UN Middle East envoy urges sides to engage ‘before it is too late’
Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and their international partners, must urgently resume peace efforts “before it is too late”, UN Middle East envoy Nikolay Mladenov told the Security Council on Tuesday, echoing the Secretary-General.
“We are again at a pivotal moment in the search for peace as convergence of destabilizing factors threatens to pull Israelis and Palestinians further towards a one-State reality of perpetual occupation and conflict,” he warned, speaking by videoconference from Jerusalem.
“I reiterate the Secretary-General’s call to the members of the Middle East Quartet, key Arab partners, and to the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, to urgently re-engage and strengthen efforts to advance the goal of a negotiated two-State solution before it is too late.”
Recent welcoming developments
Mr. Mladenov, officially the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, was presenting the latest UN report on the region, covering the period from 5 June through 20 September.
Prior to this, he highlighted recent welcome developments on the political front, such as Israel’s agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which led to the suspension of plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
The envoy was also encouraged by efforts to strengthen Palestinian unity. He noted that meetings between the two biggest Palestinian factions Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, ended with a call for long-awaited elections.
“Elections and legitimate democratic institutions are critical to uniting Gaza and the West Bank under a single national authority, and vital to upholding the prospect of a negotiated two-State solution”, he told ambassadors.
Pandemic eroding peace prospects
However, Mr. Mladenov stressed that “developments during the reporting period cannot be divorced from the broader context”, listing actions by both sides which included Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory, as well as illegal settlement activity and demolitions, and rocket fire and militant activity by the Palestinians.
These factors, together with the COVID-19 pandemic, collectively erode the prospects for a viable two-State solution, he stated.
Mr. Mladenov reported that the resurgence of COVID-19 is having “a devastating effect” on the ground, describing the situation as an urgent health crisis. The UN and partners will continue to support response, including by addressing critical gaps in medical supplies and equipment.
“It is important to focus particularly on Gaza, given the unique situation and extreme vulnerability of the population”, he advised. “Any increased responsibility taken on by the UN should be limited, timebound and not replace the responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority or the Government of Israel.”
Although there was limited settlement advancement during the reporting period, Mr. Mladenov expressed concern over construction plans in “sensitive” areas of the occupied West Bank.
He also called for Israel to cease demolition and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures, while both sides were urged to work to address the “severe economic and health crisis” facing the Palestinian people.
“Daily violence continues to fuel mistrust and drives further from a peaceful resolution of the conflict”, Mr. Mladenov continued. He urged Israel to hold perpetrators behind settler-related attacks accountable, and for Palestinian militants in Gaza to stop launching indiscriminate rockets and incendiary devices into Israel.
Acknowledging this current “pivotal moment”, Mr. Mladenov underlined his support for efforts towards peace.
“I remain committed to supporting both sides to resolve the conflict and end the occupation in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements in pursuit of achieving the vision of two States – Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestinian State – within secure and recognized borders, based on the pre-1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States”, he said