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Note: A complete summary of today’s Security Council meeting will be available after its conclusion.
NIKKI HALEY (United States), Council President for April, called attention to a letter from her delegation dated 10 April and addressed to the Secretary-General (document S/2017/305), saying it contained a concept note outlining key questions to be addressed today. They included which regional players benefited most from chaos in the region, and the connections between them and terrorist groups; what steps could be taken to identify and address threats to international peace and security; and how the international community could ensure that bad actors did not benefit from post-conflict reconstruction efforts.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said a perfect storm had engulfed the Middle East and continued to threaten international peace and security. Noting the potency of the question of Palestine as a symbol and rallying cry that extremist groups could easily misappropriate and exploit, he said that ending the occupation and realizing a two-State solution would not solve all the region’s problems. As long as the conflict persisted, it would continue to feed those problems, he emphasized. He noted recent reports that Israel had adopted a policy of restraint concerning the building of settlements, describing their construction as illegal under international law and urged an end to all such activities.
On the Palestinian side, he continued, multiple worrying developments were further cementing the divide between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and dangerously increasing the risk of escalation. Calling on all parties to come together and resolve daily electricity outages in Gaza, he said Hamas had tightened its grip on the enclave by forming an administrative committee seen by many as a direct challenge to the legitimate Palestinian Government.
Taking up the question of displacement, he described living conditions in refugee camps as extremely harsh, noting that young Palestinians were particularly vulnerable to the influence of extremists and religious radicals. Several States in the region bore a massive burden from the flood of Syrian refugees, he said, emphasizing that the underlying causes of displacement must be addressed through a political solution between Israel and Palestine.
He went on to state that a comprehensive and credible political settlement of the conflict in Syria and a political transition to an inclusive, democratic and participatory State would be one of the greatest contributions that could be made to defeating listed terrorist organizations, such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Al-Nusra. As for the recent reported use of chemical weapons in Syria, he emphasized the Security Council’s primary responsibility in that area, expressing hope that its members would unite to send a strong collective message that the perpetrators of such attacks would be held accountable.
Concerning the situation in Lebanon, he acknowledged the vital progress made in restoring national institutions to full functioning, and said it was now essential to address the question of weapons held outside State authority and control. On Libya, he said that, although important strides had been made against ISIL in that country, the stalled implementation of the Libya Political Agreement contributed to a political and security vacuum. Turning to Iraq, he welcomed Government efforts to secure and rebuild destroyed areas and to advance the national reconciliation process, thus depriving ISIL of legitimacy, access to resources and support.
Noting that social exclusion and marginalization provided fertile ground for the rise of violent extremism across the region, he said listed terrorist organizations and other non-State actors, including armed groups such as Hizbullah, thrived in a climate of weak governance and minimal human rights. An estimated 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 100 Member States had travelled to join such groups in the Middle East, some of whom had returned to their homelands, where they spread violence in local communities.
Describing the humanitarian and social impact of the region’s conflicts as catastrophic, he urged the Council and all stakeholders to do everything possible to protect and spare civilians from the brutal effects, as required under international humanitarian law. “The complexities of the region’s conflicts means that political solutions based on justice, dignity and social cohesion are required to achieve peace and sustain peace,” he said. Reiterating the Secretary-General’s words, he said the Middle East needed a surge in diplomacy for peace, and Member States would have to assume a leading role, including by advancing the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions.
“In today’s world, there can be no justification for terrorism, nor for the glorification of those who commit it,” he continued. “But, without justice, dignity and the protection of human rights, communities will continue to fracture and provide fertile grounds for extremists.” To that end, it was crucial to address the fragility of States, he said, emphasizing that Governments must respond to the legitimate demands of their people and strengthen social cohesion and reconciliation. That was the first line of defence against extremism, he said, underlining the need to strengthen the voices of moderation and religious tolerance.
Pointing out that divisions within the region had opened the door to foreign intervention and manipulation, breeding instability and sectarian strife, he said multilateral approaches and cooperation would be vital in addressing interlinked conflicts, cross-border humanitarian impacts and violent extremism. Millions of people in the Middle East were fighting every day for their own survival and the true humane essence of their cultures and societies, he noted, stressing that they were the true faces of the region “and we must do all we can to help them prevail”.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, associated himself with statements to be delivered on behalf of the Arab Group, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). He said that, in a time of simmering crises and declining optimism, the region’s instability centred on the question of Palestine, which was causing misery for millions. Noting that extremists were exploiting persistent injustice that fuelled perceptions of bias and double standards, he emphasized that the conflict was about the denial of a people’s inalienable rights and a prolonged occupation. The Security Council’s role and responsibility was to foster a just and peaceful solution based on related resolutions.
He went on to stress that resolution 2334 (2016) was not anti-Israel. Rather, it provided the most viable path to preserving a two-State solution and creating proper conditions in which to end the occupation. Urging full respect for that text, he said written reports would be expected to ensure proper documentation of its implementation. Condemning Israel’s disrespect for Council decisions, he stressed that the colonization, fragmentation and annexation of Palestinian land would never bring peace, reiterating that Israel must comply with Council demands.
Turning to human rights, he cited the recent launch of a hunger strike by more than 1,000 Palestinians protesting against incarceration and inhumane treatment. Calling for international solidarity with the prisoners’ peaceful effort to compel Israel’s compliance with the law and respect for human rights, he said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) could play a facilitating role. Other grave concerns included the continuing Gaza blockade, he added. Underlining the Palestinian leadership’s commitment to negotiations, he said it was making every effort, including engagement with the new Trump Administration, to advance a just solution.
Meanwhile, efforts to develop and strengthen national institutions and heal divisions within the Palestinian political system were under way, he said, stressing that there was evident failure to resolve the Palestine question in a just manner, and describing the status quo as “far beyond unacceptable”. The explosive situation required immediate action to uphold the law, reverse the situation on the ground and avert further crises, he said, calling for responsible collective efforts to advance the peace process. The international community, with the Security Council at the forefront, must act urgently on its obligation to make peace a reality.
DANNY DANON (Israel) said the striking Palestinian prisoners on strike included terrorists and murderers, cautioning that glorifying them did not help the drive for peace. For 17 years, the Council had met regularly to discuss the situation in the Middle East under the false assumption that all regional ills could be traced to Israel. Describing his country as a beacon of hope in a region filled with brutal dictatorships, and the only true democracy in the Middle East where people were free, he said the region was in a state of disarray, characterized by States dissolving amid chaos and a complete disregard for human life.
He went on to say that Iran was sowing that chaos and had influenced Syria, being an accomplice in the atrocities committed against Syrians, including the recent reported gassing incident. Israel fully supported the United States air strike against Syria, he said, emphasizing that the international community must act to rid that country of all chemical weapons. Iran’s influence in Syria was clear, as was the role of Hizbullah in threatening border confrontations. Israel remained concerned about the spread of terrorism in the region, he said, adding that Iran was arming Hizbullah, conducting ballistic missile tests and providing support for Hamas rule in Gaza.
Recalling Israel’s withdrawal from the enclave in 2005, he said that every Israeli home in Gaza had been destroyed, every synagogue reduced to rubble and every Jewish grave removed in hopes that the Palestinians would create a thriving economy and abandon the path of terror. Sadly, those hopes had been dashed because Hamas was spending millions in aid dollars to arm itself. He said personnel of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) served Hamas and had incited violence against Israelis, adding that the group had fired thousands of rockets into Israel and continued to build tunnels with the intention of killing or kidnapping Israelis. The chance for real peace would only come when Palestinians abandoned terror and returned to the negotiating table, he emphasized.
Welcoming efforts to broaden the scope of relevant Council meetings and the attention paid to the region’s real dangers, he said it was time to end the obsessive focus on Israel. The Council should remain focused on dictators gassing their own people and classify Hizbullah and Hamas as terrorist organizations. An alliance of evil with Iran at the centre was spreading through the region, he said, calling upon the Council to condemn that country’s “dangerous” behaviour. Israel was no longer alone in standing up to Iran’s threats, he added, expressing hope that the Council would begin to seek “true moral clarity” in relation to the Middle East. Only then would it be effective in fulfilling its stated role of ensuring the maintenance of international peace and security.
Ms. HALEY (United States), speaking in her national capacity, said the Council discussed the Middle East every month, holding meetings that routinely turned into “Israel-bashing sessions”. Such meetings did no favours to anyone in the region, nor did they bring the parties together. Peace was possible between Israel and Palestine, and the United States was working towards that goal, but it would only materialize through direct negotiations, not one-sided Council meetings and resolutions, she emphasized. Thanking the Special Coordinator for having gone beyond the usual “Israel-bashing”, she encouraged delegations to do the same, arguing that something valuable might be achieved by breaking out of old, familiar, counterproductive patterns.
Given evolving threats, the Council should talk about the factors causing conflict in the region, she continued. “If we are speaking honestly about conflict in the Middle East, we need to start with the chief culprit, Iran, and its partner militia, Hizbullah,” she said, citing their activities in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Hizbullah was a terrorist group spreading its influence across the Middle East with the support of a State sponsor, Iran, and the threat they represented should dominate Council discussions, she said, emphasizing that Member States must live up to their obligations.
She went on to state that Iran’s ballistic missile tests defied Council resolutions and undermined regional stability. Calling for full implementation of resolution 2231 (2015), 2216 (2015) and 1701 (2006), she said the United States and its partners would work closely to document and address violations of those resolutions, adding: “We must take a stand against Iran’s and Hizbullah’s illegal and dangerous behaviour.” The way one spent one’s time was an indication of one’s priorities, and that also applied to the Council. While the Israel-Palestinian situation was important, it suffered no lack of attention at the United Nations, she said. Priority should instead be accorded to the activities of Iran and Hizbullah.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that, because of the Russian Federation’s eighth veto, the Council had failed once again to address chemical attacks in Syria, thereby sending a signal to the perpetrators that they could “get away with murder”. Attributing the lack of progress following the latest two rounds of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva to a lack of political will on the part of the regime, he called for clear adherence to the 2012 Geneva communiqué, Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), as well as to a transparent and strictly scheduled political transition. Turning to Lebanon, he urged continued political momentum following the President’s election and formation of the Government. The Council’s unity was also badly needed on the Yemen question in order to strengthen efforts by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to break the current deadlock. Underestimating the ability of ISIL and Al-Qaida to capitalize on the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict could backfire in unexpected and dangerous ways, he warned. Moreover, ISIL remained a viable threat in the region at large, he noted, calling for a “day after strategy” to ensure that any resurgence was prevented. Otherwise, it would be impossible to contain the growing threat of violent extremism and the global spread of terrorist groups, he said.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) called on both sides to demonstrate political will in pursuit of an historic long-awaited peace agreement. He urged the international community to undertake coordinated efforts to combat the terrorist activities of ISIL and other groups, and to help Lebanon consolidate its Government. Turning to Yemen, he urged all parties concerned, as well as their foreign allies, to end warfare and resolve differences through negotiations. The humanitarian situation in the region demanded joint action, he said, reiterating his country’s strong commitment to a long-awaited peace based on compromise, mutual respect and political dialogue.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) condemned the so-called “regularization law” intended to allow the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land. Alongside Israel’s announcement about thousands of illegal settlements on occupied land and its decision to establish new settlements on the West Bank, the legislation was in flagrant violation of international law, he said. Furthermore, the situation in Gaza remained tense and unsustainable, requiring all parties to act responsibly and in the interests of the enclave’s inhabitants. Such actions would include continuing intra-Palestinian reconciliation, accelerating reconstruction and ending Israel’s closure policy. Turning to Syria, he condemned the repeated and “appalling” use of chemical weapons, and called for intensified efforts to realize a real nationwide ceasefire and a political agreement based on Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). While welcoming recent progress in Lebanon, he called for a new electoral framework agreement and for the holding of parliamentary elections. Reverting to the Israel-Palestine conflict, he said a two-State solution not only met the security needs of both sides, it was also in the interest of wider regional peace and security.
PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said he disagreed with the tailoring of today’s meeting to match the foreign policy focus of the United States. That country’s representative had remained silent on several issues, including the fact that ISIL was inflicting much suffering in Syria and other countries. Noting that the authors of the concept note circulated today invited Members States to consider who was benefiting most from chaos in the Middle East, yet the region’s stabilization could not be realized without settling the Israel-Palestine and Arab-Israeli situations, he emphasized. The high level of violence in Palestine and Israel reflected a complex situation amid tensions that risked escalating the conflict. Those tensions were driven by Israel’s unilateral actions, including its increasing settlement activities, he said.
By voting in favour of resolution 2334 (2016), the Russian Federation had demonstrated its belief that unilateral action was not acceptable, and that the pursuit of a two-State solution must continue, he said. The Russian Federation stood by its proposal that the leaders of Israel and Palestine meet in Moscow for talks, he said, stressing that his country, recognizing that East and West Jerusalem would be the respective future capitals of Palestine and Israel, would retain its embassy in Tel Aviv. Terrorism was another grave concern, he said, underlining the important United Nations role in that regard. The occupation of Iraq, as well as the clumsy manipulation of the Security Council in the case of Libya, had had a destabilizing effect and extremists were now exploiting that instability. He also underlined the need for swift steps to stop the exodus of Christians from the Middle East.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said findings had revealed that sarin gas had been used in the recent chemical weapon attack in Syria, most likely by the regime, but the Council had failed to demonstrate leadership in that regard, having been stopped from doing so by one member. “We will not be deterred by Russia’s veto,” he declared. The struggle against terrorism in the Middle East must continue, he emphasized. Meanwhile, Iran continued to play a destabilizing role, including by violating international law in Syria, failing to allow aid deliveries into Aleppo, and providing Hizbullah with guns and funding. In 2017, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War, Israelis and Palestinians must move the peace process forward because neither could afford another half-century of conflict, he said. The United Kingdom strongly condemned settlement activities in the West Bank because they were seriously undermining the peace process, and as a friend of Israel, it urged that country to refrain from any such steps in future in order to further the quest for a peaceful solution. However, settlements were not the only obstacle to peace, he said, emphasizing that the Palestinian leadership must continue to tackle terrorism.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), warning that any escalation of the Israel-Palestine conflict risked destabilizing the entire region, he said that a false perspective on the status quo had hidden daily setbacks on the ground, and the disappearance of a two-State solution would plunge the situation into the unknown. France remained committed to the joint statement signed by more than 70 States and organizations in Paris last January in support of a two-State solution based on the 1967 borders and relevant Security Council resolutions. Yet, that potential solution was threatened every day on the ground, including by illegal settlement expansion, rocket launches and incitement to hatred. Israel must cease its settlement activities, he said, adding that acts of violence and terrorism must also end. France would never accord Israel’s security second priority, he said, reiterating that while awaiting a solution to the conflict, his country maintained its non-recognition of any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. Turning to Syria, he said reports indicated the use sarin gas in the recent chemical attack and the perpetrators of that war crime must be brought to justice. On Lebanon, he said legislative elections would be crucial, emphasizing that its disengagement from the conflict in Syria remained more necessary than ever before.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) expressed his deep concern about Israel’s announcement on the construction of new settlements and called on both Israelis and Palestinians to take concrete steps towards a two-State solution. A surge of diplomacy was needed in Syria and Yemen, he said, adding that Libya needed further international support. While the creation of “tolerant and stable societies” was a common goal for the region, such a process should be different for each country, and be complemented by humanitarian assistance, social stability, good governance, and investment in human capital. In that regard, Japan had contributed to the Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization in Iraq, and was supporting urban and rural communities in Yemen through microbusinesses and entrepreneurship projects empowering women and youth, he said.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said the rapid spread of terrorist groups in the Middle East had been encouraged by, among other factors, the absence of State power that sometimes resulted from foreign military interventions not authorized by the Council. Many groups hiding behind the label “moderate opposition” committed acts that were as reprehensible as those attributed to armed terrorists, he noted. Emphasizing that the Israel-Palestine conflict remained the most important of all Middle East situations, he reaffirmed his delegation’s support for a two-State solution, while also underscoring the importance of resolutions 2334 (2016) and 242 (1967), as well as the need to conclude the peace process.
LIU JIEYI (China), noting that 2017 marked the seventieth anniversary of General Assembly resolution 181 on the partition plan for Palestine, said that question remained at the crux of the Middle East issue. Left unresolved, it would undermine security and stability in the region and beyond, he said, emphasizing the pressing need for both Israel and Palestine to exercise restraint and take concrete action for the resumption of peace talks. Israel should cease settlement expansion and demonstrate good will for negotiations, which should resume at the earliest opportunity, he said, adding that, the earlier they got under way, the earlier people on both sides would benefit. Emphasizing the Middle East was at a crossroads, he urged countries in the region and the broader international community to work more vigorously to de-escalate tensions and find a way forward, with all parties remaining true to the United Nations Charter and other international norms.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said the military approach had become the preferred means around the world to address disputes and misunderstandings when political and diplomatic steps should be favoured instead in addressing the legitimate concerns and demands of all concerned. The primacy of politics should be the major vocation of the United Nations, with the Council as the “tip of the spear” in ensuring international peace and stability. Progress in the Middle East, or the Horn of Africa for that matter, was possible, but priority must be accorded to honest dialogue, he said, emphasizing that Palestinian question could not be ignored and that no diplomatic effort would succeed outside the two-State solution.
* The 7928th Meeting was closed.