UN says Israeli settlements are 'major obstacles to peace'
"I reiterate my call on the Government of Israel to immediately halt all settlement activity, which is a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace," Guterres said at the 2021 Opening Session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
He added that the core duty of the committee, which was established by the UN General Assembly in 1975, is "to end the occupation and realize a two-state solution on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, in line with international law, relevant United Nations resolutions, and bilateral agreements, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states."
He also called on Israelis and Palestinians "to refrain from unilateral acts that can jeopardise the possibility of restarting the peace process."
Last year, Israel announced plans to annex one-third of the West Bank, later suspending them temporarily. It has also refused to freeze the construction of illegal settlements.
Guterres welcomed the decree issued by current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose presidency technically expired in 2009, to hold legislative, presidential and Palestinian National Council elections this year.
"The holding of elections in the occupied West Bank – including East Jerusalem and Gaza – will be a crucial step towards Palestinian unity," said the UN chief. "It will give renewed legitimacy to national institutions, including a democratically elected Parliament and Government in Palestine."
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and commits various abuses against Palestinian civilians, human rights groups say.
Nearly thirty years after the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel, most of the West Bank remains under Israeli control, with the Palestinian Authority exercising authority in major West Bank cities.
More than 600,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are considered illegal constructions under international law.
Israeli forces and settlers routinely harass Palestinians in the occupied territories by harming and killing civilians, demolishing homes, poisoning livestock, vandalising property and committing other forms of violence.