UN peace envoy Tor Wennesland has praised recent in-person discussions between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials and called on the long-feuding neighbours to “re-engage on the path to peace” and end decades of hostility.
Addressing the UN Security Council, Mr Wennesland praised talks last month between Benny Gantz, the defence minister for Israel’s new coalition government, and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas — the first such sit-down in years.
Mr Wennesland talked up the gains from the meeting, including an Israeli loan to Palestinians, but recent statements from Mr Abbas and Israel’s new leader suggest there is little hope of a breakthrough in an otherwise moribund peace process.
“While I am encouraged by the recent engagement of senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, we must continue our efforts to address the worrying situation on the ground,” said Mr Wennesland, the UN envoy for Middle East peace.
He pointed to a series of abuses in recent months by both Israelis and Palestinians, calling for a permanent halt to Israeli settlement-building on occupied Palestinian land and for “stabilising the fragile situation in Gaza”, the coastal Palestinian strip ruled by Hamas hardliners.
“We must re-energise efforts now to establish a legitimate political horizon that will end the occupation,” said Mr Wennesland.
“I once again urge Israelis, Palestinians, regional states and the broader international community to take practical steps that will enable the parties to re-engage on the path to peace.”
The Palestinians seek an independent state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, all territory captured by Israel in 1967. Most countries view Israeli settlements as illegal, but Israel and some Israeli settler groups cite biblical and historical links to the land.
Since he took power in June, Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has pursued a comparable policy towards Palestinians and the peace process as that seen under his hard-line predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr Bennett, a former head of Israel’s main West Bank settler organisation, leads a coalition of right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Arab politicians which has largely dodged policy initiatives towards peacemaking that could prove divisive.
In his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly on Monday, Mr Bennett made no mention of Israel’s decades-long conflict with the Palestinians. In his turn at the podium, Mr Abbas launched a blistering diatribe against Israeli abuses and intransigence.
Israel on Wednesday announced that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will visit Bahrain on Thursday in the first official trip by an Israeli cabinet minister to the island Gulf state following a US-brokered normalisation accord agreed to a year ago.
Mr Lapid, who had been invited by his Bahraini counterpart, will inaugurate the Israeli embassy in Manama and is “expected to sign a list of bilateral agreements”, a statement from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Following negotiations spearheaded by former US president Donald Trump, the UAE, followed quickly by Bahrain and Morocco last year became the first Arab states in decades to normalise ties with Israel.
A UN report this week stated that 2020 was the worst on record for Palestinians in nearly three decades as the coronavirus pandemic compounded the effects of the Israeli occupation.
A slow or inadequate recovery in 2021 will heighten the risk of bankruptcy for small- and medium-sized enterprises brought to the brink by the pandemic, the UN trade agency Unctad said in its report on Tuesday.
The Palestinian economy shrank by 11.5 per cent in 2020, the second-largest contraction since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994, from a growth of 1.4 per cent in 2019, Unctad data showed.