Global Policy Forum

Israeli, Palestinian Envoys Trade Blame at the UN over Gaza


By Shlomo Shamir and Barak Ravid

January 22, 2008

Israeli and Palestinian envoys traded accusations of blame in the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday for the recent wave of violence in Gaza, which threatens to torpedo a fragile Middle East peace process.

Israel said it shut all Gaza border crossings last week in response to Palestinian rocket attacks. On Tuesday, Israel resumed fuel shipments to Gaza's main power plant after it shut down on Sunday, plunging much of the coastal territory into darkness. Riyad Mansour, the permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations, told a hastily scheduled session of the Security Council the situation was "absolutely untenable." "The Israeli policy of brinkmanship is creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip, heightening fears and tensions, inciting, provoking and fueling the vicious and dreaded cycle of violence," he said.

Israeli envoy Gilad Cohen rejected Mansour's accusation that Israel had provoked the violence and was acting in violation of international law. "It is the duty of all states to ensure the right to life and safety of its people, especially from vicious acts of violence and terrorism," Cohen told the council. But, he said, Israel would "ensure the humanitarian welfare" of Gaza.

The session was called after the United States thwarted a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel over the closure of the Gaza Strip. The council instead was to issue a Presidential Statement on the matter. According to a draft of the statement obtained by Haaretz, the Security Council will express "its deep concern about the deterioration of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory."

"The Security Council also expresses concern in particular about the steep deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, due to the continued closure of all of the Gaza Strip border crossings and the recent decision by the Israeli government to reduce fuel supplies, to cut off electric power, and to prevent the delivery of food and medical supplies to the Gaza Strip," the draft says. "The Security Council calls upon Israel to abide by its obligations under international law including humanitarian and human rights law and immediately cease all its illegal measures and practices against the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip," continued the draft statement.

At the session Tuesday evening, UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, said the violence in Gaza had abated, but he warned council members that the humanitarian situation remained fragile for the territory's 1.5 million people, most of whom rely on foreign aid.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the rocket attacks against Israel had to stop and urged Israel to do everything in its power to avoid killing civilians. He made it clear that Washington held Hamas responsible for the situation in Gaza. "If Hamas cared more about the well-being and future of Gazans than it did about its own political agenda it would put an end to the ongoing rocket attacks," he said. British Ambassador John Sawers said Britain understood Israel's need to defend itself against the attacks but urged Jerusalem to reopen the border crossings. "It's not acceptable that Israel should respond to these attacks by taking action that is designed to cause suffering to the civilian population of Gaza," Sawers said.

Libyan Ambassador Giadallah Ettalhi said Israel was trying to exterminate the Palestinian population in Gaza and urged the council to act. "It must adopt urgent measures to protect the civilian population in Gaza, protect them from attempts at genocide by the occupation authority," he said.

Israel was deeply concerned by an effort by Arab states to win UN Security Council condemnation of the sanctions imposed by Jerusalem on the Gaza Strip. Foreign Ministry Director-General Aaron Abramovich had instructed Israel's delegation at the UN headquarters in New York to oppose any Security Council on Gaza, while "emphasizing the damage and suffering caused by the incessant firing of Qassam rockets." "A situation in which the Security Council debates the plight of the residents of Gaza, while completely ignoring the situation of Israelis living under the constant threat of Qassam rockets, is totally unacceptable," Abramovich said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday she had spoken to the Israeli officials and urged them to avert a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. "Nobody wants innocent Gazans to suffer and so we have spoken to the Israelis about the importance of not allowing a humanitarian crisis to unfold there," Rice told reporters traveling with her to Berlin for a meeting on Iran. Rice said ultimately Hamas was to blame for the situation in Gaza. She said the Israelis were dealing with an "intolerable" situation, with the firing of rockets and the anxiety and terror that came with that. She said there needed to be creative solutions to the problem and referred to the suggestion to allow the Palestinian Authority to play a greater role at the crossings.

Jake Walles, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, said the United States backed the idea, which was floated by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to help ease local hardship. "Fayyad came up with this idea. We think it's a good concept," Walles told Reuters. "I know he's talked with the Israelis about it, we've had discussions with them as well. At this point what's needed is a more detailed discussion between Fayyad and the Israelis to try to come up with a concrete plan on how this will work."

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on UN Involvement
More Information on Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories


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