NEW YORK — Member states at the UN Security Council called for an immediate halt to fighting in Gaza between the Israel Defense Forces and the enclave’s Hamas rulers, as Israeli and Palestinian envoys presented dueling narratives regarding the ongoing violence in the region at an emergency meeting Sunday.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan called on the UN body to “unequivocally” condemn Hamas for indiscriminately firing rockets at Israeli civilians, claiming its attack had been premeditated in order to improve its political standing at the Palestinian Authority’s expense.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyadh al-Maliki, meanwhile, told member states they “embolden” Israel to keep striking in Gaza when they declare that the Jewish state has a right to defend itself. He also implored the international community to understand Palestinians will not remain silent in the face of Israeli “aggressions.”
The emergency session was the third meeting in a week, but the first to be streamed live.
In the previous two meetings, 14 of the 15 member states sought to pass a joint resolution criticizing both sides for the violence and calling for a ceasefire; but the US blocked the effort, saying the timing wasn’t right for such a step, that it would not contribute to deescalating the situation and that it wanted more time for its own diplomatic efforts to play out, according to several diplomats involved.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr arrived in Tel Aviv on Friday and has been holding meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials aimed at reaching a ceasefire.
The US sought to have Sunday’s meeting pushed to Tuesday, but came under immense pressure from other member states to hold it earlier.
While several member states again called for the UN to issue a joint statement following the session, two diplomats involved said the effort was not particularly likely to succeed given that the meeting was public and that all comments were on the record.
At the end of the session, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China, Norway and Tunisia would draft another statement to “circulate as soon as possible with hope that all council members can participate constructively and ensure that the Security Council responds in a timely matter and fulfill its responsibilities.”
Asked whether the United States will back a joint statement from security council, a US official told The Times of Israel: “Right now we are focused on the intensive diplomatic efforts underway, including those Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield discussed at today’s Security meeting.”
In her remarks to the council, Thomas-Greenfield called on Hamas to immediately stop firing rockets at Israel. Notably, she did not mention Israel’s right to defend itself, as senior US officials have emphasized in their respective statements on the violence this past week.
Erdan opened his speech at the emergency meeting by holding up a photo of 16-year-old Nadin Awad, who was killed last week by a Hamas rocket.
“She was studying biology and chemistry and she dreamed of changing the world,” Erdan said. Awad was from the unrecognized village of Dahmash near Lod, which the High Court of Justice last month said lacked necessary protection from rocket fire and implored for the town to be regulated.
“Over the last week, millions of Israeli children, women and men, have been huddling in bomb shelters, while thousands of Hamas rockets landed all around them,” he said.
Erdan claimed that the latest round of violence was “completely premeditated by Hamas in order to gain political power.”
The envoy said Hamas is vying to wrestle power in the West Bank away from the the Ramallah-based PA, which recently postponed the first parliamentary elections in 15 years.
Hamas “looked for another way to seize power. It escalated tensions in Jerusalem as a pretext to launch this war,” he said.
Erdan warned that if the UN continues to urge both sides to exercise restraint and not unequivocally condemn Hamas, it would further embolden the terror group and “undermine” the Palestinian Authority.
Critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have also accused it of emboldening Hamas and weakening the PA by avoiding peace talks with the latter and being strongly critical of Ramallah.
Turning to the looming eviction of several Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Erdan labeled the matter a “property dispute.”
The families are set to be evicted under a 1970 law that, for all intents and purposes, only allows Jews to reclaim property they lost in East Jerusalem during the 1948 War of Independence. No such law exists for Palestinians.
He said the Israeli government cannot intervene in court proceedings on the matter, though he acknowledged that the government acted to delay the latest hearing on the evictions in order to prevent a further escalation of violence.
“Do you really believe that this property dispute is what caused Hamas to launch this large-scale spate of attacks on Israel?” Erdan asked.
He said that Hamas also instigated violence at the Temple Mount and used the Al-Aqsa Mosque there as a “stockpile” for weapons. He then showed a picture of the holy site where rocks are seen stacked up before being thrown at Israeli police.
While hundreds of Palestinians were injured when police burst onto the compound last week, Erdan noted none were killed.
He also says hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers were free to pray at the site during Ramadan and continue to visit the compound today.
“Do you really believe these peaceful prayers is what caused Hamas to launch this large-scale attack on the people of Israel?” Erdan asked.
“Israel will continue to uphold the rights of all believers to practice their religion in freedom and security, in the holy city of Jerusalem,” he said.
Erdan called on Security Council members “to support Israel’s heroic efforts to defend itself and dismantle Hamas’s infrastructure of terror while doing everything to minimize the number of casualties on both sides.”
‘They are not shoes, but military boots’
Speaking just before Erdan, Maliki began by listing some of the Palestinians’ youngest victims in the conflict, adding “there are no words to describe the horrors that our people are experiencing.”
“Think what it feels like to see your world crumbling down and not being able to protect [your family],” he said to member states, asking them what they would do if they lived for decades under Israeli control.
The foreign minister blasted Israeli forces for “storming” the Temple Mount — known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif — the “holiest of sites, on the holiest of months, on the holiest of nights” earlier this month during clashes between police and Palestinians.
“Did they think they would bear no consequences? Did they expect Palestinians to wait until they seize the next house? Did they expect Palestinians to coexist with… occupation?” Maliki asked. “There are no people on earth that would accept this reality.”
The foreign minister noted Israel often tells the international community to put itself in their shoes. “But it is not wearing shoes, it is wearing military boots,” he charged.
“Any decision that doesn’t take this into account, is wrong,” he added..
Maliki claimed that when Israeli leaders hear their global counterparts defend Israel’s right to self-defense, it “emboldens them to kill Palestinians in their sleep.”
“Iron Dome shelters while our people in Gaza are besieged, trapped and with nowhere to go. It is Palestinian civilians who need protection,” he said, referring to the Israel’s defense system that intercepts rockets fired at population centers.
Maliki said regardless of the latest round of violence, the PA still backs a two-state solution to the conflict based on the pre-1967 borders.
He also noted the significant support from many countries for the Palestinians. “These nations are informed by their own history, their own struggle for freedom and they know oppression when they see it,” he said.
‘Hamas must immediately halt’
Thomas-Greenfield told the council that the US is “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to try and bring an end to this conflict.”
“The human toll of this past week has been devastating. Sadly these numbers are likely to grow by the end of today’s session,” she said.
The envoy expressed concern over the violence between Arabs and Jews in ethnically mixed communities inside Israel. “We’ve seen neighbor turn against neighbor.”
Thomas-Greenfield also raised “alarm” over attacks on journalists and called on all parties to protect civilians, medical clinics, and UN facilities, in an apparent panning of Israeli strikes on those sites.
She said that in its talks with the parties, the US has “made clear that we are prepared to lend our support… should the parties seek a ceasefire… because we believe that Israelis and Palestinians equally have a right to live in safety.”
The envoy called on Hamas to “immediately halt” its rocket attacks on Israel and said it opposes the looming evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem as well as settlement construction and housing demolitions by Israel.
Pressure for a joint statement
Envoys for the 14 other Security Council member states, as well as guest speakers from Jordan and Egypt, also called for an immediate ceasefire, with most diplomats criticizing the Israeli strikes in Gaza that resulted in the deaths of Palestinian children as well as the flattening of an office building housed by media organizations, which the IDF said was used by Hamas. Many members also criticized Hamas rocket fire in Gaza. All of them spoke out against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions and called for a two-state solution to the conflict.
Yi tore into the US for twice blocking a joint statement from the Security Council criticizing both Israelis and Palestinians for the ongoing violence and calling for an immediate ceasefire.
“China has been working with relevant countries on a security council press statement. Regrettably, due to the obstruction of one country, the Security Council hasn’t been able to speak as one voice,” Yi said.
“We call upon the US to shoulder its dual responsibilities, take a just position and together with the international community to support the Security Council in easing the situation and building toward a political settlement,” he added.
Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide implored members to issue a joint statement following the Sunday session that addresses the situation in Gaza and Israel.
“It is now vital that the council speak with one voice to address the situation. Norway stands ready to work with all council members to find suitable language to address the situation, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a ceasefire and reconfirming our support for a two-state solution,” she says.
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who spoke after the Norwegian representative, joined in her call for a joint statement.