OFF-THE-CUFF

Full transcript of Secretary-General’s opening remarks at press encounter

New York, 23 October 2015

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I returned last night from an emergency visit to the region, during which I had long and detailed discussions with the Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders.

Later this morning, immediately after this press stakeout, I will join by video conference today’s meeting of the Quartet  which will be held this morning in Vienna at 11 o’clock New York time to discuss the alarming escalation of violence in Israel, Palestine and particularly in Jerusalem.

My Envoy, Special Coordinator [for the Middle East Peace Process] Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, will be there to represent me in person. 

During my meetings in the region on the Middle East, all agreed on the urgent need to reduce tensions and avoid actions that would further fuel the violence.

I was profoundly troubled by what I saw and I heard.

People on both sides shared heartbreaking stories of violence against their loved ones. 

I strongly condemned all acts of terror and violence, and I offer condolences to the families of those who have been killed or injured.

The tensions around the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount have the potential to add a religious dimension to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that could be exploited by extremists on both sides, with potentially dangerous regional implications.

I welcome the assurance of Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo on the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount, which many Muslims believe is under threat.  I appreciate the efforts of H.M. King Abdullah of Jordan, in accordance with Jordan’s special role as Custodian.

The level of incitement is utterly unacceptable.  It is critical for all parties to avoid provocative rhetoric and actions that can further inflame passions in an already overheated environment.

It is equally critical that Israel exercise maximum restraint and make sure that security measures are properly calibrated, so that they do not breed the very frustrations and anxieties which perpetuate violence.   One killing or house demolition creates a whole family of angry people.  One neighbourhood closure creates a community of despair.  One funeral can spread rage among thousands. Force should be a last resort, not a first resort.

Security measures alone will not end the violence. Only by [restoring] a political horizon can we hope to overcome today’s despair and focus on achieving long-term peace.

I also urged President [Mahmoud] Abbas of Palestine to harness the energy and passion of the people, particularly young people, towards a peaceful direction — to realize their aspirations of peace and [make] stability a reality, rather than resorting to violent means.

This is at heart a political conflict that will require a serious negotiation process by two partners willing to make the necessary compromises to reach the long-desired goal of a two-state solution.

The Quartet remains committed to working with all relevant parties – on the ground, regionally and internationally – to create the conditions for a return to meaningful bilateral negotiations.

I thank the members of the Quartet – including Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and European officials, as well as the Arab leaders who are taking part in today’s meeting, for their efforts.

Despite the anger and polarization, there is still time to step back from the brink. 

Our envoys plan to visit Israel and Palestine in the near future to explore significant steps that each side can take to restore confidence and move towards an end to occupation and the establishment of a viable, sustainable Palestinian state, living in peace with Israel.

Thank you.

Q:   Is it time, Secretary-General, for the two leaders to meet face-to-face?  Is that something that you suggested to them?

SG:   I strongly suggested and urged them to sit down together.  There is no substitute to direct talks at the leaders' level, and I conveyed this when I talked to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and he said that President [Mahmoud] Abbas has my invitation and I also conveyed this message to President Abbas: Please try to have a dialog directly.  And when I went to Jordan with His Majesty King Abdullah, I also urged him to play a very important role as custodian of the agreement, and he said that he will do his best.

Q:   Secretary-General, staying in the region on Syria, there are talks in Washington, possibly in the administration, of a no-fly zone over Syria; would the U.N. endorse that?

SG:   Well, I will see whatever would be necessary to bring peace and stability and protect the human lives; but at this time I do not have any comments on the idea of no-fly zone.  This idea of a safe zone, no-fly zone has been mentioned and floated many times in the past, but let us see how this discussion is moving on.  Thank you.

Q:   Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  On the Quartet meeting, what would the United Nations, what is the United Nations seeking from the Quartet meeting?  You've talked in some generalities — that they would like to see next steps.  What kinds of specific things would the U.N. like to see to try the Quartet do to try to defuse this situation?

SG:   This is going to be through the Quartet principals meeting [this year] — in February and September and now October.  And while the principals had three meetings, with our envoys, Quartet envoys, have been constantly meeting and discussing how the Quartet can really bring the parties together to bring peace and stability.  And I'm going to brief what I have discussed with the leaders during last two, three days.  And as you know Secretary Kerry has already met the Prime Minister Netanyahu and he is going to engage in Jordan, I understand tomorrow, with President Abbas and Jordanian King, so all this kind of concerted and joint efforts, I hope, will result and bring some, first of all, stopping violence and reducing and de-escalating this current situation.  This is, I think, of first and foremost importance.  I strongly urge the importance of de-escalating the situation.  One of my messages to the leaders in the region is that if this kind of violence, implicated with religious implications, will create the much, much worse situation.  It may spin out of control.  Before that, it is important to take action now.  I think this should be the major, main points of discussions in the Quartet.

Q:   Mr. Secretary-General, your legal office has done a study concerning providing protection to the Palestinian people.  The Presidency of Spain has distributed to the members of the Security Council.  Now we understand your position and many western leaders to defend the right of Israel to defend their civilian population from attacks and to protect them, but the question is: who will protect the people living under occupation, the Palestinian people, for 50 years?

SG:   This is one of the points of which I had the serious discussions with President Abbas and also the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, [Nabil] Elaraby, and upon the request of Security Council, I have submitted the compendium of historical examples since the days of League of Nations, starting from early 1920s and up to most recently, there are more than a dozen cases, almost 20 or something cases, where United Nations has been providing some protective forces or engagement.  For me as a Secretary-General at this time, it is now in the hands of Security Council and President Abbas strongly asked under current situations, they needed international protection or presence.  I made it clear to the members of the Security Council that while I distribute this compendium, this does not suggest any policy option or policy recommendation from my part.  Thank you.

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Q:   Sir, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) has acknowledged in a statement that it has found at least some of its personnel had posted on social media incendiary rhetoric, potentially that could be used to incite violence, so I'd like to know your reaction to that finding; and, secondly, what steps would you recommend that UNRWA take and their staff take to make sure this never happens again, a zero-tolerance policy, if you will?  Thank you.

SG:   I think that it was corrected by the senior leadership of UNRWA, after having discovered that kind of remarks.  And I made it clear that there should be some coherent and correct statement whenever something happens.  I think that has been addressed already.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.