OFFICE OF THE UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL COORDINATOR
FOR THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS (UNSCO)
Brussels, May 2017
Despite a number of international efforts over the past six months to advance the two-state solution, the reporting period has been characterized by a continued lack of progress on the political front. Contrary to the recommendations outlined in the July 2016 report by the Middle East Quartet, the period has seen a surge in Israeli settlement-related activity and a continued high rate of demolitions in Palestinian and Bedouin communities at risk of forcible transfer in Area C of the West Bank, continuing acts of violence against civilians, signs of a deepening political rift between Gaza and the West Bank, and continued military build-up and firing of rockets by extremist groups in Gaza.
At the same time, renewed efforts to reconcile Fatah and Hamas have failed with signs that the two sides may be drifting further apart. Unable to reach agreement on the holding of municipal elections that would cover both the West Bank and Gaza, preparations are now underway for separate municipal elections in the West Bank. The disputes between the PA and Hamas have aggravated an already difficult situation in the Gaza Strip, due to intra-Palestinian disagreement over electricity, payment of salaries and other critical issues. As a result, tensions in Gaza are, once again, growing.
The increasingly difficult situation in Gaza is further compounded by continued access restrictions. The reporting period witnessed a decline in the number of Palestinians allowed to leave Gaza, including a significant drop in the Israeli approval rates for businessmen, medical patients and employees of international organizations to exit the Strip. The restrictions were further intensified during a ten-day ban by Hamas at the end of March on movement from Gaza to Israel for both Palestinians and internationals. In the West Bank, despite a slight increase in the number of movement obstacles reported in 2016, the period also witnesses a positive shift towards more flexibility in the type of movement obstacles and, significantly, an increase in work permits for Palestinians in the West Bank to work in Israel.
The humanitarian situation remains grave, especially in Gaza, where 1 2 million people need some form of humanitarian assistance in large part due to inadequate basic service delivery, poverty, high food prices, and frequent rights violations. At the same time some 40,000 people remain internally displaced in Gaza, as they wait for their homes to be rebuilt following damages sustained during the 2014 conflict. The situation is aggravated by the critical shortages in electricity, including daily power cuts of 18-20 hours, further impeding the delivery of basic services. Meanwhile, the West Bank is facing a protracted protection crisis due to the coercive environment created by a range of Israeli policies and practices, including the restrictive and discriminatory planning regime. During the reporting period, a key concern has been the risk of forcible transfers and demolition of Palestinian structures, particularly in the vulnerable Bedouin and herding communities in Area C.
The human rights situation across Palestine continues to be worrisome. Use of force by Israeli forces in response to Palestinian attacks, punitive demolitions and a general lack of accountability for past killings and injuries remains significant sources of concern that also erode trust between the parties. At the same time, both Israeli and Palestinian security forces continue the practice of administrative detentions, holding people without charge or trial for indefinite periods of time.
Socio-economic despair, underpinned by the persistent hardships of the occupation, including violations of the law of occupation and fragile democratic institutions, continued to affect stability in the West Bank and to threaten erosion of the achievements of the Palestinian state-building agenda. The institutions of Palestinian governance remain vulnerable to political instability and require affirmative steps to protect and advance state-building efforts. With the finalization of the Palestinian National Policy Agenda (NPA) for 2017-2022 in February, the Palestinian Authority took a significant step towards strengthening its institutions and improving governance, while reiterating its commitment to state-building.
This summer marks ten years since the 2007 Hamas take-over of the Gaza Strip. Over the past decade, the socio-economic and humanitarian developments in the Gaza Strip have been heavily impacted by the Hamas take-over, the Israeli closures, the Palestinian division and the recurrent conflicts. Analyzing the impact of these developments in Gaza, it is clear that the effects are compounding each other, together causing an increasingly difficult environment for the two million people living in Gaza. Over the last decade, Gaza's infrastructure, basic services and private sector have been gradually debilitated, the Gazan economy has weakened with real GDP per capita and employment decreasing over time and the gender gap continuing to grow. This general state of decay is being further compounded by periodic escalation of hostilities. As a result, there has been a steady deterioration of living standards and an increase in the vulnerability of the Strip's population, which is also further amplified in times of crisis when hostilities have escalated. Gaza is now facing a downward spiral of de-development, while the people in Gaza are caught in a cycle of humanitarian need and perpetual aid dependency.
Amid signs of deepening separation between Gaza and the West Bank, fraying prospects to achieve Palestinian national unity increase the risk for escalation on the ground and further complicate efforts to resuscitate the stalled peace process. The international community has collectively reaffirmed its commitment to support the parties to achieve a just and sustainable peace through the two-state solution. Developments during the reporting period however, especially expansive illegal settlement activity, chronic human rights violations and violence against civilians, threaten to make the two-state solution unviable.