With no Israeli-Palestinian negotiations underway, no agreed terms of reference for such talks, and Israel’s refusal to freeze settlements posing a key challenge, a senior United Nations official today called for “immediate actions on the ground” to prevent Middle East peace efforts from unravelling.
“It is vital at this juncture that the international community takes a clear and united position,” Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios told the Security Council in its monthly briefing on the crisis, warning that political efforts for a negotiated two-State solution have reached “a deep and worrying impasse,” even as security and economic efforts have continued on the ground.
He called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s stated withdrawal from forthcoming elections “a worrying assessment, from a leader unquestionably devoted to peace, that the political process lacks sufficient content and credibility at this time.
“This is a loud and clear wake-up call. If we cannot move decisively forward to a final status agreement, we risk sliding backwards, with both the Palestinian Authority and the two-State solution itself imperilled,” he said.
Citing the obstacles over the past month, Mr. Menkerios cited Israel’s proposal to restrain rather than freeze settlement activity, noting that this does not conform to the requirements of the Roadmap peace plan sponsored by the UN, European Union, Russia and United States, which seeks a two-State solution with both Israel and Palestine living side by side within secure and recognized borders.
Moreover, such restraint would reportedly not apply at all in occupied East Jerusalem, where Israel approved 900 more housing units to significantly expand Gilo settlement on the southern outskirts while demolishing 17 Palestinian houses, displacing 99 Palestinians, more than half of them children.
On inter-Palestinian politics, Mr. Menkerios noted the refusal of Hamas, which seized control of Gaza two years ago, to allow elections to be held there and its threats against anyone planning to be involved in their preparation after Mr. Abbas called for Presidential and legislative polls in January, calling the postponement this entailed “deeply regrettable.”
But, he added, the political uncertainty has not interrupted continued efforts by Mr. Abbas’s Palestinian Authority to meet Roadmap commitments, pursue economic and security cooperation, and build institutions for statehood.
“We continue to urge the Palestinian Authority to maintain its efforts in improving law and order, fighting extremism and ending incitement,” he said, citing the dismantling of two unexploded devices near Jenin and the handing over of 20 pipe bombs confiscated in Nablus to Israeli forces.
On incidents involving Palestinians, Israeli security forces and settlers across the West Bank, he noted 45 recorded instances of settler attacks on Palestinians and olive trees, leading to 24 Palestinian injuries, and 26 incidents involving Palestinian violence towards settlers in which seven settlers were injured.
During the past month, 73 Palestinians were injured and over 300 arrested during Israeli raids in the West Bank, representing an increase from the previous reporting period.
Turning to Gaza, Mr. Menkerios noted that Israeli blockade continued 10 months after the end of its winter offensive against Hamas, with mostly only food and hygiene products allowed in and no exports allowed out, while the UN has yet to receive a satisfactory response from Israel to a six-month old proposal to complete $77 million of stalled housing, school and health projects.
“The UN has left no stone unturned in seeking approval of this package in extensive consultations with the Israeli authorities, and is confident of its capacity to ensure the integrity of programming,” he said. “It is completely unacceptable that no meaningful progress has been made in kick-starting UN civilian construction activities essential for the well-being and recovery of a war- and blockade-affected population, half of whom are children.”
At the same time, according to Israeli officials, arms continued to be smuggled into Gaza and rockets with increased capability have been test-fired, including some with a 60-kilometre range, capable of reaching Tel Aviv, he added. Hamas also closed down the International Federation of Journalists and public assembly remains severely restricted in Gaza.