By J Nastranis
NEW YORK (IDN) – Among several unresolved issues the outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon leaves behind is the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. In his final report to the Security Council on December 16, he said it saddened him that his last such briefing brought no sense of optimism for the future.
While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not the cause of the wars in the Middle East, resolving it could help to create momentum for peace throughout the region. He recalled that in 1947, acting on the basis of General Assembly resolution 181, the world had recognized the need for a two-State solution and had called for the emergence of “independent Arab and Jewish States”.
Noting that the State of Israel had been born on May 14, 1948, he said that almost seven decades later, the world still awaited the birth of the Palestinian State.
The Security Council had made clear that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, had been under military occupation since 1967, he said, declaring that those territories made up the future Palestinian State, ultimately to be agreed through direct negotiations between the parties concerned.
However, Israel’s expanding settlement enterprise and an ever-more entrenched status quo were preventing Palestinian development in Gaza. Some Israeli politicians were increasingly calling for the total annexation of the West Bank. On the other hand, he said, Israelis felt there was no end to terrorism in sight because calls for Israel’s obliteration continued, unchallenged by Palestinian leaders.
Ban stressed that the framework for peace remained unchanged: the establishment of two States on the basis of the principle of land for peace, and a just and comprehensive regional peace settlement consistent with relevant Council resolutions and existing agreements signed by the parties.
The reaffirmation of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative at the 2007 League of Arab States Summit had brought some hope, but despite that early optimism, attempts to reach a final resolution had failed.
The summer of 2014 had seen the most devastating conflict in Gaza to date, he continued. Noting that the Council had adopted only two resolutions on the Middle East peace process during his tenure, he said the most recent had been almost eight years ago.
“Despite early optimism, attempts at reaching a final resolution failed to make headway and were upended with the eruption of conflict in Gaza in December 2008. Further attempts at peace in 2010 and 2013 were equally eclipsed by renewed hostilities [and] the summer of 2014 saw the most devastating conflict in Gaza to date,” said Mr. Ban, recalling the situation in the region when he assumed office in 2006.
“We are fast approaching a precipice as a direct result of the actions of those seeking to destroy the prospects for peace,” he warned, while stressing that the way out of the deadlock was for both sides to implement the recommendations contained in the recent report of the Middle East Quartet.
Ban said Israel’s settlement activities beyond the 1967 line were in flagrant violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. Settlement construction was eating away at the lands meant for a future Palestinian State, he added.
Over the past decade, the number of Israelis living in settlement in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem’s population had increased by 30 per cent to about 600,000. Meanwhile, a bill currently being debated in the Israeli legislature risked the “regularization of more than 50 outposts built on private Palestinian land”. He strongly urged legislators to reconsider advancing that bill, cautioning that it would substantially diminish the chances for Arab-Israeli peace.
Ban said that bold steps by Israel to empower the Palestinian Authority could benefit the Palestinian people and increase Israeli security. However, unless Palestinian authorities took "brave and concrete steps" to address incitement and violence, progress would be difficult.
“Acts and statements that glorify terror are unacceptable. I have repeatedly and strongly denounced incitement and all acts of terror. Stabbings, vehicle rammings and other attacks by Palestinians do nothing to advance their dream of statehood,” he said.
He also noted the failure to hold Palestinian general elections remained one of the clearest signs of disunity as well as of the fragile Palestinian democratic process.
“The division between the West Bank and Gaza can be overcome only with the formation of a single, legitimate, inclusive Palestinian government, on the basis of PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] principles,” he said.
The absence of Palestinian unity throughout the Occupied Territory presented an obstacle to a two-State solution, and it was unacceptable that Hamas still boasted an anti-Semitic Charter aspiring to the obliteration of Israel.
The centrality of the challenges facing Gaza could not be over-stated, he said, emphasizing that indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas had convinced many Israelis that there was no hope for peace.
On the other hand, Israel’s crippling closures and the political divide had left two million Palestinians trapped in a humanitarian tragedy. The situation would almost certainly explode unless movement and access restrictions were lifted and unless rocket attacks and smuggling stopped.
Honouring the 24 United Nations staff members based in the Occupied Palestinian Territory who had been killed in the line of duty during his tenure, he said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provided a much-needed element of stability.
Ban urged Member States to increase their contributions. He also commended the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the United Nations country team.
“As we look to the future, I call on the Security Council to reaffirm without reservations that there is no alternative to the two-State solution,” he said. “We must not give up on the right of Palestine to exist, just as we must protect the right of Israel to exist in peace and security with its neighbours.”
Ban urged the Security Council to explore the vast potential of incentives and to develop consultations with the parties immediately. Ultimately, however, it was up to Israelis and Palestinians to make peace, he said, emphasizing that they must rebuild trust in each other.
At the same time, all concerned could and must contribute to building the trust so sorely needed in the Middle East and the world today. “This work must begin now, before it is too late,” he stressed.
Council members taking the floor after the briefing agreed that settlements built on the West Bank were in violation of international law and an obstacle to a two-State solution. They expressed particular concern about the legislation before the Knesset (Israel's parliament) aimed at retroactively legitimizing outposts.
New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Murray McCully said it was difficult to understand how the Council could remain silent as the space for a two-State solution was undermined. “We are now moving into a space in which the plain facts are telling us that the forces currently in play will irretrievably undermine the prospect of two States living peacefully, side by side,” he emphasized.
While many reasons had been given over time as to why further Council pronouncements might be counter-productive or premature, people on the ground were losing hope as facts on the ground were altered, he noted. The Council must either reassert its firm commitment to a two-State solution or shoulder its responsibilities if there was eventually only one State rather than two.
France’s Permanent Representative François Delattre said it was the Council’s responsibility to firmly condemn Israel’s settlement policy, which was carving up the territory of a future Palestinian State and “contributing to disaster”. France’s mid-2016 initiative to end the current stand-off had been partially eclipsed by the conflict in Syria, he recalled, announcing that his country would host a ministerial event in January 2017 as a follow-up to the June 3 ministerial meeting held in Paris with the aim of saving the two-State solution. That goal would “disappear like a mirage in the desert” in the absence of progress, he stressed.
Malaysia's Permanent Representative Ramlan Bin Ibrahim said that for too long, the Council had been in a state of inertia vis-à-vis the Israel-Palestinian conflict. “Clearly, doing nothing is not an option for the Security Council,” he declared, calling for urgent and effective action to halt and reverse the construction of illegal settlements as well as the occupation.
The Council must assume its responsibility and strive to reverse the negative trends undermining peace and the two-State solution, he emphasized, pointing out that it had not shied away from using the various tools at its disposal in other conflicts. The Israel-Palestinian conflict should be no exception, he stressed.
Michele Jean Sison, Deputy Representative of the United States to the UN, said the U.S. continued to call on all sides to demonstrate genuine commitment to a two-State solution and meaningful negotiations. However, the United States opposed efforts to de-legitimize Israel. The situation on the ground was moving in the wrong direction, she said, adding that continuing settlement activities on the West Bank were illegitimate and a threat to peace. Israel faced a choice between continuing settlement activity and a two-State solution.
She went on to state that she was disturbed by the possible unprecedented legalization of outposts in the West Bank, and by the fact that Israeli ministers had publicly declared that there would be no two-State solution. On the other hand, she stressed that the Palestinian leadership must strongly condemn incitement to violence and terrorist acts, emphasizing that she was deeply concerned by reports of excessive use of force against Palestinians.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN, expressed regret that the situation in the Middle East remained tense. Voicing concern about Israel’s unilateral actions, he said that country’s Government continued to expand settlements and to appropriate land in the West Bank, noting also that the division within Palestinian ranks was an obstacle to peace.
The Russian Federation was also concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which contributed to radicalization, he said, urging Israel to lift the embargo it had imposed on the enclave.
Churkin noted that the turmoil and upheaval that had arisen from the Arab Spring had created a mass of problems, including those in Syria and Libya. The senseless and short-sighted attempts by certain countries to impose their version of democracy had led to chaos and anarchy, and terrorists had taken advantage of the situation.
Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta, Egypt's Permanent Representative to the UN said he had hoped that the Secretariat had issued a report on what had been done and what had not been done over the past 10 years.
Noting that the Council had failed to end the longest conflict in modern history, he said that support for a two-State solution, based on the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian State, was expressed only in words.
The denial of truth had reached a new low, he said, noting that some had condemned the legalization of new outposts in the hope that the illegal nature of all settlements under international law and Council resolutions would be overlooked.
Israel’s settlement activities were not only an obstacle to peace, they were at the heart of the crisis because the Palestinians had been denied the right to lives of dignity in their own homeland, he pointed out. Egypt called upon the Council to pay serious attention to its most urgent challenge – the Palestinian question. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 December 2016]
Photo: Halamish, an Israeli settlement, stands in the northern West Bank, near the Palestinian village of Nabih Saleh. Credit: UNICEF/Mouhssine Ennaimi
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