Israel-United Arab Emirates Accord Could Change Middle East Dynamics, Says Top United Nations Official, while Stressing It’s Not Time for Palestinian Despair

United States Delegate Vows to ‘Snapback’ Iran Sanctions, as Security Council Members Cite Lack of Standing in Nuclear Deal

The recent agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates could change dynamics across the Middle East, the senior United Nations official in the region told the Security Council during a video-conference meeting* on 25 August.

He urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to resume dialogue with a view to resolving their protracted conflict, as Council members held their monthly consideration of the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine.

The meeting also featured a discussion on Iran, initiated by the representative of France on behalf of the “E3” countries (France, Germany, United Kingdom), addressing questions relating to the attempt by the United States to trigger a “snapback” of all sanctions lifted under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as outlined in a 20 August letter to the Council President

Briefing Council members, Nikolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, noted that the Secretary-General welcomed the 13 August agreement normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and suspending Israeli plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

“I hope it will inspire leaders on all sides to re-engage constructively in meaningful negotiations to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.  Pointing out that Israel’s commitment to suspend annexation removes an immediate threat to regional stability, he stressed that such a takeover would constitute a “most serious” violation of international law, close the door to negotiations and destroy the prospect of a two-State solution.

“Today is not the time to despair about the Palestinian cause,” he emphasized, reiterating that annexation plans have been stopped.  In fact, today is the time to redouble efforts, to reach out more actively than ever to leaders in the Middle East, and for the Palestinian and Israeli leadership to re-engage constructively, he said.  Only the two-State formula — by which Israel and Palestine would live side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition — can lead to sustainable peace.

He went on to report that multi-layered challenges persist amid the spread of COVID-19 through the Occupied Palestinian Territory and deteriorating conditions in the Gaza Strip.  The ceasefire brokered by the United Nations and Egypt — in place since 2018 — must be upheld, as militant activity, rocket fire and growing humanitarian needs inside the Strip are rapidly eroding existing arrangements.

In response to the sharp rise in the number of incendiary balloons, he continued, on 11 August, Israel limited the transfer of some goods to Gaza and halted the transfer of construction materials through the Kerem Shalom crossing into the enclave.  On 12 August, it stopped all fuel deliveries until further notice, he added.  “As a result, the Gaza power plant has shut down, sharply reducing electricity provision to three hours per day.”

Underscoring efforts by the United Nations to mitigate the impact of the Palestinian Authority’s decision to halt coordination with Israel, he warned that the suspension of revenue transfers cannot be sustained without severe humanitarian and economic consequences.  He pointed to increased violent crime within Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as violence involving Palestinian security forces and civilians.  Meanwhile, Israeli authorities demolished 72 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem, displacing 89 people, he reported.  In addition, 11 Palestinians demolished their own structures to avoid additional fines.

Turning to the broader region, he said more than 180 people are dead in Lebanon, after the 4 August explosion in Beirut port, adding that 30 are still missing and almost 300,000 need shelter.  Lebanon’s investigation is ongoing, aided by experts from France, Russian Federation, Turkey and the United States, he added.  Amid popular protests, informal consultations on the formation of a new Government are ongoing following the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s Government on 10 August.

He went on to report that, while the area monitored by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) remained generally stable, tensions were observed along the “Blue Line”, including a breach of the cessation of hostilities on 27 July.

In the Golan, he said, tensions between Israel and Syria heightened on 2 and 3 August after an Israel Defense Forces strike on 2 August that killed four individuals from the Bravo side, near the ceasefire line.  The following day, at Syria’s request, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) facilitated the retrieval of the remains of the four individuals killed.

“This is the stark reality of the current situation,” he stated, warning that regional peace will not be complete, without resolving the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict.  “The legitimate national aspiration of 5 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza cannot be ignored,” he stressed.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates welcomed the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates as a historic decision between two of the most advanced countries in the Middle East.  Some delegates pressed Israel to fully abandon its plans to annex parts of the West Bank, rather than simply suspending them.

Several delegates outlined their positions on the effort by the United States to trigger the snapback of all sanctions on Iran lifted after the 2015 nuclear deal.

The representative of the United States said the opening of direct ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates will spur growth, enhance innovation and forge closer “people-to-people” relations.  Direct military cooperation will help to counter the regional threat posed by Iran, which for years has broken the United Nations weapons ban and provided arms to militias, she added, declaring that, although fellow Council members have been unwilling to confront the threat, the United States stands by the Arab world and Israel in efforts to maintain the arms embargo.

She went on to express hope that, while Palestinians oppose the agreement, it will motivate their leaders to re-engage with Israel.  “So much progress on defining the parameters of a settlement has been achieved,” she said, adding that “tired talking points” have been repeated for too long, offering unrealistic and outdated ideas on resolving the crisis while Iran supplies weapons to the Hamas terror group.  The international community must demand actionable change, she stressed.

On 20 August, she recalled, the United States took the “only reasonable and responsible action left to us” after most Council members invited an arms race that regional nations have begged to avoid.  For months, the Administration has said it would never allow the world’s biggest State sponsor of terrorism to freely buy and sell planes, tanks and missiles, she noted, underlining the right of the United States, under resolution 2231 (2015), to trigger the snapback.  It intends to do so in the absence of “moral clarity” within the Council, she asserted.

Noting that Iran foments conflict, supplying weapons to proxy militias and terrorist groups, she said the Russian Federation and China “revel” in the Council’s failure.  Hizbullah, meanwhile, welcomes the possibility of new weapons, the [Nicolás] Maduro [of Venezuela] regime expresses “glee” at the prospect of support from Iran, and Houthi rebels see new life in their brutal assaults on Yemenis.  While European colleagues have privately expressed concerns over lifting sanctions, the United States has no fear of standing in limited company on the matter, she stressed.  “I only regret that other members of this Council have lost their way and now find themselves standing in the company of terrorists.”

Tunisia’s representative underscored the imperative of compelling Israel to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and its aggressive policies and practices against the Palestinian people.  Stressing the importance of providing Palestinians with international protection, lifting the blockade on Gaza and ending all forms of discrimination and collective punishment, he urged the international community to support the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to confront the economic, social and humanitarian challenges arising from the occupation and the heavy impact of COVID-19.  He went on to reiterate the right of Palestinians to establish an independent and sovereign State within the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital, and called for collective action to foster negotiations between the two sides based on internationally endorsed terms of reference, with the Middle East Quartet (United States, European Union, Russian Federation, United Nations) assuming its role.

France’s representative said it is imperative that Israel’s annexation plans be “definitively and irrevocably” abandoned, as such a project would constitute a flagrant violation of international law and an irreversible blow to a two-State solution.  Ongoing settlement activity is a major concern, as are the demolition of homes and settler violence against Palestinians in Zone C and East Jerusalem, she said, stressing that France, alongside its European, Arab and international partners, stands ready to contribute to resumed negotiations, the only way to reach a lasting settlement of the conflict.  She went on to express concern over renewed tensions between Gaza and Israel, and the increase in the number of people affected by COVID-19 in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, underlining the essential need for greater cooperation among the Palestinian Authority, Israel, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Turning to Iran, she recalled the view expressed in the E3’s own 20 August letter that the United States is no longer a participant State under resolution 2231 (2015).  Its purported notification under operative paragraph 11 of that text is incapable, therefore, of having legal effect, she said, adding that the United States cannot bring into effect the snapback procedure foreseen under that paragraph.  Having taken note of the converging views expressed by 13 of the 15 Council members, no further steps can take place within the Chamber, she said.  “We should continue to address the current issues arising from systematic Iranian non-compliance with its JCPOA commitments through continued dialogue between all remaining JCPOA participants.”  She nonetheless expressed serious concern about the regional security implications presented by the scheduled expiry of the United Nations conventional arms embargo.  The E3 are willing to pursue efforts with Council members and JCPOA participants to seek a realistic path forward that could secure support from the Council, she said.

Viet Nam’s representative emphasized that, with tensions rising in Gaza, all parties must refrain from violence, urging Israel to lift its blockade as an initial sign of goodwill.  A fair and sustainable resolution of the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict can only be achieved through dialogue between the concerned parties on the basis of international law and United Nations resolutions, he stressed.

As for the JCPOA, he called upon the relevant parties to continue negotiations in order to find solutions and resolve differences.  At the same time, they must refrain from actions that could exacerbate the situation, erode trust and escalate tensions, he cautioned.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines called upon the Middle East Quartet to renew its efforts to help facilitate a peace agreement, declaring:  “It is a categorical imperative that the Quartet carefully examines and pursues all practical courses of action to lead the peace process to a successful conclusion.”  She went on to point out that the Palestinians cannot combat the COVID-19 pandemic on their own, urging the international community to ensure that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) obtains adequate, predictable and sustainable financing.  She also echoed UNRWA’s appeal to help Palestine refugees in Lebanon in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion.

She went on to reaffirm her country’s strong support for the JCPOA, pointing out that the United States, having ceased to be a participant in that agreement, is ineligible to submit a notification to the Council in terms of resolution 2231 (2015).

Niger’s representative said the prospect of relaunching Israel-Palestinian peace talks will remain an illusion as long as Israel does not officially abandon its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.  The Palestinian question remains a priority that cannot be subject to an agreement between Israel and another State, he emphasized.  “Now more than ever, it is time for us to give hope to these [Palestinian] people, so long exposed to the torments of instability and violence.”  Expressing great concern about the spread of COVID-19 in Israel and the Palestinian territories, he said that Israel, as the occupying Power, must take effective measures — as required by international humanitarian law — to ensure the well-being of the population in the territories under its control.  The international community, for its part, must support UNRWA’s efforts on the ground, “because millions of needy people depend on its action”.

The Dominican Republic’s representative described the Israel-United Arab Emirates deal as a “door opener” towards a broader process covering all Palestinian concerns, encouraging parties to end unilateral moves and “provocation narratives” that could obstruct the prospects for peace.  The Council must ensure that the situation is solved within the framework of internationally agreed standards and foster a negotiated peace on the basis of respect for self‑determination and independence, he said.  Underscoring the need for intra‑Palestinian reconciliation, he pointed out that the situation in the West Bank remains dire, and that COVID-19, insecurity, the electricity crisis and the lack of opportunities for young people remain great sources of concern.  He went on to condemn violent acts against civilians, including excessive use of force and indiscriminate rocket fire, emphasizing the need for every effort to de-escalate the situation.

Belgium’s representative expressed deep regret about the situation regarding the JCPOA, “which could pose a threat to the proper functioning, authority and integrity of this Council”.  Belgium does not recognize the legality of the purported notification by the United States and firmly supports ongoing efforts by the remaining participant States to address issues of Iran’s non-compliance, he said.  The upcoming lifting of the conventional arms embargo should not jeopardize the nuclear agreement, he emphasized.

South Africa’s representative called upon Israel to end its blockade of Gaza, honour its obligations as an occupying Power under the fourth Geneva Convention and end its disproportionate and hostile actions.  Calling for the release of all detainees and political prisoners, he noted that Israel runs a two‑tier legal system in which Israelis are subject to civilian law and Palestinians to military law.  Any peace initiative must take into account the needs and aspirations of the Palestinian people, he emphasized, cautioning that any peace plan should not allow Palestinian statehood to devolve into an entity devoid of sovereignty, territorial contiguity and economic viability.  He added that Israel must be held accountable for its persistent violations of international law, including General Assembly and Council resolutions, including resolution 2334 (2016).  On the JCPOA, he recalled that the United States withdrew from that agreement and is ineligible to submit a notification to the Council under resolution 2231 (2015) regarding sanctions against Iran.

Estonia’s representative described Israel’s commitment to suspend its annexation plans as a positive development.  Underscoring his country’s commitment to a two-State solution, he stressed that the parties must refrain from unilateral steps that could undermine the viability of the two-State formula, including settlement activity.  He also urged the Palestinian Authority to reconsider the suspension of its security agreements with Israel.  Concerning Iran, he said that, given the lack of agreement on the status of the United States as a JCPOA participant, Estonia considers the notification as ineffective for the purposes of a snapback.  However, the Council must address concerns about the planned lifting of the conventional arms embargo in October, he said, cautioning that the measure’s expiry would have potentially serious consequences for regional security.  Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East have been reckless and irresponsible, warranting the Council’s full attention, he emphasized.

Germany’s representative said that, by agreeing to normalize relations, Israel and the United Arab Emirates made a “truly historic decision” and an important step towards peace in the region.  Germany trusts that Israel’s annexation plans are truly and indefinitely suspended, he added.  Halting the demolition of residential structures in Area C of the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, as well approving new housing units for Palestinians in Area C, would send an encouraging signal in these times of COVID-19 hardship, he noted.  On the peace process, he said new ways must be found to resume direct negotiations, adding that reactivating the Middle East Quartet would be the best option to discuss the way forward.  He called upon Israel to end settlement expansion, and on both sides to abide by resolution 2334 (2016) with regard to terrorism, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.  The Council must keep stressing that intra‑Palestinian reconciliation remains key to a negotiated two-State solution.  He went on to condemn attacks launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians, and to underline the urgent need to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Regarding the JCPOA, he said that the United States is no longer a participant in that agreement and therefore cannot activate the snapback mechanism.  “The nuclear deal with Iran is not perfect, but it continues to be the international community’s best tool to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East,” he pointed out, while demanding that Iran return to full compliance with the agreement.

The Russian Federation’s representative noted that the Palestinian question has a regional dimension, as reflected in the Arab Peace Initiative, and unless it is settled, peace will remain elusive in the Middle East.  Noting that his country has always supported a settlement based on the internationally recognized legal framework approved by the United Nations, he emphasized that all final status issues should be resolved through direct negotiations as soon as possible.  Calling for intensified cooperation between the Middle East Quartet and the parties, he called attention to the Russian Federation’s engagement with Palestinian representatives.  He went on to underscore the importance of Israel’s decision to suspend is annexation plans, as such a move would destroy the prospects for a territorially contiguous Palestinian State.

On Iran, he recalled that all Council members immediately responded to claims by the United States that it had triggered the snapback process by sending letters to the Council President, the overwhelming majority of which explicitly stated that Washington, D.C.’s, letter cannot be considered notification of such a procedure, as it has ceased its participation in the JCPOA.  Regarding the President’s bilateral consultations with Council members, he asked whether he intends to follow the procedure in operative paragraph 11 of resolution 2231 (2015).  “Our position on the matter is very well known,” he said, recalling the Russian Federation’s challenge to Washington, D.C.’s, claim.  Most Council members confirm the paramount need to preserve the JCPOA, he noted, urging the United States “not to pursue this path”, which is illegal and will not achieve the envisaged results.

The United Kingdom’s representative, expressing sympathy to all those affected by the explosion in Beirut, noted that his country provided a £25 million humanitarian support package.  He welcomed as a historic step the normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, in particular, Israel’s commitment to suspend its annexation plans.  He also expressed concern about the growing number of COVID-19 cases across the region and the launching by Hamas of rocket fire into Israel.  While calling upon Israel to lift movement and access restrictions in Gaza and allow fuel to enter the enclave, he also expressed concern about the potential for advancing settlement activity, demolitions and evictions.  The United Kingdom supports a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel, living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian State, based on the 1967 borders, he reaffirmed.

Turning to Iran, he said the United Kingdom does not support the snapback, which would be incompatible with current efforts to preserve the JCPOA.  Aligning himself with France and Germany, he pointed out that the United States ceased to be a participant in the JCPOA, following its withdrawal from the deal on 8 May 2018.  However, the United Kingdom shares that country’s concern about the expiry of arms restrictions on Iran in October, he said.  It will continue to enforce remaining restrictions rigorously, including those relating to the proliferation of arms to non-State actors covered by other Council resolutions, ballistic missile restrictions under Annex B and the European Union-United Kingdom arms embargoes that will remain in place until 2023.

China’s representative said the international community must step up its efforts on the Palestinian question and urgently push the Middle East peace process forward.  The relevant United Nations resolutions, the “land for peace” principle and the two-State formula are important parameters that must be observed and reaffirmed, he emphasized.  Urging relevant parties in Gaza to exercise maximum restraint, he called for greater international efforts to alleviate the economic and humanitarian difficulties of the Palestinians, including through UNRWA.

On the Iran nuclear issue, he urged Council members not to act on the demand by the United States to invoke the snapback mechanism contained in the JCPOA.  He also asked the Council President to set out his position on that delegation’s letter and on his plan to guide Council discussions on the matter.

The representative of Indonesia, Council President for August, spoke in his national capacity, expressing concern about Israel’s statement that, rather than abandoning annexation plans, it has merely suspended them.  “We need to be clear that any form of annexation — today or tomorrow — remains illegal,” he asserted.  Recalling that resolution 2334 (2016) states that the Council will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, he called for the rejection of annexation plans.  Decades of illegal occupation, expanding settlements and increasing demolitions have caused a severe deterioration in Palestinian living conditions, he pointed out.  Humanitarian support is needed, particularly through UNRWA, he added, while urging the parties to commit to a credible multilateral peace process, based on internationally agreed parameters, including the two-State formula.

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