International efforts to establish a political horizon that can end the occupation of Palestinian territory and achieve a two-State solution must be re-energized, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process said today, as Security Council members took stock of developments following the formation of a new Government in Israel in June.
Tor Wennesland, presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), which called on Israel to cease all settlement activity in Palestinian lands, said recent engagement between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials ‑ including a meeting in August between Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ‑ is encouraging.
However, efforts must continue to address the ever-worrying situation on the ground, including reversing negative trends in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and stabilizing the fragile situation in Gaza, he told the Council in a briefing delivered via video-teleconference.
“I once again urge Israelis, Palestinians, regional States and the broader international community to take practical steps that will enable the parties to re-engage on the path to peace,” he said, adding that he will continue to engage with the Middle East Quartet, key regional partners and Israeli and Palestinian leaders in that regard.
He reported that during the 12 June to 27 September period covered in the Secretary-General’s report, no new Israeli settlement housing plans were advanced or approved. However, the seizure and demolition of Palestinian-owned structures continued in the West Bank, while daily violence left 24 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier dead.
He welcomed steps by the new Government to ease the economic pressure on the Palestinian Authority and encouraged their expansion. He also urged the two parties to act urgently to stabilize the Palestinian economy and strengthen Palestinian institutions. He added that the United Nations firmly supports Egyptian-led efforts aimed at Palestinian reconciliation.
Two members of civil society also briefed the Council, describing the situation on the ground and calling for a more inclusive peace process.
Mai Farsakh, Planning Manager of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, described some of the effects of Israel’s disregard for international law on those suffering from settlement expansion. She recalled that, since the adoption of resolution 2334 (2016), approximately 60,000 additional settlers took up occupancy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Further plans have since been announced this year, involving 9,000 housing units in Atarot settlement south of Ramallah, among others, she said. More threatening still are plans to retroactively authorize illegal outposts situated on Palestinian private land by declaring the latter “State land”. Meanwhile, settlers ‑ with either the active or tacit support of the Israeli army ‑ are employing violence to maintain settlements and outposts on Palestinian lands, she said.
Meredith Rothbart, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Amal-Tikva, said it is a political reality that negotiations at the highest diplomatic levels will not result in substantive peace right now. The Oslo Accords failed because the agreement came from a secret process between elite leaders, with no involvement from women, religious leaders or representatives of those wishing to disrupt the process with violence. She emphasized that civil society peacebuilding not only works but is a precondition for a negotiated end to an intractable conflict.
Having passed resolution after resolution, the Council must consider investing in a social peace, she said, adding that it was no coincidence that she was invited to speak by Ireland, Council President for September, as the Irish know the power of civil society peacebuilding first-hand. “First break the intractable nature of the conflict down into manageable parts,” she advised, then “tackle each of those parts one by one and build a popular belief that peace is, in fact, possible”.
In the ensuing debate, Council members once again reiterated their support for the two-State solution and called on Israel to comply with its obligations under international law, including by halting settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. They also expressed concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and called on Hamas not to impede aid deliveries.
Tunisia’s representative, urging Israel as the occupying Power to comply with Council resolutions, said: “We cannot help but wonder when we will see international action to break the stalemate in the peace process and to facilitate the resumption of negotiations.” He voiced his support for a Middle East peace conference under the auspices of the Quartet and stressed the importance of unfettered humanitarian deliveries in Gaza.
The United States’ representative said that although present circumstances are difficult and concerning, steps can be taken to improve the lives of the Israeli and Palestinian people while also preserving the possibility of a negotiated two-State solution for “when the time is ripe”. He also emphasized that his country remains committed to widening the circle of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
The Russian Federation’s representative said that during the General Assembly’s general debate, which concluded on 27 September, nearly every world leader who addressed the Palestinian issue spoke in favour of a two-State solution. Urgent humanitarian aid must reach all those in need and the Palestinian Authority should receive assistance in tackling the lingering socioeconomic and humanitarian challenges facing the population, including the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
France’s representative said the encouraging resumption of contact between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority should be followed by confidence-building measures. However, such steps can only be effective if they are part of a political process. The need to create that process is more urgent than ever, he stressed.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ representative urged the international community ‑ and the Council and Quartet in particular ‑ “to shoulder their responsibility in a manner that has a direct impact on the resolution of this tragic occupation”. Freedom and justice for the Palestinian people can only be achieved through a lasting two-State solution that allows for the peaceful existence of the State of Palestine based on pre-1967 borders, she said.
Also speaking today were representatives of India, Mexico, China, Norway, Kenya, Estonia, United Kingdom, Viet Nam, Niger and Ireland.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12:03 p.m.
TOR WENNESLAND, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, speaking via video-teleconference, presented the Secretary-General’s nineteenth report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016). Covering the period from 12 June to 27 September, he noted that no new settlement housing plans were advanced, approved or tendered during that time. However, demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures continued across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, where 970 Palestinians face eviction. Daily violence continued, with 24 Palestinians, including two women and four children, killed by Israeli security forces during demonstrations, clashes, security operations and other incidents. Another 4,674 Palestinians, including nine women and 484 children, were injured. One Israeli soldier was killed by Palestinians and 29 injured, including two women, in clashes and other incidents. In addition, some Palestinian and Israeli officials — including a Knesset member and a senior Hamas official — continued to use inflammatory rhetoric.
The Palestinian Authority continues to face a growing fiscal crisis that severely impacts its ability to cover minimum expenditures, including Government salaries and payments to needy households, he continued. Following a meeting on 30 August between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, the first between the two sides since the formation of a new Israeli Government, Israel said it would lend $150 million to the Palestinian Authority, to be paid through deductions from clearance revenues. The Israeli Government also announced plans to issue identity cards to undocumented foreign nationals in the West Bank and grant an additional 15,000 permits for Palestinian workers to enter Israel, together with an additional 1,000 building permits for Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority meanwhile, announced plans to hold local council elections in December in 388 smaller villages and municipalities, to be followed by elections in larger communities in the first quarter of 2022.
Referring to the call contained in resolution 2334 (2016) for all parties to continue efforts to launch credible negotiations, he reported that the envoys of the Middle East Quartet met virtually on 15 July to discuss the latest developments. They agreed to remain engaged and to chart a way forward. Meeting in Cairo on 2 September, the president of Egypt, the King of Jordan and the president of the Palestinian Authority pledged to work together to resume peace talks under the auspices of the Middle East Quartet.
Sharing the Secretary-General’s observations concerning the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016), he emphasized that all settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are illegal under international law and undermine prospects for a viable two-State solution. Israel must cease demolitions and evictions, and approve plans that enable communities to undertake legal construction work. Security forces must exercise maximum restraint, he said, adding that Israel, as the occupying Power, has an obligation to ensure the safety and security of Palestinians, including from settler-related violence.
The launching of rockets and incendiary devices towards Israeli population centres must stop and the arrests of human rights defenders, journalists and activists on charges that interfere with their right to freedom of expression must cease, he continued. In Gaza, Hamas must cease hindering the delivery of crucial humanitarian assistance. He welcomed recent high-level contacts between Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as steps taken by the Government of Israel to ease the economic pressure on the Palestinian Authority, and encouraged their further expansion. Both parties should take urgent steps to stabilize the Palestinian economy and strengthen Palestinian institutions. He urged Member States to continue sustained funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Stressing the need for Palestinian unity, he said that reconciliation efforts led by Egypt must continue and that the United Nations stands firm in its support. The recent engagement of senior Israeli and Palestinian officials is encouraging, but efforts must continue to address the worrying situation on the ground, including reversing negative trends in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and stabilizing the fragile situation in Gaza, he said. Efforts to establish a legitimate political horizon that will end the occupation and achieve the two-State solution must be re-energized. “I once again urge Israelis, Palestinians, regional States and the broader international community to take practical steps that will enable the parties to re-engage on the path to peace,” he said, adding that he will continue to engage with the Quarter, key regional partners, and Israeli and Palestinian leaders in that regard.
MAI FARSAKH, Planning Manager, Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, described some of the effects of Israel’s blatant disregard for international law on those suffering from its continued settlement expansion into the Palestinian territory. Noting that the Israeli settler population stands at nearly 670,000 across 132 settlements and 140 outposts in Area C ‑ as well as 13 settlement blocs in East Jerusalem ‑ she said such settlement areas now account for almost 43 per cent of the territory of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
She recalled that, since the adoption of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), approximately 60,000 additional settlers took up occupancy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. More plans have since been announced this year, involving 9,000 housing units in Atarot settlement south of Ramallah, among others. More threatening still are the plans being advanced to retroactively authorize illegal outposts situated on Palestinian private land by declaring the latter “State land”. Meanwhile, violence ‑ actively or tacitly supported by the Israeli army ‑ is among the measures employed by settlers in constructing and maintaining settlements and outposts on Palestinian lands.
Another policy facilitating the settlement expansion process is Israel’s restrictive zoning and planning, she said. Those policies effectively preclude Palestinians from obtaining or affording building permits and leaves the great majority of residents vulnerable to threat of demolition. Pointing out that nearly all Bedouin communities have received blanket demolition orders and at least a third of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack Israeli-issued building permits, she went on to outline many of the financial, social and psychological repercussions of living in anticipation of, or in the aftermath of, a demolition. Those include trauma, domestic violence, the inability to access livelihoods and loss of social cohesion. The impact is not only particularly severe for women, but for children whose needs are magnified when their parents are contending with their own struggles, she said.
MEREDITH ROTHBART, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Amal-Tikva, introduced herself as a Jewish Israeli and a religious Zionist. Together with her Palestinian co-founder, Basheer Abu-Baker, her team works with leaders of non-governmental organizations, philanthropists and field experts to build capacity for strategic, sustainable and scalable peace efforts. Pointing to the political reality that negotiations at the highest diplomatic levels would not result in substantive peace right now, she said that the Oslo Accords failed because the agreement came from a secret process between elite leaders, with no women, no religious leaders and no representatives of those wishing to disrupt the process with violence.
Civil society peacebuilding not only works but is a required precondition for a negotiated peace agreement in intractable conflict, she said, adding: “We know it works when a Palestinian police officer saves a lost IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldier’s life, not because he has to, but because he wants to, out of appreciation for the Israeli volunteer from the organization, Road to Recovery who drove his brother to the hospital just the week before….” She also drew attention to religious leaders, like Rabbi Michael Melchior and Sheikh Raed Badir from the Religious Peace Initiative, who prevented a third Intifada amidst violence on the Temple Mount, calling them “the real peace negotiators.”
The United Nations has passed resolution after resolution, but to build peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the Council must consider investing in a social peace, she urged. It is no coincidence that it is the Irish who invited her here today, because the Irish know the power of civil society peacebuilding first-hand. Acknowledging the United States for passing the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act, the first large-scale governmental attempt at building Israeli-Palestinian peace from the ground up, she asked Council members to take inspiration from the Irish and American peacemaking efforts.
She called for investing in projects such as economic partnerships through organizations like Tech2Peace and 50:50 Startups, which teach tech and entrepreneurship to young Israelis and Palestinians and guide them to create start-ups addressing climate, food security, water and other shared issues. As well, programs like Kids4Peace and Teacher’s Lounge enable youth and educators to not only learn each other’s narratives, but to view themselves as agents of change. “First break the intractable nature of the conflict down into manageable parts,” she said, then “tackle each of those parts one by one and build a popular belief that peace is in fact possible.”
RICHARD M. MILLS, Jr. (United States) said that, although present circumstances are difficult and concerning, steps can be taken to improve the lives of the Israeli and Palestinian people while also preserving the possibility of a negotiated two-State solution for “when the time is ripe”. He called for regular, predictable and sustained access to Gaza for humanitarian actors and for crossings to remain open, with regular hours, to normal commercial traffic and expedited transit of humanitarian goods. The de facto authorities in Gaza must refrain from interfering in humanitarian activity, assistance delivery and internationally supported reconstruction efforts. The United States has already contributed over $300 million to UNRWA this year, he noted, calling on other Member States to help address its funding shortfall. UNRWA provides schooling to more than 530,000 Palestinian children who otherwise might be forced to attend schools under the influence of extremist groups. The United States remains committed to “widening the circle of peace” between Israel and its Arab neighbours, he emphasized.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) pointed out that during the start of the seventy-sixth General Assembly session, world leaders demonstrated a wide consensus on the need to end the suffering of the Palestinians and the occupation and to establish an independent and sovereign Palestinian State along 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital. The Council must shoulder its responsibilities and ensure implementation of its resolutions. He urged the occupying Power to comply with them, adding: “We cannot help but wonder when we will see international action to break the stalemate in the peace process and to facilitate the resumption of negotiations.” However, he also noted that he was confident the international community ‑ including the Council, the Quartet, neighbouring countries and other stakeholders - can create genuine prospects for a settlement that would lay the foundations for regional peace and stability. He voiced support proposals for a Middle East peace conference under the auspices of the Quartet and called upon the Council to compel the occupying Power to honour its commitments under international law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law. As well, he stressed the importance of unfettered humanitarian deliveries in Gaza, the need to refrain from obstructing reconstruction and to continue reconciliation efforts.
SRINIVAS GOTRU (India) underlined his country’s consistent call for direct peace negotiations between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, based on the internationally agreed framework to achieve the goal of a two-State solution. He also drew attention to Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) that calls for advancing the two-State formula through negotiations as well as for reversing the negative trends on the ground. The recent high-level interactions between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, along with key regional States provided a window of opportunity for resumption of direct negotiations. This Council and the international community, particularly the Middle East Quartet, should use this opportunity to make renewed efforts to kick-start talks, as they provide the best platform to resolve all final status issues and achieve a two-State solution.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico) urging Israel to end its settlement activities, condemned the launching of rockets and incendiary devices against Israel from Gaza, as well as the disproportionate use of force by Israel against Palestinian demonstrators around the border fences. He applauded the commitment shown by the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan at the tripartite Summit held earlier this month, with a view to developing a vision to resume political negotiations and work with partner countries to reactivate the peace process, in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions, and under the auspices of the Middle East Peace Quartet. Expressing Mexico’s support for the two-State solution, he said his country made an additional contribution to the UNRWA.
GENG SHUANG (China), noting that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remains turbulent, called on parties to refrain from any hostile acts. Expressing support for neighbouring countries’ mediation activities and for UNRWA’S ongoing work, he recalled that the Security Council’s May press statement called for the urgent reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. Against that backdrop, Israel must reopen relevant crossings, facilitate the entry of construction materials and lift the blockade. Turning to the issue of settlements, he said resolution 2334 (2016) clearly stated that settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory violate international law. Nevertheless, Israel continues to pursue its settlement activities, while violence against civilians has only intensified. He urged Israel to return to the path defined by a two-State solution and Arab Peace Initiative. He also welcomed President Mahmoud Abbas’ stated intention to engage with Israel on some issues and urged all Member States to engage on the matter in an impartial manner without double standards.
IVAN P. KHOROSHEV (Russian Federation), drawing attention to the stagnation in the Middle East peace process and the unresolved nature of the Palestinian question, said dangerous unilateral actions continue including settlement-building, arbitrary arrests, violation of the status of holy sites and violence. Urging the parties to refrain from unilateral steps, he said attaining lasting stability and creating the conditions needed to revive the peace process are top priorities. At the recent General Assembly high-level debate, nearly all those speakers who addressed the Palestinian issue spoke in favour of a two-State solution. Urgent humanitarian assistance must be provided to all those in need and the Palestinian Authority should receive assistance in tackling the lingering socioeconomic and humanitarian challenges facing the population, including the COVID-19 pandemic. The Russian Federation continues to work with the relevant parties as well as regional players, he said, recalling that Moscow’s Foreign Minister recently met for the first time with his newly appointed Israeli counterpart.
MONA JUUL (Norway), encouraging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to expand their ongoing dialogue to address financial and political issues, called on Gaza authorities to maintain the much-welcomed period of calm. She expressed concern about continuing illegal activities, including Israel’s housing settlement policy and house demolitions. As well, clashes in the West Bank are of great concern, she said, urging parties to refrain from dangerous rhetoric or actions that fuel tensions. Welcoming the recent Israel-Jordan dialogue, she noted her regret regarding the postponement of a ministerial-level meeting scheduled to be held 23 September, adding that only a political solution can end the conflict.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya) strongly condemned the recent launches of fire rockets from Gaza by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other militant groups, calling on all sides to address the issue of using civilian infrastructure for weapons storage and civilians as human shields. Reiterating that the establishment of settlements by Israelis in the Palestinian Occupied Territory remains a major obstacle to the two-State solution, he described the recent engagement of senior officials from both sides as positive steps to forge cooperation on security and economic policies. He urged both sides to strengthen the recent ease on restrictions of entry of goods between Gaza and Israel. Welcoming the Qatari Government’s efforts to rebuild Gaza and UNWRA’s reinforced funding, he called for attention on the security and economic challenges in the West Bank.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), emphasizing that the continued launching of rockets and incendiary balloons towards Israel is unacceptable, said Israel has a right to defend itself, while ensuring the safety and protection of the civilian population. Calling upon the parties to continue to respect the ceasefire and avoid further violence, he also voiced concern about continued incidents of violence on the West Bank, which underline the need for international and regional efforts to restore conditions for direct negotiations aimed at a two-State solution. He welcomed the first high-level meeting in years between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, describing it as an important confidence-building step and expressing his hope that it will pave the way for a sustained political dialogue. Also voicing his hope that the planned reconstruction of Gaza will begin promptly, he called on the parties to show commitment to the two-State path and refrain from unilateral steps that undermine it.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said that the two-State solution is the only option that will bring fair and lasting peace to the Middle East while meeting the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations and not compromising Israel’s security. He urged the Israeli authorities to stop settlement expansion, freeze demolitions and halt expulsions in East Jerusalem. France will not recognize any changes to the 1967 borders which are not agreed by the parties, he stressed. He also condemned the firing of rockets and incendiary devices into Israel from Gaza and urged Israel to use force with discernment and in line with international law. The resumption of contact between the parties is encouraging and should be followed by confidence-building measures, he said, underscoring that reconstruction efforts in Gaza should give priority to those projects that can significantly improve Palestinian lives. France, as a member of the “Amman Group”, is determined to support measures which help restore trust. However, confidence-building steps can only be effective if they are part of a political process, and the need to create that process is more urgent than ever, he said.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) welcomed recent engagement between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian leadership, including the meeting between Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Defence Minister Gantz on 29 August. Indeed, greater cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is required, including on economic initiatives, to help support the recovery of Gaza, boost the Palestinian economy and improve the lives of all Palestinians living in the occupied territories. However, those initiatives must be part of a political pathway. Expressing concern over Israel’s ongoing settlement expansion and the demolition of Palestinian property, she observed that there has been a worrying upward trend in Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces throughout 2021, particularly around Beita where eight Palestinians have been killed by the Israel Defence Forces since May.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) urged the international community, and the Security Council and Middle East Quartet in particular, “to shoulder their responsibility in a manner that has a direct impact on the resolution of this tragic occupation”. The Palestinian people are in urgent need of international protection as Israel continues its settlement activities and its demolition of Palestinian structures, in flagrant violation of international law. She called on Israel to cease all settlement activities and abide by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Reiterating that freedom and justice for the Palestinian people can only be achieved through a lasting two-State solution that allows for the peaceful existence of the State of Palestine based on pre-1967 borders, she welcomed plans for Gaza’s reconstruction and called for Israel to lift its longstanding blockade on the strip.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) expressed concern over continued incidents of violence, particularly recent clashes between the Israeli security forces and Palestinians. Calling on all parties to refrain from violence and incitement to provocation, he urged Israel to observe its obligations under international humanitarian law, stop excessive use of force and settler attacks, and apply necessary measures to protect civilians, particularly children. While the announcement to grant construction permits to Palestinians in Area C is an encouraging sign, the ongoing settlement activities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, continue to violate international law and relevant United Nations resolutions. Voicing particular concern about the advancement of the new Giv’at HamMatos settlement plan, he nevertheless welcomed initial cooperation between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and called for stronger engagement by both sides.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) said, citing numerous recent violations of Palestinians’ rights and killings of young people, asked how much longer such actions will be allowed to go on. Welcoming plans to start Gaza’s reconstruction, he said trust between Israel and Palestine must be further enhanced, while the prerequisites for peace continue to include an end to Israel’s rampant settlement policy, and its recommitment to international parameters and United Nations resolutions. Attacks from Gaza must end, as should the disproportionate responses from the Israeli security forces. “This is what it will take to restore the peace which we have now sought for the last 70 years,” he stressed, also calling for the lifting of the longstanding illegal blockade on Gaza. He went on to call for more international support for UNRWA and encouraged the holding of Palestinian elections, while urging the parties to resume dialogue in pursuit of a two-State solution.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), Council President for September, speaking in her national capacity, expressed her country’s steadfast view that a two-State solution offers the strongest prospect for sustainable peace. Condemning illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she also expressed concern over an increase in demolitions, evictions and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. She called on the Israeli authorities to cease these activities. In addition, acts of violence, including rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, continue to erode trust between the parties, she warned, condemning all acts of terrorism. It is incumbent on the Security Council, the Quartet, partners in the region and the international community to uphold international law and remain fully engaged in working to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.