Pandemic and annexation on agenda as UN meets virtually to discuss peace process
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Pandemic and annexation on agenda as UN meets virtually to discuss peace process

Security Council’s first-ever videoconference debate on Israeli-Palestinian conflict focuses on coronavirus; France warns annexation of Jordan Valley ‘would not pass unchallenged’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon participating, via videoconference, in a UN Security Council discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, March 30, 2020 (courtesy Israel's Permanent Mission to the UN)
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon participating, via videoconference, in a UN Security Council discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, March 30, 2020 (courtesy Israel's Permanent Mission to the UN)

The United Nations Security Council on Monday held its first-ever virtual discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with delegates praising the parties’ cooperation in fighting the coronavirus pandemic but also reiterating their traditional talking points about the two-state solution, settlements, incitement and other sticking points.

The representatives of the 15-member council “welcomed ongoing Israeli-Palestinian coordination to address this common challenge and called for the intensification of the efforts by the parties to respond to COVID-19,” the German mission to the UN in New York said in a statement.

“They commended the UN for its efforts to support this coordination and the Palestinian people at this critical time, including given the particular vulnerability of the Gaza Strip, which is already facing a dire humanitarian situation.”

Several speakers used the opportunity to reaffirm their staunch opposition to Israeli settlement expansions, warning Jerusalem against moving ahead with its plan to unilaterally annex large parts of the West Bank.

“Unfortunately, reports from the ground indicate that even the coronavirus does not change plans for the continuation of settlement activity, and demolition of Palestinian real estate,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said. “We believe it is important that the parties do not engage in provocative actions and unilateral steps, in particular at this time.”

The Israeli and Palestinian envoys, too, participated in the videoconference, which was chaired by the council’s president, China’s Zhang Jun.

“Even in this new and difficult environment, we continue to take part in the ongoing diplomatic work within the family of nations,” Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said.

“At this time, despite Israel’s aid to the Palestinian Authority, we hear inciting comments coming from the Palestinian Prime Minister [Mohammad Shtayyeh], who accuses IDF soldiers of spreading coronavirus to the PA. There is no place for such senseless statements by the leadership of the PA. The UN must condemn these remarks.”

UN officials have in recent days praised the “unprecedented” and “excellent” cooperation between Jerusalem and Ramallah in fighting the deadly virus, which includes easing restriction on the freedom of movement and facilitating training sessions for Palestinian medical staff, as well as the Israeli Health Ministry donating thousands of coronavirus testing kits and sets of personal protective gear.

A Palestinian policeman mans a checkpoint to receive and register laborers exiting an Israeli army checkpoint, on their way home at the end of a workday in Israel, near the West Bank village of Nilin, west of Ramallah, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

At the beginning of Monday’s session, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov briefed the Security Council members on joint Israeli-Palestinian efforts to stem the pandemic.

However, several PA officials continue to accuse Israel of cruelly oppressing the Palestinian people in the middle of a severe public health crisis. Shtayyeh, for instance, earlier this week said that the “hateful occupation knows nothing of humanity, and the international community is required to curb its illegal practices,” he said.

This is not the time for a complex discussion of the granular details of the Trump administration’s Vision for Peace

The US deputy ambassador to the UN, Cherith Norman Chalet, said in her speech that the alarming worldwide spread of the coronavirus rightly grabs the world’s attention now, pushing other issues off the international agenda.

“We also recognize that this is not the time for a complex discussion of the granular details of the Trump administration’s Vision for Peace,” she said, referring to the White House peace plan presented earlier this year, which encourages Israel to annex all Israeli settlements and the entire Jordan Valley.

“There will be another day to address these important matters, as well as how we can secure a future of dignity and prosperity for all Israelis and Palestinians.”

Accordingly, Norman Chalet focused her brief remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in fighting the pandemic, which she said “is encouraging, constructive, and … in a small way, speaks to the power of dialogue — the kind of dialogue we have all been urging the parties to engage in for many months now.”

The health-related dialogue between Jerusalem and Ramallah is “a tangible demonstration of the good that comes – and the human lives that can literally be saved – when leaders come to the table just to talk with one another – to recognize one another’s dignity, and to do the hard work of laying out a path to a safer, healthier, more prosperous future,” she went on.

Once the global upheaval caused by COVID-19 has passed, the need for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation will be just as great as before, and the Security Council should remind both sides that, “in a time of trial, it was dialogue that saw them through to the other side,” she said.

The French envoy to the UN, Nicolas de Rivière, focused his remarks on the impact the coronavirus is feared to have in the Gaza Strip.

“In Gaza, the health system was already on the verge of collapsing before the pandemic,” he said. “There was only half of the essential medicine available for only a month. Basic equipment to respond to COVID is obviously lacking. The spread of the virus could also lead to a wider social and political destabilization, with regional consequences.”

Members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group’s armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, spray disinfectant in the streets of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, during a campaign aimed at slowing down the spread of the novel coronavirus, March 26, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

While taking “note of the efforts made,” the French ambassador called for “more cooperation.” Specifically, he urged Israel to allow the delivery of medical equipment and humanitarian emergency evacuations to Gaza. “The Palestinian Authority should also lift restrictions that prevent the delivery of medical equipment and medicine” to the coastal Strip, he added.

De Rivière condemned the rockets that were fired at Israel from the Hamas-held enclave and urged Jerusalem to lift its naval blockade of the Strip.

He also lambasted Israel’s vow to build more settlements and to annex the Jordan Valley and all Jewish communities in the West Bank.

“Such steps, if implemented, would not pass unchallenged,” he threatened.

“In conclusion, let me hope that COVID-19 will also be an opportunity to foster reconciliation and peace. Unilateral steps to respond to common challenges simply do not work,” he said. “I therefore hope we can collectively prepare the ground for the resumption of the peace talks in the framework of the internationally agreed parameters and the two-state solution.”

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