The United Nations warned that escalating West Bank violence could ignite another Gaza war as Israeli and US officials scrambled to calm the situation.
“There is a constant risk that events in the West Bank could spill over to Gaza,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland told the Security Council on Tuesday.
“I underscore that the speed and intensity of the security deterioration we have witnessed on the ground are extremely dangerous,” Wennesland said. Only last month that Israel and Palestinians had fought a five-day war in Gaza and the restored calm is fragile, he said.
The unfolding events” in the last two weeks “seriously challenge broader stability and undermine the Palestinian Authority,” Wennesland told the UNSC during its monthly meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
United Arab Emirates Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh warned of regional spillover stating that another intifada “looms perilously large” with a possible breakdown of any semblance of security.
“We are courting disaster,” she said.
“The situation is long past expressions of concern and condemnation,” Nusseibeh said, as she called for greater diplomatic efforts to restart an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
West Bank violence
Wennesland underscored the unique combination of events that unfolded in the West Bank in the last weeks, including the acceleration of Israeli settlement activity, Palestinian terror attacks, settler violence, and IDF clashes with Palestinian gunmen.
He explained that the IDF had struck at Palestinians from the air and the Palestinians in the West Bank had used “more sophisticated weapons ... including advanced improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rockets launched towards Israel.”
The “violence is taking place against the backdrop of deeply worrying settlement-related developments that alter the already fragile dynamics on the ground, as well as a worrying deterioration in relations between Israel and the PA.”
Wennesland, therefore, lauded the two rare phone calls held on Tuesday just before the Eid al-Adha holiday. President Isaac Herzog spoke with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant held his first call since taking office in January with PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Hussein el-Sheikh.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. In all three calls, the Israeli leaders condemned the settler rampage attacks on Palestinian villages in the West Bank in the last week in which homes and vehicles were torched. One Palestinian man was killed last week during a violent attack on Turmas Aiya. Israel’s security chiefs have called such attacks an act of national terror.
Those settler attacks followed a Palestinian terror attack in which a gunman killed four Israelis outside of the Eli settlement.
Extremism on either side is unacceptable
Israel's Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan told the UNSC that Israeli "extremists" who take the law into their hands and attack "innocent Palestinians" will "not be condoned."
Israeli leadership "have condemned these attacks," he said, and the security forces "are working tirelessly to find those responsible for the riot in Judea and Samaria and they will be held accountable."
US Ambassador Robert Wood told the UNSC that the Biden administration was “horrified by the brutal terror attack against Israelis near Eli.”
It had also, he said, “underscored to the Israeli government the importance of holding fully accountable and prosecuting those responsible” for the extremist settler attacks against Palestinian villages.
“It is vital that community leaders publicly denounce these acts and contribute to efforts to prevent them,” Wood said.
He noted that US citizens had been the victims of the West Bank violence both at the hands of settlers and Palestinians since the start of the year.
“We are actively engaging with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to secure the welfare of our citizens and provide equal measures of justice and security for all the Palestinian and Israeli civilians affected by this violence,” he said.
Wood said he was troubled by Israel’s advancement this week of plans for 5,700 new settler homes as well as an Israeli decision taken earlier this month to fast-track the approval process for settler homes.
“It is vital that both Israel and the PA take additional steps to de-escalate tensions,” said Wood.
“The violence of the past week must serve as a call for action for all of us in this Council to redouble our efforts toward peace,” Wood said.
The Palestinian Authority envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour charge that the Israeli government sought to expel Palestinians and replace them with settlers in the West Bank.
“They know that their image is tarnished. But as long as they can displace Palestinians and transfer more settlers they will continue,” Mansour said.
Israel has the military and financial advantage, Mansour explained, adding that the settlers have all the state's resources.
“So they continue to grab land,” he said, pointing to Israel’s advancement on Monday of plans for 5,700 new settler homes.
“Even this Israeli government is stunned by how much it can get away with. Therefore it keeps crossing every red line every day,” Mansour added.
He called for international protection to safeguard Palestinians from settler attacks, stating that there should be a global responsibility to prevent such rampages.
“The stakes are too high,” Mansour said, adding that regardless of how difficult action might be, the consequence of not acting “is even higher.”