UN chief Antonio Guterres has said options to protect Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation range from establishing an armed military or police force to deploying civilian observers or beefing up the UN presence on the ground.
Mr Guterres stressed in a new report that every option would require the co-operation of Israelis and Palestinians, “a sustained cessation of hostilities and additional resources”.
But the prospect of getting Israel’s consent, especially for a UN or non-UN armed force, remains highly unlikely.
He was responding to a request in a Palestinian-backed resolution adopted by the General Assembly in June that blamed Israel for violence in Gaza and deplored its “excessive use of force”.
It asked the secretary-general for proposals to protect Palestinian civilians and recommendations “regarding an international protection mechanism”.
In the 14-page report, the secretary-general said the combination of more than 50 years of Israeli military occupation, “constant security threats, weak political institutions and a deadlocked peace process, provides for a protection challenge that is highly complex politically, legally and practically”.
Mr Guterres stressed that the solution to protecting Palestinian civilians is a political settlement to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Until that is achieved, he called on the 193 nations in the General Assembly to explore “all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian population”, adding that the measures “would also improve the security of Israeli civilians”.
Guterres focused on four options:
– A MORE ROBUST UN PRESENCE ON THE GROUND: He said additional UN human rights, political and co-ordination experts could strengthen UN prevention capabilities, increase the organisation’s visibility and “demonstrate the international community’s attention and commitment” to protecting Palestinian civilians.
– ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND BETTER ACCESS TO ENSURE THE WELLBEING OF CIVILIANS: He said expanding current UN programmes and humanitarian and development assistance could more effectively address Palestinian needs. But he said the UN appeal for about 540 million dollars for basic services and support to 1.9 million vulnerable Palestinians is currently only 24.5% funded. And he said major cuts in funding to the Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, “have created an increasingly complicated and desperate socio-economic environment”.
– DEDICATED CIVILIAN OBSERVERS: He said establishing a UN or non-UN civilian observer mission with a mandate to report on the protection of civilians and their wellbeing “would particularly be relevant in sensitive areas such as checkpoints, the Gaza fence, and areas near settlements”. He said the observers could provide local mediation.
– PHYSICAL PROTECTION: He said the UN could provide armed military or police forces, if given a mandate by the Security Council, “to deter and, if necessary, ensure the safety of the civilian population”. As an alternative, he said a group of “like-minded” countries could operate under a UN mandate to provide physical protection rather than a UN mission.
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