(Continued) The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question - Security Council, 8950th meeting
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Continuation of The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question - Security Council, 8950th meeting.

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Delegates Welcome Recent Meeting between Palestinian President, Israeli Minister

Eight months after a fragile ceasefire ended full-scale fighting in the Gaza Strip, the senior United Nations official for the Middle East peace process told the Security Council that the situation is once again characterized by daily clashes and rising tensions, as he warned delegates against piecemeal approaches and diplomatic “half measures” that will only let the conflict fester further.

“Without a realistic prospect of an end to the occupation and the realization of a two-State solution … it is only a matter of time before we face an irreversible, dangerous collapse and widespread instability,” said Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, during the 15-member Council’s open debate. Noting the deterioration of the Occupied Palestinian Territory’s economic, security and political situations, he outlined recent, near-daily instances of violence, as well as continued Israeli settlement expansion, evictions of Palestinians and home demolitions — all of which feed hopelessness and diminish the prospects of peace.

In a positive development, he recalled that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz for the second time in four months, on 28 December 2021. Significant steps followed, with Israel announcing its decision to update the registration of some 9,500 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and to issue an advance against clearance revenues Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf. Welcoming those steps and the ongoing high-level engagement, he urged both sides to expand their cooperation to include underlying political issues. Meanwhile, he voiced concern over the Palestinian Authority’s dire fiscal situation, calling for political and economic reforms that would ensure its effective functioning and boost donor confidence.

Joining Mr. Wennesland in briefing the Council were the co-directors of EcoPeace Middle East, a regional peacebuilding organization working on environmental cooperation. Nada Majdalani, the group’s Palestinian Director, described the experience of children growing up in Gaza amid water shortages, cold nights with no electricity and 15 years of economic blockade. Noting that those challenges are only being compounded by climate change, she said EcoPeace advocates for a “Green Blue Deal” in the Middle East, which would provide for positive diplomatic cooperation in one of the world’s most water-scarce regions. Outlining successes already registered by the programme, she cautioned that the international community’s continued failure to act will only deepen water and food insecurity, as well as Palestinians’ poverty and frustration.

Gidon Bromberg, EcoPeace’s co-founder and Israel Director, said Israel’s leadership in the water sector, the dire impact of the climate crisis on Palestinian freshwater availability and the new coalition Government in Israel all combine to create a unique context with opportunities for conflict resolution and trust building. Indeed, Governments must act cooperatively on water issues, rather than holding water issues hostage to the politics of final status. Noting that the current status quo threatens water security and public health, he said Israel has reached out to the Palestinian Authority with the aim of expanding cooperation in the environment and water sectors. Against that backdrop, the Council should embrace a climate resilience perspective and call on the parties to agree on new arrangements for natural water allocation and pollution control.

Riad Malaki, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine, focused his intervention on the broader history of his people suffering under the Israeli occupation, while describing 2021 as one of the deadliest years for Palestinians in over a decade. The early days of 2022 have been similarly bleak amid numerous deaths at the hands of Israeli forces. Urging the international community to save the prospects of a two-State solution, he warned that “leaving the parties alone means leaving the steering wheel in the hands of extremist Israeli settlers”. The Council must uphold its own resolutions, and every State can help advance peace by supporting action and not apartheid, he stressed.

Israel’s representative, meanwhile, expressed regret that “the same old falsehoods and the same old hypocrisy” are being voiced, with the Palestinian leadership failing to condemn terrorism constantly carried out in its name. Israel, a country with a robust legal system and zero tolerance for violence or terror, continues to be blamed by the international community, while Palestinian terror is whitewashed. Citing a successful water-for-energy deal struck between Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, he said such progress shows that regional cooperation — especially around environmental matters — is indeed possible. Sadly, Palestinian leaders have shown that they have other priorities, he said, adding that the Council’s own discussions should become more balanced and better reflect the real threats to peace and stability in the region.

Throughout the ensuing debate, Council members and non-members took the floor to voice their views on both the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and more recent developments. Several praised the 28 December diplomatic meeting between President Abbas and Defence Minister Gantz, calling on the parties to build upon it, while in contrast others issued dire warnings that the situation on the ground was rapidly worsening. Many speakers also condemned a 17 January missile attack on the United Arab Emirates — which was claimed by the Yemeni group Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis — that killed three people and caused a fire near the Abu Dhabi airport.

Anniken Huitfeldt, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway and Council President for January, said in her national capacity that civilian protection, respect for human rights and a vibrant civil society in Palestine are crucial. Welcoming Israel’s willingness to adjust its policies in Gaza, she called for an immediate end to the eviction of Palestinian families and urged Israel to also revise policies and actions that weaken the Palestinian Authority and the economy. She further praised the normalization of relations between Israel and several Arab States, adding that the Palestinians must also benefit from that process.

The representative of India, reiterating his country’s support for a two-State solution leading to the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable State of Palestine, voiced deep concern over recent events in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, where attacks on civilians have increased and new settlements have been announced. India has consistently called for direct peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine based on the internationally agreed framework, he said, urging the United Nations and the Middle East Quartet to prioritize the revival of such negotiations.

Kenya’s delegate, echoing the urgent need for dialogue to facilitate a negotiated peaceful settlement, said his country looks forward to the implementation of practical outcomes from the 28 December meeting between Defence Minister Gantz and President Abbas, “the second one in the same year after a decade of no top-level meetings between both parties”. Against that backdrop, he also called for the cessation of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including those posing a risk to the territorial contiguity of a viable Palestinian State.

Also on the question of settlements, the representative of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, recalled that December 2021 marked five years since the adoption of resolution 2334 (2016) which reaffirmed the illegality of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Nonetheless, Israeli settlements continue to expand, with Palestinian homes and structures — including those funded by donors — demolished and unarmed Palestinians killed. He joined other speakers in condemning the targeting of civilians and their infrastructure by terrorist Houthi militias in the United Arab Emirates and pressed the international community to stand united in confronting this threat.

On that matter, the representative of the United Arab Emirates condemned attempts by the Houthis to spread chaos in the Middle East. Spotlighting the need to actively counter terrorism and end the region’s crises and conflicts, she reiterated her country’s support for the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent and sovereign Palestinian State and called for an end to all illegal practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Escalation must be prevented, the latest ceasefire must be maintained, and a credible peace process must be urgently relaunched, she stressed.

Also speaking were Government ministers and representatives from Ghana, United States, Russian Federation, China, Ireland, Brazil, Mexico, Albania, France, United Kingdom, Gabon, Hungary, Morocco, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Cuba, Syria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Argentina, Chile, Bahrain, Japan, Kuwait and South Africa.

Observers for the League of Arab States and the European Union also participated, as did the Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

The meeting began at 10:09 a.m., suspended at 1:27 p.m., resumed at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 4:21 p.m.