It is my pleasure to send greetings to the participants in this United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine.
Earlier this year, I told the General Assembly that 2013 would be a critical year for the peace process, and I identified five priorities: collective international engagement, meaningful negotiations, stability in Gaza, Palestinian reconciliation, and preventing the financial collapse of the Palestinian Authority. These goals are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.
A window of opportunity for renewed international engagement has opened following the visit of President Obama to the region. I am also encouraged by the subsequent visits by Secretary of State John Kerry. In my recent meeting with President Obama, I reiterated the commitment of the United Nations to support any serious initiative that presents a credible political horizon, including multilaterally, through the Quartet and key regional partners. Now is the time for concerted action.
It is also crucial to defuse tensions on the ground and preserving the calm. I am concerned by renewed violence, particularly over the situation of Palestinian prisoners and violations of the November 2012 Gaza ceasefire. Israel’s decision to close key crossings in Gaza has only exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation. The parties should refrain from actions and rhetoric that aggravate tensions and diminish the prospects for negotiations, which remain the only way towards the two-State solution.
I recognize the crucial importance of the prisoners’ issue. Israel should uphold international humanitarian law and implement previous agreements in this regard. Prisoner deaths should be promptly investigated by an independent authority. A solution must be urgently found for the long-term hunger strikers. Administrative detainees should be charged and face trial, or released without delay. Israel must respect the right to peaceful protest and act with restraint, and protests should be kept non-violent.
The United Nations will continue its efforts to solidify the Gaza ceasefire. I condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. At the same time, Gaza borders should be fully opened for the legitimate movement of people and goods. This is especially important given the humanitarian situation, with much of Gaza’s population relying on assistance from the UN and its partners, and given the major investments required for Gaza’s water resources and other critical development needs.
I am deeply troubled by Israel’s continued settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, all of which is illegal under international law. These actions constitute ever-greater impediments to peace and must not be allowed to prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations. At the same time, Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be recognized and addressed, especially on the issue of arms smuggling and rocket fire.
The decision by the United States to restore aid to the Palestinians is highly welcome, as is the decision of the Israeli Government to resume the monthly transfers of clearance revenues. I call on donors, especially those from the region, to accelerate the provision of timely and predictable assistance to stabilize the finances of the Palestinian Authority. I also call upon Israel to lift its administrative policies and practices that severely curtail Palestinians’ freedom of movement. Restrictions on movement and access and unfulfilled donor commitments have had a negative impact on the gains made in institution building and hindered the Palestinian Authority’s ability to deliver services.
For international engagement to be sustainable, the Israeli and Palestinian political leaders must demonstrate a willingness to move beyond discussions about negotiations, and to tackle the final status issues in a constructive spirit. Their respective constituencies should do more to press their leaders in this direction.
I support regional efforts to promote Palestinian reconciliation, within the framework of the PLO commitments and the Quartet parameters. Ending Palestinian divisions in a manner which is conducive to peace is an essential step for achieving the two-State solution.
The status quo is unsustainable, both politically and economically. There is an urgent need for a concerted push for peace this year if we are to salvage the two-State solution. The accomplishments of the Palestinian State-building programme and donor funding will be difficult to maintain in the absence of concrete progress on the political track.
The contours of a two-State solution based on 1967 borders with territorial swaps are well known. There should be a just solution on all final status issues, including agreements on territory, security, settlements and water. I will continue to do my utmost to support and facilitate efforts to achieve a just, lasting, and comprehensive negotiated peace. In that spirit, please accept my best wishes for a successful meeting.