21 January 2009
[Delivered by B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs]
Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
I was pleased to brief and consult with the Council eight days ago before embarking on a trip to the Middle East that was intended to send a simple and unmistakable message about the crisis in Gaza and southern Israel: The fighting must stop; Resolution 1860 must be fully respected and implemented. I deeply appreciated your support for my mission, also reiterated by the General Assembly in its resolution last Friday. I believe it significantly strengthened my efforts to stop the violence.
In the days since, I visited and met with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory, Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria. I took part in a meeting convened by President Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh and the Arab economic summit in Kuwait. I also spoke on the telephone with these leaders on several occasions during the trip and with all the leaders at the Sharm el-Sheikh and Kuwait meetings. And I visited Gaza City and Sderot yesterday to show my solidarity with civilians and underscore the urgent and important tasks ahead. Throughout this entire mission, I have been seeking to maximize coordination in the diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, and to make clear the expectations of the United Nations as embodied in resolution 1860.
I commend the leadership and initiative taken by Egyptian President Mubarak to help achieve a ceasefire. I also pay tribute to many, many leaders from around the world for their contributions.
The fighting has ended with declarations of unilateral ceasefires, and, today, the withdrawal of Israeli troops. This is an important achievement, and offers a much-needed respite for suffering civilians, especially in the Gaza Strip. But conditions are still fragile, and much more remains to be done on both the humanitarian and diplomatic fronts.
In this regard, I look to Egypt and others to continue vital efforts to seek understandings and mechanisms to ensure that a durable and sustainable ceasefire is quickly put in place. And I look to regional and international leaders, including members of the League of Arab States, the Quartet and the Security Council, to come together to contribute to and help sustain these guarantees and arrangements, as called for by resolution 1860. The unilateral ceasefires must be translated into a lasting arrangement that prevents illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and ensures the sustained reopening of the Gaza crossings on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. This is the framework outlined in resolution 1860 and will help stabilize the situation on the ground.
For many in Gaza, this also remains an hour of despair, grief, and desperate need. They were caught throughout this crisis between Hamas' unacceptable and irresponsible actions and Israel's blockade and use of excessive and disproportionate military force.
During my visit yesterday, I saw part of the destruction and suffering caused to this small and densely populated area by more than three weeks of heavy bombardment, shelling, and street fighting. This, of course, follows on top of months and years of occupation, conflict and economic deprivation. I was deeply affected by what I saw.
I went to Gaza to show my respect and concern for the deaths and injuries of so many people, and the thousands of people who lost family and friends. I wanted to send the signal that the United Nations stands with the people who have borne tragedy and disaster, and that we will not abandon them.
And I visited Sderot, to meet with the civilians of southern Israel who have been exposed to indiscriminate rocket and mortar fire for too long.
In both places, I underscored the urgent need for international humanitarian law to be fully respected and for civilians to be protected. As I made clear, where civilians have been killed and there are allegations of violations of international humanitarian law, there should be thorough investigations, full explanations, and, where it is required, accountability.
In Gaza, I met with the United Nations staff on the ground who worked bravely, courageously, heroically, during these past weeks. They have made the United Nations proud, and humbled us by their example. I cannot praise and thank them enough, and I pay tribute to the United Nations staff members and contractors who have been killed or injured.
I also assured the people of Gaza that the United Nations will work urgently and diligently to provide urgent humanitarian assistance and to start a daunting and challenging process of recovery and reconstruction.
Tomorrow, Special Coordinator Robert Serry and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, will visit Gaza to begin an urgent needs assessment focusing on immediate humanitarian priorities across the board. These include medical care, food, shelter, rubble removal, unexploded ordnance and possibly mines, electricity, cash, water and sanitation.
Mr. Holmes and UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd will report to you directly on the humanitarian situation next week, and the United Nations intends to launch a Flash Humanitarian Appeal within ten days of this first mission. The UN is also working to support the development of assessments and plans for early recovery and the rehabilitation of critical services, even as it supports ongoing emergency repairs. It will coordinate closely in this regard with Prime Minister Fayyad. There are plans for a comprehensive report to be presented at a conference in Cairo, and feed into the work of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee thereafter. It will be crucial for major donor countries to take part and contribute generously in the humanitarian and early recovery efforts ahead.
Indeed, I wish to emphasise that as we begin to meet the challenge of humanitarian relief, early recovery and reconstruction, we need to work together in close coordination and consultation. In addition to the parties themselves, the United Nations is already in close contact with key partners; Egypt and Arab countries; the European Commission and the World Bank; Norway as the Chair of the AHLC; Turkey; and Quartet members – Europe, Russia and United States. In that regard, I will continue to urge the new President of the United States and his team to make peace in the Middle East one of their top priorities.
I would like to note here that immediate and increased access to Gaza is key to any humanitarian effort, let alone reconstruction. In my meetings with Israeli leaders, I have insisted on the importance of increased access to the Gaza Strip. I have asked President Mubarak to ensure that Rafah is open for humanitarian material.
You are all aware of the several incidents of outrageous attacks against UN facilities, and heard a briefing here last Thursday on the attack that saw UNRWA's main warehouse burn down, with much urgently required assistance lost. This attack took place the day I was in Israel, and I saw for myself yesterday the still-smoldering ruins of our facilities. From the outset, I have protested the attacks against UN facilities in the strongest possible terms, and have called on all combatants to respect the sanctity of United Nations' premises. I must inform the Security Council that when I was in Israel I was given personal assurances by the Israeli authorities that such attacks would not happen again. Despite this, a mere two days later, there was an attack against a UN school that served as a refuge and shelter to those who had nowhere else to hide and two little boys were killed.
When I met the Israeli leadership on several occasions, I demanded a thorough investigation by Israel into every single one of these incidents. I expect to receive a full explanation of each incident and that those responsible will be held accountable for their actions. Prime Minister Olmert promised to provide me the results of their inquiry on an urgent basis. I will then decide on appropriate follow up action.
The challenges ahead are immense and numerous. While our immediate priority now may be humanitarian relief and early recovery, we must also continue our work to ensure sustainable arrangements underpinning a durable ceasefire, and our longer-term effort to achieve peace.
As part of this effort, I have discussed the political way forward at length with regional and international leaders. It is clear to me that for any sustainable political progress to occur, and for Gaza to properly recover and rebuild, Palestinians must face the challenge of reconciliation. In both Gaza and Ramallah, I made a passionate appeal for Palestinians to overcome divisions and work to restore one Palestinian government within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority. I repeat that appeal here today. I have stated clearly that the United Nations will work with a united Palestinian government encompassing Gaza and the West Bank. In Kuwait, I appealed to the Arab world to unite in support of this endeavour, and I have taken note of the efforts of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in this regard. I appeal also to the international community as a whole to do the same.
I also visited Lebanon, where I met with President Sleiman, Prime Minister Siniora and Speaker Berri. I had the honor to address the Lebanese Parliament. Before my arrival, I was very aware of the risk that Lebanon might enter into a new conflict with Israel as a result of the situation in Gaza. However, I was encouraged by the condemnation by the Government of Lebanon of the incidents of rockets being fired from south Lebanon into Israel, and by the prompt action taken by the Lebanese Armed Forces and by UNIFIL. In Israel, I asked the political and defense leadership to exercise restraint, and to take steps to implement outstanding elements of resolution 1701, especially the withdrawal from Ghajjar. I visited UNIFIL in the south, and would like to once again congratulate them for the important role they are playing to stabilize the area and implement Resolution 1701, together with the Lebanese Armed Forces. I also discussed Lebanon in Syria with President Assad.
Let me be clear. Yes, the recent crisis in Gaza and southern Israel requires conflict management and containment. But it is also a symptom of broader problems and deeper conflicts demanding conflict resolution. If the past weeks of violence are not followed quickly by broad political action, we face the real risk of greater polarization and frustration in the region.
A true end to violence, and lasting security for both Palestinians and Israelis, will only come through a just and comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This effort must have at its centre the implementation of Security Council resolutions and the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative.
We do not need new plans and processes. We have the tools we need. We need only political will and action. Peace has eluded us for far too long.
The violence, destruction and suffering before us have been a mark of collective political failure. We made a genuine effort last year, but we did not succeed. We must do more now. Nothing short of a massive international effort is now required to support, and insist on, a resolution of this conflict. The peoples of the region, and indeed the international community, can afford no less.
As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I will continue to uphold the need for an end of the occupation that began in 1967, the creation of a Palestinian state, to co-exist in peace and security alongside Israel, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbours. I am more determined than ever to see this achieved.
Thank you, Mr. President.