Thursday, 1/10/2020 | 1:01 UTC+0
Libyan Newswire

Illegal Settlement Growth, Widespread Hopelessness among Youth Eroding Middle East Peace Prospects, Under-Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Negative trends continue to undermine prospects for a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs told the Security Council today, citing a deadlocked political process, illegal settlement expansion and a pervasive hopelessness among young people that peace will ever be achieved.

Rosemary DiCarlo said that a recent survey found that 65 per cent of Israeli millennials thought the conflict would never end, making them the least optimistic people surveyed in countries affected by war. Palestinians were not far behind, with 52 per cent holding that view.

She more broadly described the threat of annexation in the West Bank, as Israel plans 1,900 settlements in Area C and announced tenders for 2,200 units, both there and in East Jerusalem. Plans in two other locations that were regularized in 2019 were also advanced, while an interministerial committee tasked with discussing annexation of the Jordan Valley held its first meeting on 5 January.

If implemented, these declarations would be the first of their kind since the Oslo Accords, she said, a devastating blow to the two-State solution. I would like to emphasize the continued urgency of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements, she asserted.

For its part, the United Nations is engaged with all Palestinian factions on the need for long-overdue legislative and presidential elections. Turning to Lebanon, she said that violent incidents between protesters and security forces raises very serious concerns, especially as the demonstrations have been largely peaceful.

Also briefing the Council, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursula Mueller said that half the population in the West Bank and Gaza � 2.4 million people � will need aid in 2020. Operating space for humanitarian efforts is constrained by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, thwarting the ability to protect and assist people at a time of record-low funding.

She encouraged States to support interventions that strengthen humanitarian-development collaboration and reduce Palestinian reliance on aid. Ultimately, the solution for the occupied Palestinian territory is neither humanitarian nor development action, but lies in political discourse and agreement, she said.

In the ensuing debate, the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said that Israel continues to exploit the Council's paralysis. Gaza is moving closer to the United Nations country team's projections of becoming uninhabitable this year if the blockade and military aggressions continue. Israel's leaders threaten to demolish Palestinian towns � even after the International Criminal Court announced its intention to investigate war crimes committed in Palestine. It is past time to end the double standard that has allowed such sheer impunity by Israel, he said.

Jordan's delegate likewise denounced Israel's new conditions in East Jerusalem and ongoing settlement policies. Jordan will continue to support the maintenance and care of the holy sites, she assured.

Israel's delegate meanwhile cast a light on Iran's funding of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, stressing that the regime remains the biggest threat to peace in the region. He advocated for more pressure in the form of new sanctions as the only way to keep the Iranian people safe.

Elsewhere in the region, Syria's delegate blamed United States recognition of Israel's presence in the Syrian Golan for further inflaming tensions, stressing that no party has the authority to determine the fate of territories that are part of Syria and occupied Palestine. He called on Israel to return confiscated lands in the occupied Syrian Golan based on June 1967 borders.

Settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict depends on addressing the agreed terms, said France's representative, and ensuring that Jerusalem is the capital of the two States. A solution devoid of such parameters cannot deliver peace.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, Belgium, Germany, Niger, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Estonia, Indonesia, South Africa, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, China, Dominican Republic, Russian Federation, Viet Nam, Norway and Peru.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and was suspended at 1:11 p.m.

Briefings

ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said that heightened regional tensions threaten to destabilize an already volatile security environment, recalling the Secretary-General's appeal to leaders to exercise maximum restraint: The world cannot afford another conflict, she said. The United Nations has routinely stated that peace will not return to the Middle East without the sides taking firm action to achieve a two-State solution, based on international law, relevant resolutions and prior agreements. Citing a recent survey by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), she said that 65 per cent of Israeli millennials believe that the conflict will never end. Palestinians are also pessimistic, with 52 per cent also holding that belief. The international community has a responsibility to help build a future that promises hope and peaceful coexistence, rather than occupation and conflict, she asserted.

For its part, the United Nations has continued its engagement with all Palestinian factions, she said, stressing the need to hold long-overdue legislative and presidential elections. Discussions are also under way to amend the electoral law and raise the quota for female candidates on a list from 20 to 30 per cent. Despite compromises made by all factions, President Mahmoud Abbas has not issued the decree needed to call elections, explaining that he would not do so until the polls can take place in East Jerusalem. The Secretary-General and the Special Coordinator nonetheless remain hopeful they will be held soon.

Negative developments continue to undermine the prospects for a two-State solution, she said. The start of 2020 has seen continuous settlement expansion and the threat of annexation of parts of the West Bank, with 1,900 settlements planned for Area C; the retroactive regularization, under Israeli law, of an outpost and advancement of plans in two other locations that were regularized in 2019; and tenders announced for 2,200 units in Area C and East Jerusalem. On 9 January, Israel's Ministry of Defense announced the director of a new task force that will look into so-called illegal Palestinian construction in Area C. Construction rights in the Beit Hanina neighbourhood of East Jerusalem are expected to be split between Palestinian and Israeli land owners, despite that Palestinian owners had previously submitted objections to that plan. On 15 January, following a High Court of Justice ruling, authorities demolished two houses in West Bank Area B. The Ministry of Defense announced the creation of seven new nature preserves in Area C. If implemented, these declarations would be the first of their kind since the Oslo Accords, she said, stressing that all settlements are illegal under international law.

Meanwhile, she said that violence in the occupied West Bank continued throughout the reporting period, with 220 Palestinians injured in various incidents, including 50 by tear gas inhalation. In Gaza, where the situation is still fragile, there has been a welcome reduction in violence, as the understandings brokered by the United Nations in Egypt continue to be broadly upheld. In addition, the organizers of protests along the Gaza fence suspended those demonstrations and a relative calm has prevailed, with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs now reporting that injuries sustained during the protests are the lowest since March 2018, when they began. At the same time, there has been a resurgence in incendiary balloons and kites from Gaza towards Israeli communities.

On the socioeconomic front, she described progress on implementing the urgent humanitarian and economic interventions for Gaza outlined under the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee plan. She called on all to increase their support for United Nations programmes on the ground, citing the cash-for-work programme for women and youth, and projections for several thousand jobs to be created in 2020 as signs of progress. Many of these projects, however, are unfunded or in deficit, she said, including health programmes in deficit of $4 million. Humanitarian and economic steps alone will not resolve Gaza's immense challenges, she said, because, at their core, the problems are political in nature. All parties must take steps to ensure that Gaza and the West Bank are reunited, while Israel must significantly improve the movement and access of goods and people as a step towards the full lifting of the closures.

On 20 December 2019, the International Criminal Court Prosecutor announced that a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine found that all statutory criteria have been met for the opening of an investigation, she said. War crimes have been or are being committed in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Prosecutor found. The Court's jurisdiction applies to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Meanwhile, in line with Knesset legislation, on 29 December 2019, Israel withheld $43 million in clearance revenues that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. That amount is in to addition to $139 million previously withheld. She expressed concern that these developments may strain the tenuous progress made since the sides entered into a partial agreement on the transfer of revenues, noting that the United Nations is ready to assist.

More broadly, she said that, in Lebanon, efforts to form a Government continue, as do popular protests, with recent violent incidents between protesters and security forces raising very serious concerns, especially as the protests have been largely peaceful. While the area under the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) remains stable, Syrian armed forces issued a statement on 14 January, informing that the Israel Defense Forces conducted an air strike on locations in Syria, after which the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) reminded both sides to respect the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement. Reiterating the urgency of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of relevant resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements, she said the United Nations will continue to focus on establishing an environment conducive to resumed negotiations.

URSULA MEULLER, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, updating the Council on her recent six-day mission to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said that meetings with individuals and representatives of international and humanitarian partners conveyed their hardships and challenges alongside opportunities for positive change. In the West Bank and Gaza, half the population, some 2.4 million people, need humanitarian aid in 2020 due to a protection crisis stemming from the occupation, the Gaza blockade, recurring cycles of violence and more than a decade of Hamas being in control, which is fuelling divisions. Individuals she met with, from cancer survivors to young people, shared stories reflecting the fragile situation. Raising concerns about Israel's excessive use of force and the instrumentalization of children by Hamas, she said that, since March 2018, more than 210 Palestinians were killed and another 8,000 were shot with live ammunition at demonstrations at the Gaza fence. Medical facilities are overstretched, with more than 1,200 people requiring limb reconstruction, and with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting more than 200 incidents which have injured 270 staff. Since the start of 2019, most multiple escalations of hostilities among armed groups in Gaza and Israel were contained via joint United Nations-Egypt mediation efforts, she said, urging all parties to avoid civilian harm.

The youth she met in Gaza simply ask for peace and the opportunity for a productive life, she said, adding that the 45 per cent unemployment rate, with 60 per cent among youth, is worrisome, as are conditions that cause 46 per cent of the population to live below the daily $5.50 poverty line and 60 per cent of households to be food insecure. Acknowledging Israel's improvements in easing the movement of people and goods, she said that more must be done, particularly related to medical supplies and equipment. She pointed to declining external aid, economic recession, rising school dropout, child labour and child marriage, and an estimated 270,000 children suffering from mental disorders in addition to Israeli children facing a mental health impact related to rocket fire from Palestinian groups. Still there is room for cautious optimism, she asserted, noting Israel's allowance of increased freedom of movement, Qatar's contribution to boosting the electricity supply in 2019 to a 12-hour daily average and United Nations agencies' job creation efforts. These improvements give me hope for Gaza if we build on this momentum, she said, adding that Israel must further relax movement restrictions alongside measures that stimulate the economy, in line with Council resolution 1860 (2009), the Palestinian Authority must refrain from impeding the allocation of resources to people in Gaza as a way of exerting press on Hamas, and Hamas must prioritize people's needs.

In the West Bank, she recalled a visit to a Bedouin community in the Jordan Valley, saying many people live off the electricity grid while facing threats from Israel settlers and settlement expansion. The planning regime in Area C makes it virtually impossible to develop housing and infrastructure in light of the 620 structures demolished in 2019, displacing 900 Palestinians, and the 12,500 pending demolition orders against Palestinian properties. Moreover, an estimated 162,000 Palestinians across Area C rely primarily on mobile health clinics, and Israel continues settlement expansion in East Jerusalem. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 340 attacks by Israelis, including settlers, in 2019, resulting in 2 fatalities, 135 injuries and damage to more than 6,200 fruit-bearing trees. During the same period, 112 Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians resulted in 3 deaths, 26 injuries and damage to property. Israeli forces killed 26 Palestinians and injured 3,455 others in search and arrest operations, demonstrations and clashes.

Turning to humanitarian efforts, she said that operating space is constrained by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, with efforts to delegitimize action in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continuing to undermine the ability to protect and assist people in need at a time of record-low funding. The response plan for 2020 requests $348 million for basic food, protection, health care, shelter, water and sanitation to 1.5 million people, with more than 75 per cent of requested funds being for Gaza. Urging Member States to increase support, she said that providing assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is critical to prevent conditions from deteriorating. She also encouraged States to support interventions that strengthen humanitarian-development collaboration and reduce Palestinian reliance on aid, adding that strong support is required to ensure partners can operate and to counter unsubstantiated allegations against them. Long-term reductions in vulnerability depend on parties working together towards policy shifts, she said, urging Israeli and Palestinian parties to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights laws. Ultimately, the solution for the Occupied Palestinian Territory is neither humanitarian nor development action, but lies in political discourse and agreement, she said.

Statements

RIYAD H. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said that any impartial assessment of the situation reveals that Israel, the occupying Power, continues exploiting the Security Council's paralysis and the blind support of its main ally. Reviewing various disturbing statistics from 2019, he said that it brought Gaza closer to the United Nations country team's Gaza 2020 report projecting that Israel's illegal blockade and military aggressions would render the area uninhabitable by 2020 if not reversed.

The year also witnessed daily arrests, with more than 5,500 Palestinians � including women and children � detained. Outlining unprecedented rates of illegal Israeli settlement expansion, housing demolition and settler violence, he said that annexation threats also grew louder. It is clear that Israeli officials believe they've secured United States support for such an illegal scheme, he said. In addition, Israeli leaders made explicit threats to demolish Palestinian towns, including Khan al-Ahmar, even after the International Criminal Court announced its intention to open an investigation into war crimes committed in Palestine.

Barring immediate, tangible action � based on accountability under international law first and foremost � the prognosis for this new year will be equally bleak, if not worse, he continued. Recalling the Council's recent debate on upholding the United Nations Charter, he said that it makes no sense to deliver eloquent and lofty speeches about international law if such standards continue to be trampled, shredded and ridiculed without consequence. It is past time to end the double standard that has allowed such sheer impunity by Israel, he said, calling for accountability to be paramount. In that regard, he demanded the complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and an end to the illegal blockade of Gaza, adding that there should be no hesitation to pursue the prosecution of perpetrators or to impose sanctions should Israel continue to defy the law. This is not Israel bashing, he stressed. Instead, it is a call for respect for the law and shared international values, as well as for safeguarding human rights and finally ending the long standing, tragic conflict.

DANNY DANON (Israel) said that Iranians are ruled by a regime which remains the biggest threat to peace in the region, recalling its announcement that it would produce more uranium than before the disastrous Iran deal. The regime funds terror, its armed forces shoot live ammunition at protestors and it lied to the international community to cover up the fact that it took the lives of those aboard a Ukrainian flight. It is encouraging that countries are taking steps to hold Iran accountable, but more must be done. Iranians are risking their lives by taking to the streets and demanding their rights. You have a tremendously rich heritage that you should be proud of, he said, speaking directly to them. Iranians gave the world its first declaration of human rights and racial equality, allowing people the right to choose their own religion. It created the first tax system and postal service, among other achievements. He called it absurd that the people who invented human rights are ruled by a regime that tramples them. Israel is on your side, he said. For the regime, it appears that all options are on the table � except taking responsibility. Iran lies about its nuclear programme and terror-driven regional ambitions; it cannot be trusted.

Iran suffers from serious infrastructure problems, a weak banking sector and widespread corruption, he said, pointing out that 57 million Iranians will be living below the absolute poverty line by March. Since the Syria conflict, Iran has spent $30 billion to support Syria's President, and every year, gives $100 million to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad � funds that would be better spent domestically. Iranians are protesting because they are tired of the violence and the regime's use of proxies to spread chaos throughout the region. The campaign against Iran's nuclear aspirations, ballistic missile programme and regional agenda is one against the regime, not the Iranian people, who must be empowered and seen as partners in building a better future in the Middle East. The international community must not allow their voices to be silenced; more pressure must be applied on the regime. All sanctions must continue, he said, with new ones put in place as the only way to keep the Iranian people safe.

KELLY CRAFT (United States), recalling that this week commemorates the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Holocaust, said Israelis have won 13 Nobel prizes, improved drip irrigation technologies and enhanced surgical technologies. The Council should not lose sight of these facts. I will not allow us to, she said, advocating, as well, for a focus on the regional actor fomenting hatred. Iran has escaped the Council's scrutiny. When Iran sought to prop up the Assad regime's repression of its own people, the Council was silent; its failure to address Iran's central role in destabilizing the region only encourages further instability.

KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) called on the international community to fill funding gaps for humanitarian assistance. Condemning any policy jeopardizing a two-State solution, she called on Israel to end its illegal settlement policy that is unfolding in the West Bank and East Jerusalem amid forced displacement and demolitions. Given that 97 European Union-funded structures were demolished in 2019, a 90 per cent increase from the previous year, she urged Israeli authorities to end such actions and issue compensation for damages in line with international humanitarian law. She raised concerns about Israel's dual legal system related to the Green Line, the annexation activities and the chronic violence, particularly by settlers. Those responsible on the ground must exhibit restraint. Recalling Israel's obligation to protect the rights of the child, she said that all humanitarian law must be respected. She encouraged parties to continue negotiations to settle differences over tax revenues and reiterated the importance of holding elections in Gaza and the West Bank.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), appealing to Iran to recognize Israel, said that the Council must respect and implement international law, which is not an A� la carte affair. As such, settlements and annexations are illegal under international law. In addition, resolution 2334 (2016) must be fully implemented, he said, condemning all attacks on Israel. Underlining the importance of strengthening the Palestinian institutions' democratic legitimacy ahead of elections, he voiced support for UNRWA and the critical services it provides.

ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) said that if resolution 2334 (2016) is fully applied, its provisions would help the peace process, but this has not occurred. Instead, ongoing settlement activities and the seizure and demolition of Palestinian property are violating international law. Deploring the Israeli security forces' excessive use of force, he said that the cycle of violence must end to protect civilians on both sides. Regional developments were affecting the current situation, from the Gaza blockade to boiling tensions threatening to impact youth. Expressing support for UNRWA, he called on donors to ensure the agency can continue to deliver vital services. For its part, the international community must persist in its efforts to advance the peace process for a two-State solution.

MONCEF BAATI (Tunisia) denounced Israel's expansionist settlement schemes and other practices against Palestinians, in flagrant violation of international law and resolution 2334 (2016). This behaviour is a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution, he asserted, likewise expressing deep concern over calls to annex parts of the West Bank and carry out settlement projects in East Jerusalem. He decried the siege on Gaza and measures to tighten the noose around the Palestinian economy, also rejecting Israel's attempts to change the legal, historic and demographic character of East Jerusalem. Tunisia will continue to support all efforts to resume negotiations on agreed terms of reference, especially the Arab Peace Initiative and a two�State solution, which is the only viable option for achieving a just and comprehensive peace. He urged the Council to advance efforts to resolve the conflict, including by visiting the occupied Palestinian territories, and advocated support for UNRWA.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) urged Iran to come in from the cold and pursue its legitimate interests in the region peacefully and in full respect for international rules. She recalled recognition of Israel in this context. The Council must remain engaged to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Stressing that all sides are obliged to create an atmosphere more conducive to peace, she said that, for Israel, that means a halt to its settlement activities. She condemned Israel's plans for 1,900 housing units across the West Bank as illegal under international law and urged avoiding a suggestion that parts of Palestinian territories must be annexed. She called for an immediate end to the demolition of Palestinian-owned homes and eviction of Palestinians from them, pressing Israel to provide a clear route to construction for Palestinians in Area C. For Palestinians, she condemned attacks against civilians by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which must cease, and called for renewed efforts towards reconciliation, with the Palestinian Authority resuming its government functions in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority also must set a date for elections in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in Gaza, as soon as possible. A just resolution that ends the occupation and delivers peace for Israelis and Palestinians is long overdue, she said, underscoring the United Kingdom's commitment to achieving a negotiated settlement leading to a safe, secure Israel, living alongside a sovereign Palestinian State based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital and an agreed settlement for refugees.

SVEN JARGENSON (Estonia), associating himself with the European Union, expressed support for a two-State solution that respects internationally agreed parameters and international law. He voiced concern about Israel's settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, urging it to end the demolition of Palestinian-owned buildings in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He likewise expressed concern about calls to annex areas of the West Bank � moves that would be a serious violation of international law. He encouraged all Palestinian factions to commit to inclusive, comprehensive and fair elections, condemning rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and calling on all parties to exercise restraint. UNRWA also requires continued support. On the situation in Syria, he reiterated respect for resolution 2254 (2015), stressing that the success of the political process is linked to a nationwide ceasefire.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) underlined the need to reverse negative trends, citing the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs findings that 621 Palestinian structures were demolished or seized in the West Bank in 2019. We must not let this unlawful act go unnoticed, he asserted, pressing the Council to find a durable solution based on the United Nations Charter. The Council must uphold international law and not be silent about the threat of Israel's formal annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. He cited resolution 2334 (2016), affirming that changes to the 4 June 1967 borders other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations constitute a flagrant violation of international law. There is no other way forward on this matter, he said, calling for an end to the Gaza blockade and stressing the vital role of UNRWA. On Syria, he urged all parties to cease hostilities and uphold the ceasefire agreements, while in Lebanon, he urged all parties to avoid violence and expressed strong support to the country in resolving its internal challenges through dialogue.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) expressed concern about the lack of political progress in the Middle East peace process, emphasizing that the only viable and sustainable solution is a two-State approach. Warning against any attempts to divert from that path, he said that the only way to achieve peace and stability runs through the restoration of all legitimate rights of the Palestinian people in line with relevant United Nations resolutions and international terms of reference. He called on all parties to make a concerted effort to ensure that safe and inclusive elections are held throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and called for a surge in diplomacy as a critical mediation tool. He went on to express concern about increased tensions around Gaza and called for an end to violent attacks by both sides and a return to negotiations. Turning to Israel's continuous land grab, he cautioned that threats and pronouncements of annexation undermine the prospects for peace and could hinder the chance of reaching a sustainable settlement. In that vein, he underlined the need for full respect for resolution 2334 (2016) and reiterated his call for the Council to reconsider a visit to the region.

NICOLAS DE RIVIA�RE (France) called for the urgent resumption of the peace process, particularly as the situation on the ground continues to be a major source of instability. Settling the conflict depends on addressing the agreed terms, including making Jerusalem the capital of the two States, he said, cautioning that a solution devoid of such parameters cannot deliver peace. A two State solution is the fair, just position in line with international law, and it is futile to imagine any kind of policies or financial incentives that deny this. Pursuant to resolution 2334 (2016) and other Council decisions, he condemned calls by Israeli leaders for annexing parts of the West Bank, which is a grave violation of international law. Turning to elections, he said that progress can be made towards peace with a free and fair process alongside the announcement of dates. Calling on the international community to galvanize its support for UNRWA, he said that President Emmanuel Macron will address these and related issues during his forthcoming visit to Israel and the Palestinian territory.

INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) expressed support for a two-State solution, as well as solidarity with the State of Palestine as it strives for a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict. Noting that the current and expanding Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory constitute a flagrant violation of international law and an obstacle to peace, she stressed that it is our duty to protect our universally accepted body of international law on this issue. Each Member State has the option to remain silent, or to stand on principle. Emphasizing the importance of driving forward sustainable development in the territory, she said the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains a source of grave concern and Israel's blockade of the area breeds poverty and denies its citizens their rights. In addition, she voiced concern about attempts to deviate from the settled parameters governing the delicate quest for peace, and reiterated that the Council will not recognize any changes to the June 1967 lines other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations.

ZHANG JUN (China) said that the question of Palestine is a wound in the world's history amid ongoing settlement building and a peace process that is not on the right track. Without a just solution, peace will elude the Middle East. Independent statehood is a right that cannot be traded away, and parties with influence in the region must make joint efforts to encourage both sides to work out differences. In the meantime, Israel must end settlement expansion, prevent violence against civilians and stop demolition orders. Parties must meet each other half way and create favourable conditions to resume dialogue. For its part, China has met with the parties in the region and remains committed to the peace process. Going forward, the Gaza blockade must be lifted to improve conditions of the people living there, and the international community should continue its support of UNRWA and work to promote peace through development.

JOSA� SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said that, since the 1993 Oslo Accords, neither side has managed to achieve a dialogue to resolve their differences. To end this long-standing conflict, the parties must inject a new impetus to satisfy their people's aspirations to forge a peace that can be replicated throughout the region. Parties must abide by international humanitarian and human rights law, keeping in mind the needs of a population that has withstood decades of struggle. Open debates in the Council are meant to re invigorate the peace process, not to point fingers or deepen rifts. Calling for restraint on both sides, who must respect the current ceasefire arrangements, he drew attention to violence facing women and children in relation to settlement expansion activities. Deep divisions among Palestinians erode the path to peace and must be resolved to return to that road.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) regretted to note rising tensions and several regional developments, including the unacceptable act of assassinating Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa must determine a manner to address their security-related concerns, with a collective goal being to help these States find a way forward. Citing several examples, he said the Astana Process was a milestone for Syria, and steps have been taken to de-escalate tensions in Libya. Expressing hope that progress will be achieved in Yemen, he said that establishing calm in these countries will ripple across the Middle East. Resolving Palestinian issues must advance on agreed terms, he said, rejecting statements that condone settlement activities and claims on occupied territories, including the Syrian Golan. Highlighting the role played by the Quartet (Russian Federation, United States, European Union and the United Nations) in the peace process, he also drew attention to UNRWA, calling on the international community to support its critical activities.

DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), Council President for January, spoke in his national capacity, condemning all attacks on civilians � both Palestinian and Israeli � as well as the assaults on civilian infrastructure outlined in the Secretary-General's report. All parties must exercise the utmost restraint, refrain from acts of provocation or violence, end attacks on civilians and act in compliance with international law and Council resolutions. Reiterating his call on Israel to end all its illegal settlement activities in line with resolution 2334 (2016), he said that it should also lift restrictions on the movement of people and commodities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Voicing concern about Israel's plans to annex parts of the Jordan Valley and the West Bank, he warned that such unconstructive acts � coupled with new, dangerous flashpoints in the region � could bring about more casualties and the suffering of civilians. He also welcomed the mediation roles being played by the United Nations and Egypt, as well as UNRWA's important work, and reaffirmed his delegation's support for the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people for their inalienable rights.

MONA JUUL (Norway) said that, absent a credible political process, it is essential to continue to build the institutional and economic foundation for a Palestinian State, including through resolving outstanding issues between the parties. Raising concerns about the health crisis in Gaza, she said donors' efforts are having positive effects. However, the continuous settlement expansion violates international law and represents a major obstacle to achieve a two-State solution. Welcoming plans for Palestinian elections, she encouraged all parties, including the Palestinian Authority, factions and Israel, to act constructively to ensure a free, fair and inclusive process. Turning to the broader region, she said that she remains deeply concerned about increased Iran-United States tensions, urging parties to de-escalate and engage through dialogue. Further instability will put the territorial integrity of Iraq at risk, she said, pledging Norway's support to fight terrorism. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action remains key to continued confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme, and Tehran must return to full compliance.

BASHAR JA'AFARI (Syria) said that ending the Israeli occupation of Arab territories and the question of Palestine are issues that have taken much of the Council's attention over the past decades. However, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process violated its mandate by failing to mention the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan. Moreover, unilateral actions, such as the United States recognition of Israel's occupation of the Syrian Golan, have increased tensions. No party has the authority to determine the fate of the territories that are part of Syria and occupied Palestine, he said, calling on Israeli authorities to end ongoing wind energy projects and the confiscation of lands in occupied Syrian Golan, which must be returned to Syria based on June 1967 borders. He also renewed his demand to give the State of Palestine full membership at the United Nations.

NESTOR FRANCISCO POPOLIZIO BARDELES (Peru) said that recent developments have stalled the peace process and must be addressed before unilateral decisions or actions result in a further escalation of violence. Expressing support for dialogue, negotiations and the agreed two-State solution, he urged political leaders on both sides to act responsibly and foster calm dialogue. He highlighted certain actions that are undermining the two-State solution, including ongoing settlement activities. The humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinian people must be addressed by focusing on the root causes, he said, urging States to support development projects and provide stable funding to UNRWA. Regarding the fragile situation in the Persian Gulf, he called on the parties to respect the United Nations Charter and urged Iran to abide by its commitments to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

SIMA SAMI BAHOUS (Jordan) called for the parties to take all measures to return to dialogue in Iraq. Regarding the spread of terrorist groups, she said that all States must address these threats and confront them while working with each other. In Libya, a political solution must be adopted to overcome the crisis. In terms of the Palestinian cause, which remains the world's deepest wound, she said that Israel continues to violate international law, including by drafting new conditions in East Jerusalem and expanding settlement policies. For its part, Jordan will continue to support the maintenance and care of the holy sites. Peace in the region hinges on ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said, adding that Amman will work to fight the spread of extremism and support youth by providing them with opportunities for a brighter future.

Source: United Nations

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