Four months since their resumption, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have reached a delicate moment, the United Nations political chief told the Security Council today, warning that the consequences of failure would be dire for both parties.
“On the positive side, it appears that the negotiators have been engaging on substance and have gone some way towards narrowing their differences, notwithstanding the great difficulties that peace will entail. But strains have been growing dangerously between the parties, and these can and must be overcome,” said Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
The two sides resumed direct negotiations in August, thanks to the efforts of United States Secretary of State John Kerry, following a three-year hiatus owing to Israel’s refusal to extend its freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Mr. Feltman noted that the process suffered “a significant setback” with a series of recent announcements by Israel of settlement plans in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which the UN has been following with “great concern.”
Senior UN officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have reiterated the UN’s unequivocal position that settlements are contrary to international law and an obstacle to peace. The Secretary-General expects Israel to put “a full stop” to these plans, said Mr. Feltman.
“In protest over these developments, Palestinian negotiators submitted their resignations, now under consideration by President Abbas, who has nevertheless made it clear that this does not constitute a Palestinian departure from talks. Parties should now intensify efforts and refrain from actions that undermine trust and the spirit of talks.”
A two-State solution remains the only way to fully realise the legitimate aspirations of both peoples for self-determination, peace and security, Mr. Feltman stated. “The consequences of failure would be dire for Israelis and Palestinians alike. We thus continue to urge the parties to remain steadfast in their commitment to see this process through.
“But we fear that unless steps are taken to prevent the reoccurrence of negative developments such as those of recent weeks, the remaining chances to achieve a negotiated two-State solution may be irreparably damaged.”
Meanwhile, the situation on the ground remains “tense,” Mr. Feltman reported, as Israeli security forces carry out hundreds of search and arrest operations; violence between settlers and Palestinians continue on a daily basis throughout the West Bank; and Israel continues demolitions of unlicensed Palestinian structures.
In addition, he said the situation in Gaza is once again deteriorating amidst renewed violence and worsening economic and humanitarian conditions.
“The deteriorating socio-economic situation in the Strip can be seen as a combined energy and construction crisis,” said the Under-Secretary-General. Rolling blackouts increased to up to 16 hours per day following the shutdown on 1 November of the Gaza power plant, which was producing 25 per cent of the total power available in Gaza.
“This has affected the lives of the Gazan population and the functioning of basic services, including health and water facilities,” he added.
On 13 October Israel suspended the import of all construction materials, including for international projects, following the discovery of a reinforced tunnel dug from Gaza into Southern Israel.
“Virtually all construction projects in Gaza, including for the United Nations, have been suspended, putting thousands of people out of work,” said Mr. Feltman. “During the last several years, the United Nations has implemented a growing package of housing, schools and infrastructure projects with stringent control procedures, agreed to with the Government of Israel, to preserve the integrity of each project and avoid misuse of materials.
“While we recognize Israel’s legitimate security concerns, we are confident that those procedures remain adequate. We therefore call on Israel to urgently reconsider its decision to temporarily halt the import of construction material into Gaza.”