The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question - Security Council, 9116th Meeting

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25-Aug-2022 01:59:22
Concerned by escalating violence, speakers urge Security Council to consider long-term impact of maintaining status quo in Occupied Palestinian Territory.

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Speakers today urged the Security Council to consider the long-term effects of allowing the status quo to remain in the Occupied Palestinian Territory following a three-day escalation in violence earlier this month, as some members welcomed economic measures to allay the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip while others stressed that this relief is no substitute for a genuine political horizon.

Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Council that the ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad remains in effect and that “a fragile calm has been restored in Gaza”. While that measure prevented escalation into a full-scale war and allowed for the resumption of measures bringing much-needed economic relief to people in Gaza, the underlying drivers of conflict remain unresolved. He underscored that, unless these fundamental issues are addressed, “the cycle of acute crisis followed by short-term fixes will persist”.

He went on to point out that, while some positive steps occurred during the reporting period — including the issuance of over 14,000 economic-needs permits — the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains troubling, and the humanitarian response across the Occupied Palestinian Territory continues to face chronic funding gaps. Past weeks have shown that “managing conflict is no substitute for a real political process”, he noted, calling for the cessation of unilateral steps that perpetuate negative trends across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, for an expanded space for Palestinian economic activity and for a strengthen Palestinian Authority. “The status quo is not a strategy nor a strategic option,” he added.

Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), then told the Council that UNRWA remains the lifeline for one of the most underprivileged and desperate communities in the region. “Going to school, getting health services or receiving a food parcel are, for many Palestinian refugees, their only sources of normality,” he said. For these refugees, UNRWA remains the last standing pillar of the international community’s commitment to their right to a dignified life and a just, lasting solution, he stressed, appealing to Member States who have reduced their funding to reconsider the impact of that decision on the region’s stability.

Daniel Levy, President of the U.S./Middle East Project, next stressed that the illegal blockade of Gaza and the unlawful occupation represent forms of structural violence and collective punishment that cannot be ignored. Any attempt to resume negotiations between the parties without addressing power asymmetries “is a hollow and redundant exercise”, he said, urging a focus on power relations rather than “both sides-ism”. “Economic palliatives under occupation deepen dependence and enmity,” he pointed out, noting that profound shifts are occurring because of the unwillingness to hold Israel to account. Talk of the eclipse of a two-State option is neither alarmist nor far-fetched, and he urged those present not to underestimate the longer-term significance and traction of what is happening.

In the ensuing debate, many Council members expressed concern over Israeli raids on six Palestinian civil society organizations that occurred on 18 August and the shrinking of civic space in the Occupied Palestinian territory. Some Council members also called for an investigation into recent civilian deaths following the escalation in violence earlier in August. Several Council members, while welcoming the increased issuance of work permits and reopening of border crossings, stressed that the blockade on Gaza must be lifted.

On that point, Mexico’s representative noted that the situation in the Gaza Strip remains critical despite those positive measures and called for an end to the blockade. Also calling for a comprehensive investigation to clarify who bears responsibility for recent civilian deaths, she called for a cessation of harassment against Palestinian civil-society organizations. “A democratic State must not carry out actions that reduce civic space,” she stressed.

The representative of Ireland agreed, underscoring that the 18 August raids — and the measures that followed — represent a “worrying reduction of space for civil society in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. She went on to point out that Ireland has not received any information from Israel that would justify reviewing its policy towards those organizations, expressing serious concern over the misuse of counter-terror legislation in this regard.

China’s representative also expressed concern over recent Israeli actions against non-governmental organizations, called for Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza and urged investigations into violence by Israeli security forces. He went on to stress that the international community must rise above piecemeal crisis management, noting that Israel and Palestine will remain neighbours and basing one’s security on the insecurity of the other will only serve to trap everyone in an endless cycle of violence.

Returning to the economic sphere, the representative of Kenya joined others in pointing out that addressing Gaza’s isolation from the wider regional and global economy will be critical for the peace, security and stability of the broader Middle East region. While confidence-building measures in the areas of commerce and security between Israeli and Palestinian authorities “speak to what is immediately practical in the context of an elusive peace process”, he underscored that they are not a substitute for a resumed political process and dialogue between both parties.

Other speakers highlighted the need to provide increased funding for UNRWA’s vital humanitarian work. The United Kingdom’s representative announced his Government’s approval of a new multi-year funding agreement for the Agency and said it will contribute £15 million this year. India has also increased its financial contribution — giving $20 million since 2018 and pledging $5 million for this year — half of which has already been released, according to its delegate.

Also speaking were representatives of the United States, Russian Federation, Brazil, Albania, United Arab Emirates, France, Gabon, Ghana and Norway.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:04 p.m.

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