The deepening occupation, increase in violence and absence of a political horizon have empowered extremists and are eroding hope, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process told the Security Council today as he called on all parties to undertake concrete steps that will change the negative trajectory on the ground.
Although there were no advancements of housing units in the occupied West Bank during the period of 21 September to 7 December, the total number in 2022 remains high, Tor Wennesland noted. Israel must cease the advancement of all settlement activity immediately, end the demolition of Palestinian-owned property, prevent the displacement and eviction of Palestinians and approve plans that will enable them to address their development needs. Detailing the sharp increase in violence against civilians – including children – on both sides, he called on political, religious and community leaders to calm the situation, avoid spreading inflammatory rhetoric and speak up against those seeking to escalate the situation.
While there has been progress in Gaza, more must be done to alleviate the humanitarian situation and enable the economy to grow. Solving its challenges will ultimately require political solutions, including a return of the legitimate Palestinian Government to the Strip, a full lifting of Israeli closures and an end to the militant build-up.
“Seeking to freeze this conflict or manage it in perpetuity are not viable options,” he emphasized. “There is no substitute for a legitimate political process that will resolve the core issues driving the conflict.”
In the ensuing discussion, Council members voiced their concern about the increasing violence, condemned the attacks against civilians and echoed the Special Coordinator’s call to work towards the establishment of two States.
This latest report paints a worrisome picture to all who aspire to achieve a two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace, the representative of Brazil underscored. International humanitarian law and human rights law must be strictly observed, and the most vulnerable, particularly children, must never be targeted by attacks of any sort.
As 2022 has been the deadliest year since 2005, this cycle of violence and bloodshed is untenable, Gabon’s delegate emphasized, stressing that the Council must work harder to end it and make available the conditions for lasting peace in the region. He also called on the international community to provide funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) to tackle the increasing humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people.
The United States expects to see equal treatment of extremists in arrests, convictions and punishments, as well as equal allocation of resources to prevent and investigate violent attacks, that country’s representative said while pledging his Government’s continued advocacy of the Abraham Accords as a way to further trade, innovation, partnership and people-to-people exchanges in the Middle East.
The United States, the speaker for the Russian Federation reminded, withdrew from participating in the Middle East Quartet of international mediators on fabricated grounds. History has proven more than once that the attempts of that country to monopolize the Middle East process are untenable and doomed to fail, resulting only in increased antagonism. There is no alternative to direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis on all parameters of a final resolution, he stressed.
Cautioning against unilateral measures that unduly alter the status quo on the ground, the representative of India, Council President for December, speaking in her national capacity, emphasized that the Council must send a strong signal against any steps that would prevent the possibility of durable peace between Israel and Palestine. The “duty of hope”, her colleague from Ireland added, requires restraint and de-escalation on all sides, as well as the need to address the root causes of the conflict.
Also speaking today were representatives of France, Norway, Mexico, China, Kenya, Albania, United Arab Emirates, Ghana and the United Kingdom.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m.
TOR WENNESLAND, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, reiterated his deep concern over the high levels of violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank over the past several months. Clashes, protests attacks, Israeli security operations, including in Area A, and settler-related violence have continued. Since the beginning of 2022, over 150 Palestinians and more than 20 Israelis have been killed, the highest numbers of fatalities in years. Violence has continued throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he added, pointing out that, since 8 December, six Palestinians – including two children – have been killed by Israeli security forces.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s twenty-fourth report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) for the period 21 September to 7 December, he noted that, while there were no advancements of housing units in the occupied West Bank, the total number in 2022 remains high, albeit slightly lower than in 2021. In Area C, some 4,800 units were advanced while tenders dropped from 1,800 in 2021 to 150 in 2022. In occupied East Jerusalem, the number more than tripled from some 900 units in 2021 to some 3,100 units in 2021 with tenders doubling from 200 to 400. Israel must cease the advancement of all settlement activity immediately, he urged. Voicing his concern over the continued demolitions and seizures of Palestinian structures, particularly the destruction of a donor-funded school in Masafer Yatta and the stated intention of Israeli authorities to demolish additional structures in the herding communities of that area, he further called on the Government to end the demolition of Palestinian-owned property, prevent the possible displacement and eviction of Palestinians and approve plans that will enable Palestinians to build legally and address their development needs.
On the sharp increase in violence against civilians on both sides, he said he was particularly appalled that children continue to be victims of violence. This year has tragically witnessed the killing of 44 Palestinian children and one Israeli child. Children must never be the target of violence, used or put in harm’s way, he emphasized while also expressing his disturbance over the continued killings of Palestinians by Israeli security forces in incidents where they did not appear to present an imminent threat to life. Security forces, he reiterated, must exercise maximum restraint and use lethal force only when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. The increase in the number of Israelis killed or injured by Palestinians, including in bombings and shooting attacks, is also alarming. Violence must stop and all perpetrators must be held accountable. Condemning all acts of terrorism against civilians, he called on political, religious and community leaders on all sides to help calm the situation, avoid spreading inflammatory rhetoric and speak up against those seeking to incite and escalate the situation.
The deepening occupation, increase in violence and absence of a political horizon have empowered extremists and are eroding hope among Palestinians and Israelis that a resolution to the conflict is achievable, he continued. Simultaneously, the Palestinian Authority is facing mounting economic and institutional challenges, compounded by the constraints of the occupation, the absence of serious reforms and unclear prospects for donor support. In Gaza, the situation remains fragile, especially as efforts by the United Nations and regional and international partners to improve Palestinian lives have enabled the ceasefire to hold. While progress has been made with more than 18,000 permits for Palestinian residents of Gaza to work or do business in Israel and the volume of goods exiting Gaza via Kerem Shalon crossing with Israel having increased by nearly 50 per cent in 2022, restrictions and delays continue to negatively affect humanitarian and development efforts as well as important sectors of the economy. More needs to be done to alleviate the humanitarian situation and enable the economy to grow. Solving Gaza’s challenges will ultimately require political solutions, including a return of the legitimate Palestinian Government to the Strip, a full lifting of Israeli closures and an end to the militant build-up, he stressed.
Humanitarian needs and costs are rising across the occupied Palestinian territories as commodity prices spike, he pointed out. The World Food Programme (WFP), in particular, is facing a significant decline in bilateral financial support, putting at risk its ability to maintain critical food and cash assistance to more than 400,000 of the most vulnerable food-insecure people. WFP needs $35 million over the next six months to continue its ongoing support, he underscored, before also expressing his concern over the financial situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Since the Agency remains one of the most significant stabilizing elements in the lives of thousands of Palestinians, it must have the funds it needs to fully deliver on its mandate.
“Seeking to freeze this conflict or manage it in perpetuity are not viable options,” he said, emphasizing that “there is no substitute for a legitimate political process that will resolve the core issues driving the conflict”. He urged the parties along with regional States and the broader international community to undertake concrete steps that will change the negative trajectory on the ground and have an immediate impact on Palestinian and Israeli lives. These steps must be anchored in a political framework that moves the parties forward towards the establishment of two States.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) said all parties must take urgent action to reduce the troubling levels of extremist violence fueling instability in the West Bank. The United States expects to see equal treatment of extremists, whether Israeli or Palestinian, in arrests, convictions and punishments, as well as equal allocation of resources to prevent and investigate violent attacks. Israeli and Palestinian leaders must condemn all forms of violence, irrespective of the perpetrator’s nationality. Unilateral actions and unhelpful rhetoric by the parties only serve to escalate tensions, fuel violence and undermine the prospects of a negotiated two-State Solution, he said, stressing that those actions must stop. Voicing disappointment in the Palestinian-led initiative in the General Assembly to request an opinion by the International Court of Justice against Israel, he said that action is counterproductive and will only take the parties further away from the shared objective of a negotiated two-State solution. Noting the vast potential for Israel’s normalization with Arab countries, as well as the potential of the Abraham Accords to bring tremendous benefits to the region, he said the United States will continue to be a strong advocate of the Accords as a way to further trade, innovation, partnership and people-to-people exchanges in the Middle East.
ALEKSANDRE OLMEDO (France), calling on the Israeli authorities to use force proportionately, expressed shock about the killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jenin on 11 December. Civilian protection is an obligation under international humanitarian law, he underscored, also condemning settler violence targeting Palestinian civilians. All of this only heightens the risk of spiraling provocations and reprisals, he said, adding that those responsible for such violence must be held accountable. Also condemning all terrorist attacks perpetrated against Israelis, he reaffirmed his country’s commitment to Israel’s security. “The priority today is to halt the Israeli settlement building policy in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem,” he said. Expressing concern about the continuing evictions of Palestinians, the construction of outposts and announcements promising the legalization of such outposts, he said that the fait accompli policy must not undermine the two-State solution.
MONA JUUL (Norway), expressing concern about the killing of a 16-year-old girl last week during an Israeli military operation in Jenin, called on that country’s security forces to exercise the utmost restraint in use of force. Noting continued settlement‑expansion, house demolitions, evictions and settler violence, she also pointed to reports of reprisals against human rights defenders in Palestine from several duty-bearers. The lack of political progress towards a sustainable solution has led many, both Israelis and Palestinians, to lose faith in the two-State solution, she said, calling for direct negotiations. Also highlighting the need for short-term solutions, including bolstering the ceasefire in Gaza and strengthening the Palestinian Authority, she said a strong and unified Palestinian leadership, with renewed democratic legitimacy, is essential. Recalling the courageous discussions that took place during the Oslo Accords, she said it proves that it is possible to bring arch enemies around a negotiating table.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) listed several actions over the years – including illegal settlements, demolitions, displacements and attacks on civilians – that are contrary to resolution 2334 (2016) and do not create an environment conducive to resolving the crisis. Responsibility to resume the peace process undoubtedly lies with the parties to the conflict, but it falls on the international community and the Council to sponsor a political process that aims to promote a fair and lasting peace in the region. Despite numerous resolutions over the past decade, the Council cannot remain unable to promote the peace and security that millions of Palestinian and Israeli children deserve. The good offices of regional actors, bilateral initiatives and discreet efforts must run in parallel with multilateral dialogue. During its two years on the Council, Mexico sought to contribute to a two-State solution, he said, adding that it will continue to do so based on mutual respect and full adherence to the rule of law.
ZHANG JUN (China), noting the President of China’s peace initiatives, reiterated his country’s support for Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations, called for strengthening the Palestinian National Authority and welcomed progress in promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation. Calling for a larger-scale and more authoritative international peace conference, he encouraged Palestine and Israel to pursue common security. Condemning attacks against civilians and opposing the use of force by security forces, he recalled that Palestine and Israel are inseparable neighbours with indivisible security. Noting the Riyad Declaration, issued at the recent summit between China and Arab States, he urged Israel to cease all settlement activities. Reiterating support for improvement of Palestinian economy and its social development, he urged Israel to ease restrictions on the movement of people and goods, and the use of land in the occupied territories, while creating conditions for the development of the Palestinian community in the West Bank.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) said the Secretary-General’s latest report paints a worrisome picture to all who aspire to achieve a two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace. Ongoing settlement activities do not contribute to peace efforts. Noting the surge in violence against civilians, including children, he called on the parties to exercise maximum restraint and avoid any actions that could further escalate tensions and cause more violence. International humanitarian law and human rights law must be strictly observed and the most vulnerable, particularly children, must never be targeted by attacks of any sort. The violence must stop and all perpetrators must be held accountable, he stated, calling also on leaders on all sides to cease provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric. Spotlighting the urgent need to address the conflict’s driving forces, he said that simply managing the conflict with no end in sight is not an option. He went on to voice concern over a lack of sufficient funding for UNRWA and WFP and hoped that donors will respond to their needs.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) is very much below expectations, noting that settlement activities and the expropriation and demolition of Palestinian property have continued. Violence against civilians and acts of terror have increased without perpetrators being held accountable, while clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces have continued with an unheard-of level of violence, making 2022 the deadliest year since 2005. This cycle of violence and bloodshed is untenable, he said, stressing that Council must work harder to put an end to it and to make conditions available for lasting peace in the region. Noting the fragile political and security situation in the occupied West Bank, he called on parties to exercise restraint and engage frankly in a constructive dialogue. Reaffirming his country’s commitment to a two-State solution, he called on the international community to fund UNRWA and WFP to tackle the increasing humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. He also called on parties to prioritize the issue of the return of human remains for Israeli and Palestinian families.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) noted the worrying regularity of spikes of violence in the occupied Palestinian territories, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, affirming that the situation will remain volatile until the parties reach mutually acceptable agreements on all final status issues based on the universally recognized two-State solution. Since the beginning of 2022, it is estimated that 158 people have been killed in the West Bank and 52 in Gaza, with a young girl killed in Jenin just last week. In parallel, the expropriation of Palestinian property, the demolition of houses and the systematic violation of the status quo of Jerusalem’s holy sites continue. Against this background, he noted the United States, on fabricated grounds, withdrew from participation in the Quartet of international mediators, calling for the earliest possible resumption of its activities. History has proven more than once that United States attempts to monopolize the Middle East process are untenable and doomed to failure, only resulting in increased antagonism between Palestinians and Israelis. Efforts by the United States to resolve the conflict on its own in 2014 brought the peace process to a state of stagnation, where it remains to this day. Stressing that there is no alternative to direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis on all parameters of a final resolution, he voiced support for the block of resolutions in the General Assembly last week.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), called for increased international engagement to relaunch a genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace process, highlighting the need to create conditions conducive to resolving all final status issues, considering the legitimate concerns of both sides. The implementation of Council resolution 2334 (2016) requires the political will of both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, he said, stressing in particular, the need to implement operative paragraph 11 of that text, which calls for the presentation of clear objectives and timelines. That will better position the Council to examine practical ways and means to secure the full implementation of the resolution, he said. It is essential to stabilize the situation and reverse the negative trends which are undermining the prospects of a two-State solution. The statistics concerning the violent incidents, arrests and fatalities that took place in the three months of the reporting period are alarming, he said, highlighting the need for efforts to ensure the protection of children.
FERGAL TOMAS MYTHEN (Ireland), calling once again on Israel to cease all settlement activities, expressed concern over the plight of children. He condemned in the strongest terms the killing of Jana Zakarneh and called for accountability in respect of civilian deaths. The “duty of hope” requires restraint and de-escalation on all sides, as well as the need to address root causes of the conflict. Lamenting reduced space for civil society in the occupied territories, he urged Israel to reverse its decision on designating human rights non-governmental organizations as terrorist entities. On the forced deportation of Salah Hammouri, he said that the Palestinian-French lawyer be allowed to return home. He went on to welcome the extension of UNRWA’s mandate.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said the mood in the Council Chamber is not much different from the last meeting, with the situation on the ground still affected by heightened risks and threats of further escalation. Unilateral steps in the Middle East are always problematic, but they become dangerous in a fragile and persistently hostile environment. Calling for maximum restraint by both parties, as well as full investigation of all acts affecting civilians on both sides, he expressed full support for Council resolution 2601 (2021) and reiterated his condemnation of all terror attacks against Israel. Deploring the shooting and killing of a United Nations peacekeeper in Lebanon, he said that the protection of “blue helmets” is a must and that a full investigation of that tragic incident must be carried out without delay. Demolitions and increased settlement activity do not comply with international law or resolution 2334 (2016), nor do they ‑ or violence and inflammatory rhetoric ‑ contribute towards a solution. As people turn towards Bethlehem and Jerusalem for seasonal celebrations, safeguarding holy sites and preserving the status quo is paramount, he said.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates), urging the Council to intensify political and diplomatic efforts, called on Israel to stop its settlement activities and reverse its plans to build new settlement units. The United Arab Emirates rejects any steps aimed at annexing Palestinian lands and legitimizing such actions. Israel must assume its responsibilities in accordance with international law and United Nations resolutions, refrain from inciting rhetoric and focus instead on reducing violence, including by ending settler-related violence, as well as the demolitions and evictions of Palestinian buildings. Turning to the need to revive the Middle East peace process, he called for intensified international engagement to build confidence and urged both sides to use wisdom, show serious political will to return to negotiations and commit to the two-State solution. Any unilateral measures affecting the legal status of Jerusalem and the holy sites are a violation of international law which threatens to exacerbate tensions, he said, also reaffirming the need to respect Jordan’s custodianship of Jerusalem’s holy sites.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) called for full investigations into the incident that killed a 16-year-old Palestinian girl during a raid by the Israel Defense Forces. He also called once again on Israel to protect civilians, observe the principles of distinction and proportionality, and exercise maximum restraint in the use of force. Condemning indiscriminate attacks on United Nations peacekeepers and all civilian personnel and all acts of terror and violence against civilians, he urged both parties to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric. He further called on Israel’s Government to not continue with plans to expand or create settlements, particularly in and around East Jerusalem, and not to proceed with the legalization of unauthorized settlements, including potential future measures that would support settlers and settlement activities in the West Bank, such as changing the law that currently prohibits settlers from living in the Homesh outpost. Both sides must show maximum restraint and refrain from unilateral actions that could escalate tensions to stabilize the situation, reverse negative trends on the ground and create the conditions for negotiations to advance the two-State solution.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), reaffirming her country’s commitment to the core tenets of resolution 2334 (2016), said that the death of a 16-year-old on 12 December during an Israeli arrest operation is another tragic reminder of the conflict’s human cost. She urged Israel to exercise maximum restraint in its use of live fire. She also called on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to work together to de-escalate tensions, continue security cooperation and end the violence seen in 2022. Recalling the demolition of a donor-funded school in the South Hebron Hills and the threatened demolition of a second school funded in part by the United Kingdom, she said that the Oslo Accords are clear: Area C of the West Bank should be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction. She added that donors must provide urgent support to UNRWA, which is critical to regional stability.
RUCHIRA KAMBOJ (India), Council President for December, speaking in her national capacity, recalled that the Council adopted resolution 2334 (2016) to prevent the erosion of the two-State solution and to underscore the need for collective efforts to relaunch negotiations. Expressing concern about all acts of violence, she cautioned against unilateral measures that unduly alter the status quo on the ground, adding that the Council must send a strong signal against any steps that would prevent the possibility of durable peace between Israel and Palestine. The absence of a political process to achieve a viable two-State solution remains the biggest impediment to the peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question, she said, adding that terror attacks and violence continue to create mutual suspicion among the parties.