UNITED NATIONS – The Palestinians urged the U.N. Security Council on Friday to immediately provide international protection for the Palestinian people in an escalating conflict with Israel, which rejected any international presence at Jerusalem's holiest site.
The exchange at an emergency council meeting — called by Arab states after a spate of Palestinian stabbing attacks and an Israeli security crackdown — highlighted the deepening anger and distrust between the two sides after decades of conflict.
Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour told the council the issue of protection "has become more urgent than any time before" because of what he called Israeli aggression "against our defenseless Palestinian people," including at the Jerusalem site that includes the al-Aqsa mosque, the third most sacred place in Islam, and the ancient Hebrew Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism.
Mansour called on the council to implement a 1994 resolution adopted after a Jewish settler killed 29 Muslim worshippers at a holy site in Hebron. It called on Israel "to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilians throughout the occupied territory" including by "a temporary international or foreign presence," and to disarm settlers.
But Israel's new U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon repeated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's commitment not to change the status quo at the site and told reporters before the emergency meeting that "Israel will not agree to any international presence on the Temple Mount." His deputy, David Roet, repeated the same words minutes later in the Security Council chamber.
Danon said "any such intervention would violate the decades-long status quo."
Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar, whose country is custodian of the al-Aqsa compound, said Jordan is not pushing for a new international force. But she said Israeli security forces should stay away from al-Aqsa.
Danon urged the council to break its silence and make a statement against "the incitement that fuels terror" and in support of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of leading "the dangerous incitement" with his "hate-filled speech" and claims that Israel is trying to change the status quo at the Jerusalem site.
Taye-Brook Zerihoun, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for political affairs, told the council that Israel's long occupation of Palestinian territory and diminishing prospects for achieving a Palestinian state "have transformed long-simmering Palestinian anger into outright rage."
He said "this stark reality" has been compounded by increasingly dire economic conditions, including bleak employment prospects for Palestinian youths and expanding Israeli settlement activities.
Zerihoun warned Israel that the current crisis cannot be resolve security measures alone.
He said tensions at the holy sites in Jerusalem, exacerbated by "reckless statements" from Palestinian and Israeli extremist elements, were the main instigator of the violence. But he also blamed "the apparent heavy-handed approach by Israeli security services" and "the impact of social media and irresponsible rhetoric" for the escalation.
France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said it's crucial it's crucial the two-state solution does not fall apart, given the risk that Islamic State extremists "might one day take up the Palestinian cause, with the consequences we can imagine."
France is drafting a council statement that will appeal for calm, restraint by all parties and maintaining the status quo at the Jerusalem religious site, he said.
Delattre also called for a meeting of the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., U.N., EU and Russia — along with key Arab nations to work on confidence-building measures to ease tensions, support Palestinian reconciliation, and draw up "guarantees and compensation that each party will need" in order to sign a peace agreement.