Note: A complete summary of today’s Security Council meeting will be available after its conclusion.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that, despite peace efforts and a newfound agreement among countries to stand united against terrorism and radicalism, societies continued to fracture along ethnic or religious lines, with non-State actors maintaining control over large territories as events in Jerusalem resonated across the region. “The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not only about land and peace,” he said. “It is about two peoples who both have legitimate national aspirations for statehood and recognition,” he added, declaring: “Two nations whose histories are intertwined and whose future is forever intricately linked.”
However, developments at holy sites in Jerusalem over the past 11 days demonstrated the grave risk of a dangerous escalation, including the transformation of the conflict into a religious one, he warned, emphasizing the risk of dragging both sides, and the rest of the region, into a vortex of violence. Recent events included the killing of two Israeli police officers, the closure of holy sites and installation of metal detectors, the deadly terrorist attack, and the Palestinian Authority’s decision on 21 July to freeze all contact with Israel.
“Let us make no mistake,” he stressed. “While events in Jerusalem may be taking place over a couple of hundred square metres, they affect hundreds of millions of people around the world.” Welcoming the decision by Israel’s security Cabinet on 24 July to remove metal detectors, he said it was expected that President Mahmoud Abbas would convene the Palestinian leadership to discuss developments. Given the views of East Jerusalem residents, it was critical that any decision made at the highest political and religious levels consider the fears and hopes of the two peoples.
He went on to underline that Jerusalem remained a final status issue that must be decided and negotiated between the two sides. Israel, as the occupying Power, must uphold international law, and Palestinian leaders must refrain from making statements that aggravated the situation. The current crisis had diverted the parties from addressing the real task at hand — finding a solution that would see the ultimate goal realized: two States living side by side in peace.
However, plans for additional housing units in East Jerusalem and other settlements had been advanced, he said, adding that such settlement activity was illegal and undermined the chances of reaching that goal. Yet, there had been progress, he said, pointing to the 10 July interim agreement on an electricity substation in Jenin and the drafting of a water supply agreement for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Unfortunately, those gains would evaporate without a resolution to the current crisis, he noted.
Turning to the situation in Gaza, he pointed out that more than 2 million people were suffering due to the ongoing tensions, hostages in a political standoff between Fatah and Hamas. Electricity and water shortages, as well as other deprivations, had intensified their suffering. “The United Nations will not give up on Gaza and its people,” he emphasized. “Despite the odds, we will continue our intense mediation efforts to resolve the standoff.” Thanking Egypt for its delivery of badly needed fuel, he said such measures provided a temporary lifeline for Gaza citizens, noting also that Qatar had signed contracts for the reconstruction of eight buildings.
“Palestinian leaders must make some hard choices about the future of their people,” he said, warning: “They can resolve the current crisis or preside over the radicalization of their population and see it fall into the hands of extremists with even more destructive agendas.” He called upon the Palestinian leadership to address the destructive consequences of the Fatah-Hamas split, encouraging them to reach agreement. Hamas must ensure calm by ceasing its militant build-up against Israel and maintaining security at the border with Egypt, he said, while encouraging Israel to lift closures and allow rebuilding.
Recent events were a reminder of how easy it could be to reach a dangerous escalation, he said, expressing hope that Israel’s agreement with Jordan and positive engagement with religious authorities would result in actions that would circumvent violence in the future. “We must not lose focus on the need to restore a political perspective, on the need to bring Palestinians and Israelis back into an environment that is conductive to negotiations on a final status arrangement and avoids turning the national Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious one,” he emphasized.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said he had come before the Council amid escalating tensions, instability and a profound sense of worry. The fragile situation in occupied East Jerusalem had been inflamed yet again by Israel as the occupying Power pressed forward with its reckless and destructive agenda against the Palestinian people and holy sites, including Al-Haram al-Sharif. The stoking of a religious conflict was unfolding rapidly as Israel persisted in its illegal actions, including its aggressive behaviour and provocative violations of the historic status quo at Al-Haram al-Sharif, he said, emphasizing that Israel was aggravating religious sensitivities to the point of eruption. “We are clearly at the tipping point,” he warned. Occupied East Jerusalem was besieged by military checkpoints, occupation forces, settlements as well as violent, armed settlers.
The Palestinian people were resisting the recent provocative measures and peacefully expressing their rejection of illegal measures against their rights and holy sites, he said. Yet, Israel continued to ignore the international community, he said, underlining the need for a clear, unified message that Israel must cease and reverse all such illegal a1tions and policies. Underlining the urgent need for de-escalation, he called for continuing efforts to restore the historic status quo at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. The protection of human life was equally urgent, he stressed, deploring the killing and injury of all innocent civilians. Israel must be held accountable for its negligence and violations, he said, adding that the occupying Power could not continue to be absolved of its legal obligations.
The Palestinian people mourned the loss of five young people brutally killed by the occupying forces last week, and prayed for the recovery of more than 1,000 peaceful demonstrators who had been injured, he said. Underlining the need to remember that the Palestinians were unarmed and defenceless, he described conditions in the Gaza Strip as “unliveable for humans”, appealing for immediate action to save Palestinian civilians there and avert another explosive crisis. The State of Palestine rejected the notion that a just peace recognizing the legitimate national aspirations and rights of the Palestinian people was impossible, and in fact, “anti-Israel”. Peace was possible, he affirmed, not by negating the rights of the Palestinian people, but rather by ending the Israeli occupation, securing Palestinian rights and ensuring a just solution for Palestinian refugees.
DANNY DANON (Israel), graphically describing last Friday’s murder of members of an Israeli family by a Palestinian in the West Bank, said that such terrorist attacks followed relentless incitement to violence by Palestinian officials, as well as payments to convicted terrorists and their families, the naming of schools and monuments for them and the celebration of horrific events. “This incitement, this culture of hate, this glorification of terror must end now,” he emphasized. Israel’s top priority was to maintain the safety and security of all Temple Mount worshipers and visitors while the Palestinians’ top priority was to ignite violence, he added.
Recalling the carnage wrought by the suicide bombing of a Haifa restaurant in 2003, he announced the presence of a victim who had lost many family members and had been blinded. The bomber’s family had received tens of thousands of dollars, he said, adding that her accomplices had been paid more than $500,000 and she herself had been awarded top Palestinian honours. Citing the words of President Abbas on his determination to continue such payments, he also quoted figures to show that they made up nearly 7 per cent of the Palestinian Authority’s budget, while education received as little as 1 per cent.
Israelis valued human rights, taught democracy, empowered minorities and protected the rights of Muslims, Christians and Jews to pray at their holy sites, he said. They wished to live in peace with their neighbours while the Palestinians continued to oppose negotiations. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority had also mastered the art of deceit and the international community had fallen for it, he said. Convicted terrorists were called “political prisoners” and almost 30 per cent of foreign aid was used to bankroll terror. Israel could not accept that any longer, he emphasized. The Security Council must work to end “this vulgar exploitation of international aid”, hold the Palestinians accountable and ensure that their children were taught to seek peace. Only then would real peace be possible in the region.
NIKKI HALEY (United States) urged all parties to reduce tensions, and ensure access and security at the holy sites. Many obsessed over Israel while the real threat was Iran, a country dedicated to destroying Israel and to supporting Hizbullah, she said. Just because members of a terrorist group held elected office, did not make it any less of a terrorist group, she said, pointing out that United Nations resolutions called for Hizbullah to disarm without result. The group’s weapons build-up was endangering the people of Lebanon, she said, adding that it was absurd that the Council avoided saying the name “Hizbullah” while it focused on Israel. Reports showed that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had not taken appropriate action in respect of Hizbullah, she noted. While issues in the region were complex, the United States expected leaders to know the difference between right and wrong, and that Hizbullah was an obstacle to peace, she emphasized.
MUKHTAR TILEUBERDI (Kazakhstan) affirmed his country’s concern over the growing threat of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, the ongoing construction of settlements and the deterioration of the Palestinian humanitarian situation. As a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Kazakhstan urged the Government of Israel to lift restrictions on worshippers in Jerusalem, he said, emphasizing that all acts of violence should end. The parties should refrain from actions that could lead to further escalation, he and both sides must create an atmosphere conducive to negotiations on a two-State solution. He also called upon all stakeholders to work for a political solution in Syria, for international support to the Government of Iraq following the liberation of Mosul, and for greater assistance for Lebanon’s hosting of refugees. He expressed particular concern at the humanitarian situation in Yemen, calling for decisive measures to prevent the spread of cholera by ensuring full humanitarian access, as enshrined in international law.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), noting that the conflict would not resolve itself on its own, emphasized that any worsening of the situation carried with it a risk of uncontrolled escalation across the region. He voiced hope that recent positive steps would ease tensions and reiterated a call for the greatest restraint to prevent events from devolving into a religious conflict. Turning to Gaza, he said residents lived on a few hours of electricity daily, which was paralysing living conditions. Israel must shoulder its responsibilities as the occupying Power and the Palestinians must work to reach a reconciliation agreement. It was critical to return to negotiations. Yet, settlement activities were threatening that process. Economic developments and security arrangements only made sense with negotiations on the horizon, he said, underscoring that sacrifices were required by all sides and calling on parties to return to the negotiations table.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) said Israel and Palestine had the right to live as free and independent States. Condemning the recent violence, he said Israel had taken recent steps that had exacerbated the situation and violated international law, including erecting metal detectors and fences around the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. Calling on parties to refrain from taking any action that would further worsen tensions, he said it was vital that no stone be left unturned to avoid any escalation of violence. Council members must ensure the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016); the only long-term goal was to ensure the realization of a two-State solution.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal) called on the parties to reduce tensions, noting recent meetings that were addressing related issues. At the forum of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People’s marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war, a call had been made for the Council to work tirelessly to uphold the two-State solution. Meanwhile, the socioeconomic situation in Gaza was a ticking time bomb, requiring urgent attention, including addressing shortages of electricity, water and sanitation. Calling on Palestinian leaders to resolve differences, he said they should focus on improving conditions in Gaza while the international community worked towards bolstering economic development. He expressed hope that recent United States-led discussions would lead to progress.
VLADIMIR SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said a solution to the issues plaguing Jerusalem must hinge on General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. The parties must refrain from any action that predetermined Jerusalem’s status and must maintain calm. Cooperation between Israel and Jordan, which bore a specific and significant role in the management of Muslim sites, was of great importance. The destabilizing factors had not been addressed, but rather had worsened, including ongoing settlement activities and heightened, provocative rhetoric from both sides. The situation in Gaza required specific attention, including the dire humanitarian situation there, he said, voicing support for the mediation efforts of the parties, including those undertaken by Egypt. A solution could be found for a genuine settlement based on direct talks. He reaffirmed his country’s willingness to host a meeting in Moscow between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that there was no alternative to the two-State solution. The Middle East and North Africa remained in tumult and the recent activities in the Palestinian territories only made the situation worse. Steps must be taken to strip terrorists of any access to chemical weapons and measures must be undertaken towards a political settlement and the restoration of stability and peace to the region.
CARL SKAU (Sweden), associating himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, expressed hope that Israel’s recent decision to remove the metal detectors by the entrances of the Holy Esplanade, a key Palestinian demand, was a step towards de-escalation. “Jerusalem is home to three religions,” he continued, voicing concern over the recent Israeli announcement of the issuing of building permits for 1,500 new settlement units in East Jerusalem. Not only was that a flagrant violation of international law, but such settlements were also a major obstacle to peace and would render the two-State solution impossible. He condemned the 14 July attack in the Old City of Jerusalem and welcomed its swift condemnation by President Abbas. As well, the situation in Gaza was “extremely worrying”. Palestinians living there should not be paying the price for the long‑lasting crisis. Yet, they continued to suffer from a lack of basic essentials such as water and sanitation. He also highlighted the important role of the United States in efforts to advance peace in the Middle East.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), while expressing concern over the recent violence in Jerusalem, said he was pleased that all concerned parties seemed to have played their relevant roles in reducing the prevailing tensions. It was evident that, unless the underlying problems were peacefully resolved, those tensions would happen again and again, and perhaps move to the “point of no return”. There was no other viable option other than the two-State solution, he stressed, adding that it was unfortunate that the recent outbreak of violence in Jerusalem overshadowed other recent progress aimed at addressing the long-standing crisis between the Palestinians and Israelis. Although his country supported Israel’s right to defend itself, it also supported the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the right of Palestine to exist as a free and independent State. The parties should show the flexibility to engage in direct and meaningful negotiations to find a solution, although the Council should also do its part to support the parties to move in that direction.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) said his country would continue to support a two-State solution based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, thus achieving peaceful coexistence of a viable Palestinian State and Israel with secure and recognized borders. The final status of Jerusalem must be resolved through negotiations based on the assumption that it would be the future capital of both sides. Settlement activities were in violation of international law and Israel must freeze all such activities. Underscoring that reconciliation among Palestinians was an important element in promoting peace, he also expressed concern over the deepening divide between the West Bank and Gaza. Fatah and Hamas must find a way to alleviate Palestinian suffering. While the international community continued to play an important role, it was political will that would relaunch negotiations and rein in obstacles to peace.
INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy), mourning the loss of life due to the recent violence and reaffirming the right to peaceful demonstrations, emphasized that the decision by the Israeli Government to remove the metal detectors was in the right direction. It was also important to maintain security cooperation between Israel and Palestine. The situation in Gaza deserved the utmost attention, he said, citing a recent report from the United Nations country team documenting the alarming lack of development in the Gaza Strip in the last decade. Nevertheless, there had been some positive progress, including the recent agreements on electricity and water that the parties had signed. Turning to Lebanon, he highlighted the essential work being carried out by UNIFIL, while reiterating his country’s full support to the Lebanese authorities and their full implementation of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1701 (2006). In addition, the recent liberation of Mosul from Da’esh was a sign of hope in an area that was otherwise grappling with multiple crises.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) lamented that the years continued to roll by with the situation in the Middle East going unchanged, and in some cases actually worsening. The peoples of that region wanted nothing more than to live in peace, far from the horrors of war, terror and violations of their human rights. Yet they had suffered from occupation, terrorism and successive regimes whose objectives were far removed from the wishes of the people. He stressed the need for unfettered access to places of worship, and in that regard, he expressed satisfaction with Israel’s decision to the remove the metal detectors. He also expressed concern that the situation in Yemen was not receiving its due attention by the Council, and in regards to Syria, that the political progress that had been made was not reflected in terms of humanitarian access.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said the escalation of tensions and violence in Jerusalem reflected the gravity of the situation in and around the Old City, as well as in the wider context of the Middle East peace process. Unless swift and effective measures were taken by both sides, the recent deadly incidents could ignite further violence. Turning to Syria, he stressed his dissatisfaction with the slow progress on the political track. The intra-Syrian talks in Geneva needed to be firmly entrenched in resolution 2254 (2015) and steered towards the previously agreed common agenda points related to governance, the Constitution, elections and counterterrorism. On Yemen, he voiced deep concern by the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, which was going from bad to worse, and highlighted the cholera epidemic which was pushing the country’s population to the brink of survival.