By J Nastranis
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – In the run-up to Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, addressing the Security Council on February 20, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that global consensus on the question of Palestine “could be eroding, making effective concerted action more difficult to achieve, at a time when it is more important than ever.”
In remarks at the opening of the 2018 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in New York on February 5, Guterres said: “Negative trends on the ground have the potential to create an irreversible one-State reality that is incompatible with realizing the legitimate national, historic and democratic aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Ongoing settlement construction and expansion in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, he said, is illegal under UN resolutions and international law. “It is a major obstacle to peace and it must be halted and reversed. Violence and incitement continue to fuel a climate of fear and mistrust.”
Accentuating the Palestinian leadership’s call for a collective peace process under international auspices, with the UN playing a central role, Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, Deputy Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine told the Committee that the Palestinians faced an existential crisis.
Against this backdrop, Abbas would call on the Security Council to ensure implementation of its resolutions, salvage peace prospects, appeal for the rights of the Palestinian people, and press for a just, lasting and peaceful solution to a tragic situation.
The year had begun on a demoralizing note, she said, with reckless decisions that further denigrated Palestinians’ rights and aspirations and dismissed a global consensus – based on Security Council and General Assembly resolutions – which had prevailed for decades.
In particular, the United States decision on December 6, 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move its embassy there, combined with subsequent punitive measures, had emboldened Israel’s impunity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem.
Further deterioration in the humanitarian situation loomed following the U.S. decision to dramatically reduce funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Deputy Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine warned.
Earlier in his opening remarks, Guterres expressed concern about the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza, which he said, “remains dire.” The UN country team in Palestine had predicted that Gaza would become unliveable by 2020 unless concrete action is taken to improve basic services and infrastructure. Yet Gaza remains squeezed by crippling closures and a state of constant humanitarian emergency.
“Two million Palestinians are struggling everyday with crumbling infrastructure, an electricity crisis, a lack of basic services, chronic unemployment and a paralyzed economy. All of this is taking place amid an unfolding environmental disaster,” the UN Secretary-General said.
He added that he was “extremely concerned” that the latest shortfall in the UNRWA funding would gravely impair the agency’s ability to deliver on its mandate and preserve critical services such as education and health care for Palestine refugees.
At stake were human security, human rights and human dignity of the 5 million Palestine refugees across the Middle East. But also at stake were the stability of the entire region which may be affected if UNRWA is unable to continue to provide vital services to the Palestine refugee population, both across the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Guterres appealed to the generosity of the international community not to let that happen. Reiterating the importance of advancing Palestinian unity, he said the two-State solution was the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and to secure a sustainable solution. “There is no Plan B,” he stressed.
Senegal’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Fodé Seck, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, conveyed the body’s deep concern over recent measures taken by Israel, including the adoption by its Parliament of a law that would prevent future Israeli Governments from ceding any part of Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, to an independent Palestinian State.
Illegal settlement activity meanwhile continued at a faster pace, despite Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), he said, also expressing concern over the situation in Gaza and that of Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Condemning all forms of violence and incitement to hatred and extremism, he called on the international community to pursue its long-running efforts towards inter-Palestinian reconciliation, to guarantee the financial viability of Palestinian State institutions and to strengthen the capacity of Palestinian officials to administer an independent State.
He drew attention to a Security Council meeting on December 18, 2017, during which most members rejected the U.S. decision on Jerusalem, and to the 15-nation organ’s failure to adopt a resolution in that regard, owing to a veto cast by that country. He also recalled the General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution declaring null and void any and all decisions aimed at modifying the character, status or demographic makeup of Jerusalem, and calling on all States to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in that city.
He said Committee activities in the past year included missions to Mexico and the United Republic of Tanzania, discussions in Nicaragua with members of the Palestinian diaspora in Latin America, and a Headquarters forum from June 28 to 29, 2017 – coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation – that featured a frank exchange of views between Israelis and Palestinians, he said.
At the outset, the Committee unanimously re-elected Senegal’s Permanent Representative as Chair and the following Vice-Chairs: Mahmoud Saikal (Afghanistan), Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo (Cuba); Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia); Neville Melvin Gertze (Namibia); and María Rubiales de Chamorro (Nicaragua). Carmelo Inguanez (Malta) was re-elected Rapporteur.
The Committee also approved its draft work programme for the 2018 session (document A/AC.183/2018/L.2), which outlined such activities as a United Nations forum on the question of Palestine to mark the 70th anniversary of the 1948 war and the Nakba, to be held at UN Headquarters on May 17 and 18.
It also featured an international conference on the question of Jerusalem, in cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in Rabat, Morocco, in late June; and Committee visits to Latin America, the European Union and Uganda.
Several representatives took the floor to express their commitment to the two-State solution and support for UNRWA. Some also called for the State of Palestine to be granted full membership in the United Nations.
Cuba’s Rodríguez said the U.S. decision on Jerusalem was a grave and flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and relevant resolutions. She also expressed concern over “economic blackmail” related to UNRWA’s funding, she said, urging the Committee to act in that regard.
Indonesia’s Djani emphasized the Committee’s role in raising awareness among Governments and other stakeholders, saying he was worried that the Palestinian issue would be overtaken by other emerging crises. On UNRWA’s funding, he said new ways must be found to avert further suffering among Palestinian refugees.
Lebanon’s Amal Mudallali said the only solution to the crisis was a comprehensive and lasting peace through the establishment of an independent Palestinian State with pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital. Lebanese as well as Palestinians were very passionate about Jerusalem, she said, adding that any procrastination in resolving the question of Palestine would give rise to a vicious circle of violence. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 February 2018]
Photo: UN Secretary-General António Guterres (second from right) at the 2018 opening session of the General Assembly’s Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on 5 February 2018. Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs (left at the table) attended the meeting. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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