With the converging Ramadan, Easter and Passover holidays now beginning, Israelis and Palestinians must urgently crystalize agreements reached at several recent diplomatic meetings – the first of their kind in nearly a decade – the senior UN official for Middle East peace told the Security Council on Wednesday, while warning of escalating violence and inflammatory rhetoric on both sides.
“This should be a period for safe and peaceful religious reflection and celebration for all,” said Tor Wennesland, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
The Special Coordinator recalled that, on 26 February, senior officials from Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Palestine and the United States met in Aqaba, Jordan, to reaffirm their commitment to all previous agreements, and to work towards a just and lasting peace.
Among other things, the parties committed to steps to de-escalate the situation on the ground, pause unilateral measures and prevent further violence, including by upholding the status quo at the holy sites.
That meeting was followed by a similar session on 19 March, with the same parties attending, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
“If implemented, the steps outlined in Aqaba would be an important start to reversing negative trends on the ground,” said Mr. Wennesland.
In his briefing to the Security Council, however, the Special Coordinator noted that a very different – and much more negative – trajectory currently prevails.
Daily violence has increased in recent months, with deaths and injuries on both sides, and demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures in occupied areas continued.
Following the 26 February killing by a Palestinian of two Israelis, hundreds of Israeli settlers descended on the West Bank town of Huwwara, killing one Palestinian and injuring more than 300 others, and Palestinian armed groups responded by launching seven rockets from Gaza towards Israel.
The trend echoes concerns raised recently by Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), who said 2022 saw the highest number of Palestinians killed by Israeli Security Forces in the past 17 years, and the highest number of Israelis killed since 2016.
Mr. Wennesland also outlined a series of new legal actions by Israel that run counter to important Security Council resolutions and international law more broadly.
In particular, he cited the Government’s decision to repeal part of the 2005 Disengagement Law, which had previously ordered Israeli settlers to evacuate parts of the occupied West Bank.
Israel also recently announced its authorization of nine settlement outposts in that occupied area, and advanced plans for over 7,200 new housing units.
Another major source of concern is escalating rhetoric on both sides of the conflict.
Mr. Wennesland said some officials of the Palestinian Fatah party have glorified the perpetrators of attacks against Israelis, while several members of the Israeli Knesset praised settler attacks against Palestinians, and one called for the town of Huwwara to be “wiped out” by Israeli forces.
Two-State solution ‘eroding’
Recalling the Security Council’s recent presidential statement reaffirming its commitment to a two-State solution and its opposition to terrorism and unilateral actions, the Special Coordinator appealed to both sides for restraint.
Expressing deep concern over continued Israeli settlement-expansion, in particular, he warned that such actions “further entrench the occupation, fuel tensions and systematically erode the viability of a Palestinian State as part of a two-State solution“.
Leaders on both sides must help calm the situation, avoid spreading inflammatory rhetoric and speak up against those seeking to incite violence.
“It is critical to de-escalate the situation and move toward re-establishing a political horizon,” he said.