UN paper warns of Palestinian economic collapse due to COVID-19
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UN paper warns of Palestinian economic collapse due to COVID-19

Special coordinator for Middle East peace process cautions both sides of conflict that unilateral moves bolster extremism, could trigger conflict

A Palestinian vendor with a mask displays his fresh fruit juice in the street as the markets remain partly closed, part of a lockdown and quarantine measures to protect residents from the coronavirus, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 19, 2020. (Nasser Nasser/AP)
A Palestinian vendor with a mask displays his fresh fruit juice in the street as the markets remain partly closed, part of a lockdown and quarantine measures to protect residents from the coronavirus, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 19, 2020. (Nasser Nasser/AP)

The United Nations on Sunday urged immediate action to prevent Palestinian economic collapse under the burden of the coronavirus outbreak and warned both Israel and the Palestinians against taking unilateral actions, saying they are likely to set off further conflict.

A paper prepared by the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process reviewed the impact the coronavirus has had on the Palestinian Authority’s finances and looked at the potential fallout from Israel’s stated intention to annex parts of the West Bank.

The report was prepared ahead of the upcoming biannual meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates the delivery of international aid to the Palestinians, scheduled for June 2.

The COVID-19 emergency “underscores the inadequacy of the frameworks governing the economic and administrative relationships between Israel and Palestine,” UNSCO said in a statement.

“The socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on the Palestinian people is already immense,” it noted. “The Palestinian Authority needs increased financial and development assistance to address its public health needs, provide essential services, and respond to the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, September 10, 2019. Netanyahu vowed to annex the Jordan Valley and, later, all West Bank settlements if he wins national elections. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Regarding Israel extending sovereignty to the West Bank, “any move by Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank or any Palestinian withdrawal from bilateral agreements would dramatically shift local dynamics and most likely trigger conflict and instability in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip,” the statement continued.

UNSCO warned that, “if current trends continue, the achievements of the Palestinian Government over the last quarter century will fade, the peace and security situation will worsen, and a hardened and more extremist politics on both sides will inevitably result.

“All sides must do their part in the coming weeks and months in order to preserve the prospect of a negotiated two-state resolution to the conflict, in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements,” said United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov in the statement.

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov at a press conference at the (UNSCO) offices in Gaza City, September 25, 2017. (Adel Hana/AP)

Israel’s plans to extend sovereignty  to parts of the West Bank, a move allowed for under the Trump administration’s peace plan, prompted PA President Mahmoud Abbas to announce earlier this month that he was abrogating agreements with Israel and the US and cutting security cooperation with Israel.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had originally hoped for an immediate okay for annexation from the US when President Donald Trump, announced his administration’s peace plan earlier this year, that has been delayed by the formation of a mapping committee to survey implementation of the idea.

The coalition deal underlying Israel’s new unity government allows it to initiate moves starting July 1. However, on Sunday, minister Ze’ev Elkin, a member of the top-level security cabinet, said that that there was no guarantee that the work of the committee, which has since been formed, would be completed by then.

In recent days, even Trump administration officials have appeared to be seeking to dampen expectations that Washington will quickly green-light the move without any progress in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The State Department’s chief spokesperson said earlier this month that any action should be part of discussions between Israel and the Palestinians on the administration’s peace plan.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas puts on a face mask as he heads a leadership meeting at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 19, 2020. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool Photo via AP)

The plan, rejected by the Palestinians, gives the green light from Washington for Israel to annex Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, a swath of land running along the border with Jordan. Palestinians say the US plan ends prospects for a two-state solution to their decades-long conflict with Israel.

The plan is vehemently opposed by Jordan and the rest of the Arab world, as well as most European countries.

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians last week warned the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff and the defense minister of a potential wave of violence if the government follows through with its plans to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank.

While Israeli security officials have confirmed the PA has ended security cooperation, Channel 13 news has reported that Ramallah sent messages to Israel saying it would not allow terror attacks against Israelis or a mass popular uprising.

Though not widely discussed publicly, Israel’s cooperation with Palestinian security forces has been credited with thwarting many major terror attacks and being a significant factor in the relative calm in the West Bank in recent years.

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