UN envoy reports ‘sharp increase’ in violence this year in Israel-Palestine conflict
More than 150 Palestinians and over 20 Israelis have been killed in the West Bank and Israel so far in 2022 - the highest number of deaths in years, UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland told the Security Council on Monday.
He reiterated deep concern over the high levels of violence in the past several months, characterized by clashes, protests, attacks, Israeli security operations and other incidents.
“I am gravely concerned by the sharp increase in violence against civilians on both sides, which exacerbates mistrust and undermines a peaceful resolution to the conflict,” he said.
Young lives lost
Mr. Wennesland - officially UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process - was presenting his latest report, which covers the period from 21 September to 7 December.
He regretted that violence continued throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory even after submitting the quarterly update.
Since 8 December, Israeli security forces have killed six Palestinians, including two children, he reported.
The envoy said he was “particularly appalled” that boys and girls continue to fall victim to violence.
Forty-four young Palestinians, and one Israeli child, lost their lives this year.
They include a 16-year-old Palestinian boy shot dead by Israeli forces in the context of alleged stone-throwing in Aboud community, near Ramallah, on 8 December.
Three days later, a 15-year-old Palestinian girl was killed in a search and arrest operation in Jenin during which Israeli forces and Palestinians exchanged fire.
Stop the violence
“Also disturbing are the continued killings of Palestinians by Israeli security forces in incidents where they did not appear to present an imminent threat to life,” he added.
“The increase in the number of Israelis killed or injured by Palestinians, including in bombings and shooting attacks is also alarming.”
Mr. Wennesland appealed for an end to the violence and for all perpetrators to be held accountable.
“I condemn all acts of terrorism, which must be rejected and condemned by all. I call on political, religious and community leaders on all sides to help calm the situation, avoid spreading inflammatory rhetoric and speak up against those seeking to incite and escalate the situation.”
Expansion and demolitions
Turning to other matters, the UN envoy said Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, remains deeply concerning.
Some 4,800 housing units were advanced this year in what is known under the Oslo peace accord arrangements as Area C, though none occurred during the reporting period. Still, the number is high, though slightly lower than the 2021 figure, he said, while tenders dropped from 1,800 to 150.
Meanwhile, the number of housing units advanced in occupied East Jerusalem this year more than tripled: from 900 in 2021 to 3,100. Tenders also doubled from 200 to 400.
“I also remain deeply concerned by the continued demolitions and seizures of Palestinian structures,” said Mr. Wennesland.
“I am alarmed, in particular, by the demolition of a donor-funded school in Masafer Yatta and the stated intention of Israeli authorities to demolish additional structures in the herding communities of that area, which would have a significant humanitarian toll, if implemented.”
He called on Israel to cease advancement of all settlement activities as well as the demolition of Palestinian-owned property, and to prevent possible displacement and evictions.
Mr. Wennesland expressed his increasing concern over the fragility of the current political and security dynamics.
“The deepening occupation, the increase in violence, including terrorism, and the absence of a political horizon have empowered extremists and are eroding hope among Palestinians and Israelis, alike, that a resolution of the conflict is achievable,” he warned.
The envoy said the Palestinian Authority is facing mounting economic and institutional challenges, compounded by the constraints of the occupation, the absence of serious reforms and unclear prospects for donor support.
In Gaza, under blockade for some 15 years now, the situation remains fragile and the risk of escalation persists.
A ceasefire is holding, he said, thanks in part to efforts by the UN and partners to improve lives, together with Israeli measures to ease movement and access restrictions, and facilitate economic activity.
Humanitarian operations hit
Currently, more than 18,000 Gaza residents have permits to work or conduct business in Israel, the highest number since 2007. Furthermore, the volume of goods exiting Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel, increased by nearly 50 per cent this year.
“While progress has been made, restrictions and delays continue to negatively affect humanitarian and development efforts as well as important sectors of the economy,” said Mr. Wennesland.
He highlighted the need for more action, including to support the World Food Programme (WFP), which aids more than 400,000 vulnerable people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and UNRWA, the UN agency that assists Palestinians throughout the region.
Resolve core issues
In conclusion, Mr. Wennesland underscored the need for a solution to the decades-long crisis.
Seeking to freeze the conflict, or manage it in perpetuity, are not viable options, he said, recalling his message to the Council last month.
“There is no substitute for a legitimate political process that will resolve the core issues driving the conflict,” he stated.
“I urge the parties, along with regional States and the broader international community to take concrete steps that will change the negative trajectory on the ground and have an immediate impact on Palestinian and Israeli lives, while, at the same time, ensuring these steps are anchored in a political framework that moves the parties forward towards the establishment of two States.”