The illegal building of new homes and communities continue to occur across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, threatening fragile hopes of a two-state solution to the long-running conflict, top United Nations officials warned today, urging both Israel and the Palestinians to meet their obligations under the Road Map for peace in the Middle East.
“The situation in East Jerusalem is of particular concern… especially indications of new settlement construction and house demolitions,” Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said during an open Security Council debate on the Middle East.
Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said that the international community was troubled by the recent approval of 20 new housing units in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, as well as the issuing of eviction and demolition orders against Palestinian homes.
“In a significant development yesterday, settlers accompanied by Israeli security forces took physical possession of a house in another area of Sheikh Jarrah,” Mr. Fernandez-Taranco told the 15-member body.
In response to yesterday’s move in Sheikh Jarrah, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, stressed that the recent “upsurge in orders for house demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem is contrary to the Road Map.
“Any settlement activity in East Jerusalem is contrary to international law and cannot prejudice the outcome of negotiations,” said Mr. Serry, appealing for restraint from all sides and for Israel to refrain from unilateral actions that risk inflaming an already tense situation.
Mr. Fernandez-Taranco noted that in the last month demolition orders without permit were carried out against three Palestinian homes and a further 13 new orders were issued, and that 51 incidents in which 19 Palestinians were injured and a number of properties vandalised by settlers were reported.
Council Members also heard that in the five years since the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) stated that erecting a wall within the occupied Palestinian territory was contrary to international law, the barrier has compounded movement restrictions in the West Bank and its planned route encloses 9.5 per cent of the West Bank area.
However, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco noted that Israel has taken a number of steps to ease movement between Nablus, Qalqilya, Ramallah and Jericho, significantly reducing the time it takes Palestinians to enter these cities.
He also welcomed Israel’s move to extend the hours for commercial crossing at the Allenby Bridge to Jordan, which will promote the development of industrial zones in Bethlehem, Jenin and Jericho.
In early July, a Palestinian Authority official reported that Palestinian security forces had uncovered stockpiles of arms, explosives and a stash of $8.5 million in cash from Hamas cells in the West Bank, said Mr. Fernandez-Taranco.
“I urge the Palestinian Authority to continue to make every effort to improve law and order and to fight violent extremism, consistent with its Road Map obligations,” he said.
In the Gaza Strip, the relative drop in violence reported in the last briefing to the Security Council continued, said Mr. Fernandez-Taranco, despite four incidents of rocket or mortar fire into Israel and nine Israeli army incursions into the Strip, which resulted in the deaths of two children and injuries to seven Palestinians.
He stressed that the Middle East diplomatic Quartet – consisting of the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States – has called on Israel to reopen all crossing points into Gaza to ensure the regular flow of people, as well as humanitarian and commercial goods.
“In May 2007, prior to the imposition of the comprehensive closure regime, 475 trucks per day wee entering Gaza, as part of normal commerce and trade,” compared to the 78 trucks allowed access per day in June.
Over the past month, only 70 per cent of the fuel needed to operate the power plant at full capacity was shipped into the area and as a result “power cuts continued throughout the Gaza Strip, directly affecting most householders’ ability to refrigerate foods, as well as the provision of essential services like water and sanitation, health care and medicine storage, and waste disposal,” with some 10 per cent of Gazans without any electricity at all.
Mr. Fernandez-Taranco also reminded the Council that the Secretary-General described the blocking of reconstruction materials and supplies as “completely unacceptable,” and that the Quartet supports “the UN proposal to kick-start early recovery in Gaza by opening the crossings for materials to complete UN construction work on housing, health and education facilities suspended since June 2007.”
In meetings with Lebanese and Israeli officials and political leaders in the past week the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, stressed the “seriousness of recent events and the gravity of the violations of resolution 1701,” said Mr. Fernandez-Taranco, noting that Mr. Williams had been reassured that no further incursions of Lebanese territory would take place below the ‘Blue Line’ and there would be no further demonstrations in the area.