‘The occupation must end,’ UN leader tells Palestinian solidarity event

Secretary-General Guterres says ‘driver of conflict’ is Israeli occupation; Palestinian envoy says international community must put an end to ‘colonization and settler terrorism’

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks ahead of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia on November 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim, File)
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks ahead of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia on November 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim, File)

UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a Palestinian solidarity event on Tuesday that the “occupation must end,” amid growing international alarm over a spike in violence in the West Bank.

“I am deeply saddened by the growing number of Palestinian civilians who have lost their lives in the spiral of violence engulfing the occupied West Bank,” said UN Chef de Cabinet Earle Courtenay Rattray, speaking on behalf of Guterres.

“Each casualty fuels fear and yet more violence. I urge all parties to take immediate steps to reduce tensions and break this deadly cycle,” he said at an annual event marking the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People at the UN headquarters in New York.

Guterres said the “drivers of the conflict” were occupation, settlements, home demolitions, evictions and closures of Gaza crossings.

He called for opening access to Gaza, improving Palestinian livelihoods and supporting the UN relief agency UNRWA, and underlined his commitment to a two-state solution.

“The United Nations’ position is clear — peace must advance, the occupation must end,” he said.

Delegates attend a Palestinian solidarity meeting at the United Nations in New York on November 29, 2022 (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

The event was sponsored by the UN General Assembly Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and featured representatives of different countries speaking in support of the Palestinians. Israel and the US were not present.

Guterres and other speakers focused on Israeli forces in the West Bank, and did not mention Palestinian terrorism, the Hamas terror group, Israeli security concerns or Israeli victims of violence.

President of the UN General Assembly Csaba Kőrösi called for increased support for UNRWA and for diplomatic pressure against Israel.

“I ask you to walk a mile in the shoes of Palestinians,” Kőrösi said. “The Palestinian people, as all people, have the fundamental and inalienable right to live in dignity with liberty, freedom of movement, freedom from fear.”

“Hope and prosperity cannot come from a zero-sum game,” he said, urging UN countries to “use the leverage of your governments” to encourage dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.

He nodded to the “legitimate aspirations of all sides” in his speech, delivered alongside the Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour.

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour addresses the United Nations Security Council, at UN headquarters, January 22, 2019. (AP/Richard Drew)

Mansour, speaking on behalf of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the event marked “another year of killing, siege, arrests, forced displacement and home demolitions.”

“Another year of settlements and dismemberment of our homeland through the annexation wall, land confiscation and military checkpoints. Another year that witnessed more violence and incitement against our people and their Christian and Islamic holy sites,” Mansour said, repeatedly referring to Israel as a colony.

He said journalist Shireen Abu Akleh “was assassinated by the Israeli occupying forces in cold blood” and called on the international community to pressure Israel.

“We cannot expect the Israeli occupier who supports colonization and settler terrorism,” Mansour said, “to wake up one day and choose justice and peace.”

“The international community must mobilize and intensify its efforts to put pressure on Israel to end its occupation and stop its crimes,” Mansour said, calling for the Palestinians to receive full membership at the UN.

Visitors view a display in support of Palestinians at the UN headquarters in New York City, November 29, 2022. The exhibit was controversially placed alongside a Holocaust display. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

He pledged that the Palestinians will uphold human rights, including the “freedom of expression and empowerment of women,” and carry out the democratic process by holding national elections and forming a unity government. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas terrorist regime in Gaza have remained divided since 2007, and the Palestinians have not held a general election since 2006.

“The Palestinian people will not tolerate oppression and injustice and will continue to pursue the struggle against the colonial occupation of our land and people,” Mansour said on behalf of Abbas. “We will not abandon the culture of peace that is deeply rooted within us and will continue to pursue peaceful resistance.”

The comments came amid heightened tensions in the region, following a series of Palestinian attacks that have left 30 people in Israel and the West Bank dead since the start of the year, including twin bombings in Jerusalem on Wednesday that killed two Israelis.

Masked Palestinians burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces following the funeral of Mufid Khalil in the West Bank village of Beit Ummar, near Hebron, November 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

In the spring, the military launched a major anti-terror offensive in West Bank in response to the attacks.

The operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids, but has left over 150 Palestinians dead, many of them — though not all — while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces.

At the same time, there has been a steep rise in settler attacks against Palestinians and security forces.

The UN has said 2022 is on course to be the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the world body started tracking fatalities in 2005.

The United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Tor Wennesland, on Monday warned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “reaching a boiling point.”

“High levels of violence in the occupied West Bank and Israel in recent months, including attacks against Israeli and Palestinian civilians, increased use of arms, and settler-related violence, have caused grave human suffering,” Wennesland said.

“The targeting of civilians can never be justified and the violence must stop,” he told a UN Security Council briefing, calling for a return to a political process for a two-state resolution to the conflict. “The current trends bring neither stability nor security for anyone.”

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield also condemned the terror attacks against Israelis and settler violence during the Security Council hearing.

Thomas-Greenfield also blasted the UN for its “lopsided focus” on Israel, including the open-ended Commission of Inquiry into Israel and the General Assembly’s request earlier this month for the International Court of Justice to weigh in on the conflict.

“The UN system is replete with anti-Israel actions and bodies,” she said. “Instead of grandstanding and pursuing unproductive measures, we hope the UN will start focusing on concrete steps that improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.”

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