Image: UNRWA/Samar Abu Elouf
New York: “High level” violence has resulted in “scores of Palestinian and Israeli casualties”, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Security Council on Monday.
Speaking via video conference from Jerusalem, Tor Wennesland, expressed alarm over continued demonstrations and clashes; settler-related violence; and the firing of a rocket from Gaza into Israel, the first in months, which he called “a concerning reminder of the fragility” within the Palestinian enclave.
“Mounting violence has been further fuelled and exacerbated by provocative steps and inflammatory rhetoric”, he said, calling for “immediate steps to lower tensions and reverse negative trends that undermine prospects for a peaceful two-State resolution of the conflict”.
The senior envoy drew attention to specific incidents, including the death of two Palestinian men, a 16-year-old boy and an Israeli settler.
In updating the ambassadors on settlement activity and the seizure of Palestinian-owned structures, including internationally funded humanitarian projects, Mr. Wennesland reminded that the Israeli Government was in “flagrant violation” of UN resolutions and international law, and called on the country to stop seizures and demolitions.
He said he was “gravely concerned by continuing violence against civilians,” calling for it to stop, and for all perpetrators to be held accountable.
The UN envoy also called recent unjustified attacks by Palestinians and Arab-Israelis against civilians in Israel “the deadliest in years,” stressing that they “must be clearly rejected by all”.
“I also condemn the continued killings of Palestinians, including children, by Israeli security forces, particularly in incidents where they did not appear to present an imminent threat to life,” he continued, noting that 15 Palestinian children had been killed in the West Bank this year, compared to nine during the same period in 2021.
Mr. Wennesland reiterated that “security forces must exercise maximum restraint”, and only use lethal force to protect life.
Turning to the fatal shooting of journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, he flagged the disturbing behaviour of some Israeli security services at her funeral and echoed the Secretary-General’s call for an independent and transparent investigation into her killing and for those responsible to be held accountable.
“Journalists must never be the target of violence,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, the persistence of conflict drivers and absence of political will to change course have empowered extremists and are eroding perceptions among Palestinians and Israelis that a lasting peace will ever be achievable, warned the Special Coordinator.
He said it was crucial to improve Palestinian lives in Gaza, and for Israel to ease restrictions and facilitate more economic activity, such as better access to the Israeli labour market for Gazan workers.
However, Mr. Wennesland acknowledged, maintaining a state of calm in perpetuity, “is neither sufficient nor sustainable”.
“There is no substitute for a legitimate political process that will resolve the core issues driving the conflict,” he underscored. “I urge Israelis, Palestinians, regional States and the broader international community to take steps that will enable the parties to regain the path towards meaningful negotiations and, ultimately, peace”.
The Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis – compounded by constraints of the occupation, the absence of serious Palestinian reforms and unclear prospects for donor support – requires urgent attention, according to the Special Coordinator.
“As commodity prices spike, humanitarian needs and costs are rising” across the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), he explained, noting that the price of wheat flour has increased by some 20 per cent in the West Bank and more than 40 per cent in Gaza while shipping costs spiked more than 25 per cent since last year.
An additional $36 million is required to sustain OPT operations until the end of the year – and offset increasing costs.
Facing similar constraints, the UN Agency for Palestine refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA) remains $100 million short.
Encouraging donors to provide the necessary financial resources to meet the growing costs, the senior UN official argued that assisting with basic services and humanitarian needs are not only a humanitarian imperative, “but also vital for stability going forward”.