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UN Security Council Discusses the Escalation of Violence in the Middle East

Amid rising tensions in Jerusalem, UN envoy warns the UNSC of 'grave risks' facing the region

Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, briefs the Security Council. (UN Photo: Manuel Elias)

As the United Nations Security Council meets to discuss the annual report on the Middle East, the Council's focus was on the outbreak of violence that erupted over Israeli placement of metal detectors at entrances around the Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. Despite the eventual removal of the detectors, tensions between the Israeli and Palestinian Ambassadors were high.

On Tuesday July 26th, the Security Council of the United Nations was briefed by Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, to discuss the recent escalation of violence at the Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem and the subsequent removal of metal detectors at the compound.

Mladenov welcomed the decision by Israel’s security cabinet to remove the metal detectors, but also stressed the need for all parties to show restraint and promptly end this crisis. He said that these developments “demonstrated the grave risk of dangerous escalation that exists, a risk of turning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious one and dragging both sides into the vortex of violence with the rest of the region.”

Noting that the final status issue concerning Jerusalem needs to be negotiated and decided by the two sides, Mladenov urged Israel to fulfill the responsibility to uphold its obligations under international human rights law and humanitarian law. He also urged Palestinian leaders to avoid provocative statements that further aggravate an already tense environment.

The latest incidents have taken place against a backdrop of other developments, the envoy stressed. Throughout the month, Israel continued to advance its plans to construct settlements in East Jerusalem. “I must once again emphasize that settlement activity in occupied territory is illegal under international law, and undermines the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous, sovereign Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution,” he warned.

Turning to the situation in Gaza, he reiterated that the political standoff between two Palestinian factions – Fatah and Hamas – has taken the two million people living in the tiny enclave “hostage.”

Since violently seizing control of Gaza, Hamas has tightened its grip on power and suppressed dissent, he explained.

The “punishing measures” taken against Hamas, including electricity cuts, have worsened the humanitarian situation in Gaza. “Whatever the political differences between the Palestinian factions, it is not the people of Gaza who should pay the price,” Mr. Mladenov underscored, calling on Palestinian leaders to address the destructive consequences of the split.

Finally, he said recent events are a reminder of how easy it could be to reach a dangerous escalation, and he, expressed hope that Israel’s agreement with Jordan and positive engagement with religious authorities would result in actions that would circumvent violence in the future.

However, after Mladenov’s statement, tensions were heated between the Israeli and Palestinian Ambassadors.

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour opened his statement to Council by acknowledging “the reckless and destructive agenda against our people and holy sites, especially Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which houses holy Al-Aqsa Mosque, in absolute contempt for international law and the will of the international community.” Ambassador Mansour spoke about the current situation in “Occupied Jerusalem” saying that the city is “besieged from within and without by military checkpoints, occupation forces, settlements, armed and violent settlers. The Palestinian people in the city face
negation, subjugation, discrimination, home demolitions, and violence, with the aim to forcibly transfer them out of their city. Israel openly and shamelessly pursues discriminatory plans and policies based on religious and national affiliation.” He noted that it was only natural for the Palestinian people to resist and retaliate against “provocative measures” such as “the closure of Al-Aqsa, the banning of the Friday prayers, and restrictions on access to the holy sites, by praying in the streets.” He said that “We recognize efforts undertaken thus far by concerned parties in the region and across the international community to de-escalate the situation in Jerusalem, yet Israel continues to ignore the international community. A clear, unified message must be conveyed to Israel to cease and reverse all such illegal actions and policies.” Towards the end of Mansour’s statement, he spoke about the current state of Gaza stating that, “Gaza is unlivable for humans. Not in a decade, or in a few years, or a few months, Gaza is unlivable now, as we speak. While Palestinian unity is vital and a priority, only the end of the Israeli blockade can bring back life to Gaza. We again appeal for immediate action to save the Palestinian civilian population there from this inhumanity and to avert another explosive crisis.”

After Ambassador Mansour finished his statement, Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon took the floor immediately opening with the murder of the Salomon family. Ambassador Danon continually stressed that, “Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has publicly endorsed the payment of salaries to convicted terrorists and their families. The core of so much violence in our region and around the world comes from the unrelenting glorification of terror. The truth cannot continue to be sidelined.” The Israeli Ambassador also told the Council the story of a young, Palestinian women who blew herself up in a famous Arab and Jewish restaurant. He discussed that the PA was spending “over $300 million on salaries paid to terrorists and their families” and went further to say that, “the international community has allowed almost 30% of foreign aid, meant to support Palestinian wellbeing, to sponsor blood money.” Ambassador Danon concluded his statement by speaking directly to the Security Council: “You must not sacrifice the core values of justice, morality and truth for cheap political victories and empty promises. Let us pledge to work together to end this vulgar exploitation of international aid. Let us hold the Palestinians accountable, and ensure they teach their children to seek peace. Only then will we see the possibility of real peace in our region.”

The President of the Security Council opened the floor for other Member States to make their statements.

The U.S. was the first country to start the discussion, yet avoided speaking about the recent events in Israel. American Ambassador Nikki Haley stated that the U.S. supports the idea “all parties should work to destabilize tensions” in Israel, but heeded what Mladenov asked and refrained from speaking on the matter. Instead, she focused on Iran’s support of Hezbollah, the Shi’a Islamist militant group and political party based in Lebanon. Ambassador Haley condemned Hezbollah’s actions and criticized the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for their lack of trustworthy intelligence on Hezbollah’s forces.

Alternatively, the other member states highlighted the recent conflict in Israel and called for the destabilization of violence in the region. Many countries supported the removal of metal detectors at the Aqsa Mosque and encouraged bipartisan talks between the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

On Wednesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a  Statement on the continuing tensions in the Old City of Jerusalem:

“I reiterate my concern over the situation in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is essential to fully respect the status quo at the holy sites as before 14 July. I welcome the dialogue between Israel and Jordan, in line with the Hashemite Kingdom’s special and historic role, and encourage continued discussions on how to ensure security for both worshippers and visitors. I am particularly concerned about the potential risk of escalating violence, urge all political, religious and community leaders to refrain from provocative action and rhetoric, and call on Israel to demonstrate restraint.”

Some organizations were not holding back their thoughts on the situation. Anti-Zionist Rabbis, organized by Neturei Karta international, held a conference outside the United Nations headquarters Monday to express the Jewish outrage at the current escalation of the decades-long “Zionist oppression and occupation of Palestine”. Spokesman for the delegation, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, said, “the attempt at revoking this state of exile by establishing a sovereign so-called Jewish State was and still remains in direct conflict with sacred Jewish Law. Compounding this transgression is the constant trampling on the rights of the Palestinians, of which the current events at Al-Aqsa are only the latest episode.”

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