Act Now to Prevent Two-State Solution from ‘Slipping Away Forever’, Secretary-General Warns during Security Council Debate

SC/12219
26 January 2016
7610th Meeting (AM)

Act Now to Prevent Two-State Solution from ‘Slipping Away Forever’, Secretary-General Warns during Security Council Debate

Speakers Call for Urgent Resumption of Peace Talks as Spreading Extremist Terror Threatens to Tear Middle East, Other Regions Apart

With a relentless wave of extremist terror gripping the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians had an opportunity to restore hope to a region torn apart by intolerance and cruelty, Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon told the Security Council today, urging it to “act now” to prevent the two-State solution from slipping away forever.

Opening the Council’s quarterly debate on the Middle East, Secretary-General Ban said 2016 had started much like 2015 had ended, amid violence and a polarized discourse across the spectrum in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Palestinian frustration was growing under the weight of half a century of occupation and a paralysed peace process — an indisputable truth.  He said he was troubled by Israeli plans to build 150 new homes in illegal settlements within the occupied West Bank, as well as the declaration of 370 acres there as “State land”.

In the Gaza Strip, he continued, chronic security and governance challenges, as well as funding shortages, had slowed reconstruction.  He urged the Palestinian factions to advance unity on the basis of democracy and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) principles.  In a tense regional environment, it was imperative to consolidate stability wherever possible, he said.  While some might view that as too risky, the greater peril was not seeking a solution to the Palestinian question.

Lasting agreement would require difficult compromises, he said, urging Palestinians and Israelis to accept that “historic” challenge in the mutual interest of peace.  The support of regional partners was essential, and the international community must be “ever more” committed to helping the two sides rebuild trust before it was too late.

Following those remarks, the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said failure to compel Israel’s compliance with the law had caused immense suffering for Palestinians.  The United Nations must act in line with its own resolutions.  “The inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination and freedom, are non-negotiable”, he said, pressing the Council to fulfil its responsibilities to end the occupation.  “It is your duty and it cannot be delegated, delayed or dismissed.”

Israel’s representative said the road to peace was long, but his country was committed to making every effort.  The Palestinians, however, had refused to come to the negotiating table.  “We want peace with security,” he emphasized.  Palestinians, on the other hand, sought reward for unilateral actions.  Rewarding the Palestinian Authority would only push them further from the table because that institution provided monthly stipends of $3,500 to the families of terrorists in areas where the average salary was $600, he said.  The Council must call upon Palestinians to condemn terror attacks, demand that they stop incitement and stop giving them incentives to avoid dialogue.

During the ensuing debate, speakers condemned the escalating violence, urging the parties to do their utmost to de-escalate tensions and re-establish a mechanism to address incitement, since continuing hostilities chipped away at the validity of the Oslo Accords.  Many called for resumed negotiations, while several voiced opposition to Israel’s settlement expansion, especially in Area C, pressing the Council to shoulder its responsibility to hold it to account by requiring its withdrawal from occupied territory.

In that context, Egypt’s representative pointed out that 20 years had passed since the agreement that should have led to the creation of a Palestinian State on the basis of the 1967 borders and with Al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital.  Urging a focus on the Arab Peace Initiative, he said a two-State solution was necessary for coexistence among the region’s peoples.  Egypt would work with its Council partners to provide an international protectorate for Palestinians, he said.

In similar vein, Lebanon’s representative asked how long the Council would remain silent while the self-proclaimed so-called “only democracy” in the Middle East continued to demolish homes, seize land and intensify settlement activities, in addition to measures that segregated people in East Jerusalem.  She also noted that Israel had violated her country’s sovereignty a total of 1,168 times in 2015, by air, land and sea.

Kuwait’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said Israel’s actions sought to change the Islamic character of Jerusalem, which would only stoke violent extremism.  He called for an international conference to regalvanize the peace process and help ensure the success of the two-State solution.

More broadly, several speakers stressed that the plight of the Palestinians was a chief cause of the anger and alienation felt across the wider Arab and Muslim world.  Extremist ideologies would be difficult to defeat until injustices against Muslims, especially Palestinians, were addressed, said Pakistan’s representative.  Others said that the situations in Yemen, North Africa, Somalia and northern Nigeria were characterized by a narrow connectivity of terror groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Al-Qaida, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

Regarding the conflict in Syria, now entering its fifth year, many speakers expressed outrage that 13.5 million people were in need of assistance.  The representative of the United States called for “robust” pledges at the 4 February Syria Donors Conference to be held in London.  Many others said they looked forward to the next round of Geneva peace negotiations in the coming days, with Indonesia’s representative echoing remarks by several others by stressing that a Syrian-led process was the only way to move towards peace.

On that point, the Russian Federation’s representative expressed surprise at attempts by some Council members to “muddy the waters” with unilateral interpretations of resolution 2254 (2015).  An effective response to such difficult challenges could only be found collectively, and the Russian Federation’s proposal for settling them was still on the table, he pointed out.

Also speaking today were the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay and Senegal, and the Secretary of State for External Relations of Angola.  Others were representatives of Ukraine, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Venezuela, France, New Zealand, China, Japan, Spain, Netherlands, Brazil, Kazakhstan, India, Indonesia, Syria, Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), South Africa, Republic of Korea, Morocco, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Qatar, Norway, Turkey, Maldives, Costa Rica, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Jordan and Haiti.  Representatives of the European Union, Holy See and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People also addressed the Council.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m.

Briefing

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said 2016 had begun much like 2015 had ended, with violence and a polarized public discourse across the spectrum in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory — stabbings, vehicle attacks and shootings by Palestinians targeting Israeli civilians, as well as clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.  Emphasizing that security measures alone would not stop the violence, he said the full force of the law must be brought to bear on all those committing crimes, with justice applied equally to Israelis and Palestinians.

Indeed, Palestinian frustration was growing under the weight of a half century of occupation and a paralysed peace process, an indisputable truth over which, he said, some had taken him to task.  So-called facts on the ground on the occupied West Bank were chipping away at the viability of a Palestinian State.  The Middle East Quartet, having met with Israeli and Palestinian officials on 17 December 2015, had reiterated the urgent need for steps to strengthen Palestinian institutions, as well as security and economic prospects, while addressing Israeli’s security concerns.

Changing Israel’s policies was central to achieving that goal, especially in Area C, which was under its control, he continued.  Noting that settlement activities raised questions about Israel’s commitment to a two-State solution, he said he was troubled by plans for 150 new homes in illegal settlements on the occupied West Bank, as well as the decision to declare 370 acres there “State land”.  Urging Israel not to use a recent High Court decision affirming a tract of land near Bethlehem as “State land”, he reiterated the call for an immediate end to plans for the forcible transfer of Bedouin communities living in occupied Palestinian territory in the Jerusalem area.

Turning to the “perilous” humanitarian situation in Gaza, he said chronic security and governance challenges, as well as funding shortages had slowed reconstruction.  Conditions posed a severe threat to peace and security in the region.  He urged the Palestinian factions to advance unity on the basis of democracy and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) principles, stressing that reconciliation was critical to reuniting the West Bank and Gaza.  For its part, the international community should respond generously to the $400 million emergency appeal by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  Warning that there was no place for incitement, he stressed that questioning Israel’s right to exist could not be tolerated.

More broadly, he said that in a tense regional environment, it was imperative to consolidate peace wherever possible, urging political leaders in Lebanon to work with the Prime Minister to resolve the presidential crisis.  He welcomed the restoration of calm along the “Blue Line” and in the area of operation of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  On the Golan, he urged the parties to the Disengagement Agreement to refrain from actions that could escalate the situation across the ceasefire line.

While some might say the volatility in the Middle East made it too risky to seek peace, the greater peril was not seeking a solution to the Palestinian question.  “The parties must act — and act now — to prevent the two-State solution from slipping away forever,” he stressed.  Upholding that vision offered the only means by which Israel could retain its Jewish majority and democratic status.  Amid a relentless wave of extremist terror across the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians had an opportunity to restore hope in a region torn apart by intolerance and cruelty, he said.  “I urge them to accept this historic challenge in the mutual interest of peace.”

Statements

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said that every day that passed with the Council failing to shoulder its Charter responsibility with regard to the question of Palestine meant the deaths of more innocent civilians, and more destruction of property, lives and the prospects for peace.  Neither support nor solidarity for Palestine had been lacking, but rather the political courage and will to implement the countless Council and General Assembly resolutions.  The failure to hold Israel, the occupying Power, accountable and to compel its compliance with the law had caused immense suffering for the Palestinian people.  Describing the suffering caused by Israeli settlement activities, the wars on Gaza and military raids in the West Bank, he said that any claims that such violence was necessary to ensure Israel’s security was offensive and must be rejected.  All peoples were entitled to security, not exclusively Israelis, and it could not be achieved through illegal and aggressive actions “that only fan the flames of violence and intensify anger and tensions”, he stressed, adding that such unlawful actions must be stopped.

He went on to emphasize that the United Nations must act to ensure protection for the Palestinian people, in line with international law and its own resolutions.  “Israel must choose between occupation and peace,” he added, noting that the colonial agenda had trumped peace in Israel, and that without international intervention, the situation could not be reversed.  In particular, the illegality of Israel’s settlement regime had been reaffirmed by the Council, 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 State around the world, he pointed out.  “The inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination and freedom, are non-negotiable.”  He called upon the Council to fulfil its responsibility to end the occupation and help to make peace and justice a reality for all the region’s peoples.  “It is your duty and it cannot be delegated, delayed or dismissed,” he stressed.  “Silence and inaction are the accomplices of the occupation and enemies of peace.”

DANNY DANON (Israel) said the international community looked to the Council to confront new threats to global stability, adding that the lives of millions were at stake in that confrontation with the forces of anarchy.  Nowhere was that more true than in the Middle East, which was experiencing a crisis of failed States and the rise of radical terror groups.  Israelis saw war in Syria, the presence of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in the Golan Heights and on the border with Egypt, Hizbullah strengthening its position in the north and Hamas rebuilding its terror tunnels leading into the heart of Israeli towns and cities.  The Israeli Defense Forces had uncovered Hamas terror cells planning killings and suicide bombings, he said, pointing out that, despite the threat of rocket attacks, Israel was taking steps to improve the lives of Gazans, having invested millions to triple the capacity of the Gaza crossing.  On the other hand, Hamas seized supplies intended to help the people of Gaza in order to build its terror infrastructure, he said, describing Hamas as “the greatest opponent to Gazans”.

He went on to state that Israelis saw Hizbullah in the north growing stronger, with more than 100,000 rockets ready to be fired at Israeli cities and having obtained advanced strategic weapons systems.  Noting that Hizbullah stored weapons in homes in Lebanon, he said Israel had regularly warned the Council about the Hizbullah threat and called for action.  The group was preparing for another round of fighting and must be disarmed, he emphasized, urging Lebanon to implement resolution 1701 (2006).  The link between Hamas and Hizbullah was Iran, the main destabilizing factor in the Middle East, he said, urging the Council to monitor all of that country’s actions and respond forcefully to all violations.  Israel was committed to making every effort for peace, yet Palestinians refused to come to the negotiating table, he said, adding:  “We want peace with security.”  Rewarding the Palestinian Authority would only push Palestinians further from the table, since it provided stipends of up to $3,500 per month to terrorists and their families, in a place where the average salary was just slightly more than $600.  Israel had recently stopped a shipment of dolls dressed as terrorists destined for children in the West Bank, he recalled, saying the Council must call upon the Palestinians to condemn terror attacks, demand that they stop incitement and stop giving them incentives to avoid dialogue.  The Council must also take a firm stand against all acts of terror, he stressed.

RODOLFO NIN NOVOA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay and Council President for January, spoke in his national capacity, saying that Israel and Palestine had the right to live in peace and to secure and recognized borders.  The solution to the present conflict must be reached through bilateral talks; however, paralysis was distancing the possibility to reach peace, he noted.  The international community must assume its responsibility to promote measures that would help the restoration of peace and security, a moral and strategic imperative, not only for the United Nations, but also, specifically, for the Council.  Compliance with intentional law and international humanitarian law were fundamental to overcoming the current situation and rebuilding a climate of confidence that would allow for a just and lasting peace.

Turning to the conflict in Syria, he condemned the systematic violations of human rights both by the Government and non-State actors, and called upon all parties to fulfil their obligations under international law.  He condemned the blocking of rapid and safe access of humanitarian aid to affected areas, particularly those under siege.  The peace process in Syria must include a broad, inclusive and transparent national dialogue with representatives from all sectors of society and in which Syrians could decide their own future.  Iraq and Afghanistan were two other examples of “humanitarian infernos”, the result of interventions that had not been successful and which had left voids now filled by radical extremism.  The situations in Yemen, North Africa, Somalia and northern Nigeria were also alarming, characterized by a narrow interconnectivity of terrorist organizations such as ISIL, Al-Qaida, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.  He reiterated the urgent need to confront that “terrorist scourge” in an effective way, within the framework of international law.

MANKEUR NDIAYE, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of Senegal, said the meeting was once again being held in the context of rising violence on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories.  “Land grabs” of Palestinian land and the demolition of Palestinian homes fanned the flames of hatred.  He recalled that a briefing on Jerusalem, delivered in Jakarta on 14 and 15 December 2015 on the initiative of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, had warned that the conflict could become a religious one.  That should shock the Council’s collective conscience and push it to step up for effective implementation of its resolutions.  Talks must be relaunched by the parties according to a set calendar, he stressed, adding that Israel should consider the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative.  Senegal supported the French proposal to send international observers to the region, he said, also appealing to States to honour their commitments made at the 2014 Cairo Pledging Conference.  While welcoming the progress made by the State of Palestine internationally, including its recognition by 136 countries, he said a two-State solution would lead to better management of the situation of terrorism in the Middle East.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States), addressing the Israeli-Palestinian issue, said her delegation remained concerned about the impact of terrorism on the situation on the ground.  Condemning attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians, including one just yesterday, she described them as “reprehensible and inexcusable”.  She also condemned Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, underlining that there could be no justification for any acts of terrorism, and all perpetrators must be brought by justice.  Additionally, when dealing with civilians in peaceful protests, both sides must show restraint.  Expressing deep concern that Israel had designated some 70 per cent of Area C as State land, she said that such designations, as well as the continued construction of new settlements, raised “serious concerns about Israel’s long-term intentions”.  Nevertheless, settlement activity could never be an excuse for violence, she emphasized.

Turning to Syria, she said her delegation was horrified by the immense human suffering and the fact that “the situation just keeps getting worse”.  Some 13.5 million people were now in need of humanitarian assistance, 6 million of them children, she said, adding that humanitarian access to besieged areas remained “pitiful”.  The Syrian regime was responsible for 12 of 15 sieges in the country, and in 2015, it had rejected 100 out of 113 United Nations requests for humanitarian convoys as part of a systematic strategy aimed at harming civilians.  Much more aid was needed, and medical teams must be granted access.  She called upon Member States to put forward robust pledges at the upcoming London conference, as well as to put increased political pressure on those who besieged civilians, dropped barrel bombs and committed other offenses.  The regime did not act alone, but had support from the Russian Federation, whose air strikes had killed mostly people with no connection to ISIL, she noted.  All the suffering and barbarity underscored the need to work towards a political solution, she said, welcoming efforts to launch peace talks in several days.  Finally, on Lebanon, she said it required a fully functioning Government to address threats of terror and the needs of Syrian refugees, among other challenges.  The country should focus on strengthening its own institutions and avoid becoming involved in Syria’s civil war.

MANUEL DOMINGOS AUGUSTO, Secretary of State for External Relations of Angola, said the Arab Spring had not delivered as expected, but it had brought about the collapse of State authority and given rise to new and extreme forms of authoritarianism.  Syria was now a fractured State, requiring a decisive push by regional and world Powers to crush terrorism and embrace all Syrians in the search for a political solution.  The same applied to Iraq, a broken State in which Baghdad wielded little or no influence over the Kurdish region or the Sunni-majority Anbar or Ninewa Provinces.  Also troubling was the disintegration of State structures in Libya and Yemen, he noted.  Unfortunately, the international community’s response had not been directed towards tackling root causes or bridging the gaps between ethnic and religious groups.  At present, the most pressing issue was to defeat radical groups.  In that context, ISIL’s consolidation of an extremist rogue State in parts of Syria and Iraq must be avoided, and political, diplomatic, military and economic cooperation intensified to that end.  Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he emphasized that the Council had a political and moral obligation to adopt a balanced and fair resolution.  Additionally, the nuclear deal with Iran could be a game changer if Council members reached out to regional Powers to resolve proxy wars and enduring crises, he added.

OLENA ZERKAL (Ukraine) said that a stable, democratic Palestinian State was in Israel’s long-term security interests.  While Ukraine supported the Quartet, that mediation tool needed a new impetus, she noted.  Given current tensions, political leaders from all sides should work together through visible actions to de-escalate the situation and restart a direct dialogue.  Other conflicts in the region could have a devastating impact on the peace process, creating fertile ground for violent extremism and terrorism that continued to create instability across the Middle East, she cautioned.  Root causes must be addressed and greater efforts were needed to prevent the further spread of extremism and to focus on the recent refugee crisis in Europe, triggered by the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.  Efforts must be redoubled to promote viable and lasting political solutions to conflict situations, including the Palestinian question, she added.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) urged the Council to shoulder its responsibility for the Palestinian cause, pointing out that 20 years had passed since the agreement that should have led to the creation of a Palestinian State on the basis of the 1967 borders and with Al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital.  Instead, there had been a dislocation of Palestinian territories and the construction of a separation wall.  Calls to end the occupation had gone unheeded, and some had exploited the deterioration caused by Israel to critique United Nations resolutions.  The parameters for peace were clear:  Palestinians and Arabs had accepted a two-State solution and presented an initiative in 2002 that addressed the situation and accepted normalized relations with Israel as long as a solution was found.  That had not been heeded, he pointed out, urging a focus on the Arab Peace Initiative, in line with resolutions that took Israel’s right to exist into consideration.  A two-State solution was necessary for coexistence among the region’s peoples, he reiterated, noting that Israel had annexed 70 per cent of Area C.  The situation on the ground would not wait for political compromises, he warned, noting that there had been no accountability for settlements and land seizures.  Egypt would work with its Council partners to save the two-State solution and provide an international protectorate for Palestinians.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) condemned violence, whomsoever the perpetrator or victim, emphasizing that the parties must do their utmost to de-escalate tensions and re-establish a mechanism to address incitement.  Those responsible for violence must be held accountable, but the underlying causes of conflict must also be addressed, meaning that the Palestinian Authority must advance reconciliation and control Gaza, while Israel must transfer more of the West Bank to Palestinian control.  If steps were not taken, the security situation would deteriorate.  Settlement construction and the demolition of Palestinian homes harmed the peace process, he said, calling upon Israel to reverse its recent decisions.  The United Kingdom would work with the United States, European Union, Middle East Quartet and regional partners to improve Palestinian lives and ensure that Israelis were safe.  On Syria, he emphasized that confidence-building measures must take place alongside negotiations, he said, adding that he looked forward to such steps by the Special Envoy.  The Council must help the Syrian parties to deliver them.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), noting that children made up almost one quarter of total Palestinian casualties, said that, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), nine of them had been killed in the last month alone and more than 205 injured.  The Fund had reported no Israeli child fatalities or injuries in that period.  Israeli forces deliberately shot civilians, including children, with live ammunition or rubber-coated bullets, and in some cases, they were denied medical treatment and left to suffer agonizing deaths, he said.  The occupying Power’s indiscriminate and disproportionate approach had been captured recently in a horrifying video that showed a military vehicle entering Palestinian refugee camps with an Israeli soldier warning over a loudspeaker that those who threw stones must go home or be gassed.  Since last September, he recalled, nearly 400 Palestinian children had been arrested or detained, with many seized from their homes at night and beaten, blindfolded, strip-searched and interrogated without legal counsel.  They were not allowed to communicate with their parents and were placed in solitary confinement.  Last November, more than 70 Palestinian schoolchildren had suffered from tear gas inhalation as Israeli forces fired tear gas canisters and sprayed skunk water at a school in Hebron.  Continuing inaction risked igniting a ticking time bomb, he warned.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said there had been repeated calls for the Council to put an end to the illegal occupation, as well as violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as calls to bring all parties to the negotiating table.  However, all indications were that such calls would not be heeded.  Advantage was being taken of the Council’s inaction while the situation of Palestinians continued to worsen.  Condemning all forms of violence, regardless of the perpetrators, including acts of violence against Israeli civilians, he called for an end to the destruction of Palestinian homes and property and the illegal seizure of their land, as well as other affronts against the population.  That included Israel’s recent annexation of 370 acres of land — an act about which the Council had not yet made its position known publicly, he noted.  Israel must end the occupation and accept the right of Palestinians to live behind the internationally recognized pre-1967 borders, while the State of Palestine must join the United Nations as a fully fledged member.  The Council should also respond to the call for Palestinians living in occupied territories to be placed under international protection.  “We must act without double standards,” and in a manner consistent with the principle of accountability, he stressed, warning that the stagnating negotiations were only creating frustration among Palestinians, which could be exploited by terrorist groups.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) noted that more than 150 Palestinians and some 25 Israelis had been killed since the recent spike in violence.  Condemning all attacks, he said a “lacking political horizon” was the cause of recent events, while punitive demolitions and illegal settlement activities fuelled tensions.  No one wanted the Palestinian cause to be perverted and used by Da’esh, but the temptation for some to want to manage the conflict and wait for circumstances to become more conducive to peace could lead to a new flare-up, he warned, calling for a “specific and credible political horizon”, namely the two-State solution.  He called for collective international support for such an outcome, emphasizing that the Council had a role to play in bringing forth a solution acceptable to both parties.  On Syria, he called for breaking the cycle of violence and establishing a political transition.  Three things were needed in the upcoming peace talks:  a swift improvement in the humanitarian situation, including lasting humanitarian access and the end of attacks against civilians; respect for the opposition’s designation of their own representatives; and the need for discussions to touch upon a political transition, in line with the Geneva communiqué.  A transitional Government body should be created to provide the country with a chance at reconciliation, he said.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said peace remained elusive in Libya and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was still dormant, with disaffected peoples on both sides resorting to violence.  That bleak situation was the responsibility of the region itself, those with influence and the Security Council.  The conclusion of the nuclear deal with Iran showed what could be achieved when States committed to diplomacy, he said, expressing hope that that example would be followed in relation to Syria.  Those involved — within the country, the region and beyond — must make difficult political decisions, he said, emphasizing that the bargaining must take place at the negotiating table and not beforehand.  He urged the parties to demonstrate the necessary political will and salvage what was left of Syria.  Leadership was needed to bring relief from the fighting and starvation, and to provide hope for a way out of the nightmare.  Amid the devastating conflicts in the Middle East, the Council had done too little to address the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said, pointing out that in the year that his delegation had been on the Council, settlement activity had intensified and street-level violence had become “the new normal”.  With the resumption of talks in the near future improbable, New Zealand urged Israelis, Palestinians and influential world leaders to reverse that trend, he said, stressing that there was scope for a decisive role for the Council, which must play its part.

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said it was unacceptable that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had become a “habit”.  Emphasizing that Israel’s settlement construction must stop, he said the Russian Federation was concerned about its plans to confiscate 154 acres, saying its de facto policies undermined its own statements.  The goal should be to reanimate negotiations, with substantial measures taken by both sides on the basis of consensus and the strengthening of Palestinian institutions, while considering Israeli security concerns, he stressed, adding that the Council should play more of a role in efforts to settle the conflict.

He also called for the beginning of the intra-Syrian talks, expressing surprise at attempts by some Council members to “muddy the waters” with unilateral interpretations of resolution 2254 (2015).  The Russian Federation was providing military assistance in the fight against ISIL and other terror groups, and it had caused them to lose their footholds, he said, adding that his country had also provided humanitarian aid.  Turning to Libya, he called for national unity, warning that ISIL was trying to link conflicts in the Middle East to those in the Mediterranean region.  In Yemen, the Russian Federation called upon all parties to halt the hostilities and resolve their problems through talks, he said, stressing that his country would support such efforts.  An effective response to such difficult challenges could only be found collectively, and the Russian Federation’s proposal for settling them was still on the table.

LIU JIEYI (China) recalled that during his visit to the Middle East, the President of China had focused on peace and development, urging the resolution of differences through dialogue and the choosing of a development path that took their own conditions into consideration.  He noted that a Chinese solution that addressed the symptoms and root causes of such issues had been welcomed by the region.  As for the question of Palestine, he said it lay at the root of all events in the Middle East.  The international community should urge Palestine and Israel to cease violence and ease tensions, with Israel taking the lead in that regard, and to take more robust measures to reactivate the peace process and redress historical injustices.  It should establish a new mechanism for peace in the Middle East and support the League of Arab States and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in that regard.  The Council, for its part, should consider the question of providing international protection to Palestinians and promote reconstruction.  China supported a Palestinian State with full sovereignty based on the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.  On Syria, he expressed hope that a new round of Geneva talks would be held soon, calling for enhanced cooperation among counterterrorism alliances.

MOTOHIDE YOSHIKAWA (Japan) recalled that, one year ago, the Council had condemned the heinous murder of two Japanese citizens in a terrorist attack in Syria.  A year later, such acts of violence continued to prey on the political vacuums and economic difficulties in the region, with civilians bearing the brunt.  From Syria to Yemen, the numerous crises in the region required urgent political solutions, to which proactive rhetoric and the drawing of fault lines did not contribute.  Dialogue must be maintained at all times, because it was the essence and power of diplomacy, he said, adding that the Council must take steps to reduce tensions.  Also critical was the need to recognize the underlying causes of the instability, including the rise of extremism and the consequent mass exodus, the attacks on and uprooting of families and the fading economic prospects.  Nowhere was a resumption of political dialogue and improvements on the ground more overdue than in Palestine, he said, reiterating calls for a freeze in settlement construction and for Palestine to maintain security cooperation with Israel.  The Council had “scarcely provided tangible support”, but the impasse must not prevent progress where it was possible.  Japan had contributed $1.6 billion to the Palestinian people since 1993, and believed that a sustainable Palestinian economy was indispensable for a two-State solution.

ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) said the Council had managed to move towards a solution on the Syrian issue, but on the question of Palestine, there was a “progressive lack of trust”.  Emphasizing that violence and acts of terrorism merited “energetic condemnation”, regardless of the perpetrators, he said security measures alone were not enough to end the violence.  The Council had a number of possibilities for action:  first, a declaration providing “added value”; second, convening an international conference that would reignite the spirit of Madrid; and third, the Arab Peace Initiative and the regional approach to a new security framework.  The construction of settlements in the occupied territories, illegal under international law, was one of the main threats to a two-State solution, he warned, stressing that ending them would be an unequivocal sign of good will on Israel’s part.  The international community should push forward the reconciliation process and the Palestinian Authority must resume its governing function in the Gaza Strip.  As for Syria, he expressed support for resolution 2254 (2015), as well as for the upcoming peace talks, while emphasizing that confidence-building measures were critical.  There was also a need for a national-level ceasefire, to be monitored by the United Nations.  On the humanitarian situation, he called upon all parties to provide unconditional access to besieged areas.

BERT KOENDERS (Netherlands), associating himself with the European Union, called upon the Syrian Government to stop immediately the use of cluster munitions, barrel bombs and prohibited war tactics, and upon all parties to implement resolution 2254 (2015).  More must be done to tackle the political and socioeconomic causes upon which Da’esh and other terror groups fed, he said, adding that Syrian women must be represented in peace talks.  The Netherlands would pledge more aid and structural support for Syrians in Syria and the region.  He went on to express support or a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, urging the creation of a favorable negotiating climate by ending violence, building confidence and strengthening the Palestinian economy.  Israel must stop its settlement-building, while Palestinian State building should be enhanced, he said.  A new negotiating format was needed, with substantial roles for Arab partners and the European Union, alongside the United States, on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.

CAROLINE ZIADE (Lebanon) noted that Israel had committed 1,168 violations of her country’s sovereignty in 2015, by land, air and sea, illustrating that country’s systematic disregard of the collective will to advance implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), to which Lebanon had repeatedly reaffirmed unwavering support.  Lebanon also renewed its determination to combat terrorism and address the social, economic and security impacts of the continuing flows of Syrian refugees, whose despair should summon the will to put a serious political process on track.  The upcoming conference in London would be an opportunity to reinvigorate international efforts to share responsibility for the refugees, while alleviating their suffering and the burden on their host communities.  As for the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Israeli reign of terror continued unabated, she said, pointing out that the last two generations of Palestinian youth knew nothing but administrative detention and Israeli might.  She asked how long the Council would remain silent while the self-proclaimed, so-called “only democracy” in the Middle East continued housing demolitions, land seizures and intensified settlement activities, as well as measures that segregated people in East Jerusalem in violation of their fundamental and inalienable rights.  All those actions were undeniably part of an effort to render a two-State solution unattainable, she said.

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil) said the United Nations had a responsibility to foster tolerance and to counter xenophobia and sectarian platforms.  Not only was the credibility of affected countries at stake, but that of the entire international community.  He said 2015 had been especially challenging for the Middle East, citing the deteriorating conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen.  For Israelis and Palestinians, it had been yet another year marked by heightened fear, increased violence and civilian casualties.  Without any credible political horizon, the occupation of Palestine remained unchanged while tensions and illegal actions, such as settlement expansion, continued unabated.  “Simply put, the occupation must come to an end,” he emphasized, urging the Council to establish parameters for the prompt realization of a two-State solution while noting that it had once again not lived up to its Charter responsibilities.  Regarding Syria, he encouraged the parties to fully implement the road map set out in Council resolution 2254 (2015) by engaging in good-faith formal negotiations and establishing a nationwide ceasefire.  All attacks on civilians must cease, including the use of barrel bombs, he stressed, adding that unhindered access to humanitarian assistance was “non-negotiable”.  He agreed with the Secretary-General that the deliberate starvation of civilians was a war crime.  Turning to Yemen, he called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law.

KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV (Kazakhstan) said that given the grave situation in Syria, his delegation called upon the Syrian Government to speed up negotiations and implement resolution 2254 (2015).  The dire humanitarian crisis, including the use of hunger as a weapon of war and the massive expulsion of citizens, must also be addressed.  On the question of Palestine, he called for its fully fledged membership of the United Nations and for a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Expressing concern about tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, he called upon both to resume diplomatic relations as soon as possible and to work towards peace.  Kazakhstan, for its part, was supplying Iran with uranium, as per the nuclear programme agreement, he said.  Regarding terrorism, he said Kazakhstan supported the speedy adoption of a comprehensive document on combating international terrorism.  To address the impact of terrorism, including the massive exodus from the Middle East, it was necessary to mobilize the potential of regional structures such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the OIC, he said.

SYED AKBARUDDIN (India) said the Council should take the lead in efforts to resolve the long-standing Middle East conflict, expressing support for a negotiated solution.  India supported bilateral relations with Palestine and maintained a foreign policy based on supporting nation-building and solidarity with the Palestinian people, as demonstrated by activities including the launch of a new digital innovation centre at Al-Quds University.  Dialogue remained the only viable option, he emphasized, urging both sides to resume the peace process soon.  The situation in Yemen remained a concern, he continued, urging all parties to resolve their differences.  Turning to Syria, he said a political, not military, solution was needed, and welcomed the adoption of resolution 2254 (2015), expressing hope that the upcoming talks would produce results.

IOANNIS VRAILAS, Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation, said that only the re-establishment of a political horizon and the resumption of dialogue could stop the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.  Security measures alone were not enough.  The underlying causes of the conflict must be addressed and a fundamental change in Israel’s policy regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in Area C, would increase economic opportunities, empower Palestinian institutions and enhance security and stability for both sides.  The European Union was united in its commitment to a two-State solution, and urged both sides to create a path back to meaningful negotiations.  All parties must change the situation in Gaza, he said, reiterating the offer to both parties of a package of European political, economic and security support in the event of a final peace agreement.

He went on to say that, as war raged in Syria, the regime had granted humanitarian access in Madaya, but that was far from enough.  People had been trapped for months in other sieges, without access to food, medication or basic services.  There was an urgent need to halt the conflict and end the population’s suffering, he said.  In Iraq, some progress had been made towards vanquishing Da’esh, but it could not be fully defeated with civil war continuing in Syria.  The European Union was the biggest donor to the Syrian crisis and it had committed substantial support to Turkey, he said, adding that it was also assembling comprehensive support packages for Jordan and Lebanon.  On Iran, he said Implementation Day of the nuclear accord had shown that multilateralism could deliver effective results and that cooperation could prevail over confrontation.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said the situation in Iraq, Syria and Yemen could not eclipse the Palestinian question, which was one of the core causes of the rise and spread of popular anger and alienation across the Arab and Muslim world.  Extremist ideologies and violent groups in the Middle East would be difficult to defeat until the essence of their narrative — injustices against Muslim people, especially Palestinians — was justly and effectively addressed, she emphasized.  Recent events had reinforced the conclusion that there would be no peace or stability in the Holy Land unless Israel accommodated a viable Palestine.  Unfortunately, Israel had adopted an inflexible policy, she said, stressing that the Council must mobilize the political will to implement its own binding resolutions requiring Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories.  Noting that the wider regional instability stemmed from foreign interventions in Iraq and elsewhere, giving way to disorder spread by Da’esh and other terrorist groups, she said those groups must be defeated and States must work towards building peace in Syria.  To that end, consistent dialogue throughout the region, supported by major Powers and promoted by the OIC, was essential, she said.

MUHAMMAD ANSHOR (Indonesia) said 2015 had been another bleak year for the Palestinian people.  Noting the violence that had affected the region’s stability, he said the Council had not been able to respond decisively.  The occupation was nothing but a betrayal of the Palestinian people, contrary to United Nations principles, and it must end, giving way for the peace process to move forward to a just and lasting solution.  Pending the attainment of a final solution, Israel must comply with the international obligations of being an occupying Power.  Turning to Syria, he said the consequences of the situation there had spilled over the country’s borders, as well as those of the region.  Indonesia called for an end to violence so as to enable the immediate and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance to all victims.  Da’esh continued to take advantage of the conflict and combating that terrorist group should be a uniting factor, he said.

MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria) said that, given the extremely grave situation, Israel must immediately end its occupation of Palestinian territory and meet its obligations under scores of United Nations resolutions.  The situation had deteriorated further due to Israel’s hostile practices against the Palestinian people and its settlement projects, which were war crimes.  The crux of the conflict was the occupation and its consequences, including forced displacement, and the Council must put an end to Israeli violations.  Israel continued to occupy the Syrian Golan, and the United Nations must deal with that reality.  By supporting terrorists in the disengagement area with fire power, Israel had also violated the agreement it had signed in 1974, he said.  Turning to the situation in Syria, he said he would not address allegations made against his Government by delegations that had sponsored terrorist groups that aimed to destroy his country.

SIMON KASSAS, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, said the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process and continued violence cast doubt on the validity of the Oslo Accords.  Peace could only advance if directly negotiated by the parties, with strong international support.  Only sustained negotiations, entered into in good faith, would resolve differences, he said, emphasizing that violence and inflammatory rhetoric must be set aside in favour of dialogue.  The 26 June 2015 Comprehensive Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Palestine on the Church’s activity in Palestine, had entered into force on 2 January, he noted, expressing hope that it would offer an example of dialogue and cooperation, especially for other Arab- and Muslim-majority countries.  On the Syrian conflict, he urged an end to the flow of arms into the region and intensified humanitarian action, expressing support for resolution 2254 (2015).

GHOLAMHOSSEIN DEHGHANI (Iran), speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, said failure to hold Israel accountable had led to the deteriorating situation in Palestine.  The Movement urged the Council to pave the way for the fulfilment of Palestinian rights and a peaceful resolution of the conflict.  The humanitarian disaster inflicted on Gaza had not been redressed, he said, pressing the Council to address Israel’s illegal colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, in accordance with international law.  Systematic violations, including the demolition of homes, forced displacement of the Palestinians and provocations by Israeli settlers must be addressed immediately, he said, reaffirming the Non-Aligned Movement’s solidarity with Palestinians.  Turning to Lebanon, he urged implementation of resolution 1701 (20006) in a manner that would guarantee the consolidation of security in that country and prevent Israel from violating its sovereignty.  He condemned all Israeli measures to alter the legal, physical and demographic status of the occupied Syrian Golan, demanding adherence to resolution 497 (1981).

MAHLATSE MMINELE (South Africa) said that, as in the past, Council members would again declare their commitment to a two-State solution.  They would also reiterate that an essential part of attaining peace in the Middle East was through the establishment of a free and sovereign Palestine State, coexisting side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel, on the basis of the 4 June 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  However, the Council’s actions would expose those words and commitments as hollow because nothing had been done to encourage and move the parties towards restarting the long-stalled negotiations, and to prepare the ground for the difficult way forward on negotiating the issues.  Furthermore, the situation on the ground grew worse through continued acts of violence against Palestinians and Israelis, including ongoing settlement activity and the high rate at which Palestinian structures were being demolished.  To that end, South Africa deplored the recent announcement by the Government of Israel declaring 370 acres in the West Bank State land, he said.  As the Palestinian people continued to experience injustices, South Africa appealed to all parties to cease the violence and assume a peaceful path that would ensure that innocent lives were not lost.

HAHN CHOONG-HEE (Republic of Korea) said the situation in the Middle East had a tremendous impact beyond the region.  While millions of refugees from Syria, Yemen and Iraq were moving towards Europe and other regions, violent extremism was expanding globally.  The international community must step up efforts to resolve the conflicts in the region, he emphasized.  To that end, the Republic of Korea strongly supported the Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, and hoped that the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on 16 January would serve as a catalyst for a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East.  The vicious cycle of attacks and retaliation between Palestinians and Israelis remained a serious international concern, he said, urging all parties to work out a viable framework for the realization of a two-State solution.  On Syria, he welcomed the announcement of the intra-Syrian dialogue and expressed appreciation of the efforts made by the Special Envoy.  Turning to Yemen, he stressed the need to convene the third round of peace talks as soon as possible, and urged the key players in the region to refrain from any activities that could fuel the conflict.

NAME TO COME (Morocco) said he hoped the Palestinian dreams of a State of their own would come true.  However, no peace settlement had yet been reached, which had led Palestinians to despair.  The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People had been an opportunity to move efforts forward, but the situation in Jerusalem required resolution because the city’s identity could never be changed.  Palestinians must be able to live in dignity and Jerusalem must remain a symbol of peace and coexistence between cultures, he emphasized.  UNRWA must be supported, he added, noting Morocco’s efforts in that regard.  Peace was the only way to settle the conflict, through good-faith negotiations to reach a resolution.  Expressing support for the Arab Peace Initiative, he said efforts to mobilize the peace process must move forward on the basis of a known time frame and with a goal that would result in an end to the conflict.

MARÍA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO (Nicaragua) said the Palestinian people continued to be victims of the Israeli occupation, enduring enormous suffering, desperation and uncertainty, noting that there were still Member States that continued to tolerate and condone the illegal occupation.  The Council had been unable to protect the Palestinian population, showing complete disdain for their suffering, and to this day, Palestinians suffered under inhuman conditions and Israel’s suffocating economic blockade.  Would they ever be able to attain the Sustainable Development Goals without their freedom, she asked before urging the Council to call upon Israel to finally lift the blockade of Gaza, stop illegal settlement activities and end the occupation.  It should adopt a resolution containing a definitive timeline for the establishment of a free and independent State of Palestine, she said, reiterating her delegation’s preference for dialogue over and above war, regime change or foreign interventions.

JOSÉ ALBERTO ANTONIO SANDOVAL COJULÚN (Guatemala), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said recent events, such as the attacks on women in Jerusalem and the West Bank, must not happen again.  Such incidents demonstrated the need to work together to end the spiralling violence against civilians.  Holding perpetrators on both sides to account was important, and all parties should refrain from making statements that could inflame tensions.  Israel’s continuing construction of settlements, as well as plans to expand them, threatened the two-State solution, he said, recalling that Israel had been entrusted with meeting the needs of the Palestinians under their occupation, and was responsible for granting access to humanitarian personnel.  The walls, checkpoints, home demolitions and restrictions on non-governmental organizations would not provide a solution to the conflict.  On Syria, he appealed for good-faith negotiations aimed at ending the conflict.

ABDULAZIZ S M A ALJARALLAH (Kuwait), speaking on behalf of the OIC, said Israel’s actions were racist and sought to change the Islamic character of Jerusalem — a blatant violation of international law that would only stoke violent extremism and hatred.  Israel could not continue to act as if it were above the law, committing crimes without fear of reaction or sanction, he emphasized.  In that regard, he asked the Council to shoulder its responsibility to the Palestinian people and push Israel to end its settlement activity, as well as attacks against Palestinian civilians.  He called for a Council resolution aiming to end the occupation, in line with international benchmarks and relevant resolutions of the United Nations.  The international community must not let the progress of the last few years “go up in smoke” due to Israel’s arrogance and intransigence.  He called for an international conference to regalvanize the peace process, with a view to ensuring the success of a two-State solution.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said the Palestinian question remained at the heart of the Middle East turmoil, and underlined several political, moral and ideological rifts being played out on the broader canvas of current geopolitical realities.  It was no doubt convenient for various vested groups to allow such divisions to widen, in total disregard for the will and conscience of people around the world.  “We must reject such parochial, self-defeating schemes, and continue to remain on the right side of history on the Palestinian question,” he said, reiterating his country’s unwavering support for the just and legitimate struggle of the Palestinians.  Noting that the toxic and corrosive messages used by many terrorists and violent extremists around the world often used the unresolved Palestinian question to justify their own misguided agenda, he said it was a shared responsibility to expose the sheer hypocrisy and hollowness of those arguments and to defeat them through a combination of strategies rooted in human rights principles.  The world would fall short of its objectives if it failed to mobilize combined political efforts, including through the Council, to find a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis and thus deny its opponents one of their core rallying agendas.

AMRITH ROHAN PERERA (Sri Lanka) said that, as Chair of the United Nations Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, his country was concerned about escalating violence and casualties.  The Council had already condemned settlement activities, and the blockade of Gaza must be lifted within the framework of Council resolution 1860 (2009).  Calling for a just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine and an end to the Palestinian people’s suffering, he said both parties must create the necessary environment, with mutual confidence-building measures to support efforts to resume dialogue and substantive negotiations.  A two-State solution depended on the political unity and economic advancement of the Palestinian people, he emphasized, while cautioning that the question of Palestine remained a serious threat to international peace and security, and a comprehensive and just settlement was a global priority.

CARLOS FORADORI (Argentina) said 2016 would mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Madrid Peace Conference and almost 50 years since the adoption of resolution 242 (1967) on the question of Palestine.  Argentina had supported the “White Helmet” effort and had sent volunteers and humanitarian goods to Lebanon in support of refugees, he recalled.  With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said leaders of both sides had a responsibility to forge ahead towards a solution.  Efforts had been made in the Council, through the Quartet and other mechanisms, but Israel must, above all, end the occupation, he emphasized.  Palestinian leaders must address Israel’s security concerns and attacks against Israelis must end immediately.  Regional instability was fuelled by the terrorist threat, which must be firmly condemned and stamped out.  A nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East would be a positive step, he said, expressing regret that the impasse over holding a conference on that issue persisted.  The failure of States to resolve conflicts was a result of the spread of Da’esh and other terrorist groups, he said.

ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar) expressed concern about the situation in Jerusalem, including Judaization of the city and violations against the Palestinian people.  The road map and the Arab Peace Initiative and restoring peace were essential, as was an end to Israeli violations, she said, calling upon the parties to return to the peace process.  The aggression suffered by civilians in Gaza was untenable, she said, noting that Qatar supported a range of projects, including the construction of housing and a hospital.  In Syria, civilians were suffering horrifically as a result of starvation policies and barrel bombing.  Council resolution 2254 (2015) called for access to suffering populations and an end to attacks against civilian targets, yet none of those and other demands had been met.  The only lasting solution was an inclusive Syrian-led process that would fulfil the people’s aspirations, she said.

GEIR O. PEDERSEN (Norway) said that, despite continuing turmoil in the Middle East, the recent implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action had been a victory for diplomacy and an important milestone for international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.  On Syria, he expressed support for all efforts supporting the forthcoming talks in Geneva.  In the meantime, however, “we must step up our work to alleviate the grave humanitarian situation”, he said, urging all States to make pledges at next week’s London donor conference.  In line with political efforts throughout the region, he urged both parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to take all necessary steps to resume political dialogue and end the current stalemate.  The only viable route to a lasting peace and stability was a credible political process towards a two-State solution, he said, emphasizing that responsibility lay with the parties themselves.  He went on to encourage the Council to resume its own responsibility and provide constructive assistance in that process.  In order to make progress, several actions were needed:  first, ending all violence; secondly, ending Israel’s settlement-building; third, strengthening Palestine’s political institutions and governance structures and implementing essential reforms; and fourth, ensuring cooperation between the parties on tangible measures to strengthen the Palestinian economy and the reconstruction of Gaza.

HALIT ÇEVIK (Turkey) said the Middle East was more unstable and unpredictable than it had been at any time in its recent history.  Israel’s continuing occupation — including its recent decision to appropriate land in the West Bank — and the violations of Palestinian human rights must cease immediately.  The situation in Gaza also remained worrying and Israel should respond to continual calls for the lifting of the blockade there.  Describing the status quo as “unsustainable and unacceptable”, he said the European Union’s decision on Israeli products and the raising of the Palestinian flag at the United Nations were steps in the right direction.

Turning to the situation next door, he said that, as a neighbouring country, “we are at critical turn” in Syria.  The work of the International Syria Support Group and the adoption of Council resolution 2254 (2015) were important steps, and the Council should ensure the implementation of all measures outlined in that text.  The tragic stories of starvation and death were just the latest examples of violations of international law, he said, pointing to the recent attacks by Syria’s allies against civilians under the pretext of fighting Da’esh.  The opposition should be able to choose their own representatives, he said, emphasizing that attempts to dilute the opposition before talks even began would harm the peace process.  Syria’s security was also linked to the international effort to combat Da’esh and to the fate of Iraq, he said, reiterating in that regard Turkey’s commitment to the latter’s efforts to combat terrorism.

AHMED SAREER (Maldives) said a peaceful resolution of the situation in Palestine was moving further out of reach.  Actions had not substantiated Israel’s expressed commitment to a two-State solution.  He was meanwhile pleased at the increasing recognition of Palestine as an independent and autonomous State, as part of that solution.  He condemned Israel’s unwarranted restrictions on the Palestinians, which threatened their lives and livelihoods.  The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories had had to resign owing to Israel’s repeated refusal to grant him access as an impartial observer.  The Israeli authorities should cooperate with all Organization officials in carrying out their mandate.  The suffering of the Palestinian people was inhumane and had become the norm, with families living in constant fear and children growing up with no comprehension of peace or stability.  Radicalism and terrorism grew where hope was lost and injustice prevailed.  There had been an alarming increase in violence in the region, he said, citing attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Iran and in Beirut by the so-called Islamic State, whose ideologies totally contravened Islam.  He welcomed the international community’s initiatives to end that evil and urged the Council to take meaningful actions to end the conflicts in the region, including Palestine.

RODOLFO REYES RODRÍGUEZ, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the situation in the occupied territory remained deeply troubling, with continued acts of violence, to which the prevailing despair was driving young people.  Emphasizing that the conflict must not be overshadowed by seemingly more urgent crises, he noted that what many who had spoken about the dangers of violent extremism were missing was the fact that the unresolved question of Palestine was one of its primary recruitment tools, as were Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and its ill treatment of Palestinian people.  The path to a two-State solution was clear in the Quartet road map, but the situation seemed bleak after 20 years of negotiations had ended without mutual trust.  A Security Council resolution with clear parameters and a time frame for ending the conflict would be the right step forward, he said, stressing that the Palestinian people could not wait any longer.

ROLANDO CASTRO CÓRDOBA (Costa Rica) said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the situation in Syria and Yemen had witnessed an escalation of violence.  Reiterating the urgency of peace negotiations based on obligations to international principles and Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, he said a political solution must be found using a new model for peace to resolve differences to end the suffering.  As the Syrian conflict entered its sixth year, he welcomed the adoption of resolution 2254 (2015) and hoped negotiations in Geneva initiated a peace process.  Also of great concern were recent developments in Yemen, including reports about repeated attacks on a hospital in Al Thawra and restricted access to water and other basic services, he said, joining the United Nations in calling for guarantees to humanitarian access in affected areas.

RODOLFO REYES RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba) said that, despite the international community’s serious attention to the situation in the region, the Council had been unable to adopt a resolution that would end Israel’s occupation, the Gaza blockade, the separation wall and war crimes that had been committed.  Asking why the body was unable to fulfil its responsibilities, he said that the United States’ persistent opposition and use of its veto vote in the Council had prevented a decision from being made on the question of Palestine.  The solution to the conflict would contribute significantly to a de-escalation of tensions in the region, he said, condemning Israel’s violations and supporting Palestine’s full United Nations membership.  Turning to Syria, he said the search for peace must respect the rights of the people and a political solution through dialogue and negotiations was the only way to resolve the conflict.

ABDALLAH AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) condemned aggression against the United Kingdom embassy in Tehran and pressed the Council to request Iran to respect its legal international commitments and prosecute those responsible.  The Palestinian cause was at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s interests.  His country had repeatedly called on the Council to condemn Israel’s crimes.  Israel continued to erase Arab identity and change the nature of the Al-Aqsa mosque, as well as build a separation wall and exploit resources in the occupied Arab Golan.  Its occupation of Gaza was compounded by its arbitrary practices in the West Bank.  He advocated the creation of an international protection regime for the Palestinian State, including Al-Quds al-Sharif, and for safeguarding the two-State solution.  Urging Israel to cease its settlement policies, he supported a timeline to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian Arab Golan lands, and for it to withdraw to 1967 borders.  In Syria, he regretted that the Council had been unable to lift the siege on Madaya.  The Council must pressure Syrian authorities to meet the nutritional and medical needs of its own citizens, he said, noting that 12 of 14 besieged cities were under the Government’s control.  A political solution, based on the Geneva declaration and the two Vienna declarations, was needed.  He urged efforts to uphold a ceasefire, in line with resolution 2254 (2015), noting that Saudi Arabia, through the International Syria Support Group, would work to ensure a political transition, pursuant to those documents.

ANTHONY BOSAH (Nigeria) expressed concern about the upsurge in violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, describing reports of Israel’s decision to expropriate 154 hectares of land in the West Bank as “deeply worrying”.  If implemented, that would be Israel’s largest land seizure in that area since August 2014, he noted.  Such actions undermined a two-State solution, which the international community broadly accepted as the only path to resolving the question of Palestine.  Urging Israel to freeze all settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, he urged both Israel and Palestine to strengthen their engagement with the Middle East Quartet.  Both sides must take steps to resume negotiations on the basis of relevant Council resolutions, the Quartet road map, the Madrid Principles, the Arab Peace Initiative and relevant agreements between them.

AMJAD MOHAMMAD SALEH AL-MOUMANI (Jordan) said fundamental changes had taken place in the international global security architecture over the last few years.  The Middle East had featured prominently in many more Security Council meetings, which reflected the gravity of the situation in that region.  On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he noted that the Council’s various resolutions had been set aside and disregarded.  The only way to achieve peace in the Middle East and prevent bloody conflict was for the Palestinians to be able to live in an independent, viable State.  Jordan was “living” the question of Palestine due to its historic role in the issue.

Unilateral, provocative measures, particularly settlement activities, must end, he said, emphasizing that his country would continue to oppose Israeli aggressions in that regard, as well as its illegal activities against Muslim and Christian holy sites.  There was also an urgent need to maintain and grow the diplomatic momentum towards a resolution of the tragic situation in Syria, bearing in mind the maintenance of that country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and in line with resolution 2254 (2015).  It was “very encouraging” that negotiations would begin in a few days, he said, citing the heavy burden of Syrian refugees that Jordan carried.

DENIS RÉGIS (Haiti) said the threat posed by terrorist and extremist groups was an “affront to mankind’s conscience”.  Citing a list of atrocities committed by such groups, he said “their tentacles now spread to all countries”.  That threat was accompanied by massive violations of human rights and a wave of refugees, among other challenges.  The current impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process also added to the threats facing the region, he noted.  The resolution of that conflict was one of the keys to stability and security in the Middle East.  He stressed Israel’s right to exist within secure borders, as well as that of the Palestinians to live in peace in their own sovereign State.  Haiti, which had historic ties of friendship with Israel, had recognized the Palestinian State, while believing that its borders must be agreed through a negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestine.  Haiti, therefore, supported all international initiatives aimed at finding a just, lasting and fair solution whose modalities would fall to the parties to resolve.  The United Nations was best placed to promote a relaunch of negotiations, which were essential to any peace process.

HADAS ESTER MEITZAD Israel, taking the floor a second time, said there was no evidence to support claims by her counterpart from Lebanon that Israel had undermined the tripartite mechanism and its commitment to resolution 1701 (2006).  Lebanon was accusing Israel of violations after the launch of a rocket by Hizbullah from southern Lebanon, she said, noting that Hizbullah, which held seats in Lebanon’s Parliament, had helped the Syrian President besiege Madaya.  Iran sponsored Hizbullah, and through its interventions in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, continued to wreak havoc, she added.

Responding to comments by Saudi Arabia’s representative, she said that country, which continued to bomb civilians in Yemen, should refrain from lecturing Israel on violations of international humanitarian law, and Syria’s representative should not make false statements requesting assistance.  She also responded to representatives of Malaysia and Venezuela — describing them as countries with two of the worst human rights records — for having criticized “the only democracy in the Middle East”.  She said the observer for the State of Palestine had not provided answers as to why Palestinians refused to negotiate or condemn terrorism against Israel.  As for Gaza, she said the representatives of Bangladesh and Nicaragua did not have the facts.  Israel was committed to approving measures to address the water and energy needs of Gazans, in addition to its commitment to a two-State solution, she stressed.

MURNI ABDUL HAMID (Malaysia), also taking the floor a second time, rejected the comments by her counterpart from Israel, saying her country had the highest respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.  On the other hand, Israel had violated countless Council and Assembly resolutions and did not cooperate with United Nations human rights mechanisms.  Furthermore, Malaysia was not an occupying Power, but rather, a member of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which placed it in a unique position to observe the true nature of human rights violations by the occupying Power.

For information media. Not an official record.