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12 January 2017
Security Council Adopts Text Deeming Israel’s Settlements to Lack Legal Validity,
as Other Critical Measures Meet with Defeat, Veto
Rare Vote Caps 2016 as Conflicts Continue Raging Elsewhere, Generating Growing Tragedy from Middle East to Africa
In a push to dislodge entrenched positions around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Security Council ended 2016 by adopting the first of its resolutions in more than three decades to target settlements, capping a year of intermittent divisions and contentious debate over how and even whether to intervene in the world’s fiercest conflicts, from Syria and Yemen in the Middle East to the Central African Republic, Mali and South Sudan in Africa.
Adopting resolution 2334 (2016) on 23 December, the Council demanded that Israel end its settlement building on Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, reiterating that they lacked legal validity and were a major obstacle to the two-State vision of two States living side by side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders. It called upon both sides to the conflict to work towards credible negotiations on all final-status issues relating to the Middle East peace process.
The contentious settlements measure passed by 14 votes in favour, with the United States abstaining rather than wielding its veto, a striking departure from past practice. That country’s representative said her delegation had long considered settlements an obstacle to peace, but Israel had been treated differently from other States for as long as it had been a Member State of the United Nations. Because of a bias laid bare in 18 resolutions condemning Israel in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council in 2016 alone, she emphasized, the United States could not support the resolution.
Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela tabled the draft a day after Egypt had withdrawn its own text under pressure from Israel and the United States.
Following are summaries of public meetings held in 2016:
Question of Palestine
Meetings: 26 January, 18 February, 24 March, 18 April, 25 May, 30 June, 12 July, 29 August, 15 September, 19 October, 23 November, 16 December, 23 December.
The Security Council’s 13 formal meetings on the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict culminated in the 23 December adoption of a resolution condemning Israel’s continuing construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. Adopting resolution 2334 (2016) by 14 votes in favour, with the United States abstaining, the Council reaffirmed that the settlements lacked legal validity and constituted a flagrant violation of international law and as well as a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security within recognized international borders. It also demanded that Israel immediately cease its settlement activity and called for collective efforts to launch credible negotiations.
Opening the Council’s monthly debate on the Middle East the Secretary-General warned on 26 January that a relentless wave of extremism was gripping the region, and urged Israelis and Palestinians to “act now” to prevent the two-State solution from “slipping away forever”. In the ensuing discussion, the observer for the State of Palestine pressed the Council to fulfil its responsibility to end the occupation, emphasizing: “It is your duty and it cannot be delegated, delayed or dismissed.” Israel’s representative said the Palestinians had refused to come to the negotiating table. The Council must call upon them to condemn terror attacks and demand that they stop incitement, he added.
Nickolay Mladenov, the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, emphasized on 18 February that the onus was on both sides to shape their future as violence raged unabated. Against the backdrop of radicalization, terror, sectarian violence, war and tectonic geopolitical shifts, peace and security were imperative for both Israel and Palestine, now more than ever, he stressed. However, the planning and construction of settlements remained an impediment to peace, he said, pointing out that, so far in 2016, the demolition of 29 Palestinian-owned structures per week on average was three times the average for 2015.
As the stabbings and shootings in Israel and the occupied West Bank continued, the Special Coordinator urged the Council to move beyond mere condemnations, reiterating on 24 March that “stabbing someone on the street will not bring about a Palestinian State”. By the same token, more walls, administrative detentions, and movement restrictions bred more anger among people who already felt collectively humiliated, punished and facing discrimination. “The time has come to ring the alarm bells that the two-State solution is slipping from our fingers, that it is disappearing as the realities on the ground make the prospect of a viable and independent Palestinian land less possible and less likely,” he stressed. There could be no peace without hope, but fostering hope required courageous leadership, willing to articulate a clear political horizon.
Accelerated settlement activity was also in focus on 18 April, when the Secretary-General told the Council that for six months, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory had been gripped by a surge of deadly violence, triggered by individual attacks perpetrated by Palestinians. Israel’s representative questioned the desire of Palestinians for peace, recalling that a wave of attacks had left 34 of his compatriots dead and hundreds injured over the previous few months. “Will you condemn Palestinians who commit terror attacks against Israelis?” he demanded of the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine. “You can do it right now.” The Permanent Observer responded by stating that Palestinians were defending themselves against Israeli incitement. “You are oppressing us,” he pointed out. “You are sitting on our lives. Leave us alone. Let my people be free.”
The Special Coordinator briefed the Council again on 25 May, saying that May had seen the biggest escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas since the conflict of 2014. While the pace of demolitions and confiscations of Palestinian structures had slowed in comparison to April, more such actions had occurred in 2016 than in the whole of 2015, displacing at least 900 people and otherwise affecting 2,500 others. Noting that Gaza residents currently received only 8 to 12 hours of electricity a day, he emphasized that the enclave’s chronic energy and water crisis must be tackled without delay.
On 30 June, he briefed the Council again, pointing out that negative trends on the ground continued to jeopardize prospects for peace. Two Palestinians had opened fire and killed four Israelis, while security forces had killed a Palestinian teenager on a highway. Both tragedies had provided political fodder for cynical advocates of divisiveness, further undermining trust between communities, he said.
During the Council’s quarterly debate on 12 July, the Secretary-General warned that the failure by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to advance peace had created a vacuum which extremists were ready to fill. Urging both sides immediately to begin discussions with the Quartet, and to coordinate with regional stakeholders in order to break the entrenched political impasse, he underlined the need for both sides to make compromises going forward.
Briefing again on 29 August, he emphasized that prospects for resuming peace negotiations remained “nowhere in sight”. Israel’s illegal settlement construction continued, Gaza remained beyond the control of the legitimate Palestinian authorities and political leadership on both sides continued to shy away from taking the steps needed for peace, he noted.
Secretary-General Ban echoed those sentiments on 15 September, warning that the two-State solution was at risk of being replaced by a one-State reality of perpetual violence and occupation. Encouraging both sides to take the difficult steps needed to change that destructive trajectory, he called attention to plans for another 463 housing units in Area C of the occupied West Bank in the previous two weeks alone. The settlement policy was diametrically opposed to the creation of a Palestinian State, he said, emphasizing that the “stifling and oppressive” occupation must end.
During a day-long debate on 19 October, Council members and other speakers cautioned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must not be ignored, despite other crises raging across the Middle East. Citing outbreaks of violence, settlement activity, Palestinian political turmoil and militant activity as well as the continuing suffering in Gaza, Special Coordinator Mladenov said the region needed moderate forces to unite and stand up to radicalization. The meeting also heard from the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, as well as 46 other speakers.
Briefing again on 23 November, the Special Coordinator called upon all stakeholders to counter the “hate-driven agenda” threatening to destroy the possibility of a two-State solution. Carefully worded statements and well-crafted speeches would not reverse the current trajectory, he stressed, calling instead for action to reverse Israel’s settlement expansion and heal the internal divisions among Palestinians.
Delivering his final briefing on the Israeli-Palestinian question, the Secretary-General said on 16 December that he was saddened by the absence of optimism for the future. “We are fast approaching a precipice as a direct result of the actions of those seeking to destroy the prospects for peace,” he said, as he presented his last report. Among other things, he strongly urged Israeli lawmakers to reconsider advancing a bill, currently under consideration, that could lead to the “regularization” of more than 50 outposts built on private Palestinian land.
For information media. Not an official record.