GAZA, 20th October, 2016 (WAM) — The international focus on the question of Palestine had been overshadowed by the other tragedies in the region but it must not be put aside, said Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, said that ” Sadly, settlement announcements, outbreaks of violence and terror, and the absence of visionary leadership continued to define the conflict, increasing the risk of more conflict. The lack of progress had led to growing anger and frustration among Palestinians and profound disillusionment among Israelis, weakening moderates on both sides, particularly in regards to the Gaza Strip, where he warned that the restrictions and military activity were raising tensions,” he said as he gave his monthly briefing, via video teleconference from Jerusalem, at a meeting which also heard from other speakers.

“We must all avoid the risk of sleep-walking into another violent conflict at a time when the region as a whole needs moderate forces to unite and stand up to the radicalisation that we see in the Middle East,” he said.

Israel continued planning settlements, which he reiterated were illegal, including housing units that would drive a wedge between the north and south West Bank. Palestinian political bickering continued, causing local elections in the West Bank to be postponed The security and political situation in Gaza caused particularly deep concern, with evidence of building materials being diverted to military use, he said. Along with empty warehouses, no new residential reconstruction had been approved since March. Affirming that humanitarian suffering continued in the Strip, he emphasised that, at the current rate, it would take years to address the full reconstruction needs there. The parties to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism must recommit to ensuring its smooth operation.

Noting the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel and the tunnels that had been destroyed, he reiterated the Middle East Quartet’s position that the illicit arms build-up and military activity must be terminated. Control of Gaza must return to a Palestinian Government of national unity, and the closures must be lifted.

Citing outbreaks of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Israeli settlement activity, Palestinian political turmoil and militant activity, along with continued suffering in Gaza, speakers in a day-long debate at the Security Council warned that, regardless of other conflict in the region, the situation must not be ignored.

Most other speakers, however, described the continuation of Israeli settlement activity as a major obstacle to peace and called for it to end. Delegations also urged relief from the Gaza closure, along with increased aid to reconstruction in the Gaza Strip and an end to housing demolition in the West Bank. In addition, there were numerous calls for an end to military activities in Gaza, a halt to attacks and incitement to violence in the West Bank and for reconciliation between Palestinian parties.

Most speakers, in addition, called for negotiations to resume in order to salvage the prospects of two States living side-by-side in peace and security. The representatives of France and the Russian Federation reiterated their proposals for international meetings that would serve to re-energise the peace process. Those proposals garnered the approval of many speakers, but some warned that such initiatives must work together and should not deflect from the responsibilities of the Security Council. The representatives of the United States and Spain, among others, also emphasized that a settlement must be negotiated between the parties and not be imposed by others.