As the temporary ceasefire continues to hold in Gaza, senior United Nations officials today urged Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, and called on the 193 Member States to respond to calls for emergency humanitarian funding.
In an informal meeting of the General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that for the moment, the near constant firing of Hamas rockets and Israeli missiles and mortars has subsided.
“But…we cannot rest as the suffering continues. This ceasefire has come at a price that is almost too much to bear,” said Mr. Ban, underscoring that the massive death and destruction in Gaza “have shocked and shamed the world.” While pledging continued support to the peace efforts, he declared that the “senseless cycle of suffering” in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel must end.
“Do we have to continue like this: build, destroy, and build, and destroy,” he asked, addressing the Assembly along with his special envoy in the region, Robert Serry, the deputy chief of UN humanitarian efforts, Kyung-wha Kang, and the world body’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay. In addition, Pierre Krähenbühl, head of the UN agency charged with assisting Palestinian refugees across the Middle East also addressed the meeting.
“We will build again – but this must be the last time to rebuild,” Mr. Ban said in reference to the more than 1,800 Palestinians and 67 Israelis killed, and the damage caused. “Why [are] both parties putting all of the international community’s citizens always at unease and concerned, looking helplessly at many people being killed?”
He also conveyed a personal and direct message to the UN staff members working in Gaza, noting that UN flags around the world will be at flown at half-mast tomorrow in memory of the colleagues killed.
“Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for saving lives,” said Mr. Ban, stressing that attacks against UN premises, along with other suspected breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated.
The UN chief reiterated the international community’s call that the parties return to negotiations, underscoring that only a negotiated political settlement will bring sustainable peace and security to the region.
Mr. Serry, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, is currently in Cairo where Egyptian mediators are planning to shuttle between the Israeli and Palestinian representatives to negotiate a longer pause to the fighting that is currently on hold for at least 72-hours.
“The escalation just behind us, coupled with the tense situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, is a warning of the bleak reality before us if we do not counter the slide towards a one-state reality on the ground and restore hope and prospect for a two-state solution,” Mr. Serry said via a videoconference.
He called the current crisis “a symptom of our collective failure” to address the underlying causes of the conflict, for which he gives the basic equation: end the blockade on Gaza, address Israel’s legitimate security needs.
Mr. Serry hinted that more action might be needed from UN Member States in the future, including from the Security Council, but the primary responsibility to move forward now is on the main parties.
Speaking from Gaza, Mr. Krähenbühl, Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said that 90 of the agency’s premises were hit during the conflict. He said that UNRWA has asked for investigations to be carried out regarding the attacks on agency-run schools that had been sheltering displaced Gazans.
In her address, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stressed the need to investigate wrongdoing and hold those responsible to account, for crimes committed during the current crisis in Gaza, as well as the military operations in 2008-2009 and 2012.
Speaking from Geneva, Ms. Pillay said that the Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council last month will present its findings next March, and its conclusions on what occurred in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and subsequent recommendations, should be carefully considered.
“There can be no true security without justice and respect for human rights,” Ms. Pillay said. “Adherence to international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and ensuring accountability for violations, are essential pre-requisites for any lasting peace.”
The senior UN official also stressed the need for water, food, shelter, electricity and safety in Gaza, where the humanitarian situation is at a “breaking point.”
The conflict exasperated an already desperate situation after seven years of a blockade, with unemployment at 43 per cent, food insecurity at around 57 percent and where approximately 80 per cent of the population, over half of whom are children, are dependent on external assistance, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“The needs remain enormous,” said Ms. Kang, who is also the Deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. “Significant and sustained international commitment is required.”
The UN and partners have appealed for $367 million to address immediate needs, which range from medicines and ambulances, to repairs to water and power plants, and food and shelter.
“People are frustrated that the international community was unable to protect them during the fighting and are looking to us yet again for help,” Ms. Kang said. “We cannot fail them.”