As we convene for this debate, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to severely affect the lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike. Authorities on both sides have implemented extensive measures to contain the virus and save lives, at a high economic cost.
When we addressed this Council six months ago, we commended the parties for their cooperation in responding to the pandemic. However, we note with regret that the space for dialogue and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians has deteriorated since then.
Norway has repeatedly warned against Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. We call for Israel to make the current suspension of these plans permanent. Such a step could create a more conducive environment for cooperation and negotiations.
The unprecedented strains caused by the pandemic on the already fragile Palestinian economy and on the Palestinian Authority’s ability to operate, must be properly addressed. In that regard, Norway regrets that the question of transfer of clearance revenues from Israel to the PA remains unresolved.
With the Palestinian economy at the brink of insolvency, we strongly urge the parties to stabilise the PA budget by agreeing on fixed, regular and predictable transfers of revenues. The parties must also settle other outstanding fiscal questions in order to strengthen the Palestinian economy.
Ordinary people, in particular the most vulnerable, are the ones bearing the brunt of the problems when this issue remains unsolved. Preserving the fiscal viability of the PA is also fundamental for the prospects for a two-state solution.
During this time of crisis, we urge the PA to continue the delivery of basic services to the Palestinian population, and to the extent possible, assure salary payments to public employees in the West Bank and Gaza.
As chair of the AHLC, Norway will do its utmost to mobilize resources to Palestinians in need and to address immediate public health issues. This work is already ongoing. We plan for the next meeting of the AHLC to take place in February 2021, and will coordinate the timing with the parties and major donors.
The pandemic has exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. We recognize ongoing efforts made by the involved actors to facilitate the transfer of medical supplies into Gaza. However, this is far from enough. We call on Israel to do more to fulfil its obligations, including by easing the closure and improving access and movement of goods. Norway also encourages the PA to continue to carry out its responsibility of supporting Gaza’s health care system. In addition, international support to alleviate the impact of the pandemic will need to also address the critical public health situation in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The current crisis again underscores the critical role of UNRWA, which supports the basic needs of millions of Palestine refugees in the region. UNRWA continues to do so in the face of the most severe financial crisis in its history. The organization’s schools, clinics and other facilities across the region are essential to avoid further instability. Norway calls on donors to increase their funding to UNRWA.
Norway remains hopeful that the normalisation of Israel’s bilateral relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will increase the space for dialogue and cooperation between Israel and the Arab world. This development demonstrates that peaceful coexistence between the countries of the Middle East is possible and offers new opportunities for diplomatic and economic cooperation. It is positive if this can contribute to increased political stability in the region, and we hope that increased contact across the Middle East will support the efforts to secure a peaceful and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We encourage Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – alongside other countries in the region – to seize the momentum generated by their historic steps towards this end.
Still, the normalisation agreements do not solve outstanding questions in the conflict. Norway is deeply concerned about the continued Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, which constitute a violation of international law. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, over the recent months there has been a spike in demolition or confiscation of Palestinian-owned structures and homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We call on Israel to halt these activities. We also call on all duty bearers to respect and protect the fundamental human rights of the people within their areas of authority and to end impunity.
Please let me conclude by repeating Norway’s call to the parties to commit to a meaningful dialogue, on the basis of existing agreements and relevant UN resolutions.
We encourage all supporters of the two-state solution to help bring the parties back to a path towards a lasting settlement, including talks on the final-status issues of borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem. As Norway has underlined repeatedly in these debates, there continues to be strong international consensus that a sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be achieved through a negotiated and viable two-state solution.
On 1 January 2021, Norway is honoured to join this Council as an elected member. We are committed to using every opportunity around this table to advance the prospects for a sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.