By J Nastranis
As the world’s attention is turned to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, a special Committee of the UN General Assembly has alerted about “the threat of annexation” of the Palestinian territory by Israel. “Annexation is a threat to the two-state solution,” the Committee accentuated.
Earlier, on April 23, UN Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov warned the Security Council of “the dangerous prospect of annexation by Israel of parts of the occupied West Bank is a growing threat”.
“If such a move were implemented, it would constitute a serious violation of international law, deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, close the door to a renewal of negotiations, and threaten efforts to advance regional peace,” he said briefing the Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.
Underlining his profound concern, Mladenov referred to a coalition agreement in Israel on April 20 to form a government. While the two sides reiterated a commitment to advance peace agreements and cooperate with Israel’s neighbors, they also agreed on advancing annexation of parts of the West Bank, starting July 1, 2020.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) threatened that if this move takes place, it will cancel the implementation of all bilateral agreements.
“In addition to the public health implications of the pandemic, the negative shock to the Israeli and Palestinian economies will have profound implications for public welfare, employment, social cohesion, financial and institutional stability,” Mladenov said earlier on April 12, drawing attention to the dire socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 in the occupied Palestinian territory.
“If current trends continue, the damage to the Palestinian economy will be substantial,” the UN Special Coordinator cautioned.
On May 5, the Committee on the Exercise of The Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) appealed to the international community, particularly the Security Council, “to shoulder its responsibilities and take urgent action to counteract the threat of annexation”.
The UN General Assembly established the CEIRPP in 1975, by its resolution 3376, and requested it to recommend a programme of implementation to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights to self-determination without external interference, national independence and sovereignty; and to return to their homes and property from which they had been displaced.
The Committee exhorted the international community to rally support and solidarity behind the Palestinian people to prevent annexation, which constitutes a grave breach of international law and flagrant violation of UN resolutions. These include resolution 2334 (2016), which calls for an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and the fulfilment of the rights of the Palestinian people, including to self-determination and independence, the Committee stressed. “The prohibition on acquisition of territory by force is absolute in the UN Charter.”
“We in the United Nations have the tools to rein in violence and injustice, and seek peace, justice and security for all. We are committed to leaving no one behind. Not unlike the fight against the pandemic, each of us – individually, and collectively – must do our part and prevent the gross injustice of occupation and annexation,” the Committee said.
The Committee further pointed out that, even during the “unprecedented health emergency”, the occupying Power Israel has continued to entrench the illegal occupation and openly announced its intention to annex large areas of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, while continuing the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
According to the CEIRPP, the expansion of Israel’s control over the Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, is eroding the internationally agreed two-State solution. The goal of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security along the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State, remains unchanged, yet unattained and at great risk.
The Committee called on Israel to heed to the Secretary-General’s recent call for a Global Ceasefire. It also called on Israel to heed the long-standing demand for a halt to its illegal actions and practices in the Occupied PalestinianTerritory, including East Jerusalem and including all measures aimed at entrenching the occupation and annexing territory.
The Committee furthermore called on Israel, in accordance with its international law obligations, to ensure the full respect of the human rights of the Palestinian civilian population under its control and to provide humanitarian access and assistance, including to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
All the more so, as Mladevov explained, because economic contraction and necessary public health restrictions are having an adverse effect on the economy and the viability of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Revenues from trade, tourism and transfers have declined to their lowest levels in the last two decades. It is estimated that the fiscal gap for 2020 will reach USD 1 billion by the end of the year.
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) projects that a three-month shutdown and a six-month shutdown would lead to GDP contractions of 5.1 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively. A decline of 7 percent of GDP would represent a negative shock among the largest annual contractions recorded since reliable statistics began in 1994.
With very limited control over its economy, the Palestinian Government does not have access to the conventional monetary and fiscal tools necessary to remedy the crisis. These are in the hands of Israel.
Preserving the functioning and stability of the PA is vital to the security and well-being of both Palestinians and Israelis alike.
The UN Special Coordinator commended the emergency transfer of some ILS 120 million in March to the PA. This is an important first step. Emphasizing Israel’s “critical responsibility”, he called for urgent discussions on how Israel can ensure regular transfers, even If clearance revenues continue to fall, in order to guarantee a smooth functioning of Palestinian institutions and service delivery to the Palestinian people.
“Both parties must work quickly to resolve barriers standing in the way of regular transfers, including withheld clearance revenues.” In this context, Mladenov asked the Palestinian Government to provide “generous external support and technical assistance that is targeted directly to the recovery process”.
This demands improved coordination among donors with a focus on prioritized, targeted and integrated programing that guarantees transparency and accountability of funding, he added.
The Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) forum provides the platform for support to the PA as we move forward on the recovery process. I welcome the statement of the Chair of the AHLC on 3 April 2020, calling for strong international donor support.
The UN has been working closely with all stakeholders to ensure coordinated assistance to the health networks dealing with the spread of the virus in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.