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Adoption of the agenda
The agenda was adopted.
The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
The President: In accordance with rule 39 of the Council's provisional rules of procedure, I invite Mr. Robert Serry, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, to participate in this meeting.
The Security Council will now begin its consideration of the item on its agenda.
I give the floor to Mr. Serry.
Mr. Serry: I brief the Security Council today in the context of an increasingly volatile region with developments on the ground unfolding at an alarming pace.
Let me now turn to Gaza. The Gaza conflict is an appalling human tragedy and has also exacted a terrible cost in already strained trust. While the ceasefire brokered by Egypt has largely held since 26 August, it remains worryingly fragile, with the underlying dynamics still unaddressed.
I visited Gaza last week and witnessed truly shocking levels of destruction to infrastructure, hospitals and schools. Large neighbourhoods lie in total ruin. An estimated 18,000 houses were destroyed or severely damaged. Some 100,000 people have lost their homes, leaving families shattered and despairing. Over 65,000 displaced Palestinians remain in United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) shelters, while 111 UNRWA installations sustained some sort of damage during the conflict. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed. Most were civilians, including some 500 children and 250 women and 11 UNRWA staff. More than 11,000 Palestinians were injured. On the Israeli side, 66 IDF soldiers and six civilians, including a child and a foreign national, were killed. Some 130 Israeli civilians and more than 450 soldiers were injured.
Israel struck over 5,000 locations in Gaza and reportedly demolished 32 tunnels, 14 with openings inside Israel. Over 3,500 rockets fired by Hamas and other Palestinian militants struck Israel; another 700 were intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.
We reiterate the Secretary-General's strong belief that efforts must be undertaken to ensure that there is accountability for alleged violations of international law on both sides during the hostilities. I would also note that the Secretary-General plans to commission a board of inquiry to review and investigate a number of incidents involving United Nations premises.
Leaving aside hollow claims of victory by one side or the other, I sense a realization in my dealings with the parties that a renewed conflict would be a disaster. That means that we must change fundamentally the dynamics in Gaza. If we do not, Gaza could implode or, yet again, explode — possibly with a new and even more devastating round of violence. While distrust is acute, I hope all parties are ready to think afresh about some long-held policies. If so, we may be able, together, to walk a narrow path out of the current dangerous impasse. What does such a path look like?
First, the fragile calm between Israel and Gaza must be solidified at talks under Egyptian auspices in Cairo, which we hope will resume shortly. The ceasefire agreement already made general provision for entry of humanitarian and relief aid and construction materials and an expansion of the fishing zone to six nautical miles. We hope that any further arrangements are as clear as possible regarding the indefinite maintenance of a ceasefire and the lifting of the closure, bearing in mind the framework of resolution 1860 (2009) and any further guidance that may be provided by the Security Council.
Secondly, humanitarian issues require immediate attention. Critical priorities include emergency shelter, energy and water, the absence of which will make progress in all other sectors impossible. In that regard, on 10 September, the United Nations and the Palestinian Government called for international donors to provide $550 million in aid to help the hundreds of thousands of Gazans affected by the conflict.
Thirdly, Gaza must now be opened up for reconstruction and recovery, while legitimate security concerns with regard to dual-use material must be meaningfully addressed. The Governments of Israel and Palestine understand that, and I appreciate the constructive engagement of both sides in working to find a solution on the issue. That reality is also understood in Gaza.
In that regard, I am pleased to announce to the Security Council that the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process has brokered a trilateral agreement between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations to enable work at the scale required in the Strip, involving the private sector in Gaza and giving a lead role to the Palestinian Authority in the reconstruction effort, while providing security assurances through United Nations monitoring that those materials will not be diverted from their entirely civilian purpose. Reaching agreement was not without its challenges. We consider it to be a temporary mechanism, which must get up and running without delay, but it as an important step towards the objective of lifting all remaining closures and a signal of hope to the people of Gaza. We will brief the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for the Coordination of the International Assistance to Palestinians (AHLC) next week in more detail and update it on our progress. We intend to keep the Council regularly informed.
The implementation of the agreement should be facilitated by the proper overall context, and we would welcome the Security Council's support and guidance in that regard. I also note that we will need to have sufficient resources to fulfil those additional duties, in addition to any other tasks that may be asked of the United Nations.
The temporary mechanism will also help to increase donor confidence that investment in construction and reconstruction works will be implemented expeditiously and solely for their intended civilian purpose. That is important and timely in anticipation of the Gaza reconstruction conference scheduled for 12 October to be hosted by Egypt and supported by Norway. I appreciate Israel's announcement yesterday, in advance of the AHLC meeting of 22 September, that it had approved a programme of over $105 million worth of United Nations projects that had been submitted prior to the recent conflict. I look forward to Israeli approval of an additional programme of work that the United Nations will present before the Cairo conference.
Reconstruction will require significant increases in the capacity of the crossings into Gaza to allow for the importation of the required materials. We must also look now to resume exports and West Bank-Gaza trade and links, something that would be facilitated if the Palestinian Authority were able to assume full responsibility at Gaza crossing points.
That leads me to my fourth point. The Palestinian Government of National Consensus, which is fully committed to the principles of the Palestine Liberation Organization under the leadership of President Abbas, must be empowered and enabled to assume its rightful responsibilities in Gaza and oversee the reconstruction of the Strip. Civil and administrative reform must be addressed urgently, moving beyond the current de facto existence of two separate strands of administration, in order to rationalize the public sector and create a unified payroll. In that regard, I am very concerned at the continued issue of unresolved payments to staff hired by the former de facto authorities. The problem needs immediate attention and should be linked to the rationalization process, if the situation is to be stabilized. As part of the continued efforts at Palestinian reconciliation, we believe there must be clear understanding that the control of security forces is a matter solely for the legitimate authority, that the issue of war and peace is a matter for that authority, and not for militant factions, and that, ultimately, the legitimate authority must have control over all armed personnel, assets and weapons.
I do not underestimate the difficulties that remain among the Palestinians, but I have been active in urging them to address these issues during meetings that I hope will take place this week. The United Nations also stands ready to provide increased technical assistance to the Palestinian Authority, drawing on and, as required, expanding our unique presence in Gaza, as the Government of National Consensus takes up its challenges there.
Fifthly, as we focus on Gaza, we must give new attention to the West Bank. We regularly draw attention in these briefings to developments on the ground, and I could give another recitation of statistics this month regarding violence, clashes, arrests and demolitions. However, I note in particular that Israel's declaration of 1,000 acres in the Bethlehem area as so-called "State land" risks paving the way for further settlement activity — illegal under international law and contrary to the pursuit of two States. Compounded with the April 2014 declaration of approximately 250 acres of land in the same governorate as "State land", these are the largest "State land" declarations since the 1980s.
The commitment of President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to coexistence and peace was demonstrated by continued security coordination in the West Bank, despite the conflict in Gaza and heightened tensions on the ground. We must also not forget that it was events in the West Bank that were part of the downward spiral towards the recent war. Maintaining the status quo in the West Bank while addressing Gaza anew would send entirely the wrong signal. I am pleased that Israel has confirmed that an additional 5,000 West Bank Palestinians will receive work permits in Israel. But positive Israeli actions on a range of issues, such as empowering and enabling Palestinian planning and construction in Area C, to say nothing of ceasing Israeli settlement activity, would send a powerful message.
Finally, all of these efforts must be put into a revised and credible political framework. This will not be easy. The gaps on substance and the mistrust evident in the last round of talks have not subsided; if anything, positions may have further hardened. The Palestinians remind us that prolonged occupation, as well as extended closure, breeds despair, particularly given the absence of an end-game based on the 1967 lines, something which will be a focus of Palestinian diplomatic efforts in the coming period.
For their part, Israelis are alarmed at the tunnelling and rocket fire from Gaza and view Hamas de facto control of the Strip with grave concern. That is also reinforcing their focus on the need for security arrangements in any future political agreement for two States. If the parties wish to break out of dynamics that seem to portend deeper conflict and mistrust, and if they still want two States, fresh thinking is urgently needed — from them, and perhaps from the international community as well.
The crisis in Gaza is far from over, and the window of opportunity to address critical needs and stabilize the situation is narrow. The devastation unleashed by this most recent round of conflict has left civilians on both sides feeling, once again, battered and embittered. Yet the interdependence of these two peoples has only been deepened, not lessened, by the latest disaster. If they fall into a new round of violence, they will be even more intertwined, yet even more distrustful in its surely appalling aftermath. We — they — all of us must act now and set a wiser and more responsible course.
The elements I have mentioned could, as a package, fundamentally change the dynamics in Gaza and rebuild the faith of both Israelis and Palestinians — in themselves, each other, and the possibilities of peace and two States, based on the end of occupation and the end of conflict. Failing that, I see a danger of a further downward spiral.
When I warn that Gaza could implode, or explode again, or the two-State paradigm could slip irreversibly away, I do not believe that I am crying wolf. The Council should not underestimate the dangers. I hope the Council will have the occasion to make its own position clear. This would be a welcome step of confidence, commitment and hope at a time when the parties and the world desperately need it.