Israeli-Palestinian conflict nearing ‘boiling point’, UN envoy warns

IRIN/Shabtai Gold. Palestinian women walk by Israel’s barrier near Ramallah in the West Bank.

United Nations, 28 November 2022

Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians “is again reaching a boiling point”, the UN Middle East envoy told the Security Council on Monday, warning of escalating violence amid a stalled peace process.

Special Coordinator Tor Wennesland called for stronger international commitment towards the two-State solution and outlined potential ways to move forward.

He reported that high levels of violence in the occupied West Bank and Israel in recent months has resulted in grave suffering.

This included attacks against civilians from both sides, increased use of arms, and settler-related violence.

Surge in violence

“After decades of persistent violence, illegal settlement expansion, dormant negotiations and deepening occupation, the conflict is again reaching a boiling point,” he said

Last week, two Israelis were killed, and more than a dozen injured, in bombings in Jerusalem, which the envoy condemned.  Days before, Israeli settlers violently attacked Palestinians in Hebron, which he also denounced. 

“This surge in violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is taking place in the context of a stalled peace process and entrenched occupation, and amidst mounting economic and institutional challenges faced by the Palestinian Authority,” said Mr. Wennesland. 

“Global trends and declining donor support have compounded these challenges, alongside an absence of democratic renewal for the Palestinian people.”

Risk of escalation

Furthermore, the “fragile calm” in Gaza was recently interrupted when Palestinian militants launched four rockets towards Israel, prompting airstrikes by the country’s defense forces. 

“Once again, we are reminded that the mix of militant activity, debilitating closures, absence of the legitimate Palestinian Government and hopelessness create an ever-present risk of escalation,” he said. 

Mr. Wennesland and his team have continued to hold discussions with Palestinian and Israeli officials, and with international and regional actors.

Progress and restrictions

The UN worked with partners to mediate and support ceasefires in Gaza in May and earlier in the year. 

Measures were implemented to support the local economy, including improvements to movement and access in and out of Gaza, for both people and goods. 

Critical projects were carried out, he continued, such as providing fuel to the Gaza power plant and assistance to more than 100,000 needy families, which will continue into the coming year. 

Mr. Wennesland also pointed to progress. For example, he noted that Israel has approved the highest number of permits for Palestinians from Gaza to work in its territory since 2007.   

Nevertheless, restrictions and delays continue, which negatively impact humanitarian and development efforts.  

“These preventive and de-escalation measures and diplomatic engagements have helped maintain calm on the ground and provide some space for progress, but without tangible movement on the political track, their benefits are likely to be short-lived,” he said.

Palestinian Authority problems 

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority faces significant and institutional challenges, he added.   

Elections have not been held since 2006, and more than half the electorate – people aged 18 to 35 – has never had the chance to vote. 

“This is taking place against the backdrop of changing dynamics in the region, shifting international priorities, and more recently, the fallout of the conflict in Ukraine, which have significantly reduced the attention paid to this conflict,” said Mr. Wennesland. 

Engagement on political issues 

The envoy underscored the need to take urgent steps towards the two-State solution, which, he said, “still garners considerable support among Palestinians and Israelis”. 

He outlined three related actions aimed at moving the sides forward on fundamental political issues.

“First, we must continue to engage with the parties to reduce tensions and counter negative trends, particularly those impacting final status issues. This will involve reining in violence and incitement and holding perpetrators accountable. This means that both sides stop unilateral steps that undermine peace, including settlement expansion or legalization, demolitions and displacement,” he said. 

His second point called for improving access, movement and trade to create room for the Palestinian economy to grow.  A more comprehensive approach to easing restrictions on movements of people and goods in Gaza is also required, among other measures. 

International support needed 

For his final point, Mr. Wennesland highlighted the need to strengthen Palestinian institutions, improve governance and shore up the fiscal health of the Palestinian Authority (PA). 

“The PA’s political legitimacy and accountability must also be strengthened through democratic reforms and opening of the civic spaceholding elections across the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territory) and ensuring the effectiveness and credibility of the Palestinian security forces,” he further stated. 

“Without implementing points one and two above, this will not be possible,” he added. 

Mr. Wennesland recognized that advancing these steps “will be a formidable task” under the current circumstances.  He called for greater commitment from the international community, as well as coordinated and sustained attention, resources and engagement with the parties. 

“Ultimately, only Palestinians and Israelis can together determine their future,” he said.  “But the UN and the international community – including through regional and international frameworks – must support the parties in moving towards a political horizon aligned with the core principles outlined above.” 

The original article appeared here.

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