• February 23, 2023

‘Time is working against us’, UN chief says, calling for action to end clashes, restore credible Israeli-Palestinian political horizon

“Our immediate priority must be to prevent further escalation, reduce tensions, and restore calm,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at a meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Against a backdrop of deadly accelerating surges of violence, “sky high” tensions, and a stalled peace process, the Secretary-General said the situation is at its “most combustible in years”.

“The outlines of the solution are clear; they are laid out in UN resolutions, international law, and bilateral agreements,” he said. What is needed is the political will and courage to make the difficult choices for lasting peace to end the occupation and realize the two-State solution.

Deadly cycles of violence

However, while pursuing these goals, he said “trends on the ground mean time is working against us”.

“The longer we go without meaningful political negotiations, the further these goals slip from the reach,” he said.

With 2022 being the deadliest year since the UN began tracking fatalities in 2005, he said the violence continues in 2023, radiating across the region and beyond. News reports on Wednesday said an Israeli security force operation in Nablus left 10 Palestinians dead and more than 80 injured. Meanwhile, the situation in Jerusalem is becoming ever more fragile.

“The position of the United Nations is clear,” he said. “The status of Jerusalem cannot be altered by unilateral actions.”

Hopelessness spreading

Yet, across the occupied West Bank and Gaza, hopelessness is spreading, feeding anger and despair, he said. Attacks persist alongside Israeli settlement expansion in occupied territory.

Each new settlement is another roadblock on the path to peace,” he said, emphasizing that all settlement activity is illegal under international law, and “it must stop”.

End acts of retaliation

Deeply concerned by Israel’s recent punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority following the UN General Assembly’s resolution seeking an International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the occupation, he said such actions pose grave risks.

“There should be no retaliation with respect to the Palestinian Authority in relation to the International Court of Justice,” he said. “These measures risk further destabilizing the Palestinian Authority at a time when it is already struggling with a dire fiscal crisis that is undermining its ability to provide services to people.”

Critical action areas

Drawing attention to efforts to help Palestinians, he urged all donors to honour commitments and ensure sustained support for the “critical mission” of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Equally critical is easing the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, he said, calling for a full lifting of the debilitating closures in line with UN Security Council resolutions.

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