At the outset, I extend Palestine’s congratulations to the Russian Federation on its presidency of the Security Council and our appreciation for convening of this important debate today.
I also thank Mr. Nikolay Mladenov, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UN Special Coordinator, for his briefing and ongoing efforts, including to draw the Council’s attention to the critical issues before us.
I also reiterate our deep appreciation to the five Security Council members that co-chaired last week’s Arria-meeting on Israeli settlement activities, allowing for the Council to hear expert presentations about the stark reality and dangers of the ongoing illegal colonization of Palestine, both on the ground and on the prospects for peace. We thank Malaysia, Egypt, Angola, Senegal and Venezuela for this timely and important initiative.
Reflecting on that meeting and the firm positions reaffirmed by all Council members, along with many recent Government statements in response to Israeli settlement announcements, it is clear that the settlements issue is not, as cynically claimed by some, a “one-sided, Palestinian” issue. As affirmed in every statement, the illegality of settlement activities and the threats posed to the two-State solution and peace prospects, are matters of international law and involve all States concerned with a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and peace and security in the Middle East.
It is about the law – created by you, the Member States – and about respect for the law or, otherwise, its denigration, rendering it meaningless and ineffective. That law – foremost in this case the 4th Geneva Convention, obligatory upon all States as customary law now – was created in the aftermath of the horrors of World War II specifically to avert the colonization, oppression and persecution of peoples by foreign powers occupying their lands. This same law clearly stipulates that occupation is to be a temporary situation, not indefinite or perpetual. This is not a matter of Palestinian opinion, narrative or perspective; it is the law.
Yet, as we approach 50 years of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people and land, the laws governing it have been turned upside down, twisted and exploited by Israel, which has used every pretext – even the most implausible and disrespectful – to justify its occupation and all of the human rights violations and war crimes flowing from it and sustaining it for five decades.
We must thus repeat for the record: Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention strictly prohibits colonization. Settlement construction, transfer of settlers, forced displacement and transfer of the Palestinian civilian population, and all other measures by Israel intended to facilitate, advance and support such actions, including its construction of the wall, directly violate this prohibition. Under Additional Protocol I, such actions constitute grave breaches, which all High Contracting Parties are obligated to suppress. Moreover, Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the ICC deems as war crimes “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying Power of parts of its civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory”. The 2004 ICJ Advisory Opinion was equally clear about these prohibitions, affirming the illegality of Israel’s settlements and wall and all related measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. Such measures also constitute violations of the UN Charter.
The international consensus is also clear, as evident in the determination made individually and collectively by States, including in Security Council resolutions, that settlement activities are illegal and constitute a main obstacle to peace. It is also evident in the global calls on Israel to cease all settlement activities and to end its nearly half-century occupation. Both are imperative for realizing a just, lasting, comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace and Arab-Israeli peace as a whole, and we recall here the Arab Peace Initiative, the importance and centrality of which we underscore.
There can be no question about the clear legal dimensions of this issue, its standing as a peace and security issue, and the international community’s duty to act, including at the forefront the Security Council according to its Charter mandate.
So, it is quite astounding to hear Israeli claims that any attempts to redress this illegal situation are one-sided Palestinian or Arab attempts and to hear the Israeli arguments that the “settlements are not an issue”. And it is equally disturbing to hear claims that the Security Council has no duty or role on this issue and to witness Israel’s bullying of States, including Permanent Members of this Council, warning you not to adopt any resolutions on the matter, in essence demanding of you to ignore and, worse yet, breach your own legal obligations.
Even more appalling is that the Israel that bullies and boasts that peace will not come by resolutions is the very same Israel that was actually created by a UN resolution, a General Assembly resolution to be precise. This begs the question: how can a State be created on the basis of a resolution, but not peace? We believe that peace – the central purpose of this organization – is more than worthy of international legislation and action, and Israel’s constant attempts to diminish and divert the UN’s work in this regard should be denounced and halted, not rewarded.
Considering the realities of the situation and the dangers of inaction, so starkly highlighted at the recent Arria meeting, we must ask: What could possibly justify continued paralysis of the Security Council in the face of such systematic, aggressive Israeli violations and blatant defiance of the international community’s will? And what could excuse further appeasement of Israel, when its actions are threatening peace and security – the exact purview of this Council – and destroying the two-State solution based on the 1967 borders, internationally-conceived and endorsed for decades?
In addition to defying the law, the premises and arguments presented by Israel defy logic, reason and decency and must be rejected. The Security Council has clear responsibilities, and we thus call again for urgent action to address this ongoing crisis and injustice.
The 1 July 2016 Quartet report concluded that Israel’s continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of Palestinian land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development, including the high rate of demolitions, are steadily eroding the two-State solution and entrenching a one-State reality – a reality that any objective observer could only describe as apartheid. In the report and in recent statements, the Quartet deemed the situation unsustainable and called for reversal of the negative trends on the ground to salvage the two-State solution and create conditions for meaningful negotiations on all final status issues – refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, water and security – and for tangibly advancing that solution.
The Israeli response to the report, despite the lip-service paid, came in the form of more settlement activities and provocations. Since the report’s issuance, plans have been approved for construction of over 2,000 units in Israeli settlements in Occupied East Jerusalem, the Bethlehem and Nablus areas and elsewhere in Occupied Palestine. Plans were also revealed for a new settlement east of the settlement of “Shiloh” on lands of the Palestinian village of Jalud, along with other illegal schemes concerning so-called settlement outposts, further damaging the contiguity and integrity of our land. The recent period has also seen measures aimed at the forcible transfer of Palestinian Bedouin communities, from in and around Occupied East Jerusalem, including the sensitive E-1 area, such as the community in Khan al-Ahmar, along with ongoing threats to demolish Palestinian homes, school and other civilian structures in Susiya village and to forcibly displace the population.
These are just a few examples from a year witnessing unprecedented demolition of Palestinian homes, non-stop confiscation of Palestinian land, expansion of Israeli settlements, threats by Israeli officials to annex our land, and constant settler violence and terror, all committed with impunity. At the same time, we witness ongoing provocations and extremist incitement against holy sites in Occupied East Jerusalem and Al-Khalil, especially at Al-Haram Al-Sharif; daily military raids in our cities towns, villages and refugee camps, where Palestinian civilians are assaulted and traumatized by the occupying forces, often resulting in death or injury; arrest and detention of our civilians, particularly young men and even children; and onset of the 10th year of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, where 2 million Palestinians are being collectively punished and besieged, threatened repeatedly by Israel’s Defense Minister and enduring extreme deprivation and isolation that has imposed a dire humanitarian crisis and socio-economic conditions at their lowest point since 1967.
Here, I must take a moment to appeal for urgent support to UNRWA, which is leading the efforts of humanitarian organizations in alleviating the plight of the Palestine refugees in Gaza and throughout the region, providing them with sustenance, stability and a measure of hope in the midst of intense turmoil and conflict. The Agency requires immediate support to enable it to overcome the debilitating funding crisis it faces, which if unresolved will have far-reaching negative consequences.
As our people suffer every day the endless horrors of this unlawful, inhumane occupation, how can we believe Israel’s claimed commitment to peace? How can we not question Israel’s intentions when every policy and measure fragments our land and undermines our State’s viability, taking us farther away from the two-State solution, and when its policies and measures violate every human right of our people and deny them any semblance of human dignity, intensifying hopelessness and despair and shaking their convictions in the law and in the possibility of peace?
Faced with continued defiance by the occupying Power, words are no longer enough. The global calls for cessation of Israeli settlement activities and crimes against the Palestinian people must be backed with serious, practical measures to compel Israeli compliance with the law. There must be consequences if Israel continues to violate international law. Moreover, the international community must determine what actions can stop the downward spiral, stabilize the situation, and revive peace prospects. While we echo the Quartet calls to reverse negative trends and promote confidence-building measures, we must also emphasize the need to restore the political horizon that has been perilously absent for too long.
Efforts to foster conditions conducive for meaningful negotiations will fall short, yet again, without a credible political horizon to move us forward. We must learn the lessons of the past. This political horizon must be firmly based on the longstanding terms of reference based on the relevant UN resolutions, including resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 194 (III) among others, the Madrid principle of land for peace, and the Arab Peace Initiative, and must be undertaken within clear parameters and a defined timeframe for conclusion of an agreement. Again, we say in this Chamber: the conflict is not intractable; the solution has long been known; what is missing is the political will.
In truth, the Council’s paralysis, coupled with the maliciousness of Israeli actions, its contempt for the law and obstruction of any initiative to resolve the conflict, are not only regrettable and frustrating, but would test anyone’s resolve and conviction in the rule of law. But we will not be deterred. We remain, after all this time, convinced in the primacy of international law and its role in resolving this conflict and ending this injustice. We remain committed to peace and the achievement of a just solution that will ensure the rights of our people, including to freedom and self-determination in their State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and ensure lasting peace and coexistence between Palestine and Israel and mutual security for our peoples.
Thus, we continue to seek Security Council action, consistent with our pledge to use all applicable diplomatic, political and legal tools to advance these goals. Our current efforts are focused on the Israeli settlement regime, which all recognize as the central pillar of this illegal occupation. Settlement activities comprise the main means by which Israel – willfully, wantonly and systematically, involving almost every branch of the Israeli Government – continues to forcibly expand its presence and entrench its illegal occupation of Palestine; are among the means by which it is able to control and oppress the Palestinian population; and are directly endangering the two-State solution based on the pre-1967 borders. So, how can anyone speak of preserving the two-State solution and progressing towards peace without addressing this matter?
It is for this reason that, with our Arab partners, based on a decision by the Arab Ministerial Committee, we have launched consultations with all Security Council members. These consultations aim at determining a clear course of action to confront this main obstacle to peace and open a political horizon in which a genuine political process can be sustained and expedited for achievement of a just, peaceful and durable solution. We do so responsibly, guided by international law and the necessities of peace, and do so in full cooperation with regional and international partners.
Here, we reaffirm our support for the French initiative to mobilize international action for Palestinian-Israeli peace, recognizing the dangers of continuing stalemate and the explosive situation on the ground. We concur fully with the urgency of a political horizon and the calls for an international peace conference. We also reaffirm our support and cooperation with efforts by the Arab States to advance the Arab Peace Initiative, including in cooperation with the Quartet members, whose efforts of the recent period are also fully recognized, as well as the Russian and Egyptian efforts to promote dialogue and help parties overcome the deadlock.
However, none of these efforts can absolve the Security Council from its responsibility. On the contrary, it is imperative that the Council play its role in order to reaffirm international law, thread together these collective efforts, and chart a way forward. In the years of the Council’s silence, Israeli settlement activities have quadrupled, coupled with intensification of all other violations, gravely undermining the situation on the ground, deepening the suffering of our people, who continue to be denied their rights and freedom by this illegal occupation, and ushering the impending destruction of the two-State solution. The Council must act and should adopt a resolution forthwith. This is a minimal expectation, and we appeal to the Council to shoulder its political, legal and moral responsibilities and to revive the prospects for peace.
Let us not be deterred by the cynics or by the bullying, including those who have the audacity to call our legitimate, diplomatic efforts “terror”, perverting this most dangerous phenomenon that our world is facing at this time and undermining the efforts to combat it with such offensive, ludicrous arguments. Such attempts must be rebuked and flatly rejected. The Security Council has a duty to act in line with the law and the urgencies of peace and security and must do so now.
I thank you, Mr. President.