Middle East - Security Council VTC Briefing

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25-Mar-2021 01:53:18
Middle East Coordinator encouraged by steady advance towards holding Palestinian elections, urges parties continue dialogue, in briefing to Security Council.

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The year 2021 began with “a degree of guarded optimism” for progress towards the settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the United Nations mediator for the Middle East peace told the Security Council today, citing renewed international efforts to broker direct peace negotiations and cooperation between the two sides, including in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“By every measure, 2020 was a year of setbacks for the Palestinians, their institutions and their economy,” said Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, during a videoconference briefing. “Yet, we begin 2021 with a degree of guarded optimism.”

He said that the restart of coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority places the Palestinian Government in a more solid fiscal position and could portend greater communication between the sides on a variety of critical issues.

The Special Coordinator devoted his remarks to focus on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), from 11 December 2020 to 23 March 2021, highlighting both progress and challenges.

He said that the resolution reiterates calls by the Middle East Quartet, comprising the European Union, Russian Federation, United Nations and the United States, for “affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution”.

Some positive steps were recorded during the period, the Special Coordinator said, citing measures towards Palestinian unity, including the 15 January decree issued by Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, calling for legislative, presidential and Palestinian National Council elections, as well as the 9 February talks of Palestinian factions that resolved several long-standing differences.

The areas of agreement include recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, establishment of an electoral court with appointments made by consensus and the release of all detainees held because of their political affiliation or opinion.

On 17 February, the Palestinian Central Elections Commission concluded voter registration and announced registration of over 91 per cent of eligible voters. “I am encouraged by the steady advance towards the holding of Palestinian elections and urge the parties to carry on their dialogue and overcome remaining differences,” he said.

Resolution 2334 (2016) also calls upon “all parties to continue, inter alia, to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations”, he said. On 11 January and 11 March, the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan met in Cairo and Paris, respectively, to discuss ways to advance the Middle East peace process. On 21 December 2020, the United States Congress passed legislation that allocates $250 million over five years for programmes that “help build the foundation for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians and for a sustainable two-State solution”.

On 23 December 2020, 15 February 2021 and 23 March 2021, the envoys of the Quartet met virtually to discuss the latest political developments and the situation on the ground, with all agreeing to meet regularly to continue their engagement, he continued. On 8 February, the League of Arab States issued a statement reiterating its support for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian State based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Turning to the issue of COVID-19 vaccination, the Special Coordinator reported that Israel, where the vaccination campaign is progressing at a quick pace, indicated that the vaccination of the Palestinian population is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. However, Israel has facilitated deliveries across the Occupied Palestinian Territory and extended its vaccination programme to some Palestinian populations, including in East Jerusalem. This includes Israel’s provision of some 5,000 vaccines to the Palestinian Authority, as well as the vaccination of more than 100,000 Palestinians holding permits to enter Israel, including Palestinian health workers in Israel. In the last days of the reporting period, there were reports of progress in talks about increased vaccine provision, including by Israel, he added.

However, he expressed his deep concern that Israeli settlement expansion has continued, particularly into highly sensitive areas. These practices entrench the Israeli occupation, erode the possibility of a contiguous, independent and viable Palestinian State and further threaten the prospect of achieving a two-State solution. Settlements have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of international law, he said, urging Israel to cease the advancement of all settlement activity immediately. He also urged Israel to cease demolitions of Palestinian structures and evictions of Palestinian people.

Expressing a deep concern over the daily violence that continues to fuel mistrust and victimize children so often, he called for adequate funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The Agency is not only a lifeline for millions of Palestine refugees, but also critical for regional stability, he said.

In closing, he reiterated his call to the members of the Quartet, key Arab and international partners, as well as to Israeli and Palestinian leadership, to strengthen efforts to return to meaningful negotiations towards a viable two-State solution.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members reiterated their principled support for a negotiated two-State solution and exchanged views on the recent developments, including the dire humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

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