Thursday, 20/2/2020 | 3:38 UTC+0
Libyan Newswire

Security Council: Open Debate on the Situation in the Middle East

Note: A complete summary of today’s meeting will be available after its conclusion.


NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary‑General, briefed the Council on recent developments in the Middle East, warning of escalating tensions, outside interference and growing risks of miscalculations, from Gaza to Syria to Yemen.  “What happens in the Middle East today has immediate implications for the rest of the world,” he said.  “Everyone in the Middle East needs to step back from the brink.”

Amid rapidly shifting dynamics, he said, the United Nations was tirelessly working to prevent further deterioration while supporting national processes region‑wide.  Underlining the need for consistent support for multilateralism in promoting security, stability and development, he said prevention must be at the centre of efforts, a much‑needed approach when dealing with the Palestinian‑Israeli conflict, which remained a central part of the regional quagmire.  Until occupation ended and a two‑State solution was achieved, the conflict would remain among the key drivers of the extremism threatening regional stability.

Raising grave concerns, he said Gaza was “coming apart as we speak”.  Another conflict between Hamas and Israel would have devastating consequences for Palestinians in Gaza.  Amid a month of demonstrations leading up to 15 May in the context of the Great March of Return, Israeli defence forces had killed 35 Palestinians and injured many more along the Gaza border, where incidents of planting improvised explosive devices had also been reported.  Israel must calibrate its response and Hamas must keep protesters away from the border fence and prevent violence and provocations, he said, echoing the Secretary‑General’s repeated calls for restraint and a full investigation of all incidents.  The rights of all civilians, including children, must be respected.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Gaza was also worsening, he continued.  Salary freezes and cuts for civil servants persisted and faltering public services would soon move further towards a total collapse.  He called on the Palestinian Government to resume public sector payments and on Israel to relax movement and access restrictions to enable economic recovery.  The United Nations was working with partners to prioritize energy and water initiatives, he said, urging all stakeholders to support the $540 million humanitarian appeal for 2018 to meet pressing needs.  He also urged all Palestinian factors to engage with Egypt and redouble efforts to enable the legitimate Palestinian Authority to be fully empowered in Gaza.

Gaza was a “powder keg”, he said.  “We must do everything possible to prevent another war in Gaza.”  To address those concerns, he called on the international community and the Council to support United Nations efforts and key stakeholders.  Raising concerns about the situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he said pledges of $100 million would only ensure the continuation of operations until the summer months.  In Gaza alone, UNRWA served as a lifeline for more than 1 million people.

On other matters, he raised concerns about continued settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and vandalism against property.  Turning to Lebanon, he underlined the importance of the upcoming elections, noting that the United Nations was working to ensure inclusivity and credibility and that the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon remained engaged with regional stakeholders.  In southern Lebanon, the Blue Line zone remained calm, but tense, after Israeli construction continued amid Lebanese demonstrations, with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) liaising closely with parties to prevent misunderstanding or miscalculations.

Warning of the broader, regional consequences of escalating crises in Gaza, he said what was happening today in Gaza was an injustice that no man, woman or child should have to endure — the deplorable living conditions, the consequences of the continued, suffocating closures and control by Hamas and the mounting risk that Gaza could trigger a new conflict.  “People should not be destined to spend their lives surrounded by borders they are forbidden to cross or waters they are forbidden to navigate,” he said.

“I firmly believe there is a way out,” he said.  “These challenges are political, man‑made and, thus, resolvable if all sides firmly commit to supporting practical solutions in Gaza that can be implemented quickly, effectively and sustainably.  But, Gaza is only part of the story.  We must also step up our efforts to support parties in advancing a sustainable Israeli‑Palestinian peace on the basis of the two‑State solution.”

With tensions mounting across the region, he said the lack of progress should worry everyone.  “The fires of the Middle East continue to expand and shift, and the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict remains a perpetual source of oxygen for militants and radicals across the Middle East,” he said.  “Establishing a just, comprehensive and lasting solution to the conflict would eliminate a chronic source of instability and violence from the region.  The United Nations will continue to expend every effort in pursuit of that objective.”


RIYAD H. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, said Mr. Mladenov’s statement must be viewed in the context of the constant harassment and intimidation to which the United Nations and its representatives were exposed each time they risked taking a public, principled stand on the question of Palestine.  Israel, the occupying Power, continued to bully States into artificial, “balanced” positions, despite the absolute lack of symmetry in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Noting that the situation was exemplified by the dire situation in the Gaza Strip — where 2 million Palestinians, mostly refugees, had long been subjected to an illegal Israeli blockade that only compounded their misery — he said Gaza’s residents and Palestinians elsewhere had been “beyond patient”.  They had long endured upheavals, crises, assaults and deep deprivation.  Contrary to Israeli propaganda, their recent protests on the occasion of Land Day, on 30 March, had been carried out peacefully and by unarmed civilians.

Emphasizing that the protesters had been demanding their rights — including return to their land and to self‑determination — he said they were also calling for an end to the Israeli blockade that had long served as a collective punishment.  “Exercising their right to peaceful assembly, these men, women and youth are protesting an oppression that cannot be endured any longer, pleading for their voices to be heard,” he said, emphasizing that the Palestinians were living through the longest military occupation and the most protracted refugee crisis in modern history.  Against such a backdrop, “restraint should be seen as extraordinary” and protests must be viewed as a natural response to the illegal, cruel Israeli occupation.  Israeli officials should not have been surprised to see civilians stand up for their dignity and freedom, he said, noting that the protesters — including children — had been targeted with live ammunition in a blatant “shoot to kill and maim” pattern.  At least 41 Palestinians had been killed since the protests began and more than 5,000 injured.

“The international community must demand answers from Israel,” he said, adding that the Council’s failure to address the situation was itself unjustifiable.  Urging its members to condemn Israel’s crimes with one voice, demand their cessation, protect civilians and demand an investigation into recent incidents, he welcomed calls by the Secretary‑General to launch in independent, transparent investigation through an international mechanism.  “The truth, however, is that Israel does not want peace,” he said.  Israel must not continue to receive support from — and even be rewarded by — the Council, a body it had never respected and even mocked and undermined.  Recounting the tragic deaths of several Palestinian protesters — including a 15‑year‑old boy — he said thousands of other Palestinians before them had also been murdered in Israel’s ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing against non‑Jews.  All those crimes were being committed in a deliberate breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations Charter.

Recalling that President Mahmoud Abbas had come before the Council on 20 February to present a new peace plan, centred on established international terms of reference and parameters for a peaceful resolution, he said that proposal was a serious attempt to bring the situation back from the brink.  However, no compromise efforts would be successful if, at every juncture, Israel continued to respond with aggression and contempt.  Indeed, no plan that disregarded the fundamental principles of respect for international law and the right to self‑determination would ever succeed.  That was why the United States decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital, in violation of Council resolutions, had so negatively impacted the chances for resuming peace talks.  Voicing regret that several States had further emboldened Israel — including Guatemala, through its recent decision mirroring that of the United States — he called on the international community to remain resolute in rejecting Israel’s illegal policies and practices, support UNRWA during its unprecedented funding crisis and work to de‑escalate the dangerous situation on the ground.

DANNY DANON (Israel) said that, for the past few weeks, Hamas had orchestrated a series of provocations and confrontations along the security fence between Israel and Gaza.  “There is nothing peaceful about terrorists firing over the fence at our positions,” he added.  Hamas continued to use innocent Palestinian women and children as human shields, while they cowered behind in safety.  Israel had an obligation to protect its citizens and do so while minimizing civilian casualties.  Like any law‑abiding country, Israel had always ensured that, when necessary, incidents would be investigated by proper authorities.  In the same vein, however, he said:  “Israel will never apologize for defending our country.”

Israel cared deeply about innocent lives but Palestinian leaders continued to exploit every innocent death for their shameless public relations campaign, he said.  “And it is Hamas that is fully responsible for every Palestinian injury and death,” he said.  Just two weeks ago, Israel’s security forces uncovered the longest and deepest Hamas terror tunnel discovered to date, he continued, adding that some members of the Security Council had criticized Israel’s response.

Urging Member States to ask themselves a simple question, Mr. Danon wondered: How would you react if armed terrorists were marching on the border of Kuwait?  What would you do to protect the people of Sweden, or Bolivia, if a violent mob threatened to infiltrate?  The answer, he said, was simple:  “You would defend yourselves.  We will do the same.”  He reiterated that the protests were not peaceful nor the product of grass‑roots efforts.  Hamas’ goal was to infiltrate Israel’s territory and harm as many innocent people as possible.  Palestinian leadership must be held accountable for that, he emphasized, urging Member States to pressure Palestinian leaders to “end their charade”.

Iran was the common thread behind Hamas, Hizbullah, and the Assad regime in Syria, he said, noting the 80,000 Shia militants in Syria under Iranian control.  The Iran threat could be stopped but only if the international community acted together.  In two and a half weeks, the United States would announce its decision regarding the fate of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  “The [Iranian] regime proudly parades its missiles in city centres.  Written on the sides of these missiles are calls to destroy Israel,” he said.  United States President Donald Trump was focused on important changes to the current situation, “because he knows it will make the world safer”.

Mr. Danon stressed the need to increase monitoring and oversight of Iran’s finances, which had grown significantly since the lifting of sanctions.  Iran continued to send money directly to Hizbullah.  It had also used the money to build weapons factories and terror bases in Syria and Lebanon.  “All the signatories to the agreement must now make a choice,” he stressed, adding:  “You have one opportunity to right the wrongs of this deal.”  Israel would not allow regimes that sought its destruction to acquire nuclear weapons. “Period.”

NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) said the Council’s monthly debate on the Middle East should shed light on the many different conflicts in the region.  On the use of women, children and men as human shields, she recalled that the European Union had recently condemned Hamas for that practice.  The use of human shields was present in conflicts across the region, including by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Hizbullah and Houthi militants.  Iran was the patron of many groups using human shields, which was part of its overarching efforts to destabilize the region.  Humanity itself was lost when the barbaric practice of using human shields continued, she said, calling on the Council to rise up to address that grave concern.

The representative of the United Kingdom, emphasizing that all actors must abide by their obligations to international law, said an immediate concern was to prevent further violence.  Those having influence over Hamas were making that perfectly clear and Israel must exercise restraint.  Meanwhile, border crossing restrictions must be lifted.  The international community had an important role to play, including lending support to UNRWA.  The situation in Gaza would be vastly improved with the restoration of the Palestinian Authority, she said, pledging her delegation’s commitment to support the Secretary‑General’s Personal Representative in his ongoing efforts.

The representative of China said the conflict must be fully resolved before the violence would end.  Yet, settlement construction continued and the number of casualties grew, he said, urging the international community to boost efforts to support the peace process, with the two‑State solution being the only way forward.  Relevant Council resolutions must also be swiftly implemented and all parties must meet each other halfway to create the necessary atmosphere for resuming dialogue.  China supported the peace process with a view to establishing an independent Palestinian State.  To do so, efforts must also be strengthened to promote peace through development.  Turning to the complex issue of Jerusalem, he said all parties must implement international consensus for achieving a peaceful co‑existence.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), raising concerns about recent violence in Gaza, said investigations must identify perpetrators and all parties must respect international humanitarian law and human rights.  Israel was a democracy and must uphold the rules of engagement and stop using lethal weapons against civilians.  Hamas must stop using ongoing protests in Gaza as a means to threaten Israel’s security.  The Council must speak with a strong, united voice to preclude an escalation of tensions.  Associating the recent violence with the deteriorating humanitarian situation, he said worsening conditions were fuelling protests by young people who felt they had “nothing left to lose”.  The Palestinian Authority must regain control over Gaza and Israeli restrictions on border crossings must end to ease humanitarian suffering, he said, calling on the United States to return its support to UNRWA.  Going forward, negotiations towards peace must align with agreed frameworks, with the Council respecting those parameters.

The representative of Poland, associating with the European Union, called for a return to meaningful bilateral negotiations based on relevant United Nations resolutions and international law, the creation of a political horizon, and continued efforts to achieve a two‑State solution.  Noting that the work of the Middle East Quartet — and especially the participation of the United States — would be helpful to reactivate the Middle East Peace Process, he also called for more active involvement by some regional countries.  Echoing Mr. Mladenov’s concerns about the possible spillover effects of the conflict, especially when the Middle East already faced so many other challenges, he urged Israel to respect the Palestinians’ fundamental right to peaceful protest and to exercise proportionality in the use of force against unarmed protesters, even as it defended its legitimate security interests.  He also called for a thorough and objective investigation of the incidents that had taken place at the Israeli‑Gaza border since 30 March and urged all sides to act with utmost restraint and responsibility.  Poland endorsed the common European Union position to the effect that Jerusalem should assume mutual recognition of historical relations and national rights of both parties, and in support of resolution 478 (1980) on the location of diplomatic missions until the city’s final status was resolved.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), expressing concern that fighting in Syria continued unabated despite ISIL’s military defeats, said the issues underpinning that conflict, as well as the one unfolding in Yemen, were even bigger than they appeared.  Political solutions remained out of reach and humanitarian needs on the ground were huge.  Meanwhile, the use of chemical weapons — “even if we are still not definitive about attributing blame” — was becoming a serious challenge that undermined international norms.  Expressing concern over the recent escalation in Gaza, he called on all sides to exercise maximum restraint.  Turning to Gaza’s critical humanitarian situation, he called for efforts to enable the Palestinian Authority to exercise full control over the territory — as stipulated in the Cairo Agreement — which would improve the economic and humanitarian situation while also advancing Palestinian unity and providing an impetus for the peace process.  Ethiopia had always supported Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as well as the Palestinians’ inalienable right to self‑determination and to a free and independent State.  Cautioning against actions that could detract from efforts to achieve a two‑State solution, he said the recent tragedy in Gaza demonstrated that “the demand for justice will never disappear as long as there are objective reasons on the ground that call for it”.

The representative of Equatorial Guinea expressed grave concern about Middle East conflicts ranging from Syria to Gaza to Yemen and beyond, which had led to tragic loss of life on a great scale.  Far from seeing signs of resolution, those situations were worsening, as was the case between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.  Peace in the region could hardly be sought without resolving the latter, he stressed, calling on parties to refrain from unilateral actions that could hinder dialogue.  Frank, direct negotiations without preconditions were critical, and the final status of Jerusalem must be one of the outcomes of those talks.  Calling on all parties to respect international law and act in line with relevant Council resolutions, he said there was no other possible solution to the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict other than a negotiated two‑State solution.  The international community must redouble its diplomatic and mediation efforts, but it must respect the fact that Israelis and Palestinians bore the primary responsibility to reach a peaceful agreement.  Equatorial Guinea had always supported Israel’s right to exist as well as the Palestinians’ right to self‑determination, he said, condemning the clashes that had led to the loss of innocent Palestinian life during the recent protests in Gaza and called for a thorough and independent investigation into the incident.

The representative of Côte d’Ivoire, echoing expressions of alarm over the three weeks of clashes on the Gaza border, called on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from unilateral actions that could only exacerbate the situation.  His delegation supported a two‑State solution leading to Israel and Palestine as free States living side by side in peace and security.  Voicing concern over UNRWA’s financial shortfall, and calling on States to support the Agency, he said the Middle East continued to face other critical challenges including a regrettable failure to implement the ceasefire in Syria as unanimously demanded in resolution 2401 (2018).  He urged the parties to adhere to that text, and to work to defuse the conflict through inclusive political dialogue in line with the Geneva peace process and resolution 2254 (2015).  Despite concerted efforts by the international community, Yemen’s humanitarian situation would continue to deteriorate in the absence of an inter‑Yemeni political dialogue.  He condemned air strikes that had targeted a wedding ceremony in that country earlier in April, killing some 50 people — as well as similar strikes against Saudi Arabia — and expressed Côte d’Ivoire’s strong support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme.

The representative of Kazakhstan touched on several issues, beginning with Syria, urging all parties there to exercise restraint, ensure the safety of civilians and allow their safe evacuation.  On Lebanon, he welcomed the formation of a new Government and said it was essential to help it consolidate its constitution and democratic process, which remained contingent on developments in neighbouring Syria.  Turning to Iraq, he supported the position of preserving the country’s unity, which should be based on equal rights and justice for all citizens.  Iraq’s authorities must abide by international law, he said, expressing concern for the Turkish woman sentenced to death on charges of supporting ISIL.  He also expressed support for prioritizing the development agenda in Libya and urged all parties in Yemen to commit to establishing a cessation of hostilities.  Regarding the Middle East peace process, he expressed support for a two‑State solution and called for the early resumption of negotiations.

KAREL J.G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said that after four weeks of protests, more than 30 people had been killed, which included 4 minors, and thousands had been injured.  He called on Israel to ensure that its responses to the protests were proportionate and necessary at all times and in line with its obligations under international law.  However, the high number of victims, including paramedics, as well as the death of journalist Yasser Murtaja, raised serious questions about Israel’s response.  He also called on the de facto authorities in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority to ensure that protests remained peaceful, reiterating the need for an independent and transparent investigation into the matter.  Turning to developments in Lebanon, he noted that the country would hold parliamentary elections on 6 May.  If properly executed, the elections would reinvigorate public trust in Lebanon’s democratic institutions and represented an opportunity to reinforce the positive momentum of the Rome, Paris and Brussels conferences.

The representative of Kuwait said Israel was violating Council resolutions, including attacks that had been launched against peaceful demonstrators in Gaza.  However, the Council had, to date, failed to respond to those attacks by calling for a full investigation and had been impotent in getting Israel to abide by provisions of Council resolutions.  As the occupying Power was routinely flouting international legitimacy, it clearly lacked all credibility in running for Security Council membership.  Noting that the relocation of certain diplomatic missions to Jerusalem also violated international agreements, he said East Jerusalem was the capital of Palestine and called on all Member States to recognize it as such.

The representative of Bolivia said recent reports on ongoing violence had shown that Israel was violating international law and an investigation must identify perpetrators who had fired live bullets on Palestinian protesters.  He warned that current tensions would again flare as the date neared for the transfer of the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem.  Condemning the continuation of Israeli construction on occupied lands, he called for the release of up‑to‑date maps on settlements.  Turning to UNRWA, he said more support for the Agency was needed.  Expressing support for the work of the Quartet, he said a two-State solution remained the only solution.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) condemned the killings of 34 Palestinians, noting that Israeli security forces had used live ammunition, including when shooting at children.  The incidents raised serious concerns and must be swiftly and fully investigated.  Moreover, all actors, including demonstration organizers, must place the protection of children first, neither putting them at risk for nor encouraging them to participate in violence.  Noting the upcoming “historically charged” period in mid‑May, he said that “the birth of one State, while being a joy to many, brought suffering for others”.  The commemoration of those events would coincide with the planned move of the United States embassy to Jerusalem.  Sweden’s position on the status of Jerusalem as a final status issue and a future capital of both States, including the location of diplomatic representations, was clear and would remain unchanged.  Multilateral efforts to advance peace must be drastically increased, and in that regard, it was worth exploring President Abbas’ plans for an international conference with a view to establishing a multilateral mechanism for peace.

The representative of Peru, Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, saying there was a need for a transparent, independent investigation of recent violence in Gaza.  Welcoming generous contributions with a view to supporting the work of UNRWA, he said it was equally urgent that Palestinian and Israeli parties resumed negotiations towards peace.  Expressing concern about ongoing violence and breaches of Council resolutions, he said such actions undermined the chances of reaching a two‑State solution.  He encouraged political, social and religious leaders on both sides to work towards re‑establishing a constructive dialogue to end the cycle of violence and humanitarian crises.

AMAL MUDALLALI (Lebanon) said support for the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights were a central tenet of the Arab consensus, as reaffirmed at the Dharan Arab Summit in Saudi Arabia earlier in April.  Jerusalem had taken centre stage at that meeting, with Arab leaders unanimously condemning and rejecting the United States decision, he said, also condemning the killing of dozens of innocent civilian protesters in Gaza.  Citing consensus over the disassociation policy towards the conflict in Syria, he said there were over 1.2 million displaced persons in Lebanon and joined others in calling for a political solution to that conflict.  Despite support from partners to help Lebanon host those displaced Syrians, his country still faced serious challenges and threats to its security and stability, especially from daily Israeli violations of its sovereignty by air, land and sea.  Israel also continued to insist on building a wall on occupied Lebanese territory and in disputed areas.  Urging Israel to respect Council resolutions that called for its full withdrawal from the occupied Lebanese territory, he said nowhere were the United Nations recent discussions about sustaining peace and addressing the root causes of conflict more relevant than in the Middle East.  Ending the Israeli occupation and withdrawing Israeli troops from Arab and Lebanese territories would go a long way towards bringing peace and stability to the region, he said.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) said his delegation respected both Palestinians’ right to peaceful demonstrations and Israelis’ right to security.  Violence could never be justified and would solve nothing, he said, calling on both parties to exercise maximum restraint.  Citing a tangible risk of escalation that could lead to further casualties in mid‑May, he echoed the Secretary‑General’s calls for a swift, independent and transparent investigation in order to prevent further escalation and casualties.  “Behind the current situation, there is a lack of hope for the Palestinian people,” he said, citing the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, continued settlement activities in the West Bank in violation of international law and cuts to UNRWA’s funding that had increased Palestinians’ anxiety.  “These hopeless conditions are feeding radicalism and do not benefit either party,” he stressed, announcing Japan’s decision to provide an additional $10 million to UNRWA.  Describing a range of other development projects through which Japan aimed to support the Palestinian people, he said they alone could not achieve peace, and called on the parties to take concrete steps to resume negotiations.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said the United States provided protection as Israel continued to violate hundreds of Council resolutions, encouraging it to commit heinous crimes and killings.  Syria continued to support Palestinians in their right to return home, he said, condemning the “deliberate ignorance” of the Special Coordinator for not touching on Israel’s serious violations in the Golan.  “Derailing from his mandates makes him incapable of doing what he was tasked with,” he added, stressing that the Golan was an occupied Syrian territory.  He asked why Member States had not rejected Israel’s stealing of natural resources such as water and energy.  Israel continued to support terrorist groups.  Syria had a sovereign, non‑negotiable right to the Golan, he reiterated, urging Israeli settlers to leave the territory and end the overall occupation of Arab land.

The representative of Saudi Arabia underscored Palestinians’ right to life, return to land and self‑determination.  He called for the establishment of an international investigation committee to shed light on the events of 13 March and on all incidents in which unarmed civilians had been killed by Israel.  He reiterated the Arab identity of Jerusalem and the right of Palestinians to control their land.  Israel must withdraw from all occupied territories including the Golan, he said, calling for the creation of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.  Turning to Iran, he said that country funded Hizbullah and fuelled war in Syria and Yemen.  One third of the missiles fired into Saudi Arabia from Yemen had been manufactured by Iran, he emphasized, citing United Nations findings.  Iran acted in clear violation of Council resolutions, he said, urging the Council to not tolerate Iran’s aggressions.  On Syria, he condemned the chemical attack by the Syrian regime, which called for a serious response by the international community.