UN Security Council statement on Jerusalem held up by US

Statement would condemn looming evictions of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, but include panning of Gaza rockets, thanks to push from US, UK diplomats

A Palestinian man runs away from tear gas during clashes with Israeli security forces in front of the Dome of the Rock Mosque at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 10, 2021. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)
A Palestinian man runs away from tear gas during clashes with Israeli security forces in front of the Dome of the Rock Mosque at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 10, 2021. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)

NEW YORK — Hesitation from the US mission to the United Nations prevented the release of a joint statement by the Security Council’s members on the ongoing escalations in Jerusalem, after the top UN body held an emergency meeting on the subject earlier Monday, a diplomat involved told The Times of Israel.

During the meeting, the Norwegian mission introduced a proposal for a joint statement urging Israel to prevent the looming evictions of Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, and calling for “restraint” and respect for “the historic status quo at the holy sites,” diplomats involved in the meeting confirmed. The original statement also urged both sides to act in order to deescalate the situation, they said.

Recent days have seen police clash with Palestinian protesters near the homes of families facing eviction in Sheikh Jarrah as well as at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, where tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers have gathered daily. Tensions peaked Monday with over 300 injured in clashes with cops at the latter site and Gaza terror groups firing dozens of rockets at southern Israel and at Jerusalem, in an apparent response to the East Jerusalem violence.

The Norwegian statement underwent a number of amendments per requests from the US and UK, whose representative made sure it included a condemnation of the firing of incendiary devices and rockets from Gaza, a Security Council diplomat said.

Illustrative: The Security Council meets virtually on January 26, 2020 to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Screen capture/United Nations)

The proposed statement called on Israel “to cease settlement activities, demolitions and evictions, including in east Jerusalem in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law” and refrain from unilateral steps “that exacerbate tensions and undermine the viability of the two-state solution.”

The statement would also reiterate the council’s support for a negotiated solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict where “two states, Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and sovereign Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders.”

Fourteen of the 15 Security Council members backed the updated draft of the statement, but it failed to move forward after the US mission asked for more time to deliberate the matter, adding that such a step might not be useful at this time, two diplomats present told The Times of Israel.

In response to a query on the matter, a spokesperson for the US mission said, “The United States is engaging constructively to ensure any action by the Security Council is helpful in deescalating tensions.”

The Monday morning session featured an update from UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland, and was followed by reactions from various member states, which largely fell in line with their traditional stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rockets fired toward Israel by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza City are intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system on May 10, 2021. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Ireland’s UN Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, who joined in calling for the emergency meeting, said during the session that “the Security Council should urgently speak out, and we hope that it will be able to do so today.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan issued a statement after the meeting lambasting members of the Security Council for “their failure to understand the reasons behind the Palestinian violence.”

The envoy claimed recent condemnations of Israel over its actions surrounding Jerusalem have been “disruptive and further inflamed the tensions.” He blamed members that have yet to condemn “Palestinian incitement,” along with rocket fire from Gaza and noted that Israel was doing all it could to maintain calm, even barring the entry of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount earlier Monday.

Later in the day, the US issued several statements condemning rocket fire from Gaza. White House Press Secretary said Washington was “continuing to closely monitor the violence in Israel.”

“We have serious concerns about the situation, including violent confrontations that we’ve seen over the last few days,” she added, without getting into specifics.

Psaki went on to recall the phone call that took place on Sunday between US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben Shabbat, during which the former raised concerns over the potential eviction of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah. She said both sides “agreed that launching of rockets and incendiary balloons toward Israel is unacceptable and must be condemned.”

An hour later at the State Department daily briefing, spokesman Ned Price condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas as an “unacceptable escalation” and renewed calls for calm in Jerusalem.

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the barrage of rocket attacks fired into Israel in recent hours,” he told reporters. “We also recognize Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and to defend its people and its territory.”

Other governments around the world were more critical of Israel in their comments on Monday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to mobilize the world to stop Israeli “terror,” in phone calls to Palestinian leaders.

In the calls to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Erdogan denounced Israel’s actions and extended support.

The Turkish leader pledged to “do everything in his power to mobilize the world, starting with the Islamic world, to stop Israel’s terror and occupation,” his office said.

Israelis take cover as a siren warns of incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip, during Jerusalem Day, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (Flash90)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to Twitter to accuse Israel of stealing “people’s land & homes” and creating “an Apartheid regime.”

He also accused Israel of refusing to vaccinate citizens “under illegal occupation” and accused Israeli police of shooting “innocent worshippers” inside the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Egypt’s foreign ministry said in a statement it “firmly” condemned “the new incursion of Israeli forces into the al-Aqsa mosque.”

Egypt’s assistant minister of foreign affairs, Nazih Al-Najari, met Monday with the Israeli ambassador in Cairo, Amira Oron, to say Egypt rejected and denounced Israel’s action.

Other diplomats were more nuanced in their reactions.

Israelis stream into Jerusalem’s Old City through the Jaffa Gate during the annual flag march on May 10, 2021 (Sarah Tuttle-Singer/Times of Israel)

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the rocket attacks, saying “the ongoing violence in Jerusalem and Gaza must stop.”

“We need an immediate de-escalation on all sides, and an end to targeting of civilian populations,” he tweeted.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was “deeply concerned over the recent clashes.”

It was “important that everything possible will be done to avoid fueling tensions,” he added.

He described the evictions of Palestinians as a “matter of serious concern” and said “such actions are illegal under international humanitarian law.”

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