The UN Security Council on Tuesday called for those responsible for the recent uptick in violence between Israelis and Palestinians to be held accountable, in a vague press statement that appeared to have been watered down following pushback from the United States.
The statement, read out by UAE Ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh, referenced a February 20 “presidential statement” adopted by the council to condemn outpost legalization plans, but carried less force than either the earlier criticism or a binding resolution.
“The members of the council expressed sorrow for the loss of civilian lives. They recalled the presidential statement adopted on the 20th of February 2023, including their call for full respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of the civilian population,” read the statement, released ahead of a monthly Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Security Council members “emphasize the obligations and commitments of Israeli and Palestinian authorities to fight and condemn terrorism in all its forms in a manner consistent with international law. They further emphasize the importance of holding accountable those responsible for such acts of violence,” it added, calling for “restraint to reduce tension and prevent further escalation.”
The February 20 statement, regarding plans for new wildcat outposts and thousands of new homes, had been largely symbolic, lacking the teeth of a resolution. But it was the first such comment on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in nine years and was intended to send a strong signal to Jerusalem.
The press statement read out Tuesday is not officially recorded by the UN as part of the meeting, but all 15 members must approve the text before it is released to the public.
Binding resolutions on the conflict are rare, with the US vetoing most measures it sees as unfairly critical of Israel. The last resolution adopted by the council was in 2016, when it forcefully criticized settlements after Washington declined to use its veto power.
The statement Tuesday differed from an original draft prepared on Friday following closed-door consultations between the Security Council and UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland, a diplomat for a country on the council told The Times of Israel.
The diplomat said the US had pushed back against including language more critical of Israel.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
During the Security Council session that followed Nusseibeh’s remarks, Wennesland told members that the last two weeks on the ground “have been terrible.”
Wennesland said he was “gravely concerned by the escalating spiral of violence.”
Four Israelis were killed in a terror attack last week outside the Eli settlement and hundreds of settlers rampaged through Palestinian towns across the West Bank in revenge. One Palestinian was killed during the rioting and another 15 Palestinians have been killed over the past week, the majority due to clashes with Israeli soldiers.
Eight suspects are being held over suspected involvement in the settler rampages. The two Palestinian gunmen who carried out the Eli attack were shot dead during the attack and shortly after.
“I am particularly alarmed by the extreme levels of settler violence, including large numbers of settlers, many armed, systematically attacking Palestinian villages, terrorizing communities, sometimes in the proximity of Israeli security forces,” Wennesland said.
“Israel, as the occupying power, has an obligation to protect Palestinians and their property,” Wennesland said.
“Unless decisive steps are taken now to rein in the violence, there is a significant risk that events could deteriorate further,” Wennesland told the council, noting the “constant risk” that the unrest could spill over into the Gaza Strip.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally, supported the council statement and US deputy ambassador Robert Wood told the council that the Biden administration shares Wennesland’s alarm.
He said the United States was “horrified by the brutal terror attack against Israelis” in Eli and condemned it “in the strongest terms.” He also condemned “the recent extremist settler attacks against Palestinian civilians, which have resulted in a death, injuries and significant damage to their property.”
At a time of escalating violence, there was widespread council criticism after Israel advanced plans for some 5,700 new settlement homes on Monday, shattering in just six months the record for most West Bank houses for Jews green-lit in a single year.
Under international law, all Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal.
Wennesland slammed what he called the “relentless expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, that fuels violence.”
Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan dismissed settlement construction as the cause of tension in his remarks to the council, and claimed that Palestinians have sought to carry out more than 3,500 terror attacks since the start of the year.
The Israeli envoy rejected comparisons between Palestinians killed during IDF counter-terror raids and Israelis killed in Palestinian terror attacks and claimed council statements downplayed the severity of Palestinian terror.
Agencies contributed to this report.