Introduction to UK Government statement to the UN Security Council of 26 February 2021
The latest statement by the UK to the UN Security Council, at its regular meeting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on 26 February, deserves attention – for what it said and what it omitted.
Several aspects of what Ambassador Barbara Woodward had to say deserve praise: her condemnation of the demolition of Palestinian homes, for example, and her call on Israel to halt this inhumane and unjustified practice. (This is an instrument of punishment that Israel inherited from British Mandate’s practices, we regret to note.) The UK’s new Permanent Representative to the UN in New York was also right to single out Palestinian women’s rights, an issue often overlooked in the daily hubbub, and to highlight young people and marginalised groups in Palestinian society.
The public support lent by the Government to the holding of Palestinian elections is equally commendable. Fifteen years after Palestinians last went to the polls, it is essential for all those in a position to help to encourage their success this time around. But this is where some qualifications are also in order.
At the outset of what could become an obstacle-strewn process over the next six months – three sets of elections for different institutions are scheduled for between late May and the end of August – it would have been desirable if the Government had taken this opportunity to spell out several guiding principles.
First, all Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories must have the opportunity to participate. Those who will face the biggest challenge are residents of East Jerusalem, as Israel has historically been reluctant to allow voting to take place there. No one should be effectively disenfranchised. Making this point will highlight that East Jerusalem remains part of the OPT, countering damaging past efforts to the contrary by the Trump Administration.
Second, the Israeli Government must facilitate campaigning by allowing the unimpeded movement of all Palestinian candidates and election officials as well as international monitors between the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Arbitrary interference by Israel with the free movement of people among the three regions would severely impugn the integrity of the elections.
Third, to avoid a repetition of the chaos after the last Palestinian elections in 2006, and the refusal of the West to accept the Hamas victory, all governments should state at the outset that they intend to honour the results of these upcoming Palestinian elections and work constructively with the new leadership. For the UK to do otherwise would be to make a mockery of democratic principles and expose it to charges of double standards and selectivity.
On a separate but important matter, it was striking, to the Balfour Project at least, that there was no mention in the UK statement to the Security Council of the most acute financial crisis that UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, is facing in its 71-year history. The UK is UNRWA’s third largest donor. And it would be normal to use a statement to the Security Council as a platform to appeal to other governments to rally round and help-out. As of April, due to this looming crisis, the Agency will be unable to pay thousands of its teachers and will be forced to close its schools. Up to half a million Palestinian children – those same young people Ambassador Woodward singled out for special attention in her statement – will be deprived of their education and left to the mercy of a dangerous world.
Mr Whitley is a Balfour Project Trustee and member of its Executive Committee
Working towards a two-state solution
Statement by Ambassador Barbara Woodward at the Security Council briefing on the Middle EastPublished 26 February 2021From:Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and Dame Barbara Woodward DCMG OBE
- UK calls on Government of Israel to end demolition of Palestinian homes and allow delivery of humanitarian aid
- UK welcomes progress made in discussions of Ad-hoc Liaison Committee as well as progress towards elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
- UK reaffirms commitment to a two-state solution and calls for “work towards a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike”
Remarks by Ambassador Barbara Woodward at the Security Council briefing on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine), 26 February 2021
Let me start by thanking the Special Coordinator for his briefing, and thanking Malak and Oren for sharing their personal reflections with us today – including on how to help foster peace and understanding among new and older generations alike.
In order to build trust between the parties and populations, unilateral acts must also cease. The UK has called on the Government of Israel to end the demolition of Palestinian homes and structures in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The latest demolitions in Humsa Al-Baqai’a have again made this vulnerable Palestinian community, including children, homeless. We urge the Government of Israel to allow the unimpeded delivery of vital humanitarian aid. We also call on the Government of Israel to refrain from the destruction or confiscation of such aid once it’s delivered.
The UK will continue to champion the rights and freedoms of women, young people and marginalised groups. We join Palestinian women, and all Palestinians, in rejecting the recent changes made by Hamas – the de facto authorities in Gaza – to travel arrangements from Gaza, which will limit Gazan women’s independence and liberty. We call for this decision to be fully reversed, and for all parties to ensure greater freedoms and protections for women in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
We are clear that the parties must work together to deliver meaningful improvements for Palestinians and Israelis. In this context, I’d also like to welcome, as others have done, the constructive discussions held this week at the Ad-hoc Liaison Committee. We must now drive progress on measures that can alleviate the health and economic challenges in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We welcome cooperation on vaccine access, and encourage the Government of Israel to facilitate the transfer of vaccines to the Palestinian Authority when required. We also need to see tangible and time-bound commitments from the parties to address long-standing barriers to development of the Palestinian economy. Progress against these issues will help foster an environment conducive to future peace negotiations.
Finally, I’d like to welcome the continued progress towards legislative and Presidential elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As we have heard today, Palestinians need free and fair elections, as a pathway to accountable institutions, based on respect for the rule of law and human rights.
The UK remains committed to a two-state solution. We will continue to work with the parties to the conflict, to build the conditions for a permanent agreement. As our briefers today have made clear, we must work towards a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike. A just and lasting resolution that ends the occupation and delivers peace is the best way to achieve such a future.Published 26 February 2021