Welcoming the recent stated commitment by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to a peaceful solution to the region’s most enduring crisis, the United Nations special envoy on the Middle East told the Security Council today that such words need to be translated into “concrete and sustained actions on the ground.”
“Now is the time to act decisively to reverse the growing perception that the two-state solution is on life-support, slowly dying a death ‘by a thousand cuts,’” warned Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process, while briefing the Security Council about the situation in the region over the past month.
Measures undertaken to improve the situation must not be considered an end unto themselves but part of a broader political framework with the goal of achieving a final status agreement, which will require committed engagement with key Arab states, including through the Arab Peace Initiative he insisted.
“Given the region's massive transformation, it is imperative – perhaps more than ever before – that a permanent settlement be found, based on the concept of two states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable Palestine, living side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition,” Mr. Mladenov insisted.
But today, he said, the two sides are further apart from that goal “than ever.” Support for the two-state solution among both Palestinians and Israelis is fading away, while the current situation on the ground is not sustainable.
Although he welcomed the recent decision by Israel to add 8,000 new work permits for Palestinians from the West Bank, the Special Coordinator deplored unilateral activities there, including settlement construction, so-called legalization of outposts, demolitions and evictions.
“While settlement expansion has slowed of late, planning for related infrastructure has not ceased. I am concerned by reports about the imminent approval of new residential units in the occupied West Bank,” he mentioned, urging the Israeli authorities to reconsider this action.
He also called on all Palestinian groups to avoid “in-fighting” and find common ground, on the basis of non-violence and reconciliation, to achieve national unity which is critical for a two-state solution.
Noting that July 8th marked the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of conflict between Israel and Hamas, Mr. Mladenov said Gaza’s “painstaking emergence” from it is undermining belief among the population that genuine progress can be achieved.
In addition, he emphasized, activities of Salafi jihadists and other extremist groups are a cause for concern not only in Gaza, but also in neighboring Sinai, where there are reports of their active support of militants on the Egyptian side of the border.
“On 18 July, six cars were blown up in Gaza city. Palestinian Salafi militants launched a rocket at Israel on 16 July, which exploded in an open area near Ashkelon. In response, Israel conducted four airstrikes against militant infrastructure targets in Gaza. Militants also fired a rocket from the Sinai on 3 July, which landed in Israel close to the Egyptian border, highlighting the potential for violence in the Sinai to expand beyond its borders.”
Nonetheless, the Special Coordinator welcomed an agreement, concluded by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, on a new mechanism to allow Palestinians in Gaza access to construction material for the reconstruction of fully destroyed homes and for new construction.
“In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, while the frequency of security incidents decreased compared to last month, the situation remained tense,” the Special Coordinator continued.
Israeli security forces conducted some 186 search-and-arrest operations, resulting in the arrest of some 300 Palestinians. Meanwhile Palestinian security forces also arrested over 100 people in the West Bank, he reported, expressing concerns about the situation of Palestinian prisoners.
“In total, 50 Palestinians were injured, and four were shot and killed by Israeli security forces, including two at checkpoints near Nablus and Ramallah. Two members of the Israeli security forces were stabbed and injured, one seriously.”
Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli civilians in the West Bank also continued, resulting in the death of one Israeli and injury to eight Israelis and nine Palestinians, including one child, he underlined.
Against this backdrop, intra-Palestinian talks to form a national unity government have faltered, as the Palestinian Authority faces significant financial challenges, “including a 2015 budget deficit of some $500 million.”
Briefing about the situation in Lebanon, Mr. Mladenov explained that the Presidential vacuum and the political differences in the country were preventing the effective functioning of state institutions, despite Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s efforts to run government.
The situation along the Lebanese border with Syria has remained stable, he observed, with the Lebanese Armed Forces continuing their operations to prevent the infiltration of armed extremist groups from Syria. In the south, the situation along the blue line has remained generally calm, despite almost daily Israeli overflights over Lebanese territory, Mr. Mladenov said.