21 Dec, 2016
Final Report on Palestinian Question Holds ‘No Sense of Optimism’, Says ‘Saddened’ UN Chief in Security Council Briefing
United Nations, 16 December 2016, (UN Meetings Coverage Release) – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this morning that today he was saddened that his final briefing to the Security Council on the question of Palestine brought no sense of optimism for the future.
Delivering his last report on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, he pointed out that the Security Council had adopted only two resolutions on the Middle East peace process during his tenure. “We are fast approaching a precipice as a direct result of the actions of those seeking to destroy the prospects for peace,” he added.
Noting that Israel’s settlement-construction activities beyond the 1967 line were in flagrant violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, he said Israel’s legislature was currently debating a bill that could lead to the “regularization” of more than 50 outposts built on private Palestinian land. He strongly urged the lawmakers to reconsider advancing that bill, cautioning that it would substantially diminish the chances for Arab-Israeli peace.
He went on to emphasize that the framework for peace remained unchanged: the establishment of two States on the basis of the principle of land for peace, and a just and comprehensive regional peace settlement consistent with relevant Council resolutions and with existing agreements signed by the parties. The Council had made clear that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, had been under military occupation since 1967, he pointed out.
Bold steps on Israel’s part to empower the Palestinian Authority could benefit the Palestinian people and increase Israeli security, he continued. However, progress on that front would be difficult unless the Palestinian authorities took similarly brave concrete steps to address incitement and violence. “As we look to the future, I call on the Security Council to reaffirm without reservations that there is no alternative to the two-State solution,” he said. “We must not give up on the right of Palestine to exist, just as we must protect the right of Israel to exist in peace and security with its neighbours.”
Council members taking the floor after the briefing agreed that settlements built on the West Bank were in violation of international law and an obstacle to a two-State solution. They expressed particular concern about the legislation before the Knesset aimed at retroactively legitimizing outposts.
New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs said it was difficult to understand how the Council could remain silent as the space for a two-State solution was undermined. “We are now moving into a space in which the plain facts are telling us that the forces currently in play will irretrievably undermine the prospect of two States living peacefully, side by side,” he emphasized. While many reasons had been given over time as to why further Council pronouncements might be counter-productive or premature, people on the ground were losing hope as facts on the ground were altered, he noted. The Council must either reassert its firm commitment to a two-State solution or shoulder its responsibilities if there was eventually only one State rather than two.
Turning to Syria, he said that country’s Government as well as the Russian Federation and Iran must allow the United Nations to get aid to those who needed it and ensure the safety of those who remained in the country and those who chose to leave. The Security Council had failed to meet its responsibilities, he added, stressing that unless that changed, an emergency special session of the General Assembly would be an appropriate next step.
France’s representative said it was the Council’s responsibility to firmly condemn Israel’s settlement policy, which was carving up the territory of a future Palestinian State and “contributing to disaster”. France’s mid-2016 initiative to end the current stand-off had been partially eclipsed by the conflict in Syria, he recalled, announcing that his country would host a ministerial event in January 2017 as a follow-up to the 3 June ministerial meeting held in Paris with the aim of saving the two-State solution. That goal would “disappear like a mirage in the desert” in the absence of progress, he stressed.
Malaysia’s representative said the Council had for too long been in a state of inertia in relation to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Referring to the legislation before the Knesset, he said settlements had a far-reaching impact on Palestinians, generating widespread anger, frustration and despair, which in turn contributed to the radicalization of a population with nothing left to lose. The Council must strive to reverse negative trends undermining peace, he emphasized, pointing out that it had not shied away from using the various tools at its disposal in relation to other conflicts.
The representative of the United States, while opposing efforts to de-legitimize Israel, said the situation in the ground was moving in the wrong direction. Israel faced a choice between continuing its settlement activities and a two-State solution. At the same time, the Palestinian leadership must strongly condemn incitement to violence and terrorist actions, she stressed, while expressing deep concern about reports of Israel’s excessive use of force against Palestinians.
The Russian Federation’s representative expressed concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, saying it contributed to radicalization. Turning to the wider region, he noted that the turmoil and upheaval that had arisen from the Arab Spring had created a mass of problems, including those in Syria and Libya. The senseless and short-sighted attempts by certain countries to impose their version of democracy had led to chaos and anarchy, he said, adding that terrorists had taken advantage of the situation. The Russian Federation had consistently favoured a peaceful resolution in Syria. In addition, there had been heavy fighting in Iraq against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). The situation in Yemen was also serious, with 82 per cent of the population requiring urgent humanitarian assistance.
Egypt’s representative said the Council had failed to end modern history’s longest-running conflict, adding that support for a two-State solution was expressed only in words. The denial of truth had reached a new low, he said, pointing out that some had condemned the proposed legalization of new outposts in the hope that the illegal nature of all settlements under international law and Council resolutions would be overlooked.
Also speaking this morning were representatives of the United Kingdom, China, Japan, Ukraine, Uruguay, Senegal, Venezuela, Angola and Spain.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 11:55 a.m.
Briefing by Secretary-General
BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivered his final report to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, saying that it saddened him that his last such briefing brought no sense of optimism for the future. While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not the cause of the wars in the Middle East, resolving it could help to create momentum for peace throughout the region. He recalled that in 1947, acting on the basis of General Assembly resolution 181, the world had recognized the need for a two-State solution and had called for the emergence of “independent Arab and Jewish States”.
Noting that the State of Israel had been born on 14 May 1948, he said that almost seven decades later, the world still awaited the birth of the Palestinian State. The Council had made clear that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, had been under military occupation since 1967, he said, emphasizing that those territories made up the future Palestinian State, ultimately to be agreed through direct negotiations between the parties concerned.
However, Israel’s expanding settlement enterprise and an ever-more entrenched status quo were preventing Palestinian development in Gaza, he said, adding that some Israeli politicians were increasingly calling for the total annexation of the West Bank. On the other hand, Israelis felt there was no end to terrorism in sight because calls for Israel’s obliteration continued, unchallenged by Palestinian leaders, he pointed out.
He went on to stress that the framework for peace remained unchanged: the establishment of two States on the basis of the principle of land for peace, and a just and comprehensive regional peace settlement consistent with relevant Council resolutions and existing agreements signed by the parties. The reaffirmation of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative at the 2007 League of Arab States Summit had brought some hope, but despite that early optimism, attempts to reach a final resolution had failed.
The summer of 2014 had seen the most devastating conflict in Gaza to date, he continued. Noting that the Council had adopted only two resolutions on the Middle East peace process during his tenure, he said the most recent had been almost eight years ago. “We are fast approaching a precipice as a direct result of the actions of those seeking to destroy the prospects for peace,” he warned, while emphasizing that the way out of the deadlock was for both sides to implement the recommendations contained in the recent report of the Middle East Quartet.
Noting that Israel’s settlement activities beyond the 1967 line were in flagrant violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, he said that settlement construction was eating away at the lands meant for a future Palestinian State. Over the past decade, the number of Israelis living in settlement in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem’s population had increased by 30 per cent to about 600,000. Meanwhile, a bill currently being debated in the Israeli legislature risked the “regularization of more than 50 outposts built on private Palestinian land”. He strongly urged legislators to reconsider advancing that bill, cautioning that it would substantially diminish the chances for Arab-Israeli peace.
He went on to state that bold steps by Israel to empower the Palestinian Authority could benefit the Palestinian people and increase Israeli security. However, unless Palestinian authorities took brave and concrete steps to address incitement and violence, progress would be difficult. Actions and statements glorifying terror were unacceptable, he said, underlining that stabbings, vehicle-ramming and other attacks did nothing to advance the Palestinian dream of statehood. The absence of Palestinian unity throughout the Occupied Territory presented an obstacle to a two-State solution, and it was unacceptable that Hamas still boasted an anti-Semitic Charter aspiring to the obliteration of Israel.
The centrality of the challenges facing Gaza could not be over-stated, he said, emphasizing that indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas had convinced many Israelis that there was no hope for peace. On the other hand, Israel’s crippling closures and the political divide had left two million Palestinians trapped in a humanitarian tragedy. The situation would almost certainly explode unless movement and access restrictions were lifted and unless rocket attacks and smuggling stopped.
Honouring the 24 United Nations staff members based in the Occupied Palestinian Territory who had been killed in the line of duty during his tenure, he said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provided a much-needed element of stability, and he urged Member States to increase their contributions. He also commended the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the United Nations country team.
“As we look to the future, I call on the Security Council to reaffirm without reservations that there is no alternative to the two-State solution,” he said. “We must not give up on the right of Palestine to exist, just as we must protect the right of Israel to exist in peace and security with its neighbours.” He urged the Council to explore the vast potential of incentives and to develop consultations with the parties immediately. Ultimately, however, it was up to Israelis and Palestinians to make peace, he said, emphasizing that they must rebuild trust in each other. At the same time, all concerned could and must contribute to building the trust so sorely needed in the Middle East and the world today. “This work must begin now, before it is too late,” he stressed.
MURRAY MCCULLY, Minister for Foreign Affairs of New Zealand said that the Russian Federation, Iran and the Government of Syria must allow the United Nations to get aid to those who needed it and ensure the safety of those who remained in the country and those who chose to leave. Noting that the Security Council would meet shortly behind closed doors to discuss eastern Aleppo, he said it had failed to meet its responsibilities, and unless that changed, an emergency special session of the General Assembly would be an appropriate next step.
Turning to the Israel-Palestine question, he said it was difficult to understand how the Council could remain silent as the space for a two-State solution was undermined. “We are now moving into a space in which the plain facts are telling us that the forces currently in play will irretrievably undermine the prospect of two States living peacefully, side by side,” he emphasized. Legislation now before the Knesset could lead to the legalization of settlements, he said, describing that as a direct challenge to the notion of a two-State solution and to Council resolutions. It had been eight years since the Council had last passed a resolution on the Palestinian question, he pointed out.
He went on to recall that many reasons had been given over time as to why further Council pronouncements might be counter-productive or premature. However, with people on the ground losing hope, and the facts on the ground being altered, the Council must either reassert — on behalf of the international community — its firm commitment to a two-State solution, or shoulder its responsibilities if there was eventually only one State rather than two. New Zealand had been engaging with other Council members on a draft resolution that would reassert the two-State solution and call for a halt to violence and settlement construction that threatened the process. “It is time for us, the collective membership of this Council, to stop being bystanders and act as the custodians of the two-State solution that we should be,” he stressed.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the situation had only become worse despite the Quartet’s report. The proposal before the Knesset, should it go ahead, would pave the way for an exponential rise in West Bank settlements, creating more anger and hopelessness among Palestinians. The Council should urge Israel to cease its settlement policy and lift that grave barrier to peace. As for Gaza, there was a real risk of a return to conflict there, he said, stressing that terrorist groups must halt their rocket fire and other actions against Israel, which in turn should improve access to clean water and other necessary materials, such as concrete. Too many commitments made at the Cairo donor conference remained outstanding, he added. Underlining the need for the Council to deplore incitement on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said there was clear merit in a resolution that would command full support, adding that “a great deal” could be agreed.
VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) expressed regret that the situation in the Middle East remained tense. Voicing concern about Israel’s unilateral actions, he said that country’s Government continued to expand settlements and to appropriate land in the West Bank, noting also that the division within Palestinian ranks was an obstacle to peace. The Russian Federation was also concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which contributed to radicalization, he said, urging Israel to lift the embargo it had imposed on the enclave.
He went on to note that the turmoil and upheaval that had arisen from the Arab Spring had created a mass of problems, including those in Syria and Libya. The senseless and short-sighted attempts by certain countries to impose their version of democracy had led to chaos and anarchy, he said, adding that terrorists had taken advantage of the situation. The Russian Federation had consistently favoured a peaceful resolution in Syria. Emphasizing that there was no alternative to a political solution when fighting terrorism, he said the most urgent task was to end military actions and start negotiations.
Turning to Iraq, he said there had been heavy fighting against ISIL/Da’esh. The situation in Yemen was also serious, with 82 per cent of the population requiring urgent humanitarian assistance. Yemen had become a breeding ground for terrorists, he added. The situation in the Middle East and North Africa demonstrated that no single State was insured against the threat of terrorist, he said, stressing that the most urgent goal should be to join forces in combating terrorism and to form a universal anti-terrorist front.
WU HAITAO (China) said the question of Palestine lay at the heart of the larger Middle East question. Peace talks were mired in deadlock, with violent clashes continuing, he said, noting that Israel’s settlement expansion had ruined the chances for peace. Urging the international community to stand behind Palestinian statehood, he emphasized that a State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital was an inalienable right of the Palestinian people. Both sides should exercise maximum restraint, with Israel halting the construction of settlements and the destruction of Palestinian homes. The international community should continue to support the Middle East peace process, and the Council must take action without delay, he stressed.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said it was the Council’s responsibility to firmly condemn Israel’s settlement policy, which was carving up the territory of a future Palestinian State and “contributing to disaster”. Radicalization, terrorist acts and incitement to violence were ongoing threats that could lead to an uncontrollable conflict, he warned, adding that progress towards Palestinian reconciliation was also essential. The “so-called” status quo in Middle East was in a state of ongoing regression, he said, recalling that his country’s initiative earlier in 2016 to end the current stand-off had been partially eclipsed by the conflict in Syria. The objective was to put the issue back at the forefront of the international agenda. A ministerial meeting held in Paris on 3 June with the aim of saving the two-State solution would be followed by a meeting in January that would bring all stakeholders together, he said. Since conditions did not favour a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, there was a need to create an enabling environment for negotiations that would demonstrate how much the parties would gain from peace, he said, stressing that the goal of a two-State solution would “disappear like a mirage in the desert” in the absence of progress.
RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) said that for too long, the Council had been in a state of inertia vis-à-vis the Israel-Palestinian conflict. “Clearly, doing nothing is not an option for the Security Council,” he declared, calling for urgent and effective action to halt and reverse the construction of illegal settlements as well as the occupation. Recent developments had led to a new sense of urgency, he said, referring to legislation before the Knesset aimed at legalizing settlements. They had a far-reaching impact on Palestinians, generating widespread anger, frustration and despair, which in turn contributed to radicalization of a population with nothing left to lose. The Council must assume its responsibility and strive to reverse the negative trends undermining peace and the two-State solution, he emphasized, pointing out that it had not shied away from using the various tools at its disposal in other conflicts. The Israel-Palestinian conflict should be no exception, he stressed.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) said the Council had been unable to deal with the peace process and the two-State solution. Rejecting any unilateral change in the situation by any party, he emphasized that settlement activities on Palestinian land were a violation of international law, adding that Japan was concerned about legislation that would retroactively legalize outposts. The peace process should be resolved through direct negotiations, he said, adding that he was disturbed by the continuing violence on both sides, while its root causes were ignored. It was important that leaders on both sides take steps to stop violence and incitement to violence, he stressed. There was a broad agreement in favour of a two-State solution within the Council, but it had adopted only two resolutions in 10 years, he noted, underlining that it must send a clear and meaningful message to both parties that would promote the peace process.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that maintaining the status quo in the Middle East would only lead to further instability. Only diplomatic efforts, including by the Council, could end the deadlock. Ukraine would welcome any effort to bring a new dynamic to the peace process, he said, expressing appreciation for the ongoing efforts of France. Hopefully, both sides would accept the invitation to the Paris conference. He said he was also very concerned about the recurrent violence in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank. The establishment of a Palestinian State would be in Israel’s security interest, but settlement expansion would not contribute to a two-State solution, he said.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said he had hoped that the Secretariat had issued a report on what had been done and what had not been done over the past 10 years. Noting that the Council had failed to end the longest conflict in modern history, he said that support for a two-State solution, based on the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian State, was expressed only in words. The denial of truth had reached a new low, he said, noting that some had condemned the legalization of new outposts in the hope that the illegal nature of all settlements under international law and Council resolutions would be overlooked. Israel’s settlement activities were not only an obstacle to peace, they were at the heart of the crisis because the Palestinians had been denied the right to lives of dignity in their own homeland, he pointed out. Egypt called upon the Council to pay serious attention to its most urgent challenge — the Palestinian question.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said the Secretary-General had summed up a decade in which little had changed or improved, in a region transformed into a permanent battlefield. Uruguay was very worried about the lack of progress, he said, reiterating his country’s support for the right of Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace within internationally recognized borders, free of any threat. That was the only way to ensure peaceful coexistence. Uruguay was also worried about settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, and reiterated its call on the parties to refrain from unilateral actions and human rights violations. Condemning terrorist actions and the glorification of violence, he emphasized the importance of the parties refraining from unilateral measures that undermined dialogue and made it more difficult to find a solution to the conflict. The best way to achieve peace was through direct bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, he said.
ABDOULAYE BARRO (Senegal) said that despite many initiatives, the future of the Palestinian people offered little hope. In fact, it was at a standstill, an impasse, he said, declaring: “We see the two-State solution disappearing faster each day.” The Council must ensure an end to the occupation and settlement construction, he added. Highlighting the impact of the conflict on children and women, including Israeli children, he reiterated calls to lift the blockade on Gaza, which affected two million people, half of whom were children, and emphasized the enclave’s urgent need for reconstruction. The pledges made at the 2014 Cairo conference must be upheld, he stressed. Expressing support for France’s initiative, he said it was the responsibility of the international community and, more importantly, the Council to work towards a two-State solution. It was time the Council reaffirmed the centrality of a two-State solution.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said the situation represented a massive failure on the Council’s part, especially permanent members who had encouraged violence against the Palestinian people through their silence. Unless the Council took steps, its sessions would be purely empty rhetoric, he added. Israel, the occupying Power, remained intransigent, pursuing its unjust occupation and expanding its territory through expropriations and settlements, he noted, emphasizing that it was up to the Council to condemn its illegal settlements and demand that Israel halt that policy. Israel had besieged and blockaded the Gaza Strip, while many Palestinians, including children, were sitting in jail. Asking how permanent Council members remained silent while extending military and political support to Israel, he stressed that the Council’s role was fundamental, adding that it must commit itself to finding an effective peace. By adopting a resolution demanding the immediate cessation of settlement construction, the Council would be sending message of unity, he said. Everyone agreed that an end of the settlement policy would be an important step towards direct negotiations. It was inappropriate and unjust to speak about disproportionate resolutions against Israel when the responsibility of the United Nations was to support the weakest side in any conflict, in the present case the Palestinian people. “A large part of the Palestinian tragedy is the responsibility of the Council due to its inaction,” he said, welcoming the proposal to convene an international conference in January. Everything must be done to promote negotiations, he added.
MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said her country continued to call on all sides to demonstrate genuine commitment to a two-State solution and meaningful negotiations. However, the United States opposed efforts to de-legitimize Israel. The situation on the ground was moving in the wrong direction, she said, adding that continuing settlement activities on the West Bank were illegitimate and a threat to peace. Israel faced a choice between continuing settlement activity and a two-State solution.
She went on to state that she was disturbed by the possible unprecedented legalization of outposts in the West Bank, and by the fact that Israeli ministers had publicly declared that there would be no two-State solution. On the other hand, she stressed that the Palestinian leadership must strongly condemn incitement to violence and terrorist acts, emphasizing that she was deeply concerned by reports of excessive use of force against Palestinians. Noting some progress in coordination between Palestinian and Israeli security forces, she stressed the importance of both sides demonstrating, through words and actions, that they were ready to build trust and restore hope.
ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) said the Council had been unable to effectively address the situation. Israel, with its military power, pursued colonization of Palestinian territories. Palestinians, living under occupation, faced systematic discrimination and violations of their human rights. In that context, the principle of a shared responsibility could not be applied. The Israel policy of settlement expansion was a real threat to the two-State solution and the bill aimed at sanctioning settlements and outposts was a step further towards annexation. The Council was called upon to act in order to avoid another explosion, he said. He welcomed the initiative of a French conference seeking to unblock the situation and restart negotiations. He said the Council must insist that the Israel Government halt illegal settlement activities and lift the blockade on Gaza. He hoped the Council would look at the two-State solution not as a slogan but a workable road map towards peace in the volatile region.
ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, noting that the Secretary-General had tried everything over 10 years to help resolve the conflict by remaining in contact with all sides. Recapping Spain’s position and concerns, he said they included the Knesset’s consideration of a draft law to legalize settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, settlement activity, the demolition of Palestinian dwellings, and terrorist violence and incitement to use force. Palestinian reconciliation was also essential to reinstating the peace process, he said, emphasizing that Spain’s commitment to peace had no expiry date.
He went on to recall a summit of religious leaders that his country had hosted in November, saying it had marked a huge step forward for tolerance and respect. Spain had never lost hope of unblocking the peace process nor resigned itself to seeing the Security Council fail to play its role. While peace could only come about thorough bilateral direct negotiations, but international support was of key importance, he stressed. Spain supported the various initiatives under way and any Security Council action must take them into account. Underlying Security Council action was a will to preserve the two-State solution, he said, expressing hope that the Council would take concrete action before the end of Spain’s term in December.