– As delivered –

Remarks by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly

20 May 2021

Distinguished Ministers,

Mr. Secretary-General,

Excellencies,

Dear colleagues,

As indicated in my letter dated 17 May, I convened this formal plenary of the General Assembly in line with the request from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Arab Group to hold a joint debate on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East. Subsequently, the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement informed me of their decision to join this request as well.

As we meet at the General Assembly today, the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. We have witnessed the worst violence in years. Hundreds of innocent lives have already been taken. The suffering is immense. It is inhumane and simply unbearable. I am extremely concerned about the protection of civilians, particularly amidst continued bombardment of Gaza and for international humanitarian law. I condemn all attacks against civilians and religious sites.

It is particularly heart-breaking that the escalation of the attacks began at the end of the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan. The raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is one of the holiest places on earth for 1.8 billion Muslims, was shocking. I once again urge display of respect, to all places of worship, including Al-Aqsa Mosque / Al-Haram al-Sharif.

Since the onset of the current escalation, nearly two weeks ago, the UN has reported that over 200 Palestinians, including 63 children and 35 women, have been killed in Gaza. In the last 24 hours alone, there were six Palestinian fatalities in Gaza.

The situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is also dire, with the UN reporting that 25 Palestinians, including four children, have been killed. Three of these fatalities, including one child, took place in the last 24 hours.

Thousands of Palestinians have been injured across Gaza and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Thousands have been rendered homeless, seeking refuge elsewhere including in mosques and UNRWA schools.

Civilians are also impacted in Israel, with fatalities and hundreds of injuries reported.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have been killed – may they rest in peace. And my wishes of speedy recovery for the injured.

I echo the calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. This is needed immediately. The parties must step away from the brink and respect international law. Israel, as an occupying Power, must ensure compliance with its international humanitarian law obligations, including proportionate use of force.

Volkan Bozkir

President of the UN General Assembly

Excellencies,

Dear colleagues,

I echo the calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. This is needed immediately. The parties must step away from the brink and respect international law. Israel, as an occupying Power, must ensure compliance with its international humanitarian law obligations, including proportionate use of force. 

The violence and incitement in the occupied West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, must stop. Palestinians should not live under perpetual fear of eviction from their homes because of expanding settler colonialism in the West Bank. The eviction of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah could constitute a war crime under international law. Israeli courts have no authority in occupied East Jerusalem.

The insecurity and extremely complex humanitarian conditions that many vulnerable Palestinians already experience on a daily basis have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Rapid, safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian actors is essential to bring in food, health services and other crucial humanitarian relief. UNRWA facilities have become places of refuge and safety for thousands of Palestinians displaced in recent days. This is another example of this Agency’s vital humanitarian role. Member States must ensure UNRWA receives sufficient financial and political support, including for yesterday’s 38 million US Dollar flash appeal in order to continue providing its essential services. This is critical for regional stability.

Excellencies,

Dear colleagues,

We have unfortunately been at this juncture before many times. The “Question of Palestine” is the longest standing issue on the UN peace and security agenda. It has been around as long as the United Nations. Let us therefore look at the real picture. This latest escalation did not happen in a vacuum. It is yet another ‘flare-up’, that has risen to a point we simply cannot turn a blind eye to. This is not an isolated occurrence. It cannot be divorced from the broader context of this decades long issue including the protracted military occupation of the Palestinian territories. The occupation, compounded by political impasse and lack of negotiations, is the main underlying source of instability and perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinian people have lived under occupation for decades. Such a sustained occupation has multifaceted consequences including widespread feelings of disillusionment and hopelessness among Palestinians. At its core the occupation is depriving Palestinians of their inherent human dignity.

The UN position on this issue is thoroughly documented in countless resolutions and reports. This includes serious long-standing concerns regarding the human rights and humanitarian aspects of the situation.

I welcome the OIC’s request to convene a Special Session of the Human Rights Council next week to address the grave human rights situation in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The human rights dimension of this matter requires more scrutiny and attention.

Excellencies,

We have to show the Palestinians and Israelis, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. That all is not lost, despite the bleakness of the current situation.

Unlike so many of the challenges faced by the multilateral system, the institutional record of the UN, clearly prescribes the way forward, in this case.

That is:

– swift return to negotiations,

– with the goal of ending the occupation,

– addressing all final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem,

– and achieving two independent, sovereign, viable States: Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition, within recognized borders on the basis of the pre-1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States.

This is in line with relevant United Nations resolutions, international law, prior agreements and long-standing parameters for the Middle East Peace Process.

It is our collective responsibility to support Israelis and Palestinians to this end. The international community must show a renewed will to tackle the injustice and ensure that the rights of the Palestinian people are respected and upheld. This is a legal and moral obligation.

In this regard, I wish to reiterate my full support to the ongoing mediation efforts, including by the United Nations, the Middle East Quartet and key international partners, to reinvigorate and renew credible negotiations in pursuit of the two-State solution.

The Security Council must shoulder its responsibilities and overcome yet again its paralysis on the longest-standing item on its agenda. Inaction on this issue undermines, indeed hinders, the Council’s and the United Nations’ ability and credibility on other pressing peace and security matters. I hope that we will hear a unified voice from the Security Council on this important and urgent subject.

As for the General Assembly, we need to assume our responsibility under the Charter of the United Nations and demonstrate that we can deliver more than just words. We need to let the Palestinian people know that their legitimate aspirations have been heard and that the international community cares about their suffering. We have a common duty to prevent any further erosion of international law, we need to translate these words and commitments into action.

Excellencies,

Dear colleagues,

In September, while commemorating the UN’s 75th anniversary, Member States recommitted to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. We recommitted to upholding international peace and security. Yet when it comes to Israel and Palestine we are clearly failing. Our failure undermines the credibility of the multilateral system and the United Nations.

On the UN’s historic 75th session of the General Assembly, I call on both sides and the international community to take real steps to stop the vicious cycle of violence and to end the occupation. To defend human rights. To uphold the principles of international law and the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations.

I thank you.