With ‘Perfect Storm’ Engulfing Middle East, Divisions Open Door for Foreign Intervention, Manipulation, Coordinator Tells Security Council

SC/12800
20 April 2017
7929th Meeting* (AM)

With ‘Perfect Storm’ Engulfing Middle East, Divisions Open Door for Foreign Intervention, Manipulation, Coordinator Tells Security Council

Amid Calls to Resume Direct Talks, State of Palestine Cites Hunger Strike, as Israel Says Protesters Include ‘Terrorists and Murderers’

Cooperation and multilateral approaches would be needed to address interlinked conflicts, cross-border humanitarian crises and violent extremism, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Security Council today, as it held its quarterly open debate on that region.

Briefing on the latest developments in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov said that a “perfect storm” had engulfed the region, with divisions opening the door to foreign intervention and manipulation.  The Middle East required a surge in diplomacy for peace, with Member States assuming a leading role through a united Security Council, he said, quoting the Secretary-General.

“The complexities of the region’s conflicts means that political solutions based on justice, dignity and social cohesion are required to achieve peace and sustain peace,” he told participants in the day-long meeting, more than 50 of whom took the floor.  “In today’s world, there can be no justification for terrorism, nor for the glorification of those who commit it,” he added.  “But, without justice, dignity and the protection of human rights, communities will continue to fracture and provide fertile grounds for extremists.”

To that end, it was crucial to address the fragility of States, he said, emphasizing that Governments must respond to the legitimate demands of their people and strengthen social cohesion and reconciliation.  That would provide a first line of defence against extremism, while also strengthening the voices of moderation and religious tolerance.

Nikki Haley (United States), Council President for April, presented a concept note for today’s debate, asking Member States to consider, among other questions, which regional players benefitted most from chaos in the Middle East, and which connections linked those States with terrorist groups.

Speaking later in her national capacity, she said the quarterly meetings on the Middle East had become “Israel-bashing sessions” and urged the 15-nation Council to focus instead on Iran and its partner militia Hizbullah.

The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said that, in a time of simmering crises and declining optimism, Middle East instability centred on the question of Palestine.  Condemning Israel’s disrespect for Council decisions, he stressed that the colonization, fragmentation and annexation of Palestinian land would never bring peace.  Israel must comply with Council demands.

Israel’s representative noted that the Council had met regularly for 17 years to discuss the Middle East under the false assumption that all regional ills could be traced to his country.  It was time to end the obsessive focus on Israel, focus on dictators who gassed their own people, and classify Hizbullah and Hamas as terrorist organizations, he emphasized, adding that Iran was at the heart of an “alliance of evil”.

Iran’s representative responded by saying Israel and the United States wished to remove the Palestinian question from the Council’s open debates.  Describing Israel as the sole obstacle blocking a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, he described the recent military action by the United States against Syria as a clear act of aggression against a Member State, as well as a violation of international law.

Many speakers emphasized the centrality of the Palestinian question — 70 years after the historic General Assembly resolution on the partition of Palestine — reiterating calls for the two sides to resume direct negotiations on the basis of a two-State solution.  Numerous delegates renewed calls for Israel to halt settlement activities immediately, in accordance with Council resolutions, including most recently resolution 2334 (2016), adopted in December 2016.

France’s representative warned that any escalation of the Israel-Palestine conflict risked destabilizing the entire region, stressing that the disappearance of a two-State solution would plunge the situation “into the unknown”.  His counterpart from China said Palestine remained at the crux of the Middle East issue.  With the region at a cross-road, the dispute would undermine security and stability in the region and beyond if left unresolved.

Egypt’s representative said injustice against Arab peoples persisted due to foreign interference in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories.  The question of Palestine was the cause of the oldest conflict and reflected the international community’s failure to find a solution while people remained under siege in the Gaza Strip.  A mistaken belief that managing the conflict would be enough must be examined against the grim backdrop of the situation on the ground, he emphasized.

Uruguay’s representative pointed out that many rebel groups in Syria hid behind the label “moderate opposition”, yet they committed acts as reprehensible as those attributed to armed terrorists.  The absence of State power, which sometimes resulted from unauthorized foreign military interventions, was among the factors encouraging the spread of terrorist groups in the Middle East.

Jordan’s representative, rejecting Israel’s unilateral steps to change reality on the ground, underlined that the Middle East would know no peace until the occupation ended.  Her counterpart from South Africa expressed “disbelief” that 2017 marked the occupation’s fiftieth anniversary, saying that, given the Council’s lack of progress, its open debates at least provided opportunities for other Member States to express their views.

Syria’s representative urged the Security Council to focus on Israel’s violations of various resolutions and its refusal to withdraw from occupied Palestinian territories.  He reiterated Syria’s support for the Palestinian people, and said that Israel had provided support to various armed terrorist groups, including Al-Nusra.

Others speaking today were representatives of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Japan, Ethiopia, Senegal, Italy, Bolivia, Venezuela, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Morocco, Brazil, Pakistan, Peru, Cuba, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Viet Nam, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Qatar, Maldives, Turkey, Norway, Bahrain, Chile, Iceland, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and Haiti, as well as the European Union and the Holy See.

Also delivering a statement was the Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 4:30 p.m.

Opening Remarks

NIKKI HALEY (United States), Council President for April, called attention to a letter from her delegation dated 10 April and addressed to the Secretary-General (document S/2017/305), saying it contained a concept note outlining key questions to be addressed today.  They included which regional players benefited most from chaos in the region, and the connections between them and terrorist groups; what steps could be taken to identify and address threats to international peace and security; and how the international community could ensure that bad actors did not benefit from post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

Briefing

NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said a perfect storm had engulfed the Middle East and continued to threaten international peace and security.  Noting the potency of the question of Palestine as a symbol and rallying cry that extremist groups could easily misappropriate and exploit, he said that ending the occupation and realizing a two-State solution would not solve all the region’s problems.  As long as the conflict persisted, it would continue to feed those problems, he emphasized.  He noted recent reports that Israel had adopted a policy of restraint concerning the building of settlements, describing their construction as illegal under international law and urged an end to all such activities.

On the Palestinian side, he continued, multiple worrying developments were further cementing the divide between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and dangerously increasing the risk of escalation.  Calling on all parties to come together and resolve daily electricity outages in Gaza, he said Hamas had tightened its grip on the enclave by forming an administrative committee seen by many as a direct challenge to the legitimate Palestinian Government.

Taking up the question of displacement, he described living conditions in refugee camps as extremely harsh, noting that young Palestinians were particularly vulnerable to the influence of extremists and religious radicals.  Several States in the region bore a massive burden from the flood of Syrian refugees, he said, emphasizing that the underlying causes of displacement must be addressed through a political solution between Israel and Palestine.

He went on to state that a comprehensive and credible political settlement of the conflict in Syria and a political transition to an inclusive, democratic and participatory State would be one of the greatest contributions that could be made to defeating listed terrorist organizations, such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Al-Nusra.  As for the recent reported use of chemical weapons in Syria, he emphasized the Security Council’s primary responsibility in that area, expressing hope that its members would unite to send a strong collective message that the perpetrators of such attacks would be held accountable.

Concerning the situation in Lebanon, he acknowledged the vital progress made in restoring national institutions to full functioning, and said it was now essential to address the question of weapons held outside State authority and control.  On Libya, he said that, although important strides had been made against ISIL in that country, the stalled implementation of the Libya Political Agreement contributed to a political and security vacuum.  Turning to Iraq, he welcomed Government efforts to secure and rebuild destroyed areas and to advance the national reconciliation process, thus depriving ISIL of legitimacy, access to resources and support.

Noting that social exclusion and marginalization provided fertile ground for the rise of violent extremism across the region, he said listed terrorist organizations and other non-State actors, including armed groups such as Hizbullah, thrived in a climate of weak governance and minimal human rights.  An estimated 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 100 Member States had travelled to join such groups in the Middle East, some of whom had returned to their homelands, where they spread violence in local communities.

Describing the humanitarian and social impact of the region’s conflicts as catastrophic, he urged the Council and all stakeholders to do everything possible to protect and spare civilians from the brutal effects, as required under international humanitarian law.  “The complexities of the region’s conflicts means that political solutions based on justice, dignity and social cohesion are required to achieve peace and sustain peace,” he said.  Reiterating the Secretary-General’s words, he said the Middle East needed a surge in diplomacy for peace, and Member States would have to assume a leading role, including by advancing the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions.

“In today’s world, there can be no justification for terrorism, nor for the glorification of those who commit it,” he continued.  “But, without justice, dignity and the protection of human rights, communities will continue to fracture and provide fertile grounds for extremists.”  To that end, it was crucial to address the fragility of States, he said, emphasizing that Governments must respond to the legitimate demands of their people and strengthen social cohesion and reconciliation.  That was the first line of defence against extremism, he said, underlining the need to strengthen the voices of moderation and religious tolerance.

Pointing out that divisions within the region had opened the door to foreign intervention and manipulation, breeding instability and sectarian strife, he said multilateral approaches and cooperation would be vital in addressing interlinked conflicts, cross-border humanitarian impacts and violent extremism.  Millions of people in the Middle East were fighting every day for their own survival and the true humane essence of their cultures and societies, he noted, stressing that they were the true faces of the region “and we must do all we can to help them prevail”.

Statements

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, associated himself with statements to be delivered on behalf of the Arab Group, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).  He said that, in a time of simmering crises and declining optimism, the region’s instability centred on the question of Palestine, which was causing misery for millions.  Noting that extremists were exploiting persistent injustice that fuelled perceptions of bias and double standards, he emphasized that the conflict was about the denial of a people’s inalienable rights and a prolonged occupation.  The Security Council’s role and responsibility was to foster a just and peaceful solution based on related resolutions.

He went on to stress that resolution 2334 (2016) was not anti-Israel.  Rather, it provided the most viable path to preserving a two-State solution and creating proper conditions in which to end the occupation.  Urging full respect for that text, he said written reports would be expected to ensure proper documentation of its implementation.  Condemning Israel’s disrespect for Council decisions, he stressed that the colonization, fragmentation and annexation of Palestinian land would never bring peace, reiterating that Israel must comply with Council demands.

Turning to human rights, he cited the recent launch of a hunger strike by more than 1,000 Palestinians protesting against incarceration and inhumane treatment.  Calling for international solidarity with the prisoners’ peaceful effort to compel Israel’s compliance with the law and respect for human rights, he said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) could play a facilitating role.  Other grave concerns included the continuing Gaza blockade, he added.  Underlining the Palestinian leadership’s commitment to negotiations, he said it was making every effort, including engagement with the new Trump Administration, to advance a just solution.

Meanwhile, efforts to develop and strengthen national institutions and heal divisions within the Palestinian political system were under way, he said, stressing that there was evident failure to resolve the Palestine question in a just manner, and describing the status quo as “far beyond unacceptable”.  The explosive situation required immediate action to uphold the law, reverse the situation on the ground and avert further crises, he said, calling for responsible collective efforts to advance the peace process.  The international community, with the Security Council at the forefront, must act urgently on its obligation to make peace a reality.

DANNY DANON (Israel) said the striking Palestinian prisoners on strike included terrorists and murderers, cautioning that glorifying them did not help the drive for peace.  For 17 years, the Council had met regularly to discuss the situation in the Middle East under the false assumption that all regional ills could be traced to Israel.  Describing his country as a beacon of hope in a region filled with brutal dictatorships, and the only true democracy in the Middle East where people were free, he said the region was in a state of disarray, characterized by States dissolving amid chaos and a complete disregard for human life.

He went on to say that Iran was sowing that chaos and had influenced Syria, being an accomplice in the atrocities committed against Syrians, including the recent reported gassing incident.  Israel fully supported the United States air strike against Syria, he said, emphasizing that the international community must act to rid that country of all chemical weapons.  Iran’s influence in Syria was clear, as was the role of Hizbullah in threatening border confrontations.  Israel remained concerned about the spread of terrorism in the region, he said, adding that Iran was arming Hizbullah, conducting ballistic missile tests and providing support for Hamas rule in Gaza.

Recalling Israel’s withdrawal from the enclave in 2005, he said that every Israeli home in Gaza had been destroyed, every synagogue reduced to rubble and every Jewish grave removed in hopes that the Palestinians would create a thriving economy and abandon the path of terror.  Sadly, those hopes had been dashed because Hamas was spending millions in aid dollars to arm itself.  He said personnel of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) served Hamas and had incited violence against Israelis, adding that the group had fired thousands of rockets into Israel and continued to build tunnels with the intention of killing or kidnapping Israelis.  The chance for real peace would only come when Palestinians abandoned terror and returned to the negotiating table, he emphasized.

Welcoming efforts to broaden the scope of relevant Council meetings and the attention paid to the region’s real dangers, he said it was time to end the obsessive focus on Israel.  The Council should remain focused on dictators gassing their own people and classify Hizbullah and Hamas as terrorist organizations.  An alliance of evil with Iran at the centre was spreading through the region, he said, calling upon the Council to condemn that country’s “dangerous” behaviour.  Israel was no longer alone in standing up to Iran’s threats, he added, expressing hope that the Council would begin to seek “true moral clarity” in relation to the Middle East.  Only then would it be effective in fulfilling its stated role of ensuring the maintenance of international peace and security.

Ms. HALEY (United States), speaking in her national capacity, said the Council discussed the Middle East every month, holding meetings that routinely turned into “Israel-bashing sessions”.  Such meetings did no favours to anyone in the region, nor did they bring the parties together.  Peace was possible between Israel and Palestine, and the United States was working towards that goal, but it would only materialize through direct negotiations, not one-sided Council meetings and resolutions, she emphasized.  Thanking the Special Coordinator for having gone beyond the usual “Israel-bashing”, she encouraged delegations to do the same, arguing that something valuable might be achieved by breaking out of old, familiar, counterproductive patterns.

Given evolving threats, the Council should talk about the factors causing conflict in the region, she continued.  “If we are speaking honestly about conflict in the Middle East, we need to start with the chief culprit, Iran, and its partner militia, Hizbullah,” she said, citing their activities in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.  Hizbullah was a terrorist group spreading its influence across the Middle East with the support of a State sponsor, Iran, and the threat they represented should dominate Council discussions, she said, emphasizing that Member States must live up to their obligations.

She went on to state that Iran’s ballistic missile tests defied Council resolutions and undermined regional stability.  Calling for full implementation of resolution 2231 (2015), 2216 (2015) and 1701 (2006), she said the United States and its partners would work closely to document and address violations of those resolutions, adding:  “We must take a stand against Iran’s and Hizbullah’s illegal and dangerous behaviour.”  The way one spent one’s time was an indication of one’s priorities, and that also applied to the Council.  While the Israel-Palestinian situation was important, it suffered no lack of attention at the United Nations, she said.  Priority should instead be accorded to the activities of Iran and Hizbullah.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that, because of the Russian Federation’s eighth veto, the Council had failed once again to address chemical attacks in Syria, thereby sending a signal to the perpetrators that they could “get away with murder”.  Attributing the lack of progress following the latest two rounds of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva to a lack of political will on the part of the regime, he called for clear adherence to the 2012 Geneva communiqué, Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), as well as to a transparent and strictly scheduled political transition.  Turning to Lebanon, he urged continued political momentum following the President’s election and formation of the Government.  The Council’s unity was also badly needed on the Yemen question in order to strengthen efforts by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to break the current deadlock.  Underestimating the ability of ISIL and Al-Qaida to capitalize on the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict could backfire in unexpected and dangerous ways, he warned.  Moreover, ISIL remained a viable threat in the region at large, he noted, calling for a “day after strategy” to ensure that any resurgence was prevented.  Otherwise, it would be impossible to contain the growing threat of violent extremism and the global spread of terrorist groups, he said.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) called on both sides to demonstrate political will in pursuit of an historic long-awaited peace agreement.  He urged the international community to undertake coordinated efforts to combat the terrorist activities of ISIL and other groups, and to help Lebanon consolidate its Government.  Turning to Yemen, he urged all parties concerned, as well as their foreign allies, to end warfare and resolve differences through negotiations.  The humanitarian situation in the region demanded joint action, he said, reiterating his country’s strong commitment to a long-awaited peace based on compromise, mutual respect and political dialogue.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) condemned the so-called “regularization law” intended to allow the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land.  Alongside Israel’s announcement about thousands of illegal settlements on occupied land and its decision to establish new settlements on the West Bank, the legislation was in flagrant violation of international law, he said.  Furthermore, the situation in Gaza remained tense and unsustainable, requiring all parties to act responsibly and in the interests of the enclave’s inhabitants.  Such actions would include continuing intra-Palestinian reconciliation, accelerating reconstruction and ending Israel’s closure policy.  Turning to Syria, he condemned the repeated and “appalling” use of chemical weapons, and called for intensified efforts to realize a real nationwide ceasefire and a political agreement based on Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).  While welcoming recent progress in Lebanon, he called for a new electoral framework agreement and for the holding of parliamentary elections.  Reverting to the Israel-Palestine conflict, he said a two-State solution not only met the security needs of both sides, it was also in the interest of wider regional peace and security.

PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said he disagreed with the tailoring of today’s meeting to match the foreign policy focus of the United States.  That country’s representative had remained silent on several issues, including the fact that ISIL was inflicting much suffering in Syria and other countries.  Noting that the authors of the concept note circulated today invited Members States to consider who was benefiting most from chaos in the Middle East, yet the region’s stabilization could not be realized without settling the Israel-Palestine and Arab-Israeli situations, he emphasized.  The high level of violence in Palestine and Israel reflected a complex situation amid tensions that risked escalating the conflict.  Those tensions were driven by Israel’s unilateral actions, including its increasing settlement activities, he said.

By voting in favour of resolution 2334 (2016), the Russian Federation had demonstrated its belief that unilateral action was not acceptable, and that the pursuit of a two-State solution must continue, he said.  The Russian Federation stood by its proposal that the leaders of Israel and Palestine meet in Moscow for talks, he said, stressing that his country, recognizing that East and West Jerusalem would be the respective future capitals of Palestine and Israel, would retain its embassy in Tel Aviv.  Terrorism was another grave concern, he said, underlining the important United Nations role in that regard.  The occupation of Iraq, as well as the clumsy manipulation of the Security Council in the case of Libya, had had a destabilizing effect and extremists were now exploiting that instability.  He also underlined the need for swift steps to stop the exodus of Christians from the Middle East.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said findings had revealed that sarin gas had been used in the recent chemical weapon attack in Syria, most likely by the regime, but the Council had failed to demonstrate leadership in that regard, having been stopped from doing so by one member.  “We will not be deterred by Russia’s veto,” he declared.  The struggle against terrorism in the Middle East must continue, he emphasized.  Meanwhile, Iran continued to play a destabilizing role, including by violating international law in Syria, failing to allow aid deliveries into Aleppo, and providing Hizbullah with guns and funding.  In 2017, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War, Israelis and Palestinians must move the peace process forward because neither could afford another half-century of conflict, he said.  The United Kingdom strongly condemned settlement activities in the West Bank because they were seriously undermining the peace process, and as a friend of Israel, it urged that country to refrain from any such steps in future in order to further the quest for a peaceful solution.  However, settlements were not the only obstacle to peace, he said, emphasizing that the Palestinian leadership must continue to tackle terrorism.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), warning that any escalation of the Israel-Palestine conflict risked destabilizing the entire region, he said that a false perspective on the status quo had hidden daily setbacks on the ground, and the disappearance of a two-State solution would plunge the situation into the unknown.  France remained committed to the joint statement signed by more than 70 States and organizations in Paris last January in support of a two-State solution based on the 1967 borders and relevant Security Council resolutions.  Yet, that potential solution was threatened every day on the ground, including by illegal settlement expansion, rocket launches and incitement to hatred.  Israel must cease its settlement activities, he said, adding that acts of violence and terrorism must also end.  France would never accord Israel’s security second priority, he said, reiterating that while awaiting a solution to the conflict, his country maintained its non-recognition of any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.  Turning to Syria, he said reports indicated the use sarin gas in the recent chemical attack and the perpetrators of that war crime must be brought to justice.  On Lebanon, he said legislative elections would be crucial, emphasizing that its disengagement from the conflict in Syria remained more necessary than ever before.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) expressed his deep concern about Israel’s announcement on the construction of new settlements and called on both Israelis and Palestinians to take concrete steps towards a two-State solution.  A surge of diplomacy was needed in Syria and Yemen, he said, adding that Libya needed further international support.  While the creation of “tolerant and stable societies” was a common goal for the region, such a process should be different for each country, and be complemented by humanitarian assistance, social stability, good governance, and investment in human capital.  In that regard, Japan had contributed to the Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization in Iraq, and was supporting urban and rural communities in Yemen through microbusinesses and entrepreneurship projects empowering women and youth, he said.

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said the rapid spread of terrorist groups in the Middle East had been encouraged by, among other factors, the absence of State power that sometimes resulted from foreign military interventions not authorized by the Council.  Many groups hiding behind the label “moderate opposition” committed acts that were as reprehensible as those attributed to armed terrorists, he noted.  Emphasizing that the Israel-Palestine conflict remained the most important of all Middle East situations, he reaffirmed his delegation’s support for a two-State solution, while also underscoring the importance of resolutions 2334 (2016) and 242 (1967), as well as the need to conclude the peace process.

LIU JIEYI (China), noting that 2017 marked the seventieth anniversary of General Assembly resolution 181 on the partition plan for Palestine, said that question remained at the crux of the Middle East issue.  Left unresolved, it would undermine security and stability in the region and beyond, he said, emphasizing the pressing need for both Israel and Palestine to exercise restraint and take concrete action for the resumption of peace talks.  Israel should cease settlement expansion and demonstrate good will for negotiations, which should resume at the earliest opportunity, he said, adding that, the earlier they got under way, the earlier people on both sides would benefit.  Emphasizing the Middle East was at a cross‑road, he urged countries in the region and the broader international community to work more vigorously to de-escalate tensions and find a way forward, with all parties remaining true to the United Nations Charter and other international norms.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said the military approach had become the preferred means around the world to address disputes and misunderstandings when political and diplomatic steps should be favoured instead in addressing the legitimate concerns and demands of all concerned.  The primacy of politics should be the major vocation of the United Nations, with the Council as the “tip of the spear” in ensuring international peace and stability.  Progress in the Middle East, or the Horn of Africa for that matter, was possible, but priority must be accorded to honest dialogue, he said, emphasizing that Palestinian question could not be ignored and that no diplomatic effort would succeed outside the two-State solution.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) said conflicts, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict, had been layered over old crises, with the Palestine question being the essential issue.  Reaffirming his delegation’s commitment to a two-State solution, he said resolution 2334 (2016) must guide the way.  He encouraged the United Nations, as well as Israeli and Palestinian stakeholders, to seek swift solutions to problems of water, sanitation and electricity in Gaza.  Turning to Syria, he reaffirmed Senegal’s solidarity with that country’s people and its belief in a negotiated solution.  He also voiced support for Iraq’s efforts to stamp out ISIL’s presence on its territory.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) reiterated his delegation’s support for a two-State solution, saying Italy was also open to new schemes aimed at realizing a negotiated solution, in accordance with existing decisions.  He expressed worry that the fragile situation on the ground, as well as hope for efforts to improve living conditions for Palestinians.  Concerning Lebanon, he said the parliamentary elections would help restore the full functioning of State institutions, with help from the United Nations.  In addition, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) had proven effective in fulfilling their mandates.  On Syria, he said that accountability for violations of international law in Syria was imperative, and voiced support for the investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said injustice against Arab peoples persisted due to foreign interference in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories.  The question of Palestine remained the oldest conflict and reflected the international community failure to find a solution, he said, pointing out that Gaza’s inhabitants remained under siege, trapped under the yoke of occupation.  The mistaken belief that managing the conflict would be enough to maintain the status quo must be examined against the grim backdrop of the situation on the ground, he emphasized, calling for efforts beyond the untenable status quo.  Reaffirming calls for the two sides to return to the negotiating table, he said Egypt would work with all parties to realize their common goal.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) reiterated that the Middle East would achieve neither peace nor stability without resolving the question of Palestine.  The region, as well as Israel and Palestine, urgently needed peace, he said, citing the Secretary-General’s description of the current state of affairs as an “open wound”.  Resolution 2334 (2016) must be implemented and settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territories ended, he emphasized, while calling for a written report on the progress made in implementation of resolution 2334 (2016).

SAMUEL MONCADA, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, spoke on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, saying that a lasting solution to the Palestine question was a priority for that grouping.  The occupation posed a serious threat to international peace and security, requiring urgent attention in accordance with international law.  He condemned Israel’s provocative actions in proceeding with settlement activities in breach of international law, and reiterated call to lift the blockade on Gaza.  The Movement deplored Israel’s systematic human rights violations against the Palestinian people, he said, reiterating its readiness to support all relevant efforts, in accordance with the Movement’s twenty-seventh summit, which had declared 2017 the International Year to End the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.  Turning to Syria, he condemned Israel’s aggression against that country and its measures to alter the status of the occupied Syrian Golan.

NAWAF SALAM (Lebanon) recalled a maritime border dispute between his country and Israel, as well as an interview in which that country’s Education Minister had threatened a massive attack on Lebanese civilian infrastructure that would blow Lebanon back into the Middle Ages.  It was high time for the Council to condemn Israeli violations of the United Nations Charter, the basic rules and principles of international law and international humanitarian law, and relevant United Nations resolutions, he emphasized.  Reiterating his country’s commitment to full implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), he called upon the Council to demonstrate leadership and by compelling Israel to do the same.

SIMA SAMI BAHOUS (Jordan) emphasized the need for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and for Israel to demonstrate a genuine desire for peace.  Jordan’s delegation rejected all unilateral steps by Israel that were changing reality on the ground and thwarting the prospects for a two-State solution, calling for implementation of the resolution on the cessation of all settlement activities.  The Middle East would not know peace without ending the occupation, she said, stressed that the Palestinian cause was the key to stability and peace in the region and beyond.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein), emphasizing that Israel-Palestine hard-won gains were being jeopardized, called on all involved to fully respect the international legal framework and recommit to a two-State solution.  On Syria, the Council’s inability to put an end to atrocities reflected a political paralysis, he said, expressing support for strengthening the Code of Conduct regarding that body’s action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.  With impunity characterizing the Syrian conflict, there was a growing momentum within the United Nations and from civil society worldwide to ensure accountability, he said, calling on all States to continue to support the Syria accountability mechanism created by the General Assembly in December 2016.

ABDERRAZZAK LAASSEL (Morocco), associating his delegation with the Arab Group, said prospects for a two-State solution were in serious danger with the related negotiations verging on collapse.  The major Powers had tried, through an Arab ministerial committee, to bring an end to the occupation, but Israel’s settlement expansion had prevented concrete results.  Urging respect for initiatives that would facilitate the creation of a Palestinian State, he stressed that the international community must shoulder its responsibilities to end the impasse in the current negotiations.

MAURO VIEIRA (Brazil) said the question of Palestine must not become a forgotten issue on the international agenda.  Expressing serious concern over Israel’s approval of new illegal settlements, he urged both parties, as well as those with influence over them to seek a return to negotiations with the aim of eventually ending all terrorist acts, lifting the blockade on Gaza and fostering cooperation between Israelis’ and Palestinians’ cultural and education issues.  Concerning Syria, he emphasized the need for an impartial investigation of the reported use of chemical weapons.  Effective dialogue among all actors was the only way to end the conflict in that country, he said, calling upon permanent Council members to persevere in the effort to find common ground.  Underlining the significance of the Astana Process, he said the humanitarian dimension of the crisis must be urgently addressed.  On Lebanon, he emphasized the vital role played by UNIFIL and its maritime task force, and reiterated his delegation’s support for Lebanon on its road to stability and development.

NABEEL MUNIR (Pakistan) said that settling the Palestinian question was central to realizing peace in the Middle East, and not an “incidental by-product”.  Illegal Israeli settlements lay at the heart of peace efforts and it was unfortunate that resolution 2334 (2016) had been disparaged as old-world United Nations bias against Israel.  A viable, independent and contiguous State of Palestine — established along the pre-1967 borders and with al-Quds al-Sharif [Jerusalem] as its capital — was the only guarantee of enduring peace, he emphasized.  Concerning Syria, he advocated an inclusive Syrian-led and Syrian-driven process of political reconciliation that would ensure respect for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  On Iraq, he said that, with Government forces consolidating gains against Da’esh, there was cause for confidence that a strong State would be built on an inclusive vision that would recognize and reconcile the interests of all Iraqis.  As for Yemen, he underlined the need for a massive humanitarian response to complement the political process.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the United States and Israel wanted to remove the Palestinian issue from the open debates of the Security Council.  Israel had also refused to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Chemical and Biological Weapons Convention, and was the only obstacle in the way of establishing a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.  He noted that the tragedy in Khan Shaykhun had taken place after the Syrian Government had been disarmed of its chemical weapons by the United Nations, while ISIL and Al-Nusra had not.  United States military action against Syria happened without any independent or United Nations verification and was a clear act of aggression against a Member State and a violation of international law.  The world was still paying for the “catastrophic unilateralism of the past premised on self-serving allegations”, including the allegations of weapons of mass destruction in 2003, he stated.

NEVILLE GERTZE (Namibia), Vice-Chair, Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, called for urgent action to reverse negative steps on the ground which were eroding the two-State solution.  He also emphasized the need for intra-Palestinian unity.  Noting the Committee’s regret over a spike in illegal settlements, he drew the Council’s attention to a shrinking space for human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including access restrictions on Israeli citizens who spoke in favour of peace.  “Current issues requiring the Council’s imminent attention should not eclipse the urgency to resolve the question of Palestine and its occupation,” he said, adding that overwhelming support among Member States to realize the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people had been echoed during the course of all Committee activities.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) called for settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territories to cease, along with violent acts against the civilian population. While the inalienable right of Israel to defend itself was recognized, it should always be done in accordance with the principles of legality and proportionality. He also condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria against a civilian population and appealed to members of the Security Council to overcome their differences on that subject.

ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory were unacceptable. It was not possible to achieve a two-State solution as long as the relevant resolutions adopted by the United Nations continued to be violated.  Actions taken by Israel to modify the structure of Syrian Golan were legally null and void, and the construction and illegal expansion of settlements there were violations of international law and agreements, as well as the Charter.

BERNADITO AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See called the use of chemical agents in Syria a gross violation of international humanitarian law, and the Palm Sunday terrorist bombings in Egypt “abominable” attacks against civilians.  He also expressed concern that in Lebanon, where millions of refugees from neighbouring countries were being hosted, militias and armed groups funded by outside sources were active beyond the control of Lebanese authorities.  Recalling the Holy See’s support since 1947 for a two-State solution to the Israel-Palestine issue, he called on leaders and citizens on both sides to make fair concessions.  Agreement would remain elusive as long as “mutually excluding” demands persisted.  Stressing that “twisted religious claims”, mixed with irredentist ideologies promoted bloodshed in the region, he urged religious leaders to denounce such terror and to control their followers who claimed to act in God’s name by means of terror.  He also urged arms suppliers to act in accordance with internationally agreed norms for sales, saying he could not stress enough how much the disregard of arms trade treaties fomented conflict, crime and terrorism.

JAIME HERMIDA (Nicaragua), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Palestinian Rights Committee, underscored the urgent need to implement resolution 2334 (2016), which would make the two-State solution viable after 70 years and restore the inalienable rights of Palestinians.  He expressed support for a State of Palestine along 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and hope that through dialogue and negotiation, both peoples could live in peace.  Creating stability in the Middle East also involved Israel’s withdrawal from Syrian Golan and from the occupied territories of Lebanon, he said, urging an end to foreign interference in the region.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that the focus of the Security Council’s discussion should be on the violations by Israel of various resolutions and its refusal to withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  It was also unacceptable that the representative of the Secretary-General preferred not to mention occupied Syrian Golan, which was part of his mandate.  Reiterating support for the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination and an independent State, he denounced the silence in the Council in the face of the Israeli settlement policy.

Condemning Israeli support given to various armed terrorist groups, including Al-Nusra in Syrian Golan where Israel had facilitated the passage of terrorist groups across the demarcation line, he stressed that Syrian sovereignty in Syrian Golan was an inalienable right.  He also criticized the aid provided by Israel to ISIL on Syrian territory on 17 March in Palmyra, stating that Israel and terrorism were two sides of the same coin.  Israel had no right to lecture Syria on democracy as it continued to violate the rights of Arab nations in the region.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) asked that future reports on implementing resolution 2334 (2016) be distributed ahead of meetings in order for Council members to prepare appropriately.  Citing recent developments, including Israel’s decision to expand settlements in violation of international law, he said implementing resolution 2334 (2016) tested the Council’s commitment to peace in the Middle East and a two-State solution.  The Council must rise to the right side of history by ending the occupation.  On Syria, dialogue was the only path to peace, he said, urging talks in Geneva and Astana to yield concrete outcomes.  He also called for an independent, objective and impartial investigation of the use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun.  Turning to Lebanon, he said UNFIL had contributed significantly to maintaining peace and security.  In addition, the Council must pay special attention to Yemen, given the grave humanitarian situation that had left almost 19 million in need of assistance.

KHALIFA ALI ISSA AL HARTHY (Oman), associating himself with the Arab Group, said that Israel was taking advantage of the situation in the region by expanding settlements.  That complicated international efforts towards a two-State solution.  Developments in Yemen had led to deteriorating conditions for its people.  Political parties should engage in a meaningful dialogue to bring that crisis to an end.  Oman would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Yemeni refugees and internally displaced persons.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH A ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), associating himself with the Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, said that illegal and illegitimate policies by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continued unabated.  Peace would not be achieved by calling for the resumption of negotiations without a timeframe, but should be based on resolutions and international legitimacy to enable the Palestinian people to establish an independent State.

ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) said Palestinians were suffering a historic injustice that was being abused by terrorists “playing the Palestinian card” and by regimes in Iran and Syria with support from Hizbullah.  Calling on Israel to withdraw from all occupied Arab territories, he expressed support for the 2002 Arab Initiative and the 2017 Amman Declaration and pressed Israel to accept that offer.  Cautioning that countries should not transfer their embassies to Jerusalem, he said the path to peace was through existing mechanisms created to end the occupation.  In regard to Syria, Syrian authorities had used chemical weapons against Syrians, and the Iranian Republican Guard and Hizbullah were undermining the dignity of the besieged Syrian people.  Noting that the Council had not brought those responsible to justice, he declared:  “We cannot accept impunity.”

He also expressed support for the United States’ military operations against military targets in Syria in response to attacks in Khan Shaykhun, and urged an end to the ethnic cleansing of Syrians by Syrian authorities, which had created opportunities for Da’esh and Al-Nusra to fill the power void.  Turning to Iran, he noted that there had been hope the nuclear agreement would have ended that country’s nuclear ambitions.  Instead, that country had shown no respect for diplomatic customs.  Iran also backed militias in Iraq and Yemen, with the model used by Hizbullah being reproduced in other countries, including Bahrain.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, expressed concern over conflicts raging in the Middle East amid growing involvement by non-State actors.  There was every reason for States to collectively question the untenable status quo on the Palestinian question.  Israel’s illegal settlement expansion was a blatant injustice and he urged the Council to ensure the end to all such activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.  In Gaza, he underscored the need to address the systematic human rights violations.

UMID SHADIEV (Uzbekistan), Chair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said illegal Israel settlement activities and adoption of the regularization law must be condemned.  He also appealed for sustained international engagement, as called for by resolution 2334 (2016), notably to address Israel’s assaults against Al-Aqsa Mosque and policies aimed at changing the Arab character, status, landmarks and demographic composition of East Jerusalem.  He also called for the blockade of Gaza to end, stressing that chronic divisions within the Council had allowed terrorism to flourish in the region.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed deep concern over the situation in the Middle East.  The international response had not kept pace with the danger posed by such complex issues and she lamented that the Council lacked the political will to seek peaceful solutions.  With the Palestinian question at the heart of regional instability, she called on Israel to halt settlement activities and urged all parties to immediately stop actions that could escalate tensions.  Viet Nam had always supported Palestinians’ right to self-determination and advocated a peaceful solution to the conflict through dialogue and negotiation, she stressed.

JOÃO VALE DE ALMEIDA, Head of the European Union Delegation, said that actions on the ground continued to dangerously imperil the prospects for a two-State solution.  Such actions, among others, included Israel’s advanced plans for nearly 6,000 settlement units in occupied Palestinian territory, a new settlement deep inside the West Bank and the declaration of additional land inside the West Bank as “state land”.  As well, Palestinian leaders should condemn terrorist attacks and take all steps within their capacity to end incitement to hatred and violence.  Palestinian factions should engage in good faith in the reconciliation process, and all parties in the West Bank and Gaza should advance that process, which would lead to democratic elections.  A single, legitimate and democratic Palestinian authority was critical for achieving a viable Palestinian state.

On Syria, he said that the European Union had endorsed a strategy for Syria in early April that was aimed at promoting a political solution to the situation, and was focused on achieving a framework agreement in the United Nations-mediated intra-Syrian talks in Geneva.  Condemning the chemical attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun and the attack in Rashidin, he noted that accountability for violations perpetrated in Syria was paramount.  He also welcomed progress in Lebanon to end the political stalemate with the election of a president, noting that a timely election was the next important milestone for its democratic process.

ROLANDO CASTRO CÓRDOBA (Costa Rica), urging that the Council do its job ending conflict in the Middle East, he condemned the political and the financial support for terrorist acts in the region.  Turning to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he urged a swift return to negotiations with a view to finding a political solution and a new architecture to achieve peace.  On Syria, he urged all General Assembly Member States to shoulder their responsibilities, given the inaction of the Council.  Multilateralism must be put into practice to ensure the interests of all Member States, not just certain nations, were met.  He called on permanent Council members to commit to not using their veto power when addressing humanitarian concerns.

MUHAMMAD SHAHRUL IKRAM YAAKOB (Malaysia) voiced his opposition to any attempt to dilute or sideline the question of Palestine at the Security Council.  Furthermore, it should not ignore the undeniable realities on the ground. Settlement expansions by Israel had continued in 2017 in total disregard of international law and various Council resolutions.  Such activities threatened the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian State and undermined the two-State solution.  A week after the briefing on the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016), Israel announced its decision to build a new settlement.  That decision came on the heels of the “Regularisation Law” by its Parliament, which would legalize illegal outpost built on privately owned Palestinian land.  Such actions called into question Israel’s sincerity to work together with Palestine towards a two-State solution.

ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar), underscoring that terrorism was a looming threat to peace, she added that, in fighting that scourge, initiatives must respect international law.  Advances in the Israel-Palestine conflict towards peace depended on Israel ending its settlement policies and the Gaza blockade.  The recent chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun had only deepened problems, proving that the international community was powerless and incapable of changing the situation, she said, expressing support for the United States’ action on Syrian military installations.  The chemical weapon attack was a danger to international peace and security while demonstrating that impunity for such crimes had continued.

FRAZANA ZAHIR (Maldives) said Israel continued to blatantly violate Council resolutions and international law thereby hindering the right of Palestinians to self-determination and undermining any credible progress towards peace.  Condemning settlement construction in Geulat Zion, she called on Israel to abide by resolution 2334 (2016).  She also supported calls for a substantive written report on that resolution’s implementation.  Turning to Syria, she called on the international community and Council members to achieve progress on implementing its resolutions in a concrete manner.

FERIDUN H. SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) said resolution 2334 (2016) had put on record the destructive effects of Israeli settlement activities, while the Paris peace conference in January enabled the international community to reaffirm its commitment to the two-State solution.  Israel was expected to listen to those calls, end the occupation and step into a future of harmony with its neighbours.  Turning to Syria, he said that, in line with resolution 2235 (2015), Turkey was sharing with relevant United Nations authorities its findings in connection with a gas attack, which pointed to the use of sarin.  Calling the recent United States operation in Syria proportional and timely, he said negotiations towards a political transition would not bear fruit without an end to the fighting.  It was crucial, he added, to keep up the momentum achieved at the last round of Geneva talks, which the regime should not be allowed to poison.

MAY-ELIN STENER (Norway) said that, since only a political solution could provide lasting peace in Syria, civil society and women must be represented in the forthcoming talks in Geneva.  Encouraging donors to deliver on their promises at the recent Syria conference in Brussels, she said that Norway would uphold its four-year pledge.  Concerned about the deteriorating situation for religious minorities in the region, she urged the international community and regional countries to do their part in protecting them.  As chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which was the only existing international mechanism where both Israeli and Palestinian parties met regularly, she called on donors to reconsider aid commitments ahead of the next meeting in Brussels in May.  She also called on parties to resolve outstanding fiscal issues and to implement the electricity agreement from 2016, moving faster on key infrastructure projects on water and energy, especially in Gaza.

JAMAL FARES ALROWAIEI (Bahrain) said resolution 2334 (2016) an historic turning point, a victory for the Palestinian people and a sign of international consensus on the Palestinian question.  The international community should shoulder its responsibilities and force Israel to abide by international law and relevant Council resolutions, thus ensuring a future of peace and tolerance for the Middle East and the world.  On Syria, he said the chemical weapons attack at Khan Shaykhun should push the international community towards a solution that would address the Syrian people’s legitimate aspirations while combatting terrorism.  He added that Yemen had seen serious interference from certain foreign forces, and that Iran must stop interfering in neighbouring States.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) said the international community should foster the Middle East peace process by promoting the resumption of negotiations, as well as responsible conduct by the parties concerned.  Welcoming resolution 2334 (2016), he said that settlement construction jeopardized the viability of the two-State solution.  Reiterating Chile’s condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, he said permanent Council members should limit the use of their veto with regard to Syria, Palestine and other conflicts.

EINAR GUNNARSSON (Iceland), emphasizing the Council’s clear responsibility to end the conflict in Syria, said that, despite a bleak outlook in much of the Middle East, the Israel-Palestine conflict was amenable to resolution.  Protecting and nurturing the two-State solution should be a Council priority, even when both parties to the conflict seemed, at times, hell-bent on tearing up that plan.  By adopting resolution 2334 (2016), the Council had undertaken important damage‑control measures.  Monitoring of its implementation must continue, he added, urging faster and more intensive diplomatic efforts towards a comprehensive, just and lasting Middle East peace.

MAHLATSE MMINELE (South Africa) said the Council’s quarterly debate on the Middle East should not stray away from the core Israel-Palestine issue, which had been on its agenda for over 70 years.  Given a lack of Council progress on the issue, open debates at least gave other Member States the opportunity to express their views.  Expressing his Government’s deep concern at Israeli plans to continue with illegal settlements in defiance of resolution 2334 (2016), he said that development would undermine conditions for final status negotiations and for advancing the two-State solution.  Noting “with disbelief” that 2017 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s military conquest of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, he expressed support for placing the United Nations at the centre of multinational efforts to counter terrorism.

JAMAL JAMA AL MUSHARAKH (United Arab Emirates) voiced support for the United Nations military oppositions following the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons.  Calling on parties to work on ensuring that non-State actors and extremist militias were not in control of Syria, he said the international community must work to create a space conducive for the Syrian people to determine their own future.  Turning to Yemen, he said Houthi militias were endangering peace and security of that country and the region.  Only a United Nations-led peace process could resolve the conflict.  Iran was the common denominator in conflicts in Syria and Yemen, posing an existential threat to the region as a State-sponsor of terrorism.  Urging the Council to continue to investigate Iran’s sanctions violations, he also called for special attention to be paid to the plight of youth across the region because, in the absence of economic opportunities, they were at risk of being exploited by terrorist organizations.

SAMSON SUNDAY ITEGBOJE (Nigeria) said Palestinians in Gaza, living in a protracted humanitarian crisis, could no longer be held hostage by disagreements, divisions and closures.  All parties, including the international community, must work collectively to ensure the early resolution of the persistent energy crisis in Gaza, with the United Nations playing a vital role.  The Council must once again call on parties to resume direct negotiations, he said, urging Israel to halt settlement activities and Palestinian leaders to signal a readiness to return to negotiations, as the current stalemate was unsustainable.  There were potent weapons to stamp out terrorism in the region, including criminalizing financing terrorists and their organizations, and implementing relevant Council sanctions regimes.

DENIS RÉGIS (Haiti) said that, despite calls from across the world for a just two-State solution, a total lack of political and diplomatic progress was fuelling violence on the ground and stymying the peace process.  The two-State solution was slipping away, and the situations in Iraq, Syria and Yemen demonstrated that the region was plagued with a range of crises.  The Council and some members’ use of the veto, including on a recent vote on a resolution on the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, had demonstrated a persistent paralysis.  The Council must instead address the root causes of conflict and swiftly act when required.  In cases of mass atrocities, he voiced support for Liechtenstein and Mexico to find common ground with regard to veto power.

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*  The 7928th Meeting was closed.

For information media. Not an official record.