I congratulate the friendly country of Uruguay on its election to the Security Council and thank Your Excellency, Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa, for convening this important debate under Uruguay’s presidency.
I thank the Secretary-General of the United Nations, H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, for his important briefing to the Council on the current situation.
Today, I also extend our congratulations to other new non-permanent members – Egypt, Japan, Senegal and Ukraine, wishing them success in fulfilling their responsibilities under the Charter. We renew our deep appreciation to Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania and Nigeria for their skilled service and principled positions on so many critical issues, including the question of Palestine, during their tenure.
I express our appreciation to all of the Ministers joining us here today, underscoring the attention and concern ascribed to the Palestine issue and situation in the Middle East as a whole. Among the esteemed Ministers present is Minister Mankeur Ndiaye of Senegal, which also plays an important role as Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, a responsibility undertaken by Senegal for the past 40 years, for which we are most grateful.
We gather again in the Security Council – which for seven decades has been entrusted with the responsibility of upholding international peace and security – to address one of the longest-standing issues on the UN agenda, namely the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East. Every day that passes with this institution failing to shoulder its Charter duties means the death of more innocent civilians, more destruction of property, lives and the prospects for peace, and more hopelessness, representing a continual and growing threat to international peace and security.
While Palestine has figured prominently on the UN agenda since its establishment, the plight of our people tragically persists and peace continues to evade us. Neither support nor solidarity for Palestine have been lacking, but rather the political courage and will to implement the countless resolutions of the Security Council and General Assembly in the face of Israel’s total intransigence and disrespect for all of its obligations, including international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights law. The failure to hold Israel, the occupying Power, accountable and to compel its compliance with the law has caused immense suffering for the Palestinian people, among them millions of refugees, exacerbating an-already deplorable security, humanitarian and socio-economic situation, compounding the crisis manifold and undermining the foundations of a just and lasting solution.
In the past seven years alone, we have repeatedly come to address this Council and have traveled from capital to capital, presenting as well as supporting ideas, texts, initiatives and urging action. Since the adoption of resolution 1860 (2009) following the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip in December 2008-January 2009, the Council has failed to take any action to redress this injustice. And in this period, at least 2,500 more Palestinians, among them hundreds of children and women, have been killed in repeated Israeli wars on Gaza and in military raids in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, tens of thousands of civilians have been wounded, thousands have been arrested, detained and abused by the occupying forces, and an inhumane blockade and vast destruction have been continuously inflicted on Gaza. At the same time, Israeli settlement construction in Occupied Palestine, especially in Occupied East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, has continued unabated at the expense of peace and the viability and contiguity of our State, and Israeli settler terror against Palestinian civilians has reached unprecedented levels and has inflamed religious sensitivities, particularly regarding Al-Haram Al-Sharif and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The world has witnessed on live television the perpetration of war crimes against the Palestinian people and yet no action has been taken. As we speak, Palestinians, the majority youth, are being killed daily in the streets, many extra-judicially executed, by occupying forces and settlers, and Israel continues its policy of collective punishment, including the demolition of homes, withholding of the bodies of martyrs, and widespread arrest and detention raids, and its suffocating blockade on Gaza continues to obstruct desperately-needed reconstruction, to deprive our people of all the basics of a dignified life, and to deepen despair. There is no justification for such violence and oppression against the defenseless Palestinian civilian population. IHL provisions, primarily the 4th Geneva Convention, prohibit such actions and obligate the occupying Power to ensure, inter alia, the safety and well-being of the civilians under its occupation, not the other way around.
Claims that such violence and crimes are necessary to ensure Israeli security are offensive and must be rejected. All peoples are entitled to security; it is not exclusive to Israel and cannot be achieved by illegal and aggressive actions that only fan the flames of violence and intensify anger and tensions. These unlawful actions must be stopped. We cannot allow the international community to turn a blind eye to the horrors being endured by our people, nor can we accept continued refusal to end the impunity and immunity that have been granted to Israeli officials, occupation forces and terrorist settlers, making these repeated, widespread and systematic crimes possible. We cannot accept the reasoning of those who keep demanding security for the occupying Power, while failing to demand security for the occupied people, who are entitled to and assured of such security under international law. The UN must act to ensure protection for our people in line with international law and its own resolutions, including Security Council resolutions specifically calling for protection for the Palestinian people, and precedents and relevant studies before the Council must be considered.
Israel must choose between occupation and peace. It is clear from the policies of successive Israeli governments that the colonial agenda has trumped the peace agenda in Israel, and it is equally clear that without international intervention, this situation cannot be reversed.
The continuation and expansion of the settlement regime are a destructive reality we witness every day, even if the world doesn’t always see or hear the bulldozers. Just last week, Israel audaciously declared 370 acres south of Jericho as so-called “State land”, constituting one of the largest illegal land expropriations in years. Recently, Israeli plans to construct more than 65,000 new illegal settlement units throughout Occupied Palestine were also exposed. These plans, which include thousands of units in Occupied East Jerusalem and surrounding areas, including the so-called “E-1” area, would sever East Jerusalem from its Palestinian environs. Moreover, hundreds more units are being constructed in the so-called “Givat Eitam” illegal settlement, referred to as “E-2”, in the south of Bethlehem, just to name a few of the more glaring examples.
It is an understatement to say that any settlement unit built anywhere in our occupied land brings us a step closer to the end of the two-State vision. The international community must directly address this and send an unequivocal message to Israel now, before it is too late. It cannot ignore these facts or the fact that the Israeli Foreign Ministry recently released a document inconceivably claiming that settlements are “legal” under international law. The illegality of the Israeli settlement regime has been reaffirmed by the Security Council in several resolutions, the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, the International Court of Justice, the Human Rights Council, successive Special Rapporteurs and international fact-finding missions, and nearly every single State around the world, with the exception of Israel. No one can deny that the forced transfer of Palestinian civilians and the transfer of Israelis to the occupied territory are grave breaches of IHL and war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Israel’s arguments rely on absurd interpretations of very clear legal texts and on historical distortions and empty pretexts used for decades to justify colonialism and apartheid, which are two among the most condemned phenomena in history. Yet, Israel persists in spreading both, in word and deed.
The most striking aspect in the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s document is not the absurd argument made in defense of the indefensible, but rather the fact that it reconfirms Israel’s total commitment to the colonial settlement regime at the expense of the law and of peace. The question therefore is not what we hope Israel will do to end the settlement regime it continues to plan, develop, expand, defend, and commit vast resources to, but rather what the international community will do in fulfillment of its own obligations, as spelled out by the principles of international law, the UN Charter, the relevant Conventions, including the 4th Geneva Convention, and the ICJ Advisory Opinion, notably in relation to third party responsibility. This must be considered and acted on as a matter of priority and urgency.
The inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including to self-determination and freedom are non-negotiable, and cannot be subject to the occupying Power’s good will or lack thereof. No State can, under the pretext of supporting dialogue among the parties, evade its own responsibility to uphold international law. This is a time for action and responsibility; our region and the world cannot afford the looming breakdown that would lead to more chaos and suffering. Those who believe the occupation is sustainable or that we will surrender to it are mistaken. We remain relentless in pursuit of our independence and rights. We call on this Council to play its role and fulfill its responsibilities: End this oppression, end the occupation and help make peace and justice a reality for all the peoples of this region. This is your duty and it cannot be delegated, delayed or dismissed. Silence and inaction are the accomplices of occupation and enemies of peace.
Today we must ask: Have we all done everything in our power and exhausted all means, only to reach the point of failure? Is there no way ahead? We continue to believe another path is possible, that peace is possible and that confrontation and war are not inevitable. We have demonstrated a firm commitment to peace, but it has no chance of leading to a lasting solution without decisive international action in support of the two-State solution on the pre-1967 borders and of measures that hold accountable those who are destroying it. In this regard, we are all aware that the Israeli settlement enterprise in all its manifestations is the most formidable obstacle to the peace we seek.
While we appreciate the strong positions expressed by all Security Council members and the international community at large against Israeli settlement activities, these positions must be translated into action. And this action must start here at the Security Council. It must involve measures by all States and go beyond not rendering aid or assistance to holding Israel accountable for its actions. There are important ideas raised by recent international reports, including by NGOs, which can help identify a way forward. International mechanisms are also necessary, including the convening of an international conference with the main objective of ending the occupation and achieving peace and establishment of an international support group to advance this goal. Only with proper monitoring and accountability can we hope to turn the tide and have a chance at reaching the shores of safety. The priority should be lasting peace not temporary calm.
I came here today to again appeal for such action on behalf of the Palestinian people, who are entitled and demanding their freedom, and on behalf of all those who seek and promote peace and justice. Those needing pretexts not to act will always find one: they will try to make us address consequences rather than causes, tell us to wait until the next election, or to understand there are more pressing issues, until everything collapses. In recent months, several States have taken initiatives and shown leadership and understanding for the urgency to act and prioritize this matter among the many other priority issues they are cooperatively working to resolve. It is time for a collective process for Palestinian-Israeli peace. It is time for the Security Council to reflect the expressed will of its members and the international community it is mandated to represent. Excuses, mild positions and half measures will not suffice. The international will is being tested, and failure is not an option.
I thank you Mr. President.