty International contacted the four companies, but only Booking.com and Expedia replied, saying they were unaware of any relevant legal obligations.
In other business, the Committee approved two concept notes, as well as its draft work programme for the 2019 session (document A/AC.183/2019/L.2), outlining its mandate and enumerating priority issues. They include: supporting multilateral efforts to end the occupation; mobilizing international, regional and national action to ensure fulfilment of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people; supporting the efforts of Member States to implement relevant United Nations resolutions; engaging Security Council members, regional groups and Member States in advocating implementation of the parameters for peace in the conflict; and advocating the right to return, to just compensation for Palestinian refugees, and for ending the blockade on Gaza. The draft work programme also contains planned activities of the Committee and of the Division for Palestinian Rights within the Department of Political and Peacekeeping Affairs.
Several delegates took the floor to reiterate their unwavering support for a two-State solution and to condemn violence as an obstacle to progress on the long road to that goal.
Ms. Rodríguez (Cuba) expressed regret at the Security Council’s failure to condemn the tragic events unfolding in Gaza. Rejecting the indiscriminate use of force against civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she said her country will never stop supporting a broad, lasting and fair solution to the conflict.
Luis Gallegos Chiriboga (Ecuador), agreeing with the Secretary-General’s assessment that “there is no Plan B”, said 2019 should be a year of peace – and the one in which the Palestinian people have their rights restored by the creation of their own State.
Nasreddine Naouali (Tunisia) said the Palestinian question will be a priority for the summit of the League of Arab States, which his country will host on 31 March.
Also speaking today were representatives of Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Africa, Namibia, Nicaragua and Morocco.
An observer for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation also delivered a statement.