Situation in Middle East, including Palestine Question - Security Council Open VTC

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18-Nov-2020 01:49:22
More demolitions, new settlement-expansion plans form backdrop to spiking COVID-19 infections, top Middle East peace official tells Security Council.

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Delegates Echo Coordinator’s Tribute to Saeb Erekat, Hailing Late Palestinian Chief Negotiator as ‘Passionate Advocate for Diplomacy’

Increasing demolitions of Palestinian property — and the announcement of 1,200 new construction projects in East Jerusalem — are now the backdrop for a worrying spike in COVID-19 cases in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the senior United Nations official for Middle East peace told a Security Council videoconference meeting today, while calling upon the parties concerned to cooperate urgently on health and economic matters.

Outlining recent developments, Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that after weeks of declining COVID-19 cases, the number of infections is rising once again in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The 2 million people living in the Gaza Strip — already severely impacted by restrictions on movement, cycles of violence as well as humanitarian and socioeconomic calamity — are facing a major outbreak, he added.

While welcoming the Palestinian Authority’s decision to restart civilian and security coordination with Israel, he expressed concern that some 121,000 Palestinians lost their jobs in the wake of the first COVID-19 lockdown and that food insecurity rates have soared. With economic recovery likely to be “slow and painful”, the United Nations and its partners are providing critical humanitarian and development assistance, he said, noting that nearly 85,000 tests and advanced laboratory equipment components have been delivered since the outbreak of coronavirus alongside more than 5.5 million items for preventing and controlling infection.

Temporary arrangements brokered by the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) are facilitating the transfer of medical patients out of Gaza and the import of humanitarian supplies, he continued. Reiterating the Secretary-General’s call for Israeli and Palestinian officials to re-examine and improve the nature of their economic relationship, he said both sides can take immediate steps to move goods into and out of Gaza and to increase trade between that enclave, Israel and the occupied West Bank.

He went on to spotlight a worrying incident on 3 November, when Israeli authorities carried out the most extensive demolitions in the occupied West Bank in a decade, destroying 70 structures in Area C, cautioning that such actions — and the resulting civilian displacement — will only compound Palestinian suffering during the upcoming winter. In another concerning development, on 15 November, Israeli authorities opened a bidding process for the construction of more than 1,2000 housing units in the Givat Hamatos settlement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, he noted, warning: “If built, this would further consolidate a ring of settlements […] and significantly damage prospects for a future contiguous Palestinian State.”

Reiterating his call for Israel to cease such actions, he went on to report that sporadic violent incidents unfortunately continued throughout the period under review. Militants in Gaza fired two rockets and released incendiary balloons towards Israel, though no injuries were reported. One Palestinian was killed and 21 were injured — and one Israeli soldier was wounded — in clashes, attacks as well as search-and-arrest operations, he said. On 4 November, an off-duty officer in the Palestinian Security Forces who had reportedly fired towards Israeli soldiers was shot dead near Huwwara, he added. Palestinians perpetrated 23 attacks against Israeli settlers and other civilians in the occupied West Bank, resulting in injuries and damage to property.

All the while, he noted, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is still suffering a $115 million funding shortfall for November and December. For the first time, the Agency finds itself unable to pay salaries and expenses in full, impacting 28,000 staff. Emphasizing UNRWA’s essential role as the main provider of direct life-saving assistance to millions, he said it urgently needs $70 million to continue its operations — including combating COVID-19 in refugee camps — in the near term. The international community should urgently step up its support, he stressed.

On regional developments, he welcomed the first visit by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister to Israel, as well as the visit to the region by the Secretary of State of the United States to sign several bilateral agreements. As for the Syrian Golan the situation remains generally stable, as does the area in which the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is stationed, he said.

He went on to underline the responsibility borne by both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to explore every opening that may restore hope in a two-State solution. Extending his deep condolences for the loss of Saeb Erekat, he recalled that the late Palestinian Chief Negotiator and Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), who died of COVID-19 on 10 November, “never gave up on negotiations” as the only means of achieving peace.

Many delegations echoed that sentiment, expressing condolences for a famed negotiator described by some as a “passionate advocate for diplomacy” and a dogged champion of the Palestinian people’s sovereign aspirations. Several speakers expressed alarm over the rapid increase in home demolitions in the occupied West Bank — as well as outrage over the resulting displacement of civilians on the brink of a pandemic winter — while calling upon Israel to cease its unilateral actions. Others spotlighted the diplomatic normalization sweeping across the region, urging the parties to seize upon that momentum and return to the negotiating table in the spirit of Dr. Erekat’s legacy.

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