The United Nations’ humanitarian chief Valerie Amos spoke to the Security Council Wednesday regarding her concerns about the impact of Israeli settlement activity on Palestinian economic development and access to basic services. But the Israeli ambassador dismissed her worries, saying no humanitarian crisis exists.
Amos, who spoke to the council in a private session, told reporters that in the five years since Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip after Hamas took over, exports from the territory have been cut in half.
"If Gaza is going to come off its dependence on humanitarian aid, we need to see economic development and economic activity in Gaza," she said.
Amos also expressed concerns about Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where she said they hurt economic development, and she noted with alarm the increase in violence by settlers, which she said hurts not just Palestinians, but Israelis too.
According to the U.N., five Palestinians, including two children, were killed and more than 1,000 people were injured by Israeli settlers or security forces in incidents directly related to settlements in 2011, while eight Israeli settlers were killed and 30 injured by Palestinians.
"Overall, I think the whole international community accepts that settlement activity is illegal under international law, and this is certainly the position that was repeated in the Security Council today," she said.
The U.N. also warns that Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians obstruct their access to health facilities in East Jerusalem, which provide services unavailable at other hospitals and clinics that they can access.
Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour repeated his government’s call for the immediate cessation to settlement building, calling it a major obstacle to peace.
"There is global consensus, global consensus including in the Security Council, that settlements are an illegal obstacle to peace," he said. "Therefore Israel has to stop all settlement activities in the occupied territory including East Jerusalem. And the obligation of Israel under the road map stipulates that they have to stop all settlement activities including the natural growth."
Israel did briefly halt settlement building for 10 months in 2010. Ambassador Ron Prosor said the Palestinians did not take advantage of that pause and should not claim that it is the main obstacle to peace now, and he chided the Palestinians for wasting the Security Council’s time bringing up the issue again.
The Israeli envoy also dismissed U.N. concerns about the humanitarian situation, particularly in the Gaza Strip, saying while it is not "rosy," people have it much worse in Haiti, Afghanistan and Somalia. He said the real obstacles to peace are demands that Palestinian refugees be allowed the right of return and the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel.
“Israeli children have 15 seconds to reach shelters in Israel. We need to gather them in order to find shelters. Schools are out in Israel, a million kids can’t go out to school. This is humanitarian crisis. Do you hear a syllable about that?" he said. "I’m not holding my breath to hear the first time the Security Council says anything about rockets flying into Israel in the 1967 lines and internationally recognized borders. So, my bottom line is that there is no, I repeat, no humanitarian crisis in Gaza."
Efforts to restart direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have been going on in Jordan since early this year. Last September, the Middle East Quartet, which is made up of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States, set out a timetable for the two sides to resume direct negotiations and achieve an agreement by the end of this year.