Accelerated Settlement Activity Casts Doubt on Israel’s Commitment to Two-State Solution, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

SC/12327
18 April 2016
7673rd Meeting (AM & PM)

Accelerated Settlement Activity Casts Doubt on Israel’s Commitment to Two-State Solution, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Representatives of Israel, State of Palestine Trade Heated Words in Day-long Debate

The demolition of Palestinian homes and businesses in the West Bank was continuing at an alarming rate and plans for more illegal Jewish settlements in the area cast doubt on Israel’s commitment to a two-State solution, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this morning at the start of a day-long Security Council open debate on the Middle East.

“The creation of new facts on the ground through demolitions and settlement-building raises questions about whether Israel’s ultimate goal is in fact to drive Palestinians out of certain parts of the West Bank, thereby undermining any prospect of transition to a viable Palestinian State,” said Mr. Ban, pointing out that 20-year-old Palestinians living under occupation had seen no political progress at all during their lifetime.

By early April, the number of Palestinian structures demolished had exceeded the entire total of those destroyed in 2015, displacing 840 people, he said.  Meanwhile, plans to build more settlements and retroactively legalize construction in almost untraceable steps, together with the declaration of “State land” in March — the first in more than 18 months — signalled that Israel’s strategic settlement enterprise continued to expand on land intended for a future Palestinian State.

For more than six months, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory had been gripped by a surge in deadly violence, triggered by individual attacks perpetrated by Palestinians, he continued, condemning all such attacks, which had only deepened the legacy of divisiveness, hatred and grief.  The Middle East Quartet was moving forward on a report that would review the situation on the ground and threats to a two-State solution, while providing recommendations on how to advance peace, he said.

Turning to Lebanon, he said he had addressed that country’s political and security issues with Lebanese leaders in Beirut on 24 and 25 March.  On the occupied Syrian Golan, he noted the statements made on Sunday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel that his country would never pull back from the area, and reminded the Netanyahu Administration of its obligation to implement Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 497 (1981).

He said that during a ministerial conference that he had co-chaired with the Presidents of the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank last Friday, eight countries as well as the European Union had pledged $1 billion for a concessional loan facility and other aid to help Lebanon, Jordan and other countries disproportionately affected by the conflict in Syria.

Meanwhile, Israel’s representative questioned the Palestinians’ desire for peace, recalling that his compatriots had faced a wave of daily attacks that had left 34 people dead and hundreds injured over the last few months.  Instead of condemning the attacks, the Palestinian leadership had encouraged them and treated terrorists like heroes.  He demanded of the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine:  “Will you condemn Palestinians who commit terror attacks against Israelis?  You can do it right now.  We are being translated into five different languages.  Here is your chance.”

In the ensuing heated exchange, the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine retorted that the Palestinians had to defend themselves against Israeli incitement.  “You are oppressing us.  You are sitting on our lives.  Leave us alone.  Let my people be free.  Shame on you; you are an occupier, you are a colonizer.”  Asking when the Council would finally act, he called for a firm resolution to address Israel’s intensified illegal settlement campaign, the rising extremism and violence of Israeli settlers and the need to protect Palestinians.  The Palestinian people could no longer wait, he emphasized, pointing out that Israel’s plans to construct settlements had jumped by 250 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 over the corresponding period in 2015, and that more than 200 Palestinians had been killed since October 2015.  “At a time when the situation is boiling, the passivity and silence of the Security Council is truly shocking,” he said, stressing that it was time to stop managing the conflict and to mobilize political will.

Egypt’s representative said mere words of regret were not enough and called on the Council to move from “theoretical” statements to action to end the occupation.  The Palestinians and their right to self-determination and an independent State seemed to have been forgotten.  Exploiting the crisis for political gain could not be tolerated, he said, asking whether the Israeli Government would prefer to continue the occupation while thumbing its nose, or work towards a just, comprehensive solution.

New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs asked why the Council had not adopted a single resolution on the question of Palestine in more than seven years.  The international community expected it to reassert a two-State solution as the only path to peace; to support the work of the Middle East Quartet, the League of Arab States and the international conference proposed by France; and to endorse a path back to negotiations, potentially through a “parameters” resolution.  Its timing and relationship to external processes were the only remaining issues, he said, adding that “maximalist” positions were likely to fail.

France’s representative said the rift between Palestinians and Israelis was fuelling the radicalization of public opinion, and many people no longer believed in two States.  “We have to take a long, hard look at the reality on the ground,” he said.  France had proposed a ministerial meeting be held in Paris in June among the Quartet, the five permanent Council members, the League of Arab States and other stakeholders to reiterate support for a two-State solution and define a timetable, specific goals and a methodology for an international conference later in the year.

Venezuela’s representative said Israel’s prolonged occupation merely served to consolidate settlements on Palestinian land.  While condemning retaliatory attacks by Palestinians, he nonetheless rejected the occupying Power’s disproportionate and heavy-handed response, citing reports that of the 149 Palestinians murdered by the Israel Defense Forces last year, almost half had not posed a security threat.  The Council should heed the petition to create an international protection system for the Palestinian population, with the participation of United Nations aid agencies already in the region.

Angola’s representative said regional Powers must set aside their rivalries and take into account the wake-up call of terrorism on their doorsteps.  The Israeli Government’s heavy-handed approach was counter-productive, while the Palestinian divide hampered their ability to engage constructively.  Some members of the Security Council had not been using their leverage over Israel to halt settlement activity.  Echoing that sentiment, South Africa’s representative said the Council’s failure could be seen in Israel’s continuing expansion of settlements and expropriation of land, both of which were in contravention of international law and obstructed a two-State solution.  Nigeria’s representative warned against a scenario in which extremists on both sides dictated the political agenda, declaring:  “Provocations and hostile rhetoric must be avoided.”

Turning to the crisis in Syria, speakers welcomed the cessation-of-hostilities agreement that had taken effect on 27 February and the start of the latest round of peace talks in Geneva earlier this month.  Lebanon’s representative stressed the need for help to deal with the more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees residing in his country, emphasizing that it was also crucial to follow up on the various donor conferences.

Japan’s representative, echoing the sentiments of many delegates, said the truce had created the conditions to access besieged areas in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.  In addition to food and other supplies, Japan would provide an additional $11 million in grant aid through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to rehabilitate three electricity facilities in Syria.

Syria’s representative called upon the Security Council immediately to condemn a 17 April meeting held by the Israeli occupation Government in the occupied Syrian Golan.  Emphasizing that Syria’s right to recover the occupied Golan was not open to negotiation, he said that sooner or later, it would be cleansed of Israeli occupation.  Settlements were not just a war crime, but also a systematic Israeli policy aimed at killing any chance for peace in the region or for a viable Palestinian State.

On Yemen, delegates urged the start of United Nations-brokered peace talks in Kuwait without further delay.  Ukraine’s representative said he was encouraged by the 10 April ceasefire between the warring parties, and emphasized that it must be followed by meaningful dialogue and intensified efforts to drive back Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Al-Qaida.

Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation, noting that her country was one of the largest donors to Yemen, stressed the need to address that country’s massive humanitarian needs, saying the talks in Kuwait must bring a political solution closer.

On Libya, the Russian Federation’s representative said international efforts were moving too slowly and exacerbating the situation, calling for better coordination of initiatives.  Citing information that suggested some international partners might have a hidden agenda in Libya, he said the country needed help, but only in the context of international law.

Several speakers expressed condolences and solidarity with the people of Ecuador over the deadly earthquake that struck the nation on Saturday night.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, Spain, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Senegal, China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), India, Iraq, Indonesia, Jordan, Cuba, Kuwait (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Nicaragua, Norway, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Turkey, Iceland, Viet Nam, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Qatar, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as of the European Union, the Holy See and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Taking the floor a second time were representatives of Israel and Malaysia.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m., suspended at 1:24 p.m., resumed at 3:10 pm and ended at 6:46 p.m.

Statement by Secretary-General

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, expressing his wishes for a happy, peaceful Passover holiday, said that the aim of his visit to the Middle East three weeks ago with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim had been to highlight the need to increase development aid through innovative financing mechanisms for countries like Lebanon and Jordan that had been disproportionately impacted by the conflict in Syria.  During a ministerial conference that he had co-chaired with the Presidents of the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank last Friday, eight countries as well as the European Union had pledged $1 billion for a concessional loan facility, $141 million in grants and $500 million for a guarantee facility.  Other nations had also expressed support for the initiative, he said.

Turning to the political situation, he said that for more than six months, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory had been gripped by a surge in violence, triggered by individual attacks by Palestinians.  More than two dozen Israelis and 200 Palestinians had been killed.  Condemning all such attacks, he welcomed the joint Palestinian-Israeli efforts that had helped to reduce tensions in recent weeks.  However, the latest killings had only deepened the legacy of divisiveness, hatred and grief, he noted.  Welcoming ongoing security discussions on Area A, he urged both sides to recognize the risks of failing to reach a lasting understanding on that pressing matter.  He acknowledged recent public statements by President Mahmoud Abbas rejecting violence and terror and firmly supporting continued security coordination with Israel.  He said that he and President Abbas had discussed the importance of those and other issues in Amman on 27 March, and encouraged more such statements, backed by concrete actions.

The Middle East Quartet was moving forward on a report that would review the situation on the ground and threats to a two-State solution, while providing recommendations on how to advance peace, he said.  The report intended to inform international discussions on advancing a two-State solution: a sovereign and independent State of Palestine living in peace and security alongside the State of Israel.  Tragically, such a solution seemed more distant than it had done for many decades, he said, pointing out that 20-year-old Palestinians living under occupation had seen no political progress at all during their lifetime.  Israel continued to demolish Palestinian structures in the occupied West Bank at an alarming rate, he said, noting that the total number of demolitions in the first three months of 2016 exceeded the total for 2015, and that more than 850 people had been displaced.

Israel deemed most of the demolished structures illegal because they had been built without permits, yet Israel made it almost impossible for Palestinians to acquire permits, he continued.  “These acts raise concerns that Israel intends to implement over 11,000 outstanding demolition orders in Area C of the West Bank.”  He also expressed concern about continuing punitive demolitions of homes belonging to families of alleged Palestinian perpetrators of attacks against Israelis.  Meanwhile, settlement plans and retroactive legalizations continued to advance in almost untraceable steps through the complicated planning process.  That, together with the declaration of “State land” in March — the first in more than 18 months — signalled that Israel’s strategic settlement enterprise continued to expand on land intended for a future Palestinian State.  “I once again reiterate that settlements are illegal under international law and undermine the two-State solution.  “The creation of new facts on the ground through demolitions and settlement-building raises questions about whether Israel’s ultimate goal is in fact to drive Palestinians out of certain parts of the West Bank, thereby undermining any prospect of transition to a viable Palestinian State,” he said.

Turning to the Palestinian side, he voiced regret over the continuing failure of discussions to achieve genuine unity on the basis of non-violence, democracy and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) principles, reiterating that Palestinian factions must demonstrate their commitment to reconciliation, which was integral for statehood and a just, lasting resolution of the conflict.  In Gaza, the security situation had calmed in recent weeks, but three rockets had been fired towards Israel on 14 April, although no injuries had been reported, he said, condemning all attacks and calling upon all parties to avoid further escalation that could jeopardize the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

He went on to state that the Palestinian Authority had set forth an ambitious $3.8 billion agenda for stabilizing Gaza, repairing damage from the 2014 conflict and getting recovery under way, emphasizing the essential importance of economic development and rebuilding critical electricity and water infrastructure.  The Gaza power plant had shut down on 8 April, leaving residents with only enough electricity for hours a day.  More than a year-and-a-half after the conflict in Gaza, such conditions were intolerable, and all Member States were strongly encouraged to fulfil their commitments to support Gaza’s reconstruction and development.  More positively, Israel had expanded the Gaza fishing zone from six miles to nine nautical miles on 3 April, he said, welcoming that development and encouraging Israel to expedite further easing measures to support the enclave’s long-suffering people.

Turning to Lebanon, he said that he had addressed that country’s political and security issues with Lebanese leaders in Beirut on 24 and 25 March, consistent with the Council’s concerns: preserving Lebanon’s model of pluralism and coexistence from regional tensions; electing a President without further delay; the need for all parties to work with Prime Minister Tammam Salam so as to enable effective functioning of the Government; sustaining international support for the Lebanese Armed Forces; and the expectation that both Lebanon and Israel would work to consolidate stability along the “Blue Line” and advance implementation of Council resolution 1701 (2006).  He said he had also discussed the importance of active support for the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), particularly in light of the recent build-up of tensions in Palestinian camps, including the 12 April car bomb that killed a camp official near Ein el Hilweh.

Concerning the occupied Golan, he noted the statements made on Sunday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and said all parties had a responsibility to resolve the long-standing issue, while reminding Israel of its obligation to fully implement Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 497 (1981).  “The path out of the current political deadlock requires commitment, compromise, mutual respect and leadership on both sides,” he stressed.  “It also requires the acceptance — demonstrated by deeds as well as words — that the two-State solution is the only road to peace that meets the national aspirations of both peoples — Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition.”

Statements

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, asked when the Council would finally act, emphasizing that the Palestinian people could no longer wait or accept excuses and pretexts.  Israel’s illegal settlement activity had intensified since the 26 January debate, with the confiscation of thousands more dunums of Palestinian land in the West Bank, in addition to an alarming spike in home demolitions.  Bedouin Palestine refugees had been especially affected, he said, quoting the Israeli organization Peace Now as having reported that plans to construct Israeli settlements had increased by 250 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the corresponding period in 2015.  When would the Council hold Israel accountable for those violations and insist on compliance, thus preserving the possibility of a two-State solution?

Palestinian casualties had been growing as a result of daily Israeli military raids and attacks by extremist Israeli settlers, he said, pointing out that more than 200 Palestinians had been killed since October 2015, with children and youth especially targeted and traumatized.  Yet the Council remained silent.  Failure to protect would only foster greater Israeli impunity and disregard for Palestinian life, he emphasized.  “At a time when the situation is boiling, the passivity and silence of the Security Council is truly shocking,” he said, stressing that it could not stand idly by, waiting for the next crisis.  “The crisis is existential and we can no longer wait.”

He went on to stress that the Council should adopt a clear and firm resolution to address the illegality of Israel’s settlement campaign, the rising extremism and violence of Israeli settlers and the need to protect Palestinians, and the urgent need to create a credible political horizon that would establish the conditions that would lead to a comprehensive peace, particularly in the context of the Arab Peace Initiative.  Consultations with Egypt, the Arab representative on the Council, were under way and the efforts undertaken by the Quartet as well as the Government of France were to be commended, but it was time to stop managing the conflict and to mobilize political will, he said.  Regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza, he said the failure to bridge the regrettable political divide in Palestine was no excuse for imprisoning 1.8 million people and forcing them to live in the ruins of war amid mass deprivation.

DANNY DANON (Israel) questioned the Palestinians’ desire for peace, saying his country had been facing Palestinian terrorism for decades.  In the last few months, Israelis had faced a wave of non-stop daily attacks in which 34 people had been killed and hundreds injured.  Instead of condemning the attacks, the Palestinian leadership had encouraged them, rewarded terrorists and their families with monthly salaries and treating them like heroes.  Many in the Council were all too eager to offer justifications for Palestinian terror and excuses for violence, ignoring the basic truth that the endless incitement and glorification of violence was directly responsible for the murder of innocent Israelis.

He went on to says that the Palestinian culture of hate and brainwashing was responsible for the loss of too many Israelis and directly responsible for the murder of Dafna Meir, a young Israeli brutally attacked and killed on 17 January by a 16-year-old Palestinian terrorist while painting the door to her home.  If the Palestinians were truly committed to living in peace with Israel, why were they filling their children’s hearts with hate?  It was time for real answers and for the truth, he said, asking the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine: “Will you condemn Palestinians who commit terror attacks against Israelis?  You can do it right now.  We are being translated into five different languages.  Here is your chance.” 

In the ensuing exchange he said:  “You should stop hatred and stop naming streets after terrorists.”

Mr. MANSOUR, for the State of Palestine, replied:  “We have to fight against incitement… Are you willing to come and participate in these meetings in the presence of Americans?”

Mr. DANON (Israel) responded:  “You glorify terrorism… You cannot say that you condemn terrorism against civilians.  I condemn all acts of terror.  You cannot say ‘I condemn all acts of terrorism.’”

Mr. MANSOUR, for the State of Palestine, said:  “You are oppressing us.  You are sitting on our lives.  Leave us alone.  Let my people be free.  Shame on you; you are an occupier, you are a colonizer.”

Mr. DANON (Israel) concluded by saying it was time for the Palestinian leadership to end their silence and start acting like leaders.

MURRAY MCCULLY, Minister for Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, asked why the Council had not adopted a single resolution on the question in more than seven years.  The international community expected it to reassert a two-State solution as the only path to peace; to support the work of the Quartet, the Arab League and the international conference proposed by France; and endorse a path back to negotiations, potentially through a “parameters” resolution, he said.  In the coming weeks, the Government of New Zealand would resume the conversation about the sequencing and content of a Council resolution, he said, emphasizing that a resolution was essential, and that its timing and relationship to external processes were the only remaining issues.  “Maximalist” positions were likely to fail, he said.  Stressing that there was a vital role for the Council, he said his country would work with others to determine whether a resolution could best support the Quartet, as well as French and Arab ministers, if finalized before or after other initiatives were under way.

DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) said both sides must show genuine commitment to a two-State solution.  Noting that acts of terrorism had taken too many lives, including American lives, he called upon the Palestinian leadership to condemn terrorist acts and bring perpetrators to justice.  He noted with deep concern the shooting in Hebron of a Palestinian assailant by an Israeli soldier now charged with manslaughter, emphasizing the critical need to show restraint, avoid loss of life and de-escalate tensions.  Settlement activity called into question the Israeli Government’s commitment to two States.  In Gaza, the pace of reconstruction was being stalled by the stranglehold that Hamas had over the population, he said.  Regarding the political process, he said the status quo was unsustainable, reiterating that both sides must demonstrate genuine commitment to a two-State solution through policies and actions.

Turning to the situation in Syria, he welcomed the third round of talks, saying an inclusive Syrian-led political process that met the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and a transitional Government was the only solution to the conflict.  The talks in Geneva and the situation on the ground were deeply interwoven, and the stakes were enormous, he said, stressing that more could and must be done.  The cessation-of-hostilities agreement was holding in parts of the country, improving people’s day-to-day lives, but violations continued, with the regime attacking parties to the accord.  The regime must do more to ensure humanitarian access, he said, noting that those in besieged areas denied international assistance were literally starving to death.  He called upon the regime to comply with international law, resolution 2254 (2015) and the demand of the international community to allow assistance to reach all Syrians in need.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that, more than 20 years after the Oslo accords, the creation of a Palestinian State had never been more elusive.  The rift between Palestinians and Israelis was fuelling radicalization of public opinion, and it was worrying that people no longer believed in two States.  “We have to take a long, hard look at the reality on the ground,” he said.  Given the scope of the challenge, collective mobilization of the international community was the only way to move forward.  To that end, France had launched an initiative to create a credible political horizon for the peace process.  It proposed a ministerial meeting to be held in Paris in June, bringing together the Middle East Quartet, the five permanent Council members, the League of Arab States and other stakeholders.  Its goals would include reiterating international support for a two-State solution and defining a timetable, specific goals and a methodology for an international conference later in the year.  Regarding the situation in Syria, he deplored the worsening situation, emphasizing the need for humanitarian access and for effective pressure on the regime.  Turning to Yemen, he said the revival of negotiations there gave rise to real hopes that should be encouraged, even as the humanitarian situation worsened and the terrorist risk grew.

VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) called for scaling up efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and resolve the conflict.  As the Israeli Government continued its fait accompli policy of building settlements and confiscating Palestinian lands and homes, thereby jeopardizing chances for a two-State solution, the international community’s intervention was needed now more than ever.  The Quartet’s report would provide an objective analysis of the situation on the ground, he said.  With the humanitarian situation in Gaza remaining grave, it was vital to rebuild the enclave’s infrastructure.  The Russian Federation welcomed efforts in March to re-establish national Palestinian unity, he said, adding that such steps must be clearly calibrated and seek specific results.  Expressing deep concern about the Council’s inability to settle the conflict, he cited the 2011 United States veto against a draft resolution on settlements, and its 2014 abstention and hidden veto of an another draft, so as not to hear the Russian view on the matter.  The Council must do more to resolve the conflict, he said.

Turing to Syria, he welcomed the start of the second round of peace talks, saying his delegation attached great importance to the International Syria Support Group Task Force.  The statement by the representative of the United States on that matter was imbalanced and counter-productive.  There must be a voice for all sections of Syrian society that had not dirtied their hands, including the Kurds.  There must be a comprehensive, objective and depoliticized approach to humanitarian matters.  The new talks on Syria should begin without unjustified delays, and there should be a swift normalization of the situation at entry points.  On Libya, he said international efforts were moving too slowly and exacerbating the situation, he said, calling for better coordination of initiatives.  Citing information that suggested some international partners might have a hidden agenda in Libya, he said the country needed help, but only in the context of international law.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said Israel’s prolonged occupation had served to consolidate settlements on Palestinian land.  The scale and magnitude of the suffering was due to the occupying Power’s criminal actions.  Venezuela condemned retaliatory attacks by Palestinians, but rejected the occupying Power’s disproportionate responses to those acts, such as administrative detentions, he said, noting that a recent report found that 78 per cent of Palestinians in Israeli prisons were there for “security reasons”, and were subjected to harsher conditions than other prisoners.  Another report showed that of the 149 Palestinians murdered by the Israel Defense Forces in 2015, 72 did not represent a security threat and were victims of disproportionate acts by the heavy-handed Israeli authorities.  The Council should heed the petition to establish an international protection system for the Palestinian population, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention and resolution 904 (1994), which could include the presence of United Nations aid agencies already in the region.  The Council had failed millions of Palestinians, who were victims of one of the most abhorrent tragedies and injustices in modern history, he said, adding that some Council members were directly responsible.

ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) supported France’s initiative to convene an international conference, saying that should be the immediate priority for the international community and the Security Council.  At the same time, parties to the conflict must foster appropriate conditions for the resumption of negotiations, with Israel rebuilding a climate of trust.  Condemning acts of terrorism, he said both sides must refrain from incitement.  Intra-Palestinian reconciliation was also essential.  Regarding Yemen, he expressed hope that the postponement of negotiations that should have opened today would not be repeated.  Turning to Syria, he said an escalation of clashes threatened to derail the objectives of resolution 2268 (2016).  Calling for full respect of international humanitarian law, he urged the Government of Syria to review its policy on the provision of medical equipment.  As for Lebanon, he paid tribute to its people for accepting an extraordinary number of refugees, while highlighting the country’s constitutional stalemate, which had gone on for too long.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said the Council had shown no political will to end Israel’s illegal occupation or to salvage a two-State solution under international law.  Condemning Israel’s extrajudicial killing of a Palestinian youth in Hebron, he said that the Israeli army would have treated the incident as an act of self-defence had it not been captured on video.  The facts showed that it was not an isolated incident.  Rather, it reflected a systematic policy of dehumanizing Palestinians, reinforced by a culture of impunity.  The Council’s inaction had also led to Israel’s illegal settlement expansion, he said, citing a Peace Now report showing a 250 per cent increase in the first quarter of 2016 over the corresponding period of 2015.  Such activities, and the apartheid wall, were fragmenting the territorial integrity of Palestine, including East Jerusalem, he said, calling for an end to the illegal blockade of Gaza and reiterating the need to use all tools to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) said a glimpse of hope in the region was a by-product of the Iranian nuclear agreement, adding that great and regional Powers must now build upon that agreement and make it a real “game-changer”.  Regional Powers must set aside their rivalries and take into account the wake-up call of terrorism on their doorsteps.  The Israeli Government’s heavy-handed approach was counter-productive, while the Palestinian divide hampered their ability to engage constructively.  The reality was that Israel was the occupying Power whose activities undermined the possibility of a two-State solution, he said, adding that some members of the Security Council had not been using their leverage over Israel to halt settlement activity.  Since joining the Council in 2015, Angola had seen a number of initiatives on the Middle East, none of which had been accepted or followed through, but it would keep insisting on the need for consensus on policies to end the protracted conflict, he emphasized.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said it was heartening to hear all nine candidates for Secretary-General declare their commitment to a two-State solution.  The United Kingdom condemned all acts of violence and terror, and both sides must do all in their power to calm the situation.  Progress must come from the parties themselves, with the Israeli Government reversing its settlements policy and the Palestinians taking steps to reunite the West Bank and Gaza.  It was vitally important to pursue the development of the Palestinian economy and institutions, he said, adding that he looked forward to the Quartet report as well as further details of France’s initiative.  Recalling resolution 2268 (2016) on Syria’s cessation-of-hostilities agreement, he said failure to deliver would only undermine progress and erode confidence.

MOTOHIDE YOSHIKAWA (Japan), noting that more than 1,000 people were living in evacuation centres in areas of his country affected by the recent earthquake, thanked countries and relief organizations for their offers of aid, and also expressed solidarity with the people of earthquake-hit Ecuador.

On Syria, he said the recent cessation of hostilities had created the conditions to allow humanitarian access to besieged areas.  Japan had provided food, other supplies and vocational training to the Syrians, and last Friday, it had announced an additional $11 million in grant aid through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to rehabilitate three electricity facilities.  The Yemen peace talks in Kuwait must begin as soon as possible, he said, noting that his country had provided $85 million in grant aid to Yemen since 2014.  On the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he said the building of settlements was in direct contradiction of a two-State solution.  Japan would continue its economic aid to the State of Palestine in support of a two-State solution and supported the peace initiative proposed by France.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) called on the Council to move from “theoretical” statements to actually mitigating the suffering of the Palestinians and ending the occupation, emphasizing that not doing so was a stain on the human conscience.  The Palestinians and their right to self-determination and an independent State seemed to have been forgotten.  Council resolution 465 (1980) and others stating that Israel must dismantle its settlements and prohibiting countries from providing aid to them must be implemented.  Exploiting the crisis for political gain could not be tolerated, he emphasized, asking whether the Israeli Government would prefer to continue the occupation and thumb its nose, or work towards a just, comprehensive solution.  Mere words of regret on the part of many were not enough and must stop.  The Council must act to realize the two-State solution and abide by the Oslo peace agreements, he said, adding that it must honour its obligations in accordance with international law, and that Israel must review its position.  Responding to the statement by Israel’s representative that Jordan and Egypt had “laid down their arms” for peace, he stressed that the reason they had done so — to resolve the political situation in the region — had yet to occur.

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay), emphasizing that a two-State solution was the only option, said the settlement policy could not continue.  Condemning attacks on Israeli citizens and the incitement and glorification of such actions, he took note of New Zealand’s statement and conveyed his willingness to work with its representative.  Regarding Syria, he said efforts for a political solution there were crucial, and appealed to the Syrian Government to enable humanitarian agencies to do their work.  Completely rejecting the use of hunger as a weapon of war, he said all who did so should be held accountable.  Turning to Yemen, he said negotiations would be the exit point for the conflict, but the humanitarian situation remained alarming.  On Libya, he said the arrival of the Government of National Accord’s Presidency Council marked a welcome start of a new phase.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said the failure of the political process was at the heart of a spike in violence in the Middle East.  Disproportionate and systematic use of force was not a solution, particularly in the absence of a political horizon.  The geographic, demographic and cultural changes made to Jerusalem risked turning a political crisis into a religious one, with consequences for the region and beyond, he said, warning also that the blockade of Gaza increased the danger of the Palestinian cause being co-opted by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  Without a doubt, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-State solution, with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, would lead to better handling of the Middle East’s security and socioeconomic challenges, he said.  He appealed for the cessation-of-hostilities accord to be upheld in Syria, and for the ceasefire in Yemen to be respected so as to facilitate the negotiations in Kuwait.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that establishing a stable, peaceful and democratic Palestinian State was in Israel’s security interests, and that settlement expansion and legalization of outposts could undermine efforts to advance peace.  Ukraine understood the aspirations of Israelis to live in peace within secure borders, he said, expressing concern about the inability of Palestinian authorities to prevent violence.  Ukraine supported an early resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, with redoubled diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the violence, he said, adding that France’s initiative to convene an international conference deserved consideration.  He also expressed support for the creation of a non-sectarian body to guide the transition in Syria, which would be followed by a new constitution and elections.  Turning to Yemen, he said he was encouraged that the 10 April ceasefire had held, a critically important step that must be followed by meaningful dialogue and intensified efforts to drive back Da’esh and Al-Qaida.

LIU JIEYI (China), Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, calling for a comprehensive and fair solution to the Palestinian question, which was in the interest of all sides.  The creation of an independent Palestinian State was the key to resolving the conflict.  Peace talks must continue, and Israel must demonstrate sincerity by taking practical steps to end settlement construction, home demolitions and its blockade of Gaza, he said, emphasizing that the international community must provide vital guarantees.  During his visit to the Middle East in January, China’s Premier had expressed support for the just cause of the Palestinian people, and the country had provided them with aid, both through the United Nations and bilaterally.  Last January, China had announced that it would provide 15 million renminbi in free aid to the Palestinians.  It had also been working actively for a peaceful political settlement in Syria, Libya and other hot spots.  On Syria, the international community should continue to support Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura and the relief efforts of United Nations agencies.  China would continue to promote the political process to resolve the Syrian crisis.  On Yemen, he said all parties to the conflict should actively cooperate in the peace talks, and that there should be no double standards on counter-terrorism.

ISABELLA LOVIN, Minister for International Development Cooperation of Sweden, pointed out that her country was one of the largest donors to Yemen and emphasized the need to address that country’s massive humanitarian issues.  The talks taking place in Kuwait today must bring the world closer to a political solution.  On Syria, she said the Geneva talks must generate a viable political solution.  It was appalling that medicines and medical equipment were reportedly being removed from humanitarian convoys, costing innocent lives.  Sweden was assisting the Syrian people in various ways, including through increased humanitarian assistance and receiving more than 120,000 refugees, she said.

Pointing out that 2017 would mark 50 years of the occupation of Palestine, she stressed that a fundamental change of settlement policy was needed, particularly in East Jerusalem and Area C.  Such a change would increase economic opportunities, empower Palestinian institutions and enhance stability.  The isolation of Gaza must end, she said, reiterating that all parties must guarantee unimpeded access to the enclave for humanitarian organizations.  Sweden supported the French initiative to convene an international conference as a way for the parties to recommit to a two-State solution, she said, adding that the Security Council had a central role to that end, and must shoulder its responsibility.

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil) called on the parties to the conflict in Syria to respect the cessation-of-hostilities accord, saying growing violations in the recent weeks could threaten the progress made.  No effort should be spared in working towards a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition, as set out in resolution 2254 (2015).  He expressed concern about the negative humanitarian impact of unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria, saying his country had long regarded them as counter-productive and incompatible with international law.  On the question of Palestine, he said the absence of any positive signs was alarming.  “If left unchanged, this intolerable status quo will continue to destabilize the Middle East and erode the credibility of the Security Council,” he warned, adding that Brazil expected the Council to live up to its responsibilities and act decisively.  On Yemen, he said a sustainable and inclusive political solution was imperative, while noting that Libya had seen a measure of progress towards solving its political and security challenges.

JOÃO VALE DE ALMEIDA, Head of Delegation of the European Union, emphasized the importance of expanding the cessation-of-hostilities accord throughout Syria, saying all Syrian parties and their backers must engage in the peace process while the regime addressed the substantive aspects of a political transition.  It was incumbent upon all parties to respect the agreement of 27 February.  Humanitarian assistance must reach besieged and hard-to-access areas, he said, stressing that the Assad regime had a particular responsibility in that regard as a clear majority of besieged areas were under its control.  He also called for the release of all arbitrarily held persons, particularly women and children.

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he underlined that there was no alternative to a negotiated two-State solution and that only significant policy shifts on the ground would end the violence and rebuild trust.  While the European Union would continue to play a leading part in the peace process, much of the responsibility fell on regional partners as well as local leaders and societies, he said, adding that the active participation of both sides of the conflict remained a crucial prerequisite for the success of any peace initiative.  Describing settlements as illegal under international law, he said they constituted an obstacle to peace.  Addressing the needs of the Palestinian people should be a top priority of their political leaders, he said, urging Palestinian factions to bring their ongoing reconciliation efforts to a conclusion.

NAWAF SALAM (Lebanon), citing United Nations figures, said Israel had demolished 539 structures in Area C since the beginning of 2016, compared with a total of 453 in 2015, thereby displacing 805 Palestinians, compared with 580 in 2015.  Israel had failed to meet its Fourth Geneva Convention obligation to protect Palestinian civilians, pursuing instead a policy of strangulation, he said, urging the Council to take all necessary measures to ensure their protection.

On Syria, he recognized the support of the Russian Federation and the United States for the cessation-of-hostilities agreement, which had cleared the way for intra-Syrian talks, which in turn should enable Syrians to live in a unified country.  He reiterated the need to provide Lebanon with the means to deal with the more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees residing in his country, emphasizing that it was also crucial to follow on the various donors’ conferences.

He said the Government of Lebanon had sought the Secretary-General’s good offices in delineating the disputed maritime border and exclusive economic zone between Lebanon and Israel because a failure to resolve that issue threatened peace in the region.

ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia), urging the Council to compel Israel to end its war crimes and human rights violations, said it had remained timid on the need to make Israel take responsibility for its aggression, even as that country detained thousands of Palestinians while claiming to be committed to a two-State solution.  It continued to build settlements, confiscate lands and properties, demolish homes and expel families.  Israel was holding meetings in the occupied Syrian Golan, in violation of resolution 497 (1981).  He welcomed the French initiative to convene an international peace conference.  Turning to Syria, he expressed concern about the suffering of Syrians amid continuing violations by regime forces.  Syrians were being killed through the indiscriminate use of such weapons as barrel bombs, while the Iranian revolutionary forces and the Hizbullah militia were present in the country, posing a threat to the region.  Saudi Arabia would continue to support the Syrian people by all means, he said, calling for the establishment of a transitional authority with full executive powers.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians were abysmal because the Israeli leadership was closing the possibility for a two-State solution through its settlement policy, demolitions and refusal to engage in dialogue.  Unless Israel reversed its plans, the Council would need to adopt a legally binding plan to implement a two-State solution, she said, warning that it would be difficult to resolve other crises in the region and eliminate terrorism without a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Turning to Syria, she said it was critical that the cessation-of-hostilities accord was maintained and that the Geneva talks charted a way towards a negotiated settlement.  Concerning Yemen, she expressed hope that the today’s difficulty with initiating dialogue in Kuwait would be temporary.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reiterated its position on the “illegal and brutal Israeli occupation that is causing so much anguish to the Palestinian people” and renewed the call that the Security Council uphold its Charter responsibilities, including through measures to compel Israel to end war crimes.  He condemned in particular the killing and wounding of innocent civilians, the demolition of homes, the confiscation of land and the continuing blockade of Gaza.  He reiterated the Non-Aligned Movement’s support for the rights and national aspirations of the Palestinian people through a viable State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  In addition, he called for an end to Israel’s violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty, and demanded that Israel withdraw fully from the occupied Syrian Golan.

TANMAYA LAL (India), reiterating his country’s clear and consistent policy toward the Middle East, emphasized its continuing support for a two-State solution and solidarity with the Palestinian people.  Describing India’s assistance to Palestinian State-building efforts as well as for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and Gaza’s recovery, he expressed concern over escalating violence and lack of progress in the peace process.  Dialogue was the only viable option, he said, urging both sides to resume the process towards a just and comprehensive peace.  On Yemen, he urged all parties to resolve their differences amicably through the planned peace talks.  On Syria, he expressed hope that talks would lead to a Syrian-led political transition, bringing an end to violence and instability in the country.

RAZAQ SALMAN MASHKOOR (Iraq) said Israeli policies were based on building settlements on confiscated Arab lands and extracting natural resources, with the ultimate goal of preventing the sustainable development of Palestinians.  Settler colonialism was a strategic and military pillar of broader plans to undermine peace.  Israel’s demolition of homes contravened the right to housing and violated criminal legal procedures.  Iraq was working to protect Palestinians, and while it welcomed the French initiative to convene an international conference, its Government did not expect such an event would succeed due to Israel’s intransigence.  Also, the history of conferences did not encourage Iraq to expect more than diplomatic overtures, he said.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said continuing violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory symbolized a hardening of suspicion and animosity between Israelis and Palestinians.  The occupation must end and all efforts must be made to achieve a two-State solution.  Indonesia had hosted a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in March that had stressed the urgent need for a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine, he recalled.  It had also called on the international community to support a boycott of goods and products from illegal Israeli settlements.  Hundreds of resolutions on the question of Palestine had been adopted by the United Nations since its creation, but, sadly, there had been no substantial effort by the Organization, including the Council, to implement them, he noted, emphasizing that the world could no longer wait for the Council to hold briefings and closed consultations while people lost their lives and a two-State solution faded away.  Turning to Syria, he stressed the imperative of an inclusive process, involving all Syrians, to settle a conflict that had dragged on for so long, with repercussions felt around the world.

BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, expressed concern over the stalled peace negotiations in the Middle East, reiterating the plea by Pope Francis to both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to courageously pursue dialogue and reconciliation towards a two-State solution “because there is simply no other way”.  He expressed hope that the agreement between the Holy See and the State of Palestine, which had entered into full force in January 2016, would encourage all parties to engage sincerely in the necessary negotiations.  He also called for international assistance to help Lebanon’s leaders stabilize that country’s Government and deal with the burden of refugees.  In addition, he urged collective political action to stem the spread of extremism and address its root causes.  “The lie and blasphemy of terrorist groups who claim to kill and oppress in the name of religion must be openly denounced in the strongest possible terms,” he emphasized, appealing, in particular, for greater attention to the cries of Christians and other religious minorities subjected to attack and persecution.  In that regard, he expressed hope that the recent visit by Pope Francis to refugees stranded on the Greek island of Lesbos had touched many hearts.

DINA KAWAR (Jordan), noting the great challenges and fear throughout the Middle East, asked whether the international community was doing enough to help bring about peace.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was central, she said, condemning Israel’s continuing occupation, displacement of Palestinians and settlement activity, which undermined efforts for peace.  Reiterating her delegation’s support for the Arab Peace Initiative towards a definitive solution to the conflict, she also noted her country’s defence of the holy sites in Jerusalem, in its role as custodian.  She demanded an end to harmful Israeli practices in all the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  On Syria, she called for redoubled efforts to ensure the success of talks to initiate a political transition and restore stability.  Jordan would continue to live up to its commitment to assist refugees, she pledged, but it needed the international community’s support.  There was also need to take action against terrorism; international efforts must address its root causes, she added, emphasizing that the terrorists did not represent Islam but, on the contrary, subverted that as well as all other religions.  Young people must be further engaged in fighting such extremism, she said.

WOUTER ZAAYMAN (South Africa), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, condemned all violence, regardless of the perpetrators.  The situation in Palestine/Israel had set back earlier gains, and negotiations, should they be restarted, would need to focus on the basic elements of peace.  The Government of South Africa had noted that Israel and Jordan had reached an agreement to monitor Israeli activity around the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif, which hopefully would de-escalate tensions, because it was essential that all parties respect those holy sites, he said, emphasizing that South Africa rejected the use of holy sites to incite violence.  The Council’s failure was seen in Israel’s continuing expansion of settlements and expropriation of land, activities that were in contravention of international law and which obstructed a two-State solution, he said.

ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba), associating herself with the Non-Aligned movement, demanded that the Council spare no effort to end the occupation, aggression, illegal settlements, systematic human rights violations, State terrorism and economic asphyxiation for which Israel was responsible.  Such actions undermined the possibility of resolving the conflict in a fair manner.  The only solution was the existence of two States, including a sovereign, viable Palestinian State with its capital in East Jerusalem along the pre-1967 borders, she said, adding that her delegation supported the accession of a Palestinian State to full United Nations membership.  Turning to Syria, she urged respect for the right of Syrians to choose their own destiny, emphasizing that negotiations were the only viable solution.  Cuba could not accept the promotion of an interventionist agenda, she said, urging an end to violations of Syrian sovereignty and to military presences not based on that country’s consent.

MANSOUR AYYAD AL-OTAIBI (Kuwait), speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said the Palestinians were enduring an unprecedented escalation of Israeli aggression, particularly in Jerusalem, while the Security Council regrettably remained silent.  Many Palestinians had been killed under a new shoot-to-kill policy during the current wave of unrest, while settler violence, the displacement and detention of Palestinians, and the blockade of Gaza continued.  All such violations fuelled extremism and religious conflict and destroyed the viability of a two-State solution, he said.  He called on the Council to assume its responsibility to ensure the protection of the Palestinian people and to adopt a resolution outlining steps and a timetable to end the Israeli occupation.  The creation of a viable Palestinian State was long overdue and remained a legal and moral responsibility for the Council to fulfil, he stressed.

WILFRIED I. EMVULA (Namibia), Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, cited 2016 figures from the Israel Central Bureau for Statistics showing that demolitions of Palestinian homes, confiscations of Palestinian land and its re-designation as “Israel State land” had increased over last year, as had mass arrests of Palestinians and their incarceration without charge or trial.  Such measures marked a new and disturbing phase in the confrontation between international humanitarian law and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, he said.  The Gaza blockade persisted and few voices inside Israel objected to that policy.  In 2015, the Council had held 13 meetings on the Palestinian question, yet had failed to initiate any action.  For its own part, the Committee would do its utmost to foster trust between Palestinians and Israelis by holding international meetings offering a forum for exchange, he said, citing upcoming events in Senegal, Sweden and France.

MARÍA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO (Nicaragua), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, denounced Israel’s expansionist policies and rejection of a sovereign Palestinian State.  Some 5.5 million Palestinian refugees had been ignored by those who continued to promote Israel’s impunity and obstruct, through veto use, the recognition of a Palestinian State.  The cycle of aggression and reconstruction must stop, she said, emphasizing Israel’s continued colonization of Palestinian territory, especially in East Jerusalem.  The Council must demand that Israel lift the Gaza blockade and release all Palestinian prisoners, she said, advocating the creation of a Palestinian State along pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.  Israel must also withdraw from Lebanon, the Syrian Golan and other Arab territories, while foreign intervention in the region must end.

GEIR O. PEDERSEN (Norway) said all parties to the Syrian conflict had a responsibility to turn peace talks into a credible process that would lead to a political transition.  The Syrian people had endured the intolerable, he said, adding that three out of four Syrians were now living in poverty and 2 million children were out of school.  While donor countries had pledged $6 billion for 2016 alone, disbursements were lagging far behind schedule and must be allocated in a timely manner to help those in need.  Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said the status quo would not benefit anyone and maintaining it would only cause more instability.  A two-State solution was the only credible way towards a viable and long-term peace.  Israel must stop building settlements and stop house demolitions, while the Palestinians must strengthen their institutions and implement essential reforms.  If international donors were to continue to develop a Palestinian State, there must be a credible political horizon for resolving the conflict, he emphasized.

HAHN CHOONGHEE (Republic of Korea) said a lasting peace in the Middle East could never be imposed by one party’s unilateral and coercive measures.  Noting that the demolition of Palestinian homes and livelihood structures had more than doubled from October 2015 to March 2016 compared with the previous six months, he urged Israel to end to all settlement activities.  Unity and consensus among the Palestinian people were also prerequisites to achieving peace and an independent State.  On Syria, he welcomed the cessation of hostilities agreed to on 27 February, but said there were still great concerns over non-compliance on all sides and 4.6 million people remained in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.  Turning to Yemen, he said all parties must abide by the ceasefire and resume peace talks without further delay.  On Libya, he said the threat of ISIL had emphasized the urgent need to establish a Government of National Accord and normalize its functions.

AMRITH ROHAN PERERA (Sri Lanka), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that as Chair of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, he was concerned about the escalating violence, the root cause of which was settlement expansion in violation of international humanitarian law.  It was essential to end administrative detentions, as well as to lift restrictions on movement within the framework of Council resolution 1860 (2009).  Also, measures must be put in place to hold corporate actors responsible for the exploitation of natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The parties must create an environment that would facilitate peace, with mutual confidence-building measures in support of resumed dialogue.  Israel must end actions that contravened international law, and both parties must respect international humanitarian law and demonstrate utmost restraint, he said.

MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria) called upon the United Nations and the Security Council immediately to condemn a meeting held on 17 April by the Israeli occupation Government in the occupied Syrian Golan.  That provocative action reflected how Israel flouted United Nations resolutions, in particular resolution 497 (1981), he said, adding that Syria’s right to recover the occupied Golan was not open to negotiation.  Sooner or later, the Golan would be cleansed of Israeli occupation.  The United Nations and its Member States had an obligation to end the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, to establish an independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital, and to oversee the return of Palestinian refugees, he said.  Many decades had gone by, with many documented Israeli violations, but the Security Council had failed to bear its responsibility.  The blind support for Israel on the part of some members of the Council made it believe it was above the law, he said.  Settlements were not just a war crime, but also a systematic Israeli policy of imposing a fait accompli that killed any chance for peace in the region or for a viable Palestinian State.  No serious pressure had been brought to bear on Israel, he said, stating that the United Nations must stop dealing with the Israeli occupation of Arab lands in such a routine manner.

AHMED SAREER (Maldives) reiterated calls for a two-State solution, the realization of the Palestinian right to self-determination and their right to establish a State based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  Turning to Syria, he said a political solution must be sought to end the bloodshed, emphasizing that it should be based on the Geneva talks.  In addition, “we must strive towards peace in Yemen”, while ensuring that aid reached all those in need.  Noting that terrorism should not be associated with any religion, race, culture or society, he said his country did not condone the use of religion as a pretext for inflicting terror.  Describing the Middle East as a breeding ground of oppression, hatred and violence, he stressed that regional leaders as well as the Council must demonstrate political will and courage.

GÜVEN BEGEÇ (Turkey) said Israel’s continuing occupation and its practices hampered efforts towards permanent peace.  Israel was denying Palestinians the right to natural resources and the humanitarian disaster in Gaza had been aggravated by restrictions that further deepened the suffering of the 1.8 million people living in the enclave.  The Security Council must go beyond expressions of condemnation and present concrete steps towards peace, he emphasized.  On the Palestinian side, the need for reconciliation was more urgent than ever, he stressed.  Turning to Syria, he said his country continued to assume more than its fair share of the refugee burden, adding that the chaos in northern Syria had affected Turkey’s citizens.  Negotiations in Geneva must lead to a transition period with concrete timelines, a new constitution and elections, he said.  He welcomed the arrival of the Presidency Council in Tripoli, Libya, and the cessation of hostilities in Yemen.

EINAR GUNNARSSON (Iceland) praised countries in the Middle East that were hosting refugees, noting that his own country was contributing new funds to help them.  The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians still required decisive action by the Security Council to prevent further deterioration.  Describing the targeting of Israeli civilians as unacceptable, he expressed deep concern over the killing of Palestinians by Israeli security forces in the context of those attacks, emphasizing the urgent need for action to prevent further conflict.  In the interest of saving a two-State solution, a clear signal must be sent to Israeli authorities that settlement expansion was unacceptable, he said.  International support for efforts towards peace must be reinvigorated, trust between the parties must be re-established and the situation in Gaza must be normalized.  Condemning all acts of violence against civilians, he welcomed the French initiative to launch an international support group for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, advocated peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in accordance with United Nations resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.  Expressing alarm at the recent report by the Special Coordinator, which highlighted trends imperilling a two-State solution, he called for an end to the violence, while urging Israel to halt its illegal settlement activities, land confiscations and construction of the separation wall.  All parties should resolve the conflict through negotiations and refrain from any action that escalated tensions.  Viet Nam called for an early resumption of negotiations and welcomed renewed efforts by the United Nations, Quartet, Arab League and regional countries to promote dialogue on all core issues.

KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV (Kazakhstan) said that a two-State solution, recognition of the Palestinian right to self-determination, and the creation of an independent State within the 1967 borders were the only means to lasting peace.  Kazakhstan fully supported the Syrian peace process within the Geneva III peace talks and endorsed the long-standing proposal to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.  He cited several initiatives that his country had spearheaded, including a high-level dialogue titled “Religions for Peace”, to be held in May and aiming to demonstrate the power of religious unity against the destructive nature of terrorism and violent extremism.  He called on the leadership of all countries in the region to take the necessary measures to prevent further escalation.

VIRACHAI PLASAI (Thailand) reaffirmed his country’s support for a two-State solution, emphasizing the need to de-escalate the situation and for all parties to refrain from provocative actions.  Settlement activities and home demolitions had caused massive displacements, and Thailand urged implementation of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions in that context, while stressing the need for all parties to ensure unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance.  There was an urgent need to rebuild public facilities and basic infrastructure for economic development, he said, calling for the lifting of the Gaza blockade.  While the Council had adopted more than 200 resolutions, the situation on the ground remained, he said, adding that the Council must address the issue in a more efficient manner.

ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, urged the Security Council to put an end to crimes that had been perpetrated by the Israelis and bring those perpetrators to justice.  A two-State solution based on 1967 borders was the only means for peace and must guarantee Palestinians’ rights to natural resources and the lifting of the Gaza blockade.  Qatar had always been dedicated to the reconstruction of Gaza and in recent years had continued to build thousands of homes there.  Turning to Syria, she said that the regime continued to carry out violations and attacks against its own citizens.  “It continues its slaughter,” she said, expressing serious concern over the regime hampering the humanitarian convoys’ efforts to reach civilians most in need.  The only lasting solution to the crisis was a political one that addressed the aspirations of the Syrian people.

JAMAL FARES ALROWAIEI (Bahrain) said the question of Palestine had been complicated by the intensification of settlement activities and acts of aggression against Palestinians, which together had produced a climate favouring an escalation of extremism, hate and violence.  Citing the King of Bahrain, he said the peace process had reached a standstill due to the Israel practices.  Resolving the situation in the Middle East should be based on ending the Israeli occupation, including in the Syrian Golan, stopping the illegal blockade of Gaza and the Israeli withdrawal from parts of Lebanon where it was still present, he said, calling for measures to extend international protection to the Palestinian people.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the world expected the Council to act in a determined and sustained manner to end Israeli occupation and systematic human rights violations in Palestinian territories.  Immediate priority must be given to ensuring international protection for the Palestinian people.  He warned that many Israeli violations, including the expansion of settlements, would destabilize prospects for a two-State solution.  Stating that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict helped to fuel extremism in the region, he urged all key actors to pursue a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question consistent with the Arab Peace Initiative and Council resolutions, reiterating support for a new resolution and an international conference for that purpose.

MOHAMMED ATLASSI (Morocco) said the question of Palestine must remain at the top of the international agenda as the situation of the Middle East hinged on finding a just and lasting solution.  The international community must use every effort to bring back the Palestinians and Israelis “not for the sake of negotiations”, but to achieve a State based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.  The situation in Palestine was catastrophic and unjust, he said, expressing support for the French initiative to bring both Israeli and Palestinian parties to the negotiating table.  Political and diplomatic efforts must be combined through the implementation of concrete measures “to save Jerusalem”, which was what remained at the core of the conflict.  The only viable path to resolve the Palestinian question was by returning to the negotiating table, he concluded.

MOHAMED KHALED KHIARI (Tunisia) said Israel was pursuing its settlement campaign in violation of international law.  It was time for the international community, especially the Security Council, to assume full responsibility for ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and its illegal and illegitimate practices against the Palestinian people.  A serious and responsible movement was needed before it was too late, he said.  Expressing support for any genuine effort that would contribute to that objective, he welcomed the French initiative and supported the Palestinian quest for international protection for civilians in line with the United Nations Charter, international law and international humanitarian law.  With regard to the Syrian crisis, he expressed hope that Syrians would seize the moment and, with the support of the international community, the Special Envoy and the International Support Group, achieve a political end to the crisis.

USMAN SARKI (Nigeria), associating himself with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement, condemned indiscriminate killings and warned against a scenario in which extremists on both sides dictated the political agenda.  “Provocations and hostile rhetoric must be avoided,” he emphasized.  A two-State solution was in danger due to negative trends on the ground, including recent violence, ongoing settlement activity and the absence of Palestinian unity.  The peace process was hardly achievable without ending the policy of settlement expansion, he said, urging Israel to take concrete steps to freeze all settlement-related activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Both sides must take concrete steps to return to negotiations on the basis of the relevant Security Council resolutions, he stressed.

A representative of Israel took the floor a second time, saying that her country was under attack even as the Council held its debate today.  A bus had blown up in downtown Jerusalem, injuring dozens of people, but shockingly, only a few Council members had mentioned the attack.  Just this morning, the Israel Defense Forces had discovered a tunnel stretching from Gaza, she said, adding that Israel had been warning for months that Hamas was building tunnels to carry out attacks against innocent Israelis.  Many in the Chamber focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict while completely ignoring attacks on Israel.  Those States, especially Council members like Malaysia and Venezuela, would continue to blame Israel to advance their own national agendas, she said, adding that it was also hard to believe that Saudi Arabia, which had been accused of indiscriminate bombing in Yemen, had the audacity to accuse Israel of crimes.  Iran was the region’s largest sponsor of terrorism and Lebanon had a terrorist organization well entrenched in its Government, she noted.  Turning to her Palestinian colleagues, she said there was no way forward except through direct negotiations, and called upon all Palestinians to publicly denounce terror and join Israel on the path to peace.

The representative of Malaysia rejected Israel’s allegations, saying his country’s position on Palestine was based on the United Nations Charter.  Israel remained in direct violation of international law and standards.  Condemning all acts of terror no matter where they took place, he said it was a shame that Israel continuously used terrorism as an excuse to carry out its own illegal activities.

For information media. Not an official record.