More than 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis have been killed so far this year in the occupied West Bank and Israel – a level of violence surpassing last year’s entire death toll and the highest number of fatalities since 2005, the United Nations Middle East envoy has said.
Tor Wennesland, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the UN Security Council on Monday that escalating violence is being fuelled by growing despair about the future among Palestinians and a lack of progress towards achieving an independent state.
“Palestinians and Israelis are killed and injured in near-daily violence – including just hours before this briefing when another fatal shooting attack killed an Israeli in the West Bank,” he told the Security Council, speaking from Jerusalem.
“The lack of progress towards a political horizon that addressed the core issues driving the conflict has left a dangerous and volatile vacuum, filled by extremists on all sides,” Wennesland told the Security Council.
While Israelis and Palestinians have taken some actions towards stabilising the current situation, Wennesland said unilateral steps have continued to heighten hostilities.
He pointed to the unabated expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes, operations by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank areas under Palestinian administrative and police control, and attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian villages.
Wennesland also cited Palestinian “militant activity”, and he said that the current situation is compounded by “the fragility” of the Palestinian Authority’s financial situation as well as severe funding shortages faced by UN agencies including the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
“While we must urgently focus on addressing the most critical issues and on de-escalating the situation on the ground, we cannot ignore the need to restore a political horizon,” he said.
“The Council members were clear today that the violence must stop. I urge leaders to act now to calm the situation. This spiral of violence is leading nowhere but to more bloodshed,” Wennesland said on social media.
2/ The Council members were clear today that the violence must stop. I urge leaders to act now to calm the situation. This spiral of violence is leading nowhere but to more bloodshed.#Israel #Palestine
— Tor Wennesland (@TWennesland) August 21, 2023
United States Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who chaired the meeting on Monday, called for immediate steps to reduce the escalating violence and reiterated her government’s support for a two-state solution.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told the council that long-term stagnation of the peace process was “compounded by the ongoing illegal unilateral actions of Israel to create irreversible facts on the ground”, and described the “unprecedented pace” of Israel’s illegal settlement expansion as a huge threat.
France’s UN political coordinator Isis Jaraud-Darnault also condemned “the Israeli colonisation of the Palestinian territories” that Palestinians want for their future state, and the continuing Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and infrastructure, including a school in the occupied West Bank’s Ramallah region on August 17 and which was financed by European donors including France.
Darnault, who also condemned violence against Israelis, told the council that the UN and regional actors have an essential role to play in restoring “a credible political horizon” as a step towards ending the violence.
“The normalisation of relations between Israel and several states in the region contributes to stability and security,” she said.
“But this dynamic will remain incomplete as long as it is not accompanied by a resumption of the political process towards a solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis.”