Summary: 6 November 2014, New York – Statement by H.E. Mr. Ioannis Vrailas, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations, at the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly Fourth Committee on Agenda item 51: Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories
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I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.
The Candidate Countries Montenegro*, Serbia*and Albania*, as well as Ukraine align themselves with this statement.
Ending the Arab-Israeli conflict remains one of the main priorities of the European Union in its Common Foreign and Security Policy.
In this framework, the EU fully supported US-led peace efforts and we remain convinced that efforts in this regard must resume, in particular as the regional context and the current crisis make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more necessary than ever.
It is also more urgent than ever to make progress, as developments on the ground, such as those I will refer to later in my statement, continue to make the prospect of a two-state solution increasingly unattainable. It is clear to us, and we hope that it is also clear to the parties themselves, that a one state reality would not be compatible with the aspirations of the Palestinians for statehood and the aspirations of the Israelis to live in peace and security within recognized borders.
The EU therefore urges the parties to resume meaningful negotiations towards a final and comprehensive peaceful settlement of the conflict based on a two-state solution. But in doing so, the EU also reaffirms its belief that clear parameters defining the basis for negotiations and a defined time-frame are key and needed elements for a successful outcome. We have set out our position on parameters in several Council Conclusions, the last in July 2014, and we will continue to promote it. On this basis, the EU is willing to work with the parties and international partners, especially the US, on a way forward to re-launch the peace negotiations in an appropriate framework.
The latest escalation of violence in Gaza that led to thousands of deaths and the rising number of violent incidents in the West Bank are reasons for concern and evidence enough that the status quo is not sustainable.
The European Union strongly deplores continuing Israeli plans and activities to expand settlements in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem. Recent announcements by the Israeli authorities of plans for further settlement expansion in Givat Hamatos, Silwan, Har Homa and Ramat Shlomo are extremely troubling, as they represent further highly detrimental steps that undermine prospects for a two-state solution and which, if pursued, will inevitably call into question Israel’s commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.
Let me reaffirm here the long-held position of the European Union that settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-State solution impossible. We urge the Government of Israel to reverse its decisions and to put an end to all settlement activity, including so-called “natural growth”, in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem. All outposts erected since March 2001 must be dismantled.
The European Union condemns continuing settler violence and deliberate provocations against Palestinian civilians. We call on the Government of Israel to protect Palestinian civilians from violence, bring the perpetrators of any such acts to justice and to comply with its obligations under international law.
We are extremely concerned by the rising tension and increased number of violent episodes in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, and we condemn all acts of violence. Last June, the EU condemned in the strongest terms the abduction and brutal murder of teenagers from both sides and called for the perpetrators of those barbaric acts to be brought to justice. We similarly strongly condemn the two recent separate attacks in East Jerusalem that killed three persons, including a 3-month-old baby girl, and injured several others. We further condemn the attempted murder of an Israeli citizen, for which a Palestinian terrorist group has claimed responsibility. We are deeply concerned by the number of Palestinians, including children, killed recently in the occupied Palestinian Territory, in separate incidents involving the use of live fire by Israeli forces. It is important that any such incidents – which, when they involve unarmed civilians, raise serious allegations of a possible excessive use of force – are investigated thoroughly.
The cycle of violence must be stopped before it spirals out of control: these tragic events reinforce the need for Israelis and Palestinians to work together to fight all forms of terror and violence and to combat incitement wherever it comes from.
We are also extremely concerned about increasing tensions in East Jerusalem and about challenges to the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, which have serious political and security implications. In view of recent incidents, we call on all parties to refrain from provocative actions and from unhelpful rhetoric and incitement, urging them in particular to refrain from stoking religious sensitivities. It is urgent that leaders from both sides send messages of calm and avail themselves of all opportunities to promote peace.
We also recall that the European Union has never recognised the annexation of East Jerusalem. We firmly believe that if there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states. We also call on the Israeli government to cease all discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
The European Union also expresses its deep concern about the worsening living conditions of the Palestinian population in Area C, demolitions – including of EU funded projects -, and evictions and forced transfers, including of the Bedouin communities in Area C.
In particular, we have repeatedly expressed our concern, including in direct contacts with Israeli authorities, with regards to Israeli plans to “relocate” a number of Bedouin and herding communities from their current locations in the central West Bank, including in the strategic E1 area. We recall that the Secretary-General, in his statement before the Security Council on October 21, stated that “such an action, if implemented in a forcible manner, would be contrary to international human rights and humanitarian law”.
With regards to Area C, we continue to note the need for the Government of Israel to develop improved mechanisms for zoning, planning and permitting in Area C for the benefit of the Palestinian population, including by facilitating local Palestinian participation in such processes. We also call on Israel to work out improved mechanisms for access, administration and cooperation, including with regard to international donors. For our part, we will continue to support the economy and infrastructure development in the Palestinian Area C, as set out in the five-year Joint Action Plan adopted in the framework of the European Union’s Neighbourhood Policy.
We further express our concern at the continuing incursions by Israeli forces into Area A. Incursions by Israeli forces into Palestinian cities where the Palestinian Authority, under the Oslo Accords, assumes the powers and responsibilities for internal security and public order put in jeopardy the internationally recognized success of Palestinian institution building efforts.
Turning to the situation in Gaza, the EU strongly condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and militant groups in the Gaza Strip. These are criminal and unjustifiable acts. We also strongly condemned calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields.
The EU also condemned the loss of hundreds of civilian lives, among them many women and children. While recognizing Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks, we underlined that the Israeli military operation had to be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law. We also stressed the need for protection of civilians at all times. We were particularly appalled by the human cost of Israeli military operations, in particular in Shuja’iyya, Khuza’a and Rafah. During the conflict, we called on all parties to respect at all times the inviolability and integrity of UN premises. We condemned in this regard the shelling of UNRWA schools in Gaza. We also condemned the placing of rockets in UNRWA schools.
We reiterate that alleged violations of international humanitarian law by all sides must be investigated according to international standards. All victims or their families must have access to justice in view of ensuring full accountability. The EU calls on all parties to cooperate with the UN Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council in July, emphasising that this body covers all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all sides, including those committed by Hamas and other militant groups. The EU stresses the need for the CoI to be able to get access to the ground and calls on Israeli authorities to grant access to Israel and to the occupied Palestinian territory.
The EU strongly welcomed the ceasefire which has been in place since 26 August and continues to call on all the parties concerned to agree on and abide by a durable ceasefire. The situation in the Gaza Strip has been unsustainable for many years and a return to the status quo which existed prior to the latest conflict is not an option. A fundamental and durable change to the Gaza Strip is necessary: the Palestinian Authority needs to assume its full governmental responsibilities in the Gaza Strip; the government of Israel must lift restrictions to socio-economic development, including an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods, and persons to and from Gaza; and terrorist groups must disarm and be prevented from rearming.
As regards the specific issue before us today – i.e. the protection of Human Rights – the EU and Israel engage in regular dialogue on these matters in the framework of our bilateral relationship. Let me focus here on three specific issues.
The EU calls on Israel, as it does on all States, to fully cooperate with the Human Rights Council, including through issuing a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures. Israel’s cooperation is needed to allow access to occupied territory so that the Special Procedures, and notably the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Makarim Wibisono, can engage with all duty bearers. The European Union also calls on Israel to fully cooperate with Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the ground.
The EU remains concerned about the extensive recourse by Israel to administrative detention of excessive duration without charge, in particular in view of the sharp increase in numbers since last June. Under international law, detainees have the right to be informed about the reasons underlying any detention and to have the legality of their detention being determined without undue delay. The EU calls upon Israel to bring formal charges against these individuals, with such charges being determined through fair trials.
On the issue of children’s rights, the EU remains concerned by the high number of Palestinian children held in detention by Israel and by continuing reports of ill treatment during the arrest, transfer and interrogation of child detainees in the West Bank. Last year, we welcomed during this debate Israel’s commitment to cooperate with UNICEF on implementing the recommendations contained in the March 2013 UNICEF briefing paper “Children in Israeli Military Detention”. Since then, important positive steps have been taken by Israel both on the operational and legislative level and we warmly welcome them. Still, reports show that there is a significant gap between policy and practice that needs to be bridged urgently. A clear top-down signal from the political leadership that the rights of children in Israeli military custody are to be upheld at all times is needed. We remain convinced that military courts are no place for children, that detention of children should be a measure of last resort, and that children must at all times at a minimum be afforded the safeguards to which they are legally entitled.
In conclusion, let me stress once again that the EU will continue to do all it can to support the achievement of a lasting and just solution to the conflict. We reiterate our offer to both parties of a package of European political, economic and security support and of a Special Privileged Partnership with the EU in the event of a final peace agreement. In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to place particular emphasis in all our efforts on the need for full respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
* Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.
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