Risk of Israeli-Palestinian conflict threatening stability of wider region remains high: UN

Widespread deaths and destruction in Gaza reported since October 7 when Israel began bombardment on Gaza.

The risk of regional spillover of the Israeli-Palestine conflict remains high, a top United Nations official told the Security Council, as delegates underscored that a full-blown conflict between Israel and Hizbullah would be catastrophic for Lebanon and the wider region

In a statement issued by UN, Khaled Khiari, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East and Asia and the Pacific, reported that, since October 7, 304 Palestinians, including 79 children, have been killed in the occupied West Bank, where settler violence remains a grave concern.

Meanwhile, four Israelis, including three members of the Israel Defense Forces, were killed in attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank, and another four Israelis were killed by Palestinians during an attack in West Jerusalem.

Moreover, the continued daily fire across the Blue Line poses great risk to regional stability, he said, pointing to several instances of strikes deeper into the territories of Lebanon and Israel which raise the risk of conflict.

Also briefing the Council, Itay Epshtain, Special Advisor and Senior Humanitarian Law and Policy Consultant at the Norwegian Refugee Council, shone a spotlight on Israel’s forcible transfer of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians within Gaza, coupled with armed Israeli settlers’ intensified campaign of violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Such violence is often overlooked by Israeli security forces — and even encouraged by certain Government officials.

As Israel’s military operations in Gaza drive civilians closer to the southern border, the looming possibility of mass deportation to Egypt grows, he warned.

The Council should attribute responsibility to Israel, he said, when members of its armed forces allow for — and participate in — settler violence, and when it directly allocates funds and arms to settlement guard squads who often partake in such attacks.

Marwan Muasher, Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, focusing his briefing on the prospects for a political settlement, said future solutions must address the root cause of the problem: the Israeli occupation.

“The big prison that Gaza practically was, coupled with the lack of any political horizon in the last 10 years to end the occupation, are factors that cannot be ignored.”

However, given that the United States is approaching an election year, the Israeli Government has declared it has no intention of ending the occupation and no side can claim to represent the Palestinians without elections, “the stars are not aligned for a political process that is going to be serious”, he said.

He warned that, without a bold decision to effect a viable two-State solution now, the world will have to deal not only with the occupation, but the more difficult question of Apartheid. “The choice is ours,” he said.

When the floor opened for discussion, delegates underscored the need to tame tensions in the West Bank, calling on Israel to stop settler violence immediately and hold the perpetrators accountable.

Many cited an immediate ceasefire as “imperative” to vital humanitarian access, spotlighting the conflict’s spillover potential.

The observer for the State of Palestine said that, for over 80 days, Palestinians — besieged, bombarded, displaced and starved — have been fighting for their lives.

“Why are they getting away with murder at this unprecedented scale?”, he asked, noting that Israel has never been held accountable. He underscored that the “killing of Palestinian civilians is not a collateral effect of the war, as it relies by design on mass and indiscriminate killing of civilians.”

In the same vein, he cited the famine under way as “a method of war” and the collapse of the health system as “the result of premeditated attacks against hospitals and medical personnel”.

Israel’s aim of “voluntary migration” has led to the death of 21,000 Palestinians who are faced with two options: death or forced displacement, he said, adding that the past three months have been the deadliest the West Bank has witnessed in decades, including for children.

The representative of Israel, stressing that “genocidal terrorists are seeking to murder Israeli citizens every single day”, said this Council “is quick to show solidarity with civilians across the Middle East so long as they are not Israelis”.

The body has not condemned the rocket fire from Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, he continued, noting that 50,000 Israeli civilians have been displaced along the northern border because of Iranian-backed attacks by Hizbullah from Lebanon.

“If these attacks continue […] the situation will escalate and may lead to a full-scale war,” he warned, adding that “Israel will defend itself”.

While the Council focuses on the disgraceful act of a handful of Israeli extremists, rockets are raining down on Israel’s north and south, and entire families have been burned alive by Hamas-ISIS, he said, expressing shock at the Council’s “willingness to waste its time on such a marginal, extremist phenomenon while the whole region is on fire”.

The speaker for the United Arab Emirates underlined that, without bold decisions of the countries present, “the alternative is the hellscape of Gaza, expanded into the West Bank, Israel, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East”.

Faced with the carnage in Gaza, a reawakened sense of historic and moral responsibility must manifest in decisive action, she said, calling for “an alternative vision of hope against the nihilistic extremism”.

The delegate for the United States, meanwhile, emphasized that the continued control of Gaza by Hamas — “a group that has dedicated its entire existence to the elimination of Israel” — precludes a pathway to a viable two-State solution.

He stressed that the conflict must move to a lower-intensity phase, with a focus on dealing with the leadership of Hamas and the tunnel network.

For his part, the representative of the Russian Federation, noting that 2023 was the bloodiest year for the inhabitants of the West Bank, warned against a regional spillover of the conflict.

Lebanon and Syria find themselves under threat, he said, also pointing to increasing tensions in Iraq and Yemen, and unprecedented risks of massive exodus of Palestinians faced by Egypt and Jordan. Faced with the urgent need to stop the bloodshed, he said “the Council has only adopted two resolutions emasculated by Washington” which lack any direct demands for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

Brazil’s delegate, also speaking for Switzerland as informal co-focal points on conflict and hunger, highlighted that 90 per cent of Gaza’s population is experiencing crisis-level food insecurity, with 500,000 people facing catastrophic hunger conditions. “Virtually all households are skipping meals every day,” he pointed out, stating that the risk of Gaza experiencing famine increases each day, with hostilities as the main driver.

Accordingly, only the resumption of commercial cargo moving into Gaza can ensure the scale-up needed to provide relief to those in need.

The speaker for Ghana, noting that the demolition and seizure of Palestinian-owned structures diminish the prospects for sustainable peace in the Middle East, urged Israel to enhance its investigations against nationalist crimes and abate access of Israeli settlers.

Voicing equal concern about the actions of Palestinian armed groups that are threatening Israel’s security, he said the opening of new front lines by Hamas, as well as cross-border incidents from Lebanon and the wider region, must stop immediately, the UN statement added.

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