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Adoption of the agenda
The agenda was adopted.
The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
The President (spoke in French): In accordance with rule 39 of the Council's provisional rules of procedure, I invite Mr. Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, to participate in this meeting.
The Security Council will now begin its consideration of the item on its agenda.
Eight months since the resumption of talks between Israelis and Palestinians, United States-led efforts to present a basis for continued negotiations are ongoing. We are yet again approaching some decisive timelines. Leaders on both sides are confronted with difficult decisions. Public support for peace among Israelis and among Palestinians — Palestinians both in the West Bank and in Gaza — will be tested.
The international community's commitment to engage in those efforts on the basis of existing principles has remained steadfast. On 3 and 17 March, the United States President met individually with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas in Washington, D.C.; Secretary Kerry met with President Abbas in that city on 16 March and with the King of Jordan in the first week of March. In late February and earlier this month, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron made visits to Israel and Palestine and impressed upon their interlocutors the importance of progress on the peace track. Meeting in Cairo on 9 March, the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the League of Arab States reinforced their position that all final status issues be addressed in line with principles outlined in the relevant Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative. Quartet envoys also continued their internal consultations and met separately with the parties.
We have stressed before the importance of tangible steps to improve socioeconomic conditions on the ground, which must go hand in hand with and reinforce the political process. The urgent need for progress in that regard was acknowledged at a conference in Prague on 8 to 9 March. Jointly organized by the Quartet representative and the United States Secretary of State, the conference brought together approximately 100 international business people, Palestinian Authority officials and key figures in the Palestinian private sector. Early estimates suggest that economic activity weakened in 2013 in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The International Monetary Fund projects only a 2.5 per cent increase in real gross domestic product in 2014, well below the growth needed to absorb new job seekers. Unemployment reached 23.4 per cent last year — the highest level since 2010. In February, the Palestinian Cabinet approved a $4.2 billion budget for 2014, reflecting a 9 per cent increase from 2013. The 2014 budget presents a current deficit of $1.3 billion and development financing needs of $333 million.
Worrying trends continued in the West Bank. Israeli security forces carried out 292 search-and-arrest operations. Three Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli forces: a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine activist killed on 27 February in Birzeit, near Ramallah; a civilian Jordanian citizen killed at the Allenby crossing to Jordan on 10 March; and a Palestinian civilian killed that same day near the illegal settlement outpost of Givat Assaf near Ramallah. Subsequent to Prime Minister Netanyahu's expression of regret to King Abdullah of Jordan last week, Israeli President Shimon Peres offered his deepest condolences and regret to Jordan on behalf of Israel over last week's shooting at the Allenby crossing. We continue to urge investigations into all such incidents and note that agreement has been reached to establish a joint Israeli-Jordanian investigation into the Allenby Bridge shooting.
A total of 325 Palestinians were arrested, including an alleged Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades leader in Hebron on 4 March, and 128 Palestinians were injured. An Israeli soldier was also injured. Clashes also continued in and around refugee camps, in particular in Al-Jalazun camp near Ramallah, and during demonstrations against the barrier.
In five instances, Palestinian security forces defused unexploded ordnance in different parts of the West Bank between 3 and 6 March. On 5 March, they reportedly took into custody and handed over to Israeli security forces an Israeli settler detained by Palestinian farmers while uprooting olive trees near Nablus.
Settler attacks resulted in eight Palestinians injured, including two children. On 2 March, a settler vehicle reportedly fatally struck a 66-year-old Palestinian near Ramallah. Settler attacks also resulted in damage to Palestinian property. Approximately 390 trees and saplings were reportedly vandalized, including about 180 olive trees uprooted near Qalqiliya on 2 March. On 26 February, Palestinian stone- and Molotov-cocktail-throwing attacks resulted in injuries to three settlers near Nablus and material damage to vehicles, including to the vehicle of an Israeli Knesset member near Nablus on 9 March.
The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics stated on 3 March that construction in the settlements more than doubled in 2013 as compared to 2012. We are also concerned about any movement towards approval of settlement projects in East Jerusalem. Continued settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory is contrary to international law and an obstacle to peace.
Demolitions continued on a smaller scale as compared to the previous reporting period. Eight structures, including five residences, were demolished in East Jerusalem, displacing 23 people, including 12 children. We are concerned that, in late February, the Israeli authorities issued stop-work orders against 18 residential and livelihood-related structures in the Bedouin community of Jabal Al-Baba, which was funded by international donors to support the vulnerable community. Over 85 per cent of the residents in that area are refugees. We reiterate the importance of Palestinian access to a fair planning and zoning system.
Tensions continued to increase with respect to the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif. A debate on whether to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount/ Haram Al-Sharif on 25 February in the Israeli Knesset plenary, which concluded without action, was followed by clashes on the ground and by strong Palestinian and Jordanian opposition. We call on all parties to show the utmost restraint regarding the holy compound. Provocative acts from any quarter must cease, and the sanctity of holy sites of all faiths must be fully respected. The Secretary-General underscores that incitement, whatever its source, poisons the atmosphere for peace. He calls upon Israeli and Palestinian leaders to exercise their responsibilities in halting incitement.
We remain concerned about the health of eight Palestinian prisoners on ongoing hunger strike protesting their administrative detention, five of whom are currently in Israeli hospitals. Administrative detainees should be either charged or released. We have also seen reports that additional Palestinian prisoners and detainees, who had previously announced the start of a hunger strike to begin today, have called off that strike.
Turning to Gaza, the underpinnings of the ceasefire understanding continued to be undermined. As mentioned earlier, a dangerous escalation of violence took place between 11 and 13 March. More than 70 rockets and 5 mortar shells were indiscriminately fired towards Israel, the majority of which were claimed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Over 50 landed in Israel, fortunately without resulting in injuries. Israel conducted 15 airstrikes on Gaza in March, resulting in the death of 5 militants reportedly affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and injuries to 5 Palestinian civilians. A 57-year-old Palestinian woman was shot dead by Israeli forces on 28 February during a protest in the vicinity of the border fence, and another two Palestinian civilians were injured in similar circumstances. The Secretary-General strongly condemned the firing of multiple rockets into Israel and called on all actors to exercise maximum restraint. He also deplores the loss of civilian life under any circumstances.
On 5 March, Israeli naval forces intercepted a ship in the Red Sea allegedly transporting arms from Iran to the Gaza Strip. The cargo reportedly included 40 M-302 rockets with a range of up to 160 kilometres and 181 mortar shells and approximately 400,000 7.62-calibre rounds. We condemn all illegal weapons smuggling and call for the full implementation of resolutions 1850 (2008) and 1860 (2009). If the allegations of arms shipments from Iran are true, that also appears to be a violation of resolution 1747 (2007).
At the same time, the economic and humanitarian situation continued to worsen in the context of a tightened access regime and violence, both severely affecting the lives of the population in Gaza. Compounding an already dire electricity situation, the near shutdown of Gaza's only power plant was averted by another last-minute Qatari contribution of $32 million to procure industrial fuel for the plant. The Qatari contribution is expected to enable the Gaza power plant to continue generating some 55 megawatts daily for an additional 3 months. The current situation highlights the need to advance a sustainable structural solution to Gaza's energy problems.
Gaza's unemployment rate is 38.5 per cent. Extremely limited movement in and out of Gaza from the Erez and Rafah crossings continues to afflict the civilian population, including patients awaiting medical treatment. Recurrent drug and medical equipment shortages are affecting the Gaza medical system, further increasing the number of patients seeking referral outside for medical conditions that could have been treated inside Gaza, were supplies available. Approximately $250,000 per month would be required to cover the cost of those critical medical supplies. The United Nations is seeking donors' assistance to establish an emergency medical safety net while urging the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza to develop a structural solution to the problem.
Meanwhile, work on previously commenced United Nations projects has not resumed as originally agreed to with the Israeli authorities, and about 15 projects, worth $14 million, remain stalled. Another 42 projects, valued at around $96 million, are still awaiting Israeli approval.
We fully recognize the complex security dimension of the situation in Gaza. However, the price should not be paid by the people of Gaza. In the context of deteriorating humanitarian and development conditions, the United Nations finds it increasingly difficult to provide assistance to the population of Gaza while restrictions on access, including for United Nations operations, persist and have even increased. We would like to call the attention of the Council to that unsustainable situation in the Gaza Strip and appeal to all parties concerned to contribute to alleviating the deteriorating conditions of the civilian population.
In conclusion, last week, with the situation in Gaza, we came very close to the brink of another crisis in an already volatile region. We should take that as yet another reminder of the need to work together to restore prospects for a durable regional peace. The Middle East still faces an unpredictable future with multiple sources of uncertainty. What is certain, however, is that the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be ignored in shaping the future constructively. The Secretary-General remains convinced that a solution of the Palestinian-Israeli issue, in the form of a negotiated two-State solution, is the best contribution to regional stability that we can make at this time.
The President (spoke in French): I thank Mr. Feltman for his briefing.
I now invite Council members to informal consultations to continue our discussion on the subject.