Israel and Palestine must take steps to ‘restore calm’ in occupied West Bank
With daily violence spiralling out of control in the occupied West Bank, leaders in both Israel and Palestine need to take steps to restore calm as best they can, “with the full support of the international community”, said the UN’s top official in the region on Friday.
Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, was briefing the Security Council in the wake of escalating confrontations between Israeli security forces (ISF) and militants, culminating in a large ISF raid in Nablus early this week, which saw five Palestinians killed and 21 wounded.
Calling on both leaderships “to recognize what is at stake and to take the steps within their power to restore calm”, he said “core political issues” had to be addressed, or “the deep-rooted mistrust and hostility will continue to grow. I see clearly the mounting frustration and anger of Palestinians in the face of decades of Israeli occupation.”
He added that the Palestinian Authority (PA) the governing body of the West Bank under the 1994 Oslo Accords, “urgently needs the economic support and political space to fully exercise its authority, including security, in areas under its control.”
Too many have died in recent weeks, “overwhelmingly Palestinian”, he told ambassadors creating an atmosphere of “mounting hopelessness, anger and tension” fuelling a deadly cycle of violence, that is increasingly difficult to contain.
“Decades of violence and its toll on both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as a prolonged absence of meaningful negotiations and a failure to resolve the key issues fuelling the conflict, have created fertile ground for this dynamic.”
‘Determined action’ needed
He said he had talked to all sides across the West Bank and Gaza, in Israel, and the broader international community, giving everyone the same clear message:
“The immediate priority is to work to calm the situation and reverse the negative trends on the ground. This will require determined actions by both parties, supported by the international community.”
However, the beleaguered Palestinian Authority, needs support, so that it can return to the political process.
“A failure to implement strategies to address both the symptoms and the root causes of violent escalation will only worsen an already explosive situation”, he said.
Palestinian deaths and injuries
Mr. Wennesland said he was alarmed at the sheer intensity of violence in the occupied West Bank during the three month reporting period to the Council, and catalogued the list of near daily incidents.
In total, 32 Palestinians, including six children, were killed by Israeli security forces during demonstrations, clashes, search-and-arrest operations, attacks and alleged attacks against Israelis, and other incidents.
He said 311 Palestinians, including one woman and eight children, had been injured. Israeli settlers or other civilians, perpetrated 106 attacks against Palestinians, he said, resulting in 63 injuries and/or damage to Palestinian property.
In all, two Israeli security forces personnel were killed, and 25 Israeli civilians, including five women and three children, and 13 Israeli security forces personnel were injured by Palestinians, during an array of shooting and ramming attacks, clashes, the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails, and other incidents.
In total, Palestinians perpetrated 115 attacks against Israeli civilians, 100 of which were stone-throwing incidents, resulting in injuries and/or damage to Israeli property.
“So far, 2022 is on course to be the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since OCHA (the UN humanitarian affairs office) began systematically tracking Palestinian fatalities in 2005.
He told ambassadors that Israeli settler violence and provocations has also increased during the reporting period, feeding the escalating violence in West Bank towns.
He said during the reporting period, Israeli forces had opened investigations into two separate cases where soldiers were documented violently assaulting Palestinians or shooting towards Palestinian homes.
“I reiterate that perpetrators of all acts of violence must be held accountable and that security forces must exercise maximum restraint and use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable, in order to protect life”, said the Special Coordinator.
‘Appalled’ at child deaths
He also highlighted the deaths and injuries among the youngest, and most vulnerable:
“I am appalled that children continue to be the victims of violence. Children must never be targets of violence or put in harm’s way.”
Demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures continued, with 38 cases in Area C and three in East Jerusalem, displacing 81 Palestinians, including 26 women and 47 children” “The demolitions were carried out due to the lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.”
He said there had been “some positive developments” during the reporting period. Including meetings among top Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and in terms of the continuing failure of the West Bank-based Fatah leadership and Hamas leaders who control Gaza to unite, talks had been holed in Algeria this month.
This led to 14 Palestinian factions, including Fatah and Hamas, signing the Algeria Declaration.
“In the declaration, the factions agreed, inter alia, to recognize the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and to hold elections for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Legislative Council, and the Palestinian National Council”, said Mr. Wennesland.
He said however, that overall, the humanitarian response across the Occupied Palestinian Territory continues to face “chronic funding gaps.”
Joining the UN Secretary-General and other senior officials, he also welcomed Tuesday’s official signing by Lebanon and Israel of an agreement that settles a decades-long maritime boundary dispute, mediated by the United States.
“This is an encouraging development and I hope it will promote increased stability in the region. I underscore the importance of Lebanon’s forming a new government and electing a new president pursuant to the country’s constitutional framework.”
Two-State solution, on 1967 lines
He said the UN “remains actively engaged with all relevant parties and is committed to supporting Palestinians and Israelis, to resolve the conflict by ending the occupation and realizing a two-State solution on the basis of the 1967 lines, in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.”