The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question- Security Council, 8826th Meeting

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28-Jul-2021 04:19:05
Prioritizing Gaza reconstruction must not detract from broader international goal of ending Israeli occupation, deputy special coordinator tells Security Council.

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Speakers Urge Israel to Allow Unhindered Entry of Humanitarian Aid as Physical Damage from Violent Clashes in May Estimated at $290-$380 Million

While the global community should prioritize its support for Gaza’s reconstruction in the wake of the violence that erupted there in May, a senior United Nations official also urged the Security Council not to “lose sight of the broader goal” — namely, ending the Israeli occupation and realizing a two-State solution — as she briefed the organ during its quarterly open debate on the Middle East today.

Lynn Hastings, who serves as Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, outlined urgent assistance being provided by the United Nations and its partners on the heels of 11 days of clashes in Gaza two months ago. She said that, beyond the human tragedy for both Palestinians and Israelis, a recent Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment by the United Nations, European Union and the World Bank estimated the physical damage to Gaza to be between $290 million and $380 million, and additional economic losses to reach up to $200 million. The social sector was hit hardest, significantly weakening the safety net of the most vulnerable.

Thanking donors for providing nearly half of the $95 million requested in the United Nations Flash Appeal to date, she said fuel deliveries have resumed through the Kerem Shalom crossing and some restrictions on the import and export of goods have been lifted. Calling on Israel to allow the unhindered entry of all humanitarian aid, she also called on Hamas and other armed groups to stop launching incendiary devices, rockets and mortars and end their militant build-up. While critical humanitarian interventions are needed in the short-term, “any sustainable future in Gaza requires political solutions”, she said, adding that Israel must end its demolition and seizure of Palestinian property in the occupied West Bank in line with its obligations under international law.

Also briefing the Council was Yudith Oppenheimer, Executive Director of the civil society organization Ir Amim, which she said works towards an equitable, shared and sustainable city of Jerusalem. Noting that the rights and liberties she enjoys as an Israeli citizen are not afforded to the city’s 350,000 Palestinian residents — who today make up nearly 40 per cent of its population — she said Israeli authorities have long employed a system of discriminatory policies to weaken the Palestinian hold on the city, from land confiscation and settlement building to the denial of citizenship and political rights.

Providing a snapshot of the current situation, she said the main trigger behind recent clashes was the ongoing pressures to undermine Palestinian rights to Jerusalem, exemplified by the continued erosion of the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the arbitrary closure of the Damascus Gate plaza during Ramadan and the pending evictions of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Such demolitions and eviction have risen in an unprecedented manner, serving as acute mechanisms of displacement. She also cited several eviction cases pending before Israel’s Supreme Court, stressing that it is essential to hold the Government accountable and to urge it to prevent such large-scale displacement in the future.

The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine stressed that dispossession, displacement and the denial of rights are elements of Palestinians’ daily lives — not a chapter in their history or stories of past grievances. “We fear that the future being drawn on the ground aims at making this our perpetual reality,” he said, stressing that truly advancing the cause of peace requires ending the Israeli occupation. Underlining the growing trend of apartheid “on both sides of the green line”, he thanked all those around the globe who have been increasingly mobilizing in support of the Palestinian people and called for the current urgency and momentum to be maintained. “This Council must be the catalyst for determined international action to steer us away from the path we are on and drive us towards safety,” he added.

Israel’s representative, meanwhile, recalled the 2020 signing of agreements normalizing diplomatic relations between his country and several others in the region. Times are changing, he said, even without the Council’s involvement. Despite such positive steps, Hamas and Iran remained determined to fuel tensions and demonize Israel, and thousands of rockets continue to be launched. Bringing such issues to the Council only weakens the situation, while briefings by far-left non-governmental organizations — such as the one provided today — are both absurd and dangerous and could be understood as accepting the rhetoric of Hamas. He warned that the cost of adopting such extremist narratives would be enormous for the entire region, pointing out that Israel has much to offer its neighbours and that Iran is still working to become a nuclear-weapon State.

As Council members took the floor to share their observations and propose ways forward, many speakers urged the parties to exercise maximum restraint during the current, highly fragile period, and asked them to refrain from any provocative actions that could further heighten tensions. Some pointed to the reconstruction of Gaza as an urgent priority, spotlighting the crucial role to be played by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), while one speaker raised concerns about the Agency’s management and transparency. Meanwhile, several delegates advocated for redoubled diplomacy in support of direct talks between the parties, including by convening the members of the Middle East Quartet — the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation — at the highest level.

China’s representative noted that, despite the ceasefire, demolitions, evictions and civilian displacement continue to unfold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Stressing that Israel must comply with all Council resolutions, discontinue its settlement expansions and respect the historic status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem, he joined other speakers in calling for scaled-up international support for Gaza — as well as efforts to lift the long-standing blockade imposed against it. China has provided $1 million to UNRWA’s food aid programme and will donate 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, he said, urging others to also step up their support.

The representative of the Russian Federation said strengthening the ceasefire and providing urgent humanitarian assistance to those in need in Gaza should be among the international community’s top priorities. Amid the recent destruction and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, comprehensive aid must be delivered to the Palestinian people through United Nations agencies — especially UNRWA — without preconditions or politicization. Warning that the international community “should not rest easy” amid the current ceasefire, he called for the holding of a Middle East Quartet ministerial-level meeting, as well as expanded consultations with participation by regional States, warning against losing sight of the need to press forward with direct negotiations.

The representative of Tunisia was among several speakers who urged the Council — and the broader international community — to compel Israel to cease its violations, expansionist settlement activities and all other actions that could jeopardize the achievement of a just, lasting peace. Asking how long the occupation will be allowed to continue, he recalled that the Council made its position on the matter clear 54 years ago and must finally ensure compliance with international resolutions. He also cautioned that any attempt to impose a fait accompli in terms of a lasting solution would threaten international peace and security.

The representative of the United States, meanwhile, underlined both her country’s commitment to a two-State solution and its rejection of efforts to single out Israel. As the recent spate of violence recedes, “we must make good on our commitments to provide humanitarian assistance and support recovery efforts in Gaza”. She recalled that the United States recently signed an agreement with UNRWA providing an additional $136 million in humanitarian aid, but that it did so only after requiring new benchmarks on the Agency’s transparency. UNRWA needs both managerial and operational improvements, she said, stressing that there is no room for anti-Semitism in any United Nations agency.

Also participating were the representatives of India, Mexico, Norway, Viet Nam, Niger, Kenya, Estonia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ireland, United Kingdom and France. In addition, several delegations which are not members of the Security Council submitted written statements.

The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 12:21 p.m.
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