UN Special Coordinator Serry says concerted action vital to salvage two-State solution – Security Council briefing – Press release

Security Council


Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6906th Meeting (AM & PM)




Robert Serry, Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace, Briefs;

Council Hears from Palestine, Israel, More than 40 Others in Day-Long Debate

“This is not a time to be idle,” Robert Serry, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council today, stressing that the consequences of inaction in the Arab-Israeli conflict could be dire for everyone.

Absent serious engagement, he said, opening a day-long debate that grappled with the range of interlocking challenges confronting that complex region, the peace process would remain on life support and stability on the ground would be put at further risk.  Entering the coming critical period, he said, “concerted action will be vital if we are to salvage the two-State solution”.

Regional and international partners, he said, were increasingly alarmed that the only way to resolve the conflict was “slipping away”.  They also questioned the effectiveness of international efforts to bring about decisive results.

He said the United Nations would remain an integral part of efforts to urgently address the “dangerous political vacuum”.  But, no international effort alone was sufficient for progress absent the requisite will from the parties themselves.  And, now was not the time for actions that undermined mutual trust.

Outlining recent developments, he drew particular attention to the dramatic increase in settlement building announced by Israel.  Housing units built in the so-called E1 area would be a “red line”, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had said he would consider referring the situation to the International Criminal Court.  Mr. Serry said such “worrying events and trends” also included an increase by nearly 90 per cent of Israeli operations and arrests in the West Bank.

Also troubling was the withholding of tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority, he added.  The Israeli Government had ended the refugee exemption for paying for electricity, and the Authority’s budget, as it stood, had a deficit of more than $1 billion.  Further timely disbursement of aid was essential to sustain institution-building and prevent disruption of core operations.

“We should be under no illusion:  the viability of the Palestinian Authority will be increasingly at stake if its standing is based on political quicksand,” he said, adding that, ultimately, there is no future for the Palestinian Authority without a two-State solution.

The peace process and reconciliation was not an “either-or” proposition and must be made compatible by advancing both in a mutually reinforcing way, he said, stressing that the time had come for Hamas to make clear where it stood on the central issues at stake.

Following Mr. Serry’s briefing, Riad al Malki, Palestine’s Foreign Affairs Minister, in his first address to the Council following the General Assembly’s historic decision last year to accord Palestine non-Member observer State status in the United Nations, recalled that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when asked about that decision, had responded in an interview:  “What the UN says does not interest me.”

That attitude was manifesting itself in the systematic escalation of the settlement campaign, particularly in and around occupied East Jerusalem, he said.  All Israeli settlements were illegal, whether it was one unit or 1,000; whether it was called a “settlement” or an “outpost”, and halting “is not a precondition — it is a legal obligation”.  If all such practices were not halted, Israel would have to bear the responsibility for the destruction of the two-State solution.

Israel’s Ambassador declared that there were many threats to security in the Middle East, but the presence of Jewish homes in Jerusalem — the eternal capital of the Jewish people — “has never been one of them”.  After the vote last year on a unilateral resolution in the General Assembly, President Abbas had promised his delegation would return promptly to the negotiating table, without preconditions.  Those nations that supported that bid should ask themselves:  what exactly did we vote for?  The Palestinians “have not lifted one finger to restart negotiations”.

“Make no mistake, the major obstacle to the two-State solution is the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to speak to their own people about the true parameters of a two-State solution, to speak a lexicon of peace, not a litany of war,” he said.  Moreover, there was only one road to statehood, and “it does not travel through this chamber in New York”.  Rather, it “runs through direct negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah”.  There were no shortcuts; no quick fixes or instant solutions.  Peace must be negotiated, and not imposed, he said.

The interventions throughout the day were predictably sombre, as speaker after speaker criticized the impasse between the parties and called for the leadership on both sides to take bold and courageous steps.  Many, like Mr. Serry, sounded notes of caution, including the representative of the United Kingdom, a Quartet member, who said that without resumption of talks, “we may find ourselves in a situation where there is no longer a two-State solution to speak of”.

The United States’ representative said it must be acknowledged that the recent Assembly vote had not brought the Palestinians any closer to the common goal of achieving an independent State.  Nor did she consider that text as bestowing Palestinian “statehood” or recognition.  Only commitment to direct negotiations on all final status issues, without preconditions, would lead to that outcome.

From the region, many speakers stressed the need to end all “illegal” Israeli activities, especially its ongoing settlement activities, which, they said, prejudiced efforts to achieve the two-State solution.  Following adoption of the status resolution in the General Assembly, said Egypt’s delegate, the Israeli Government had proceeded with a “settlement frenzy” in occupied territory.

Lebanon’s delegate, like many in the chamber, raised particular concern about the announced settlement plans in the E1 area, and noted that even Israeli civil society groups had referred to that, not as a “game changer, but perhaps a game ender”.

Summing up the current state of affairs was Jordan’s representative, who said that the Arab-Israeli conflict had reached a fine point, and that the Council, in the coming year, would either be known to future generations as the one that presided over the end of one of the longest conflicts in history, or the one that presided over the burial of peace and the ruin of those living in the region.

The situation in Syria drew much attention, as delegates urged an immediate end to the crushing conflict through a negotiated political solution, followed by a Syrian-led transition.  However, opposing views were expressed about the cause of the bloodletting and the ultimate path to staunching it and unifying the country.  Some said the current regime could not be part of any transition, as a clear break was needed from a leader that had unleashed the carnage on his own people.  Others held that the crisis was perpetuated by certain countries and the extremists they supported, eager to replace the current regime.

The Syrian representative said that a national solution based on dialogue between and among Syrians themselves, under Syrian leadership, was the way forward.  He had hoped that the statements by the United States, France and the United Kingdom would have been balanced and reality-based, in line with the facts on the ground in Syria.  He urged them to lend support to national dialogue based on the aspirations of the Syrian people and leadership, instead of supporting an entity of the Syrian opposition and inciting its members to “operate against the motherland”, thereby furthering a cycle of violence and destruction.

Statements in today’s debate were also made by the representatives of the Russian Federation, France, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Rwanda, Australia, Morocco, Togo, China, Republic of Korea, Azerbaijan, Pakistan (in his national capacity), Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iraq (on behalf of the Arab Group), Djibouti (on behalf of Organization of Islamic Conference), Japan, Bangladesh, India, South Africa, Tunisia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Indonesia, Iceland, Turkey, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Canada, Namibia, Botswana, Qatar and Nigeria.

Also speaking were the Permanent Observer for the Holy See, the Head of the European Union Delegation, and the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

The delegation of Iran took the floor for a second time.

The meeting began at 10:06 a.m., was suspended at 1:22 p.m., resumed at 3:08 p.m. and adjourned at 7:04 p.m.


The Security Council met today to consider the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.  It was expected to be briefed by Robert Serry, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General.


RIAD AL MALKI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Observer State of Palestine, said that this was his first address to the Council following the General Assembly’s historic decision last year to accord Palestine non-Member observer State status in the United Nations.  The overwhelming support of Member States for that initiative had been a reflection of strong international support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including to self-determination and a life of freedom and dignity in their own independent State.  The measure had marked the Assembly’s “long overdue” recognition of Palestinian statehood.  “A new era has begun,” he declared, expressing the hope that it would mark a turning point in the effort to make peace and security a reality between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, and the region as a whole.

He went on to say that, with the Assembly’s decision, it was also high time that Palestine take its rightful place among the community of nations, and he hoped that it would pave the way for acceptance of his delegation’s 2011 application for full membership in the United Nations.  Further, he was encouraged by the signs that the momentous step taken by the Assembly would reinvigorate the international community’s longstanding, yet unfulfilled commitment to achieve a just, peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  An urgent reaffirmation of the primacy of existing United Nations resolutions regarding a two-State solution, as well as the Quartet-backed Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative, was required, he said, warning that there was a collective consensus building that the window of opportunity to achieve that goal was rapidly closing.

“The Assembly’s [recent resolution] must, therefore, be seen as a legitimate, multilateral, peaceful and political effort to save the two-State solution,” he said, adding that that text must also be seen as an effort to create the proper environment that would allow that goal to be reached, towards achieving an end to Israeli occupation since 1967 and a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement of that issue.  It must also be a basis for addressing such outstanding matters as Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security, water and prisoners.

He said that, despite the international community’s “strong message”, the period following the Assembly’s action had regrettably witnessed actions that were the complete antithesis of the two-State solution.  Indeed, while the Palestinian leadership had reaffirmed its commitment to the path of peace, as well as to its immediate readiness to engage in negotiations on the basis of clear parameters, Israel had instead persisted along a “path of occupation, conflict and fear-mongering”.  Israel had chosen to embark on a destructive escalation of its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, “behaving with utter contempt, deliberately breaching international law and dismissing the will of the international community”.

This attitude had been most starkly evident in Israel’s intensification of its illegal settlement campaign, he said, citing that country’s “heavy-handed, punitive measures against the Palestinian people and their leadership” in the wake of the Assembly’s decision, including “theft” of Palestinian tax revenues, which had exacerbated the existing financial crisis and compromised the functioning of Palestinian institutions and systems of democratic governance.  Such actions had been accompanied by ridicule directed at the international community, he said, recalling that, when asked about the Assembly’s decision, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had responded in an interview:  “What the UN says does not interest me.”

On the ground, that attitude had manifested itself in the systematic escalation of Israel’s illegal settlement campaign, particularly in and around occupied East Jerusalem, he continued, recalling that in late December, Israel had flagrantly announced its intention to proceed with a plan for constructing more than 7,000 illegal settlement units and the confiscation of hundreds more dunums of Palestinian land.  “At the core of this unprecedented settlement drive are plans for establishing illegal settlements in sensitive areas to the east and south of Occupied East Jerusalem,” he said, adding that that provocative approach was also manifested in ongoing Israeli settler “terror and violence” against Palestinian civilians and property, under the protection of the Israeli Government.

He declared that all Israeli settlements were illegal under international law:  whether it was one unit or one thousand; whether it was called a “settlement” or an “outpost”.  He said that the settlement campaign was also the main obstacle to attaining the two-State solution on the basis of pre-1967 borders.  “A halt to settlement construction is not a precondition — it is a legal obligation,” he said, underscoring that the situation required the Council, in line with its Charter-based mandate, to act to preserve the viability of that solution.  “We are at a pivotal moment.  A firm message must be sent to Israel that all of these illegal policies must be halted, or that it will have to bear responsibility for its violation and its destruction of the two-State solution,” he said.

The fact that Israel had never been held accountable for its crimes had undoubtedly emboldened its rejection of the path to peace.  He said that in November 2012, Israel had launched yet another deadly assault on the Gaza Strip and once again, that “barrage of death, trauma and terror” had been inflicted on the Palestinian people without consequence.  Hundreds of Palestinian casualties had been the result and thousands of Palestinian homes and structures had been destroyed.  Despite all this, the Palestinian leadership repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to peace.  There was support for that position, expressed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, among all Palestinians, he said, noting that it was in that context that reconciliation between the Hamas and Fatah factions were being pursued.

“We are at the crossroads, and Israel must choose:  either to honestly engage in a meaningful political process for the achievement of the two-State solution on the pre-1967 borders; or to force us into an era in which the solution is abandoned and the Palestinian people enter a new stage of their national struggle to defend their rights through all peaceful and legal means available to the State of Palestine,” he said.  The international community had a historic responsibility before it.  Action must be taken immediately, foremost by the Security Council, to compel Israel to cease its breaches of international law and commit to peace.  Negotiations could not succeed while being sabotaged by an unrelenting occupation that mocked efforts to achieve peace.  “Business as usual cannot continue.  What is required is bold leadership, particularly by those that have staked claim to shepherding the peace process over all these years, and a significant UN role, including by the Security Council,” he said, stressing that the Palestinian leadership remained committed to the two-State solution, as was the wider Arab world.  He appealed to the international community to heed that call for peace and to act in support of those who yearned for freedom.

RON PROSOR ( Israel) said yesterday Israelis had gone to the polls, just one component of its vibrant democracy.  His country longed for the day when scenes of real elections would spread to all corners of a safe, stable and secure Middle East, as that would mark a great turning point in the region’s history.  “My question to this chamber is — how long must we wait.”  There was a far bleaker picture today in the Middle East, where millions of lives “hang in the balance”.  Yet, the Security Council continued to use its monthly Middle East debate to single out, scrutinize and criticize Israel — an island of democracy in the “world’s greatest hotbed of tyranny”.  There were many threats to security in the region, but the presence of Jewish homes in Jerusalem — the eternal capital of the Jewish people — “has never been one of them”.  Some said that the preliminary building plans announced last month prevented a two-State solution, although it was clear that all those neighbourhoods would remain part of Israel in any final peace agreement.

Since selected perception was one of the great hallmarks of this debate, he said he wished to set the record straight.  After the vote last year on a unilateral resolution in the General Assembly, President Abbas, who had claimed that it was an act of peace, had promised his delegation would immediately return to the negotiating table, without preconditions.  Today, those nations that supported that bid had a duty to ask themselves:  what exactly did we vote for?  The Palestinians “have not lifted one finger to restart negotiations”.

Just 10 days after President Abbas had spoken about his commitment to a two-State solution, his political party, the Fatah, released a new logo that completely erased Israel from the map, said Mr. Prosor.  “Make no mistake:  the major obstacle to the two-State solution is the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to speak to their own people about the true parameters of a two-State solution, to speak a lexicon of peace, not a litany of war.”

He added:  “You will never hear President Abbas or any other Palestinian leader say the phrase — two States for two peoples”, because while they called for an independent Palestinian State, they wanted millions of their people to “flood the Jewish State”.  That would spell the destruction of Israel.  A few days after President Abbas had appeared at the United Nations, the Hamas Chief, at a rally in Gaza, had called for Israel’s complete and total destruction.  He had said:  “ Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north.  There will be no concession on an inch of the land”.

The Hamas charter called for the destruction of Israel and the genocide of the Jews, he said.  It had turned Gaza into a destination of choice — a Club Med — for global jihadists.  Some in this hall had the audacity to suggest that Israel should welcome Hamas with open arms.  Would they say the same if Islamic militants were firing rockets into their backyards?  Would they say the same to France, which was now working with the Government of Mali to fight Al-Qaida in the Sahel?  France’s Foreign Minister had said his country was fighting to prevent the creation of an Islamist terrorist enclave “at the doorstep of France and Europe”.  If Mali was on France’s doorstep, Gaza was in Israel’s living room.

No amount of rhetoric, spin, or bluster, he said, could change one simple fact:  the Palestinians clearly failed to meet the most basic criteria for statehood.  “The only Palestinian State in these halls is the Palestinian state of denial.”  General Assembly resolution 67/19 did not change the fact that the Palestinian Authority had no control over Gaza, and any efforts to alter the Palestinians’ status, outside the agreed negotiating framework, directly violated agreements between the parties, which contained express obligations to resolve all outstanding issues through negotiations — and to refrain from any step that sought to alter the legal status of the West Bank and Gaza, pending the outcome of negotiations.  Moreover, the Assembly resolution not only contradicted agreed terms of reference, but it sought to predetermine some issues explicitly reserved for negotiation, while ignoring others, such as security and the end of claims.

There was only one road to statehood, he proclaimed, and “it does not travel through this chamber in New York”.  Rather, it “runs through direct negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah”.  There were no shortcuts; no quick fixes or instant solutions.  Peace must be negotiated, and not imposed.  Most of the millions in the region who lived under oppression, fear and violence were completely ignored in this debate, cast aside to make way for a litany of half-truths, myths, and outright lies about Israel.  “Repeating a lie does not make it true; repeating a constant flood of falsehood does not — and cannot — change the facts”.   The fact remained that Israel was not what was wrong in the Middle East; Israel was what was right in the Middle East.

Make no mistake; cynical politics did no favours for the Arab world, he said, adding that the silence of the Council in the face of terror did no favours for those seeking a brighter future.  The Council needed a “GPS system to find its moral centre in this debate on the Middle East”.  Just weeks after the Council’s founding in 1946 Winston Churchill had outlined the challenge facing it today when he said:  “We must make sure that its work is fruitful, that it is a reality and not a sham… that it is a true temple of peace… and not merely a cockpit in a Tower of Babel.”

SUSAN RICE ( United States) said it must be acknowledged that the recent vote in the Assembly had not brought the Palestinians any closer to the common goal of achieving an independent State.  The only way to do that was through the “painstaking work” of committing to direct negotiations on all final status issues, without preconditions, between Israel and the Palestinians.  The General Assembly resolution could not be seen or viewed as establishing terms of reference or as prejudging any final status issues, notably with respect to territory.  “These are simply inescapable facts,” she said, adding that the United States remained fully committed to direct negotiations, and would continue to work vigorously towards that end.  The United States was consulting with the parties and international partners on the way forward, and was underscoring that every step taken must aim to reduce tensions and create a climate for peace.

The United States had reiterated its long-standing opposition to Israeli settlement activity, which ran counter to the cause of peace, and she stressed that construction in the E1 area would be especially damaging to the two-State solution, and her Government had urged Israeli leaders to reconsider those unilateral decisions and to exercise restraint.  For decades, the United States had not accepted the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, “and we oppose any efforts to legalize outposts”.  She went on to say that the position of the United States regarding Palestinian status, including as reflected in its explanation of vote in connection with the adoption of Assembly resolution 67/19, remained unchanged.  The United States did not consider the text as bestowing Palestinian “statehood” or recognition.  Only direct negotiations to settle final status issues would lead to that outcome.

Turning to the “dire and deteriorating situation in Syria”, where there had been a sharp increase in indiscriminate violence in the past month, she noted that the regime’s militia had carried out attacks and air strikes in Aleppo and other areas.  “In the face of those atrocities, we reiterate our utter condemnation of attacks against unarmed civilians,” she said, adding that at all levels, those responsible for atrocities — no matter their allegiance — would be identified and held accountable.  “Every member of this Council knows that a political transition would be the fastest and most effective way to end this horrific bloodshed,” she declared, stressing that the United States would continue to engage with its partners both on and off the Council to support a meaningful political transition that met the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

“The burden is on all of us to help the millions of people displaced and in urgent need of lifesaving assistance,” she said, noting the need for the international community to continue to back the United Nations-led effort to address dire humanitarian conditions on the ground.  The United States would continue helping Syria’s neighbours to respond to the needs of Syrian refugees.  “Difficult days are ahead, especially if the Assad regime remained in power” and the United States would continue to support all Syrians within and outside the Government who aimed to bring an end to the “bloody Assad regime” and build a democratic and unified Syria in which the rule of law was respected.

VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that he did not understand everything that had been said by Israel’s representative.  The Council, for well-known reasons, had been unable to achieve a unified position on the conflict. Attempts in 2012 to establish negotiating contacts between the Palestinians and Israelis, with the assistance of the Quartet and others, had been unsuccessful.

Despite the calm in Gaza, he said, the military and political situation was far from stable and exacerbated by continued settlement activities.  In fact, there was a “hitherto unseen boom” of housing units; 7,000 had been approved in January alone, which was an exponential increase during the same month last year.  Despite the international community’s firm appeals, the Israeli authorities did not intend to review their settlements policy.  Those activities were an “out and out violation” of Security Council resolutions and the Road Map, and undermined the chance for a two-State solution.  That, in turn, was exacerbated by Israel’s “heavy-handed financial pressure” on the Palestinian authorities.

He said that as long as the status quo persisted, it would be more and more unlikely to see a resumption of negotiations.  The path to breaking the deadlock was well understood, and he welcomed the appeal made in December 2012 by the League of Arab States committee for a resumption of the negotiating process on the basis of international law.  He hoped the new Israeli Government, once formed, would take duly into account the need to move beyond mistrust and engage in talks.  At the same time, Palestinian unity was required for the implementation of any settlement agreement.  He called for a ministerial meeting of the Quartet and the more active participation of the League of Arab States.

A striking aspect of the deadlock was the recent involvement of Palestinian refugees in Syria in that conflict, he said, adding that that had led to their movement to Lebanon, which further destabilized an already difficult situation there.  He advocated collective efforts to seek a solution to the Syrian crisis, which must be political and attained through Syrian-led dialogue on the basis of international law principles.  While the international community bore significant responsibility for settlement of that crisis, in the final analysis, that must be Syrian-led.  He regretted that the Syrian opposition forces had not taken any step to engage in dialogue, whereas the Syrian Government had conveyed a willingness to do so with a broad segment of the opposition parties.

GÉRARD ARAUD (France) said that at the beginning of the New Year, the situation in the Middle East faced two serious crises; one being the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  The Secretary-General had repeatedly warned that the window of opportunity for achieving the two-State solution was closing, which made the current situation on the ground all the more troubling.  Israel’s ongoing settlement activity was exacerbating an already dire situation.  The financial difficulties facing the Palestinian Authority were also of concern.  It was time to stop talking about the two-State solution and “just implement it”, he declared, calling on all parties to cease activities that might undermine efforts to attain that goal.

While recognizing the efforts carried out by the international community, he said it was time to take concrete measures and noted that European partners were calling for the setting of clear parameters for negotiations.  It was also time for a “new approach” that was supported by the United States and Arab States.  Yet, nothing would happen unless the two main parties specifically demonstrated their desire for peace.  Welcoming the ongoing Palestinian reconciliation efforts, he warned that such activities must be bolstered, allowing no space for political spoilers to undermine them.  He also urged Israel to strongly commit to peace and actively demonstrate that commitment on all fronts, including through considering reversing its decision on building in the “E1” area.

He went on to say that 2013 must also mark an end to the dire situation in Syria.  Despite repeated calls from the international community, the regime in Damascus continued to use heavy weapons against its people.  France reiterated its condemnation of any attempt by the Syrian regime to use or threaten to use chemical weapons against its population.  That situation, and the Council’s inability to come together in a unified way was “absolutely lamentable” and in that light, France had joined with other countries to call for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court.  “We cannot sit by in silence while crimes against humanity are being perpetrated in Syria,” he said, expressing the belief that such activities must be investigated once the country was liberated.

He said that France would continue to support the Syrian coalition opposition movement, especially its efforts to open humanitarian pathways to populations in need.  A political solution was required and he lamented that President Assad had recently stated that he was ‘closing the door to a political solution.’ France would continue to support all efforts that were representative of the Syrian people and would encourage other members of the international community to do likewise.  France supported countries hosting Syrian refuges and recalled its solidarity with Turkey and support of Lebanon.  The international community must mobilize once again to find solutions to those two crises; 2013 must be a year of solutions.

GERT ROSENTHAL ( Guatemala) said that his country strongly believed that the only solution to the conflict in Syria was for both parties to agree to lay down their arms and negotiate a political solution.  It was clear that a prolonged armed struggle would only serve to increase sectarian hatred within the country, with the additional risk of spreading to neighbouring countries.  In that context, he stressed, the involvement of the international community would be essential.  Any transitional arrangement in Syria should be the product of an inclusive process led by the Syrian people in which the rights of all were respected, and any transitional government must have the support of all the Syrian people and should be the result of a democratic electoral process.  Further, he stressed, “those responsible for any crime committed in Syria, no matter who, should be punished for their actions”, as “atrocities of the magnitude of those that have occurred in Syria should not be allowed to go unpunished”.

With regard to the Middle East Peace Process, he said that, despite the fact that 30 years had passed with little progress since the 1993 Oslo Accords, “we have not given up hope”.  The option of a two-State solution must not be a “pipe dream”, as it was the best and most viable option available.  Direct negotiations were needed between the two parties to the conflict, and, until that occurred, the international community must urge both sides to avoid any act, action or provocation that might hinder negotiations.  That included the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel, but also freezing the expansion of Israeli settlements, as they were illegal under international law.  It was “shocking” that the Israeli Government continued to promote construction of new settlements, including in such sensitive areas as E1.  In that regard, he added that the international community — through the United Nations — was obliged to condemn any and all violations, including with respect to safety, and to take all actions necessary to end them.  “You cannot expect the parties will act responsibly when condemning the actions they take is purposely avoided,” he said.

MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom) said that the events of the final months of 2012 highlighted the urgency with which all must advance the Middle East process.  Negotiations for a two-State solution was the only way to ensure that Israel had the security to which it was entitled and that Palestinians had the State they deserved.  This year was critical, as the window was rapidly closing on a two-State solution.  Without a rapid resumption of talks, “we may find ourselves in a situation where there is no longer a two-State solution to speak of”.  He called on President Abbas and the next Israeli Prime Minister to demonstrate the bold leadership to push the process forward, and for external leadership to reinvigorate a return to negotiations.  He looked, in particular, to the United States, and his country and its European partners also stood ready to offer support.  Greater efforts were needed this year than any since the Oslo Accords 20 years ago.  Countries of the region also had a role to play.

He urged both sides to avoid risking a setback.  For the Palestinian Authority, that meant returning to the table without preconditions and avoiding any steps that would deepen the mistrust.  For Israel, that meant a willingness to enter into talks and cease settlement activity, which was illegal under international law.  The European Union had expressed its strong opposition, including the planned construction in the north of the country and the West Bank.  If carried out, that would jeopardize the contiguity of a future Palestinian State.  Such steps also damaged Israel’s international reputation.  It was also vital for the Israeli Government to reinstate transfers of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority.  Some $120 million per month was being withheld, or 44 per cent of the Authority’s total spending.  That dire situation should be a concern to all.  His Government would engage with any Palestinian Government committed to the principles set out by President Abbas in Cairo in 2011, he added.

Turning to the situation in Syria, he said the violence was continuing at a horrific rate, for which the regime bore the brunt of the responsibility.  Despite its attempts to blame the opposition, it was now evident, for example, that the attack in Aleppo had been caused by missiles fired by regime jets.  He, therefore, supported the call to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.  The Syrian opposition was increasingly credible and organized, and drawing on the call of the Syrian people for the freedom they had been denied for decades, as they turned away from a discredited and disgraced regime, which would not be crushed by force, but only a political route to peace.  However, it must be understood that no opposition party was prepared to work with President Assad; any transition that involved him was “simply not sustainable”.  Indeed, “there needed to be a clear break from a leader that has unleashed this carnage on his own people”.  The lack of Council unity was a “stain” on its reputation; it should coalesce behind the necessary steps to secure a peaceful political solution.

SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg) said the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was troubling, as was Israel’s ongoing settlement activity, withholding of tax revenues and plans to extend settlements into the E1 area.  She was also concerned by provocative statements and actions on both sides, with extremists committed to undermining the peace process.  Indeed, the stalemate and the recalcitrance of the parties were “manna from heaven” for those seeking to deny peace.  “How can we re-launch the peace process without direct dialogue?” she said, calling for bold actions to get direct talks on track.  Only direct talks would “get at the root” of the problems between the Israelis and Palestinians.  Yet, for such negotiations to occur, an appropriate environment must be created, including with the support of the international community, specifically the United States and the countries of the region.  Moreover, central to resolving the issue was healing the divisions among Palestinian factions and she welcomed the ongoing negotiations to that end.

As for the situation in Syria, she recalled that senior United Nations human rights and humanitarian officials had repeatedly described the situation in the country as dire.  The figures spoke for themselves, as nearly 60,000 people had been reportedly killed during the almost two years of conflict.  The international community must do all it could to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis, as well as provide support to neighbouring countries that were hosting refugees.  Luxembourg was doing its part to support the humanitarian effort and planned to announce further measures by the end of the month.  Meanwhile, Syria must commit to a path that addressed the aspirations of all Syrians, otherwise the list of atrocities being committed in the country would only continue to grow.  The international community must stand by the Joint Special representative in his effort to achieve a political solution.  Meanwhile, in the absence of a fair and credible system of accountability in the country, the International Criminal Court must be informed of the situation.  In that light, Luxembourg had joined with other countries, led by Switzerland, to issue a letter to the Security Council to refer the situation to the Court.

OLIVIER NDUHUNGIREHE ( Rwanda) expressed serious concern about the lack of progress between Israel and Palestine, as well as the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank.  Only a two-State political solution was viable.  Also troubling were certain statements made by the Israeli Government following the November vote in the General Assembly, regarding the building of more than 7,000 new housing units in the West Bank, including 3,000 in the E1 area of Jerusalem.  That was a violation of international law and Council resolutions, and would break up the West Bank and make the establishment of a Palestinian State virtually impossible.  He called on Israel to stop withholding Palestinian tax revenues, which exacerbated an already critical humanitarian situation.  At the same time, the security of Israel and its people was indispensable for any political solution, and he condemned any rocket fire or terrorist attacks on Israeli territory, or any indiscriminate response, in return.  He hoped the Gaza ceasefire would hold, and he also sought Palestinian unity.

Concerning Syria, he condemned the violence, which had led to more than 60,000 deaths in 22 months.  The responsibility to protect was borne primarily by the Syrian Government, but as many reports indicated that Government was guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  He also condemned attacks by the opposition, as well as by terrorists.  The solution required open and direct political dialogue, and he called on all parties to take that path.  He paid tribute to Special Envoy Brahimi and urged that a political solution be rooted in the Geneva communiqué.  Syrians must be masters of their own fate; any foreign intervention, be it political, military, or legal, could only complicate a peace process.  Continuation of the status quo in the Middle East would have devastating consequences, not only for the region, but for the entire world.

GARY QUINLAN ( Australia) observed that the situation between Israel and the Palestinians had reached a decisive stage in which the status quo was unsustainable and the prospect of a two-State solution was quickly disappearing.  There was a particularly urgent need now for progress in the Middle East process, and it was time for a new effort to resuscitate the process.  The conflict in Israel and Gaza last November highlighted again the fundamental risks to peace and security of allowing the status quo to continue, noting that it was critical for the implementation of the ceasefire that efforts to prevent the flow of weapons into Gaza were intensified.  Acknowledging that a ceasefire did not guarantee lasting peace, he said the only way to secure an enduring end to the conflict was for both Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations without preconditions towards a two-State solution.

The General Assembly resolution on the Palestinians’ status as a non-Member observer State reflected international support for a future Palestinian State, as well as the international community’s deep concern about the continuing stalemate on the ground.  Australia abstained on that a resolution, reflecting both its support for a Palestinian State and its concern that the only way to achieve the reality of statehood for Palestinians was through direct negotiations, he explained.  He urged both sides not to exploit or overreact to the vote.  Instead, actions by both Israel and the Palestinians needed to be in the interests of peace.  In that regard, Australia was deeply concerned by Israel’s decisions since the vote to expand settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which were illegal under international law.  He said his country wanted to see a secure Israel living in peace alongside a viable Palestinian State.

Mr. Quinlan said the continuing stalemate in the Middle East peace process had implications for the region’s stability and economic development.  So did the worsening conflict in Syria.  As a member of the Security Council, Australia would work with its colleagues and international partners to encourage a strong and unified response to bring about a process of political transition in Syria, he said.  In that context, his country would continue to support the efforts of the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, including his call for strong backing from the Council to enhance the prospects for transition.  He said the Council needed to take a fresh look at how it could best support Mr. Brahimi’s efforts, as continued Council inaction would only condemn Syrians to further bloodshed and the region to greater instability.  On the human dimension to the conflict that continued to worsen, he called for increased international support, including the current United Nations appeals.  Australia was particularly concerned about securing respect for and adherence to principles of international humanitarian law and ensuring the safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel, he added.

MOHAMMED LOULICHKI ( Morocco) said that no one could argue that the Palestinian question was entering a critical phase, after years of “ups and downs” and Israeli obstruction.  That situation was being exacerbated by Israel’s ongoing settlement construction, including the damaging announcement of a settlement plan for the E1 area.  That announcement “cut deeply” into the efforts to achieve a two-State solution and, if not reversed, could spell the end of the two-State solution in 2013.  The Government of Morocco had launched an effort to press the Security Council to address that matter, as well as all illegal Israeli activities, including the destruction of Palestinian homes and infrastructure, as well as of holy sites in and around East Jerusalem.  Indeed, the entire international community must intervene and demand a recommitment to the two-State solution by Israel, which would pave the way for negotiations and an independent Palestinian State.

He went on to say that the ongoing Israeli occupation, including its withholding of tax revenue, was threatening the significant institution-building achievements made by the Palestinian Authority.  He called for an end to that situation, and demanded that Israel release its “stifling grip” on the Gaza Strip.  Israel’s recalcitrance and obstruction heightened tensions throughout the Middle East.  He went on to say that Morocco was also following other situations in the region, including the crisis in Syria and the impact of Israel’s occupation of other Arab territories.  Specifically on Syria, he hoped that with a proposed conference on that country set to take place in Kuwait, the international community would soon be able to “speak of a new situation” in Syria.  He also reaffirmed his Government’s commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon.

KODJO MENAN ( Togo) expressed deep concern about events unfolding in the region, especially the lack of tangible progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recent conflict in Gaza between Hamas and Israel.  Both parties had shouldered their responsibility, “luckily”, in putting an end to that crisis.  Now, they must bolster mutual trust.  The upgrade of Palestinian status at the United Nations had led to hope in the Palestinian Authority for a swift settlement of the conflict.  However, concerns persisted over territory in particular and, since the Assembly vote, there had been a spike in settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which could complicate a two-State solution.  Meanwhile, Hamas clung to its stance of not recognizing the State of Israel.  Palestinian unity was imperative, and he noted that Fatah had declared its willingness to resume talks with Israel.  A solution to the conflict required direct negotiations between the parties, which had begun but were interrupted in 2010.  Those must resume, with the support of United Nations Member States, particularly those with influence on the parties.

Regarding the situation in Syria, he said the tragic violence had spread across the country, exacerbating the humanitarian situation.  Civil rights were being violated by “belligerents of all kinds”; 60,000 people had died, and public and private infrastructure had been destroyed.  Mr. Brahimi’s mission seemed doomed to the same fate as that of his predecessor.  Nevertheless, opportunities existed to resolve the conflict, but that required the Council’s solidarity.  Along those lines, he welcomed recent initiatives by the United States and Russian Federation.  A military victory by one of the parties would not bring durable peace and security; national dialogue was essential to create a “peaceful and reconciled” Syria.  Also worrying was the effect of the conflict on Lebanon’s security, and he called on the international community, particularly the Council, to support the Lebanese authorities in their efforts to forestall destabilization.

LI BAODONG ( China) said that dialogue and negotiation was the “ultimate way out” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  China was gravely concerned about the deadlock, which was not in the interest of either side.  Both must create an environment favourable to achieving a lasting peace in the region, as the status quo was untenable.  Thus, the peace process must be restarted as soon as possible, aimed at a two-State solution, and China was open to any and all initiatives in that direction.  His country had consistently rejected settlement building and was also seriously concerned about Israel’s suspension of tax revenue transfers.  Above all, the settlements seemed to be the main obstacle to peace talks, and Israel, as the more powerful party, should take the initiative to create conditions for restarting them.  China supported the efforts of the Arab League and the Council’s greater role in settling the conflict, which should result in an independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, based on 1967 borders.  Granting observer State status to Palestine was one more step in that direction.

He said his country was deeply concerned and worried about the situation in Syria, for which a political settlement was the only solution.  That was the “broad common understanding of the international community”.  Mediation efforts should be intensified, and he urged all parties to call a ceasefire, so that a Syrian-led political process could begin at an early date.  China supported just and fair mediation efforts by Special Representative Brahimi and hoped that all parties would strive to find a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict based on the Geneva communiqué and relevant Security Council resolutions.

KIM SOOK ( Republic of Korea) said that the ongoing situation between Israel and Palestine was “much worse than a simple stalemate”.  Over the past few years both sides had constantly stepped away from implementing agreements.  However, his delegation welcomed the recent importation of construction materials into the Gaza Strip through Kerem Shalom checkpoint — for the first time in five years — which showed that the ceasefire negotiations behind the scenes were making slow but steady progress.  On the other hand, increasing tensions and clashes in the West Bank were a worrying sign.  The Republic of Korea expected that the new Israeli Government, elected in recent days, would place its priority on the progress of Middle East talks and make “sincere and serious” efforts for the resumption of talks with Palestine.  The country also supported the mediation efforts by the Quartet, he said, noting that, despite little progress, “failure to meet the time limit should not be interpreted as an indictment of the Quartet” whose role should remain integral.

In Syria, where the bloodshed had now entered its twenty-second month, the Syrian authorities and the opposition groups must stop atrocities against innocent civilians, he said.  The Republic of Korea reiterated its call for all parties’ cooperation for safe, unimpeded and timely humanitarian access to the people in need of help. Further, he said, it supported the referral of the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” he said, stressing that continued inaction would not only result in the increase in the tragic statistics, but would also fundamentally undermine peace and stability in the whole Middle East region.  Warning the Syrian regime not to use chemical weapons on any occasion, he added his hopes that the Syrian National Coalition — recognized last month by the Republic of Korea as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people — would begin the inclusive process of political transition.

SAMIR SHARIFOV ( Azerbaijan) said the situation in the Middle East remained a challenge to the international community’s efforts to achieve lasting peace in that region.  The myriad issues required greater and more sustained international involvement, he said, emphasizing that there was no shortcut to success, as the road to peace was long and arduous.  The key to the situation in the Middle East rested largely with the political will of the States in the region.  Yet, while that was true, it in no way absolved the Security Council and other international actors from carrying out measures to strengthen peace processes.  As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he expressed his delegation’s concern at the ongoing construction by Israel of settlements, including in the E1 area, which were damaging the peace process.  The Security Council must take all necessary measures to ensure that international law and humanitarian norms were adhered to in all situations and at all times.  Concluding, he reiterated his delegation’s firm belief that peace and security in the Middle East was achievable if the parties and Governments in the region evinced dedicated political will to that end.

MASOOD KHAN (Pakistan), reviewing significant recent developments including a November 2012 ceasefire between Hamas and Israel and the General Assembly’s vote, the same month, to make Palestine a “non-Member observer State”, he said that there had regrettably been punitive measures carried out by Israel.  Those were the announcement of new settlements, including in the E1 area, and the withholding of tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority.  Calling for both measures to be rolled back, he also condemned the Israeli announcement to expand settlements, which contravened international law.  Moreover, the planned settlement in E1 would divide the West Bank into two enclaves and destroy the contiguity of the Palestinian State, thus rendering the two-State solution untenable.

The year 2013 was crucial, he continued, as it was likely the last opportunity for the international community to move towards a lasting resolution of the conflict.  “Delay does not mean suspension of activity; it is tantamount to abdication of responsibility”, he stressed in that regard.  He further urged the Quartet and the Security Council to demonstrate a sense of urgency.  If the Quartet could not move forward, countries “with interest and influence in the region” should act to facilitate resumption of the peace process.  Comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East could not be ensured without Israel’s withdrawal from all occupied lands, including those of Lebanon and the Syrian Golan, and the Security Council must also ensure and monitor the implementation of resolution 1860 (2009), as well as other relevant resolutions.

As Syria descended deeper into conflict, severely wracked by internecine violence, the humanitarian crisis continued to grow exponentially, he said.  Beyond political rhetoric from the international community, however, there was no progress towards engagement.  “The only realities on the ground are continuing carnage and a political stalemate”, he said in that regard, adding, “we need a ray of hope, a breakthrough”.  The levers for such a breakthrough were evident:  first, both the Syrian Government and the opposition must abandon the mindset that they could win the war militarily; second, engagement was the only viable path; third, regional Powers and key Council members needed to persuade the parties to renounce violence and come to the negotiating table; fourth, supplies of arms must be stopped forthwith; fifth and lastly, humanitarian access needed to be improved to alleviate the suffering of the people.

NAWAF SALAM ( Lebanon) said the recognition by the international community of Palestinian statehood had been a major leap, but “we are only halfway there”, and called on the Security Council to positively consider the 2011 Palestinian application for full statehood and membership in the United Nations.  Meanwhile, all members of the Security Council were aware that one of the most pressing issues of international concern was that of ending the Israeli occupation.  Indeed, there was an abiding need to end all illegal Israeli activities, especially its ongoing settlement activity, which was in direct contravention of international law.  Those settlements continued to prejudice efforts to attain the two-State solution and their harmful impact had been repeatedly noted by the international community, including renowned Israeli journalists and scholars.

He went on to say that it was estimated, including by Israeli civil society groups, that settlement activity had jumped by an unprecedented 300 per cent in 2012.  That situation was made even more troubling by the announcement of settlement plans in the E1 area.  Israeli civil society groups had referred to that as not a “game changer but perhaps a game ender” for efforts to achieve the two-State solution.  Further, those who “brushed off” the matter as “just plans”, should be reminded that similar announcements of “plans” to build settlements in the past had soon been followed by real construction.  It was high time for the Council to follow up on its decisions and resolutions and provide real impetus to the peace effort.  It must do all it could to end settlement construction, dismantle the occupation and ensure peace.

MOOTAZ AHMADEIN KHALIL ( Egypt) noted a number of recent developments, drawing particular attention to Israel’s promise to retaliate if the status resolution was adopted in the General Assembly.  “They did deliver on their promise.”  Following the adoption, the Israeli Government had proceeded with a “settlement frenzy” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially Jerusalem.  Fourteen Council members had issued separate statements denouncing that policy, which aimed to impose a fait accompli on the ground.  Israel had also seized the tax revenues of the Palestinian Authority.  Also notable were three meetings — in November and December 2012, and January 2013 — of the Arab foreign ministers, at which they committed to exerting all efforts to “give the peace process a last chance”.  Egypt had resumed its efforts for reconciliation in Palestine, and steps were currently being taken towards that goal.

Amid those and other important developments, he said, were two positive signs:  the agreement to a ceasefire in Gaza was holding; and the process of Palestinian reconciliation was slowly resuming.  However, incremental practical steps must be taken to ensure regional stability and “save the peace process”.  First, the sponsors of the peace process and all the parties must recommit to resuming the negotiations on the basis of the previously agreed terms of reference.  Second, all current settlement plans in the Occupied Territory must be frozen and no new plans should be approved, and third, reconciliation efforts among the Palestinians should be encouraged.  Finally, the situation on the ground in Palestine must be improved.  That applied to both Gaza and the West Bank.  In particular, the Gaza blockade should be lifted and the financial embargo against it must end.  The daily violence and abuse against the Palestinians had to stop.  He looked forward to the achievement of all, or even some, of those steps in the coming months.

On Syria, he said, the bloodshed must stop.  However, that deteriorating situation should not distract from the need to keep the focus on the question of Palestine and on the need to implement Council resolution 497 (1981) on the occupied Syrian Golan.

Prince ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL-HUSSEIN (Jordan) said that the Arab-Israeli conflict had reached a fine point, and that the Council over the coming year would either become known to future generations as that which presided over the end of one of the longest conflicts in history, or which presided over the burial of peace and the ruin of those living in the region.  Peace could not be created, however, amid the continued settlement activity by Israel, particularly in Occupied East Jerusalem or in area E1 — which would deny the Palestinians contiguity and “will doom peace for good”.  The law on the issue remained unaltered and abundantly clear.  Indeed, it was international humanitarian law, and not the domestic laws of Israel, that was applicable to the occupied territories and all high contracting parties.  Israel’s administrative and military regulation could only be lawful, as far as the West Bank was concerned, if they were utterly consistent with the Fourth Geneva Convention and its control guided by its obligations as an occupying Power.  In that regard, he reviewed a 2004 opinion of the International Court of Justice on the matter, which had been “crystal clear” on the matter, as well as an oral submission before the Court by the Counsel for Jordan.

Indeed, the transfer by the occupying Power of its own population into its occupied territory was a violation of laws and customs codified by Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and was defined as a “criminal act” in the Rome Statute.  The actions of the Israeli settler movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territory must, therefore, stop, and the deep suffering of the Palestinian people must be brought to an end, he said.  The actions of States must be guided by customary international law, which the Security Council itself must uphold, and not undermine.  Moreover, opposition to the policy of settlement building by Israel was not founded on some form of bigotry towards the Jewish people, he said, but on the fact that it was a continuing, three-decade-long violation of international humanitarian law.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI ( Brazil) said that the international community was still failing to effectively assist with solutions to the most important political problems facing the Middle East region.  The Security Council would, in that regard, set a “meaningful example” by displaying stronger determination to seriously deal with the issue through sustained, regular debate.  Throughout 2012, the window for a two-State solution continued to narrow and more people continued to suffer the consequences of inaction. The situation had been further aggravated by the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements, she said, adding that “ Israel should reconsider its decision”, in particular in the E1 area.  Indeed, settlements must be dismantled and the occupation must end.  Progress was urgently needed in 2013.  The international community had long been in possession of the blueprints for the resolution of the conflict; however, the missing element was political resolve.  Brazil, therefore, reiterated its call for the Council to fully carry out its responsibilities, and stressed that the promotion of peace in the Middle East “cannot be delegated to third parties”.  “An inoperative Quartet and a silent Security Council do not serve the interests of peace in the Middle East,” she said.

Concerning Syria, Brazil was appalled by the current level of violence against civilians, and strongly condemned the recent attack at Aleppo University.  She reiterated the need for an independent investigation to identify those responsible for that act and to bring them to justice.  Her delegation was also concerned by the situation of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries, she said, adding that Brazil had contributed to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) activities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.  The primary responsibility for the cessation of violence lay with the Syrian Government; nevertheless, there were responsibilities borne by the armed opposition groups and the radical elements among the rebels.  All parties must fulfil their obligations to halt the violence and respect international humanitarian law, as well as to actively engage in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.

ABDALLAH YAHYA A. AL-MOUALLIMI ( Saudi Arabia) said that following action in the Assembly to grant Palestine non-Member observer State status in the United Nations, Israel had stepped up its settlement construction in the Occupied Territory.  Israel had further retaliated against the Palestinians by withholding tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority.  To offset the impact of that action, Saudi Arabia had stepped in to provide some $100 million.  Israeli settlement activity was delivering a “fatal blow” to the peace process, he said, also expressing deep concern about the impact of Israel’s ongoing destruction of holy sites in Jerusalem.  The “Israeli tools of destruction” continued to wreak havoc in and around Al Aqsa Mosque and continued to desecrate other sites.  “The time has come to remove the permanent legitimacy that Israel has enjoyed,” he said, calling on the international community to demand that Israel abide by the will of the General Assembly, Security Council and the wider international community.

Turning to the situation in Syria, he said that country’s Government now treated its citizens as enemies, as it had stepped up its indiscriminate campaign of violence against them.  Syria aimed to portray the issue as if it was a dispute between it and its neighbours.  Yet, the truth was that the people had risen up against their Government, which was trying blindly and desperately to hold on to power.  He said that the people of Syria were growing bitter because the international community could not find a solution to the crisis.  Saudi Arabia, for its part, was helping the people of Syria and had been among the first countries to recognize the Syrian National Coalition.  As more that 100 nations had now recognized that Coalition, it was time for the opposition movement to be seen as representative of the will of the Syrian people.  In the meantime, he urged the Security Council to press the parties in Syria to agree on an inclusive political process that answered the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.

HUSSEIN HANIFF ( Malaysia) said, while the Assembly’s decision to grant Palestine non-Member observer State status had been cause for celebration, the “racist and uncivilized” acts carried out by Israel in the wake of that action should be condemned.  Indeed, that country had continued its expansionist policy by approving new illegal settlements in the West Bank and the E1 area near East Jerusalem.  Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion that those illegal structures posed no threat to the peace process was “absurd and preposterous”.  Israel’s actions were clear proof that it disdained international consensus on the issue of settlements and that it was not interested in peace.  Further settlement expansion would scuttle the two-State solution, he said, adding that through its actions, including withholding tax revenues, Israel seemed adamant about destroying the will of the Palestinian people.

“The world cannot turn a blind eye to these illegal activities,” he said, demanding that the major Powers prove to the world that their foreign policy was actually decided in their respective capitals — not Tel Aviv.  Israel must be made to realize that its security was bound to the establishment of a Palestinian State based on pre-1967 borders.  He joined other speakers in calling for the immediate resumption of direct negotiations between the two sides.  Turning to the situation in Syria, he stressed his delegation’s concern about the humanitarian conditions there, where an estimated 4 million internally displaced persons were seeking shelter, safety and food.  He urged the international community to scale up its support for the United Nations Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan to alleviate their suffering.  Overall, Malaysia believed that a Syrian-led political solution to the crisis was still achievable and, to that end, devising an inclusive national plan that met the aspirations of the Syrian people must be the prime motivation of all parties involved.

HAMID AL BAYATI (Iraq), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, hailed the General Assembly resolution as an important achievement, at a time when the international community had demonstrated its incapacity to contain Israel and put an end to the occupation.  It was now unacceptable for the international community to continue to adopt the same approach, which had failed for so many years.  It was high time for it to assume its responsibility, particularly since Israel was continuing its occupation of Arab and Palestinian land.  There was now a deliberate stepping up of those violations, as if Israel was seeking to further punish the Palestinian people and their leadership because of their diplomatic, political and legal success, which had “promoted” it to the rank of observer State at the United Nations.  Noting the announcement of 3,000 more housing units and intended completion of settlement of the E1 area, he said those illegitimate Israeli activities were a major obstacle to the two-State solution.  Israeli forces had also carried out savage aggression on Palestinian activists who had demonstrated against such policies.  He vehemently condemned those ongoing violations.

ROBLE OLHAYE (Djibouti), speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that even though the situation in the Middle East was undergoing rapid changes, the main outstanding issue was the Palestinian question, which required serious attention and prompt action from the Security Council.  Thus far, the Council had failed to address and stop the injustices inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people since 1948.  Israel had systematically blocked all attempts by the Palestinian people to exercise their self-determination and live in dignity.  “After 20 years of negotiations, prospects for peace and justice in the region are rapidly diminishing,” he said, underscoring that Israel’s occupation was undermining the two-State solution and defying international will.  The current stalemate was not acceptable.  Neither was it conducive to a lasting settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He said the Organization was devoted to the realization of peace and stability in the Middle East, and it was convinced that required the Security Council to carry out its Charter-mandated duties and take the necessary measures to ensure that Israel halted settlement activity and enabled the Palestinian people to exercise their legitimate right to self-determination.  He said that his delegation would continue to stress that resolving conflict in the Middle East hinged on a comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian question.  The international community consensus around the two-State solution must be backed by concrete expression of support for peace, as well as full acknowledgement of historical commitments embodied, among others, in relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid terms of reference, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Road Map.

KAZUO KODAMA ( Japan) said his country supported a two-State solution and, in light of that, had voted in favour of the resolution on the status of Palestine at the United Nations.  Palestine now carried greater responsibility vis-à-vis the international community.  He called upon Palestine not to use its non-Member observer State status to act in a way that might negatively affect or hinder direct negotiations with Israel, and asked for “prudence” with respect to conduct such as applying for membership in international organizations.  He further requested both Palestine and Israel to establish relationships of mutual trust and to promptly return to the negotiating table.  Japan deeply deplored that, after the adoption of the General Assembly status resolution, the Israeli Government announced it approval of a large-scale construction of housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  “Settlement activities need to be frozen as they are a violation of international law,” he said.  Further, he highlighted that his country would jointly hold a Conference on Cooperation among East Asian Countries for Palestinian Development in Tokyo in February, and since November had extended $10 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Turning to Syria, he said that Japan was deeply concerned by the situation in the country and that it profoundly deplored the death of many thousands of people.  The attack against Aleppo University last week was further tragic testimony to that, he said.  As an active member of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People, Japan reiterated its call on all parties to immediately halt the violence and abuses of human rights, and condemned the Syrian authorities for not keeping their commitments and responsibilities to protect their own citizens.  “Faced with this appalling situation, we cannot remain mere spectators,” he stressed, adding that, last week, 57 countries, including Japan, had sent a letter to the President of the Security Council requesting a referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.  He also called upon the Council to duly recognize the importance of the accountability for crimes committed on the ground and to send out an “unequivocal message” to demand that international human rights and humanitarian law be observed by the Syrian authorities and all other parties.

FRANCIS ASSISI CHULLIKATT, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said that it was a matter of deep concern that the international community had failed to engage the Israelis and Palestinians in significant and substantive dialogue, along with the resolution of disputes, in order to bring about peace and stability.  The Holy See, therefore, aligned itself with other delegations’ calls for the resumption of the peace process and the commitment by all parties to a peaceful resolution of their disputes.  The Holy See had made a pressing appeal to the international community to increase its efforts and encourage its creativity, as “peace needs courageous decisions and unwavering commitments”.  The international community, together with the Quartet, must show leadership in bringing to a successful conclusion General Assembly resolution 181 of 1947, which was the juridical basis for the existence of two States.

He further underlined that a lasting solution must include the Holy City of Jerusalem and its internationally guaranteed protection, which was essential for the patrimony of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  In General Assembly resolution 181 (1947), a “special international status” was foreseen for the city and its environs, to be administered by the United Nations Trusteeship Council; similar ideas had recently been brought forward by some of the parties in the context of peace discussions, and the Holy See sincerely hoped that they would be pursued.  Indeed, the only way to solve the delicate issue of Jerusalem in a definitive, just and lasting way might be to involve the United Nations in the Holy City’s safekeeping and administration in some relevant and effective capacity.

IOANNIS VRAILAS, of the European Union delegation, said that “now is the time to take bold and concrete steps towards peace”.  The European Union underlined the urgency of renewed, structured and substantial peace efforts in 2013, and, to that end, it was ready to work with the new United States Administration and other international partners, including within the Quartet.  His delegation was deeply dismayed by, and strongly opposed, Israeli plans to expand settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in particular Givat Hamatos and plans to develop the E1 area.  That plan, if implemented, would seriously undermine the prospects of a negotiated resolution by jeopardizing the possibility of a contiguous State of Palestine and of Jerusalem as the capital of two States.  He also reiterated that settlements were illegal under international law and constituted an obstacle to peace.

As stated before, the European Union would not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders other than those agreed by the parties.  It also believed that further parameters could serve as a basis for a resumption of negotiations, including:  security arrangements that, for Palestinians, respected their sovereignty and showed that the occupation was over, and, for Israelis, protected their security, prevented the resurgence of terrorism and dealt effectively with emerging threats; a just, fair and lasting solution to the refugee question; and the fulfilment of the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem.  The Union called on Israel to resume, without delay, the transfers of Palestinian tax and clearance revenues and also called on the new Israeli Government, as well as on the Palestinian leadership, to reaffirm their commitment to the two-State solution.  Recalling the General Assembly’s recent vote to grant non-Member observer State status to Palestine, he also called on the Palestinian leadership to use that new status constructively and not to undertake steps which would deepen the lack of trust and lead further away from a negotiated solution.

Noting that his delegation was “appalled” by the increasingly deteriorating situation in Syria, primarily due to the unprecedented use of force by the regime, he condemned all attacks, including terrorist acts, that indiscriminately targeted civilians.  The European Union was also seriously concerned by the potential use and transfer of chemical weapons in Syria and reminded the regime and other parties that, in the case of their use, those responsible would be held accountable.  He further reiterated his delegation’s full support for the efforts of Joint Special Representative Brahimi, and called on all parties to actively engage with him.  Finally, he encouraged the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces to continue working on its structures and to become more operational and inclusive, and reiterated its call on all parties to the conflict to facilitate neutral humanitarian access and aid to the people in need.

ABDOU SALAM DIALLO ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that, as early as October 2012, the Committee and Member States had warned the Security Council of the dangers of inaction in the face of the worsening Gaza standoff.  The Committee had strongly condemned the Israeli assault and rocket fire in November, and had been alarmed by the delayed reaction of the Council.  That body should now take immediate steps to solidify the ceasefire, guarantee the protection of civilians and ensure the lifting of the Israeli blockade in accordance with Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).

The Committee welcomed the historic General Assembly resolution 67/19 (2012) as a first step towards the full United Nations membership of the State of Palestine, currently before the Council.  “[The resolution] created a new reality which has the potential to inject a new dynamism into the peace process and stimulate compliance with international law”, he said, adding that the Committee would devote significant efforts at its conferences and meetings in 2013 to analysing its practical ramifications in the legal, political and socioeconomic realms.

Developments on the ground were a cause for deep concern, he continued.  The Committee condemned the “punitive” seizure by Israel of the revenues of the State of Palestine, and called for their immediate release.  The upcoming Seminar on Assistance, slated to be held in Rome on 27-28 February, would focus on new challenges and opportunities following the Palestinian status upgrade.  In addition, he said, the Committee was encouraged by the firm worldwide diplomatic rejection of new Israeli settlement plans, particularly in the E1 area.  “These plans must stop in their tracks,” he said in that regard.  Now was the time for all partners to work hand in hand on bold initiatives to turn 2013 into a year of peace, he said.

BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said that upgrading the status of Palestine at the United Nations had been the first step towards attaining the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to statehood, with East Jerusalem as the capital, within 1967 lines.  The Council should respond to the call to grant it fully fledged Member State status, as well as to ensure the return of refugees to their homeland and compensation for their losses.  The Palestinian people were rightly sceptical, having been held hostage under the most racist occupation for 65 years.  The systematic settlements campaign had stamped out all hope for the emergence of a viable Palestinian State.  Israel continued to perpetrate the worst forms of racist discrimination in flagrant violation of human rights and international humanitarian law.

How could Palestinians fail to look with scepticism upon these Council meetings, which had proved incapable of putting an end to their tragedy? he asked.  The Quartet had failed to tackle the situation and had sidelined the General Assembly.  In view of the unstinting support of some Quartet members of Israel, how could it be otherwise?  He was alarmed that the Secretary-General, in his briefing on priorities for 2013, had failed to include a reference to resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Equally alarming was that Mr. Serry, in his briefing today, had failed to refer to the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan.  The Israeli speaker, in his statement, had fully denigrated the rights of the Palestinian people.  He was misguided if he thought he could alter or distort the truth with lies and trickery.  There were unbridled attempts by several delegations to water down the historical terms of reference pertaining to the situation in the Middle East, he said.

Concerning the situation in Syria, he said he wished to refute the allegations by Member States, which had spared no effort in seeking to worsen the crisis by supplying arms to the terrorists.  He pointed to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, and said that a national solution based on dialogue between and among Syrians themselves, under Syrian leadership, was the way forward.  He had hoped that the statements by the United States, France and the United Kingdom would have been balanced and reality-based, in line with the facts on the ground in Syria.  They should adhere to their Charter-bound obligations, as well as those under the Geneva communiqué and Mr. Brahimi’s mandate, and lend support to national dialogue based on the aspirations of the Syrian people and leadership, instead of supporting an entity of the Syrian opposition and inciting its members to “operate against the motherland”, thereby furthering a cycle of violence and destruction.

ABULKALAM ABDUL MOMEN ( Bangladesh) said that all Member States must pledge commitment to sustainably resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the Palestinian question, and throw their moral, diplomatic, political and economic support behind efforts to ensure its early realization.  He said that it was a disgrace that the Palestinian people were being denied their fundamental rights to self-determination and to live freely in their own land.  Achieving a lasting solution required, among other things, that Israel completely and unconditionally withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He expressed concern about the humanity and security situation in the Gaza Strip, especially in light of Israel’s recent escalation in November 2012.  He condemned that escalation, which had led to the deaths of some 100 Palestinian civilians and called for prompt investigation into allegations of violation of international human rights and humanitarian laws.

He joined other speakers in expressing dismay that Israel’s response to action by the General Assembly to change the Palestinian’s status at the United Nations had been to step up settlement construction and withhold some $100 million in tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority.  Bangladesh also expressed concern at the situation of thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli detention centres and said that they must be charged so they could face trial, or they must be released without delay.  With regard to the situation in Lebanon, he called on the concerned parties to fully respect Lebanon’s sovereignty and to end breaches of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  As for the Occupied Syrian Golan, he called on Israel to cease its actions aimed at altering the legal, physical and demographic character of the Golan Heights, in line with relevant Security Council resolutions.

HARDEEP SINGH PURI ( India) said that amidst unprecedented transformation of the Arab world, the continuing stalemate in the Middle East peace process was not in the interest of the region.  The international community’s efforts, including the Quartet’s, towards resumption of direct talks between Israel and Palestine had yielded no results.  Against that backdrop, the overwhelming vote in the General Assembly last November upgrading the status of Palestine to a non-Member State was a positive development and a decisive achievement for Palestine in its long struggle for an independent and viable Palestinian State.  India supported the Palestinian cause and would continue to support its bid for full and equal membership at the United Nations.  He said developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since the General Assembly’s vote had been unhelpful for the Palestinian cause, and the intensification of settlement activities by Israel, despite widespread international disapproval, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were creating new realities on the ground and threatening the premise of a two-State solution.

He urged Israel to end the settlement activity, in order for the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table.  Continuing, he welcomed the recent rapprochement between various Palestinian factions and was hopeful that efforts towards reconciliation would bear results soon.  He cited India’s historical solidarity with the Palestinian people, and its material assistance to the Palestinian Authority in humanitarian relief, development projects, education and budgetary support since its establishment, and pledged India’s continued assistance in that regard.  This year, India had pledged $10 million as budgetary support; and the country also contributed $1 million annually to UNRWA, he said.  He also expressed India’s serious concern at the deteriorating security situation and continuing violence in Syria.  He strongly condemned all violence and violations of human rights there, irrespective of who their perpetrators were.

ZAHEER LAHER ( South Africa) said his delegation had served as an elected Member of the Council and had participated in similar debates some 24 times.  Over that time, it had witnessed continued Israeli occupation, continued settlement construction, and its continued actions that obstructed peace.  While the international community bore a responsibility to effectively address such issues, the bulk of that duty fell on the Security Council, on whose watch the situation had continued to deteriorate for decades on end.  Moreover, in 2011, the Council had had the opportunity to confirm Palestinian statehood and it had unfortunately failed to do so.  Following the Assembly’s action to change the Palestinian status at the United Nations, Israel had retaliated with a series of immoral and illegal actions, including stepping up settlement activities and withholding tax revenue.

He said that it was time for the Security Council to condemn those actions and to ensure that Israel abided by international law.  At the same time, South Africa could not over-emphasize the importance of Palestinian unity to the overall effort to achieve a two-State solution.  Perhaps it was also time for Member States to discuss the usefulness of the Quartet and the role of the United Nations in it.  On Syria, he said that the crisis there could only be resolved through agreement on a political process that reflected the will of the people and was free from outside interference and efforts towards regime change.  He also called on the international community to recommit to resolving holistically all tracks of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.

MOHAMED KHALED KHIARI ( Tunisia) said the Assembly’s resolution changing the status of the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations had been an important step and should be seen as opening new horizons for the Palestinian people and the people of the wider region.  Yet, Israel had rejected the measure and had defied the international community by punishing the Palestinian Authority and tightening its occupation of Palestinian lands.  By such actions, Israel was showing the world that it did not really want peace.  Indeed, Israel was continuing to change facts on the ground in an effort to stop a Palestinian State from being created.  Such actions flagrantly violated international law and must cease.  Tunisia, nevertheless, hoped that the New Year would see a new dynamism, backed by concrete steps from the Security Council, towards peace.

SIN SON HO (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) hailed the General Assembly’s decision to accord Palestine observer State status as a historic event that reflected the international community’s desire to put an end to the decades-long occupation.  Regrettably, however, the Palestinian situation was getting worse instead of better.  Israel had “turned its face away” from just and fair demands and instead had continued to cling to the aggressive and inhuman policies of illegally occupying Arab territories, expanding settlements, blocking the Gaza Strip, and ruthlessly killing civilians, among other illegal acts.  Moreover, it had recently decided to build thousands of new settlement units while confiscating land and seizing money.  That undisguised confiscation of Palestinian land showed that Israel was responsible for threatening peace and security in the region.  Demanding that Israel immediately stop all such acts, he said that those provocations were unthinkable without the “support and protection of the US”.

GHOLAMHOSSEIN DEHGHANI (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said Israeli settlement activities undermined the contiguity, integrity, viability and unity of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and were the foremost obstacle to peace.  The Movement condemned, in particular, the provocative announcements by the occupying Power that it planned to construct 3,000 new settlement units; those rapid, deplorable successive actions were in blatant contempt of the demands and will of the international community and the hand extended in peace by the Palestinian leadership.  The illegal settlement activities and actions by extremist settlers were also causing extensive physical, economic and social devastation throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the Movement demanded that those plans be immediately rescinded.   It called on the parties to return to the path of peace on the basis of the longstanding terms of reference.

The Movement, he said, condemned Israel’s decision to withhold Palestinian tax revenues, in the belief that such a deplorable act was an act of piracy and collective punishment.  The group was also gravely concerned over construction of the apartheid annexation wall, and it called on the international community, including the Council, to compel Israel to cease its illegal construction.  Also of grave concern were the deplorable conditions of thousands of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, held unlawfully.  The critical humanitarian situation in Gaza was another concern, and Israel must promptly and unconditionally open all crossing points to allow freedom of movement of persons and goods.  It was urgent for the international community to act resolutely and collectively to fulfil its longstanding commitment to the realization of a just solution to the question of Palestine, and it regretted that the Quartet efforts exerted so far had failed to achieve any progress, owing to Israel’s deliberate obstruction.

He added that the Iranian nuclear programme was solely for peaceful purposes, as was his country’s right.  Israel was the only one in the region with nuclear weapons, and he rejected that delegation’s “empty rhetoric” repeatedly directed at his country.  The Israelis had always used a “smokescreen” to mask their acts and divert public attention from their crimes.

DESRA PRECAYA ( Indonesia) said that Israel’s illegal settlement construction in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was the most serious obstacle to the prospects for peace in the Middle East.  In recent months, Israel had continued its defiance of international will by announcing plans to escalate settlement construction, including in the E1 area.  “This attitude is an affront to peace.  It must be confronted and brought to an end,” he said, also expressing concern about the ongoing human suffering in the Gaza Strip because of Israel’s years-long blockade of the area.  There was also a need to address the dire needs of the Palestinian Authority, which were a direct result of Israel’s “damaging and illegal” policy of withholding tax revenues.  He said that Indonesia remained committed to efforts to achieve the two-State solution and would contribute to all efforts towards a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Turning to the situation in Syria, he said the international community must immediately act to end the violence there and to address the dire humanitarian conditions that had been created by it.  To complement the efforts of Joint Special Representative Brahimi, the international community must play a robust role in finding a comprehensive solution to the conflict.  To that end, Indonesia welcomed the upcoming international conference on Syria to be held in Kuwait.

GRÉTA GUNNARSDÓTTIR ( Iceland) said that the conflict in Syria must be stopped.  The Council’s inability to unite towards action on that issue had weakened the prospects for peace.  With the ongoing violence leading to dire consequences for the Syrian people, Iceland had decided last week to contribute some $200,000 to the humanitarian effort.  Still, the Security Council must take the lead in fostering a political and peaceful solution for the sake of Syria and its people, as well as to ensure stability in the wider region.  “Waiting is not an option.  The Security Council has the responsibility and the tools” to effectively tackle the situation, she said, adding that every effort must be made to ensure that Syrian authorities, and any other entities or individuals responsible for atrocities, were held accountable.  With that in mind, Iceland had joined with 57 other nations to send a letter to the Council requesting that the situation in Syria be submitted to the International Criminal Court.

As for the Palestinian question, she said that in the absence of a peace process, the international community’s response to the issue had for too long been reactionary and ad hoc.  If stakeholders were indeed committed to the two-State solution, they must not be passive bystanders.  She said “we exist” was the motto of the Palestinian people living in and around the E1 area struggling against eviction and displacement.  That motto was a necessary reminder for all that, in the end, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was about people and their lands that did indeed “exist”.  Iceland, therefore, urged the Security Council to visit Palestine, reaffirm the illegality of Israeli settlements, accept the Palestinian application for full United Nations membership and do more to get the parties back to the negotiating table.

HÜSEYIN MÜFTÜOĞLU ( Turkey) said the overwhelming support for Palestine’s new status was an initial step towards a comprehensive, just and lasting peace, but it was unrealistic to think that could occur in light of Israel’s settlement policies.  Those policies and actions showed a clear intention to render impossible a realistic and viable two-State solution.  Turkey also called for a resumption of tax revenue transfers, in line with the Paris Protocol.  The pervasive concern in the international community over the settlements issue was heightened by Israel’s statements that none would be removed and no harm would come to them.  The peace process was going through a crucial period, and prospects for a two-State solution were diminishing daily.  The international community should give its full support to the resumption of negotiations.  No doubt a united Palestinian voice would draw further support to the Palestinian cause.  He hoped the election results in Israel would pave the way to peace and the realization of Palestinian statehood.  Turkey supported Palestine’s right to sit under this roof among its international peers.

Turning to the situation in Syria, he said that with more than 60,000 people dead, 2 million displaced, and 4 million in need of humanitarian assistance, it was the fastest growing crisis in the world.  The Syrian people were desperately waiting for action from the international community, especially the Security Council.  Camps were under construction in Turkey to meet the increasing refugee demand, he noted, adding that his country would continue, with the help of relevant United Nations bodies and other international actors, to extend a helping hand to the Syrian people during this dire period.  He categorically rejected the allegations directed at his country earlier today by a previous speaker.

OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ ( Cuba) said that time and again, Council debates on the Middle East were held without any resulting progress to that end.  The region’s main political problem was Israel’s systematic “aggression” against Palestine and as such, the Council must immediately adopt concrete and practical measures to ensure that Israel ended its abuses and illegal policies targeting the Palestinian people.  He said that Israel’s behaviour deliberately contravened United Nations resolutions and international laws, and its occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories remained a major obstacle to a just and lasting solution in the Middle East.  Cuba had co-sponsored the historic General Assembly resolution changing Palestinian status at the United Nations, he said, but stressed that the measure had only been an interim step towards the eventual accession of Palestine to full membership in the Organization.  Reiterating his Government’s support to the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people, he called on Israel to end its occupation of all Arab territories.

On related matters, he stressed that the Security Council had not been created as an instrument of regime change.  Indeed, it had been established to promote peace, not violence; and to prevent destabilization, not finance and arm destabilizing elements.  With that in mind, he said that a civil war in Syria or intervention of foreign forces “will bring about serious consequences for international peace and security, particularly for the Middle East”.  Cuba shared concern over the loss of civilian lives in Syria, but at the same time rejected all attempts to use efforts to address the situation as a pretext for foreign intervention, either directly or through support provided to irregular forces or the use of mercenaries to sow discord and destruction.  “The role of the international community, in this difficult moment for a UN Member State, is to offer assistance in order to safeguard peace and stability in that country,” he said.

PALITHA KOHONA (Sri Lanka) said it was the responsibility of the parties — Israel and the Palestinian Authority — to create the necessary environment to facilitate peace in the Middle East, and in his view, the continuing settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were a crucial factor in the escalation of suspicions and the lack of trust between the parties.  Settlement activity by Israel was a violation of the Geneva Convention, and the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the Economic and Social Council, as well as the International Court of Justice, had all condemned the settlement activity as illegal, he pointed out.

He said the world should not forget the dire humanitarian situation of the Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially in Gaza where conditions were unsustainable.  Sri Lanka would continue to encourage political rapprochement between Gaza and the West Bank, and he was pleased that the Palestinian Authority, despite severe political and economic constraints, had made progress on institution-building.  While calling on Israel to desist from actions that were contrary to the established rules of international law and practices, he said his country was also “conscious” of the security needs of Israel.  Palestinians and Israelis could enjoy security and peace as neighbours through a mutually agreed political solution, with human rights at its centre.

JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO ( Venezuela) said that permanent Council members had prevented that body from facilitating a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question, thus, shirking its primary responsibilities in the maintenance of international peace and security.  The intensification of the conflict was associated with the impunity enjoyed by Israel, the occupying Power, who used the support, influence and power of a veto-wielding member of the Council to continue to perpetrate flagrant violations of international law, human rights and international humanitarian law.  The violations were well known to all.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict also revealed the imperial political and economic interests associated with political and economic groups of countries in the region.  The control over the oil reserves of the Middle East was key to the matters at hand.

Concerning Syria, he said his country rejected the interference of foreign Powers and their support of terrorist groups there, which were responsible for widespread violence aimed at promoting the overthrow of President Assad’s legitimate Government.  “How can you fight terrorists if at the same time you are financing, arming, advising and training mercenaries and terrorists in Syria?” he asked.  He called for the cessation of armed violence leading to a negotiated political solution and reiterated his country’s full support for Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territory.  He appreciated the attention drawn to the “opportunistic management” of resolution 1973 (2011) on Libya, which helped to contain the “warmongering plans” of certain countries.  He stressed that there was “no good terrorism”, and reiterated that political dialogue and peaceful means of settlement were the most expeditious tools to resolve conflicts.

GUILLERMO E. RISHCHYNSKI ( Canada) said his country stood with the Syrian people in their struggle against tyranny.  It had imposed 11 rounds of sanctions against the Assad regime and its supporters.  It had provided $23.5 million in humanitarian assistance and, among other things, also provided support to Syria’s neighbours for taking on the huge burdens associated with the crisis.  The Syrian opposition coalition must convince Syrians that they were a viable alternative to the Assad regime and one that would respect minority rights, preserve the country’s long tradition of pluralism, and establish a new peaceful, democratic Government that respected the rights of all its citizens.

Concerning Iran, he said his country continued to believe that that regime “poses the greatest threat to international peace and security in the world today”.  Regrettably, it continued to thwart intensive efforts to find a negotiated resolution to the crisis provoked by its nuclear ambitions.  Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) again renewed negotiations with Iran and returned to Vienna “empty-handed”.  Evidence was mounting that Iran’s nuclear programme was not exclusively for peaceful purposes and that the Iranian regime had little genuine interest in allaying the concerns of the international community.  Canada was deeply concerned that the country was “manipulating support for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy as a cover for a weapons programme that threatens regional and global security”.  Meanwhile, the systematic repression of human rights had continued.  The Iranian regime was the “foremost regional sponsor of repression as it backs Assad’s brutal despotism in Syria”, he said.

Turning to the issue at hand and pointing out that the Palestinian representative at this meeting was seated behind a nameplate reading “State of Palestine”, he said his country was concerned that the delegation’s participation in this session as the “State of Palestine” would create a misleading impression.  Canada’s position, expressed upon adoption of the resolution last November, remained unchanged, but it must be highlighted here that resolution 67/19 did not confer Palestinian statehood, nor did it constitute any form of recognition of a Palestinian State.  Canada remained committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East and encouraged the parties to resume direct peace negotiations without delay or preconditions.

JEROBEAM SHAANIKA ( Namibia), joining with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that for a process of negotiation to succeed, it required an impartial peace broker and committed and willing partners.  Currently those factors appeared to be entirely absent in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.  The Namibian delegation noted with concern that, following the recent General Assembly vote to accord Palestine non-Member observer State status, Israel, in total disregard for international opinion, had announced its intentions to proceed with plans for settlement construction in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in particular in the E1 area.  “The construction of illegal settlements and the apartheid walls of annexation will not enhance Israel’s security, they mutilate the State of Palestine”, thus contributing to a hostile environment that made the prospect of a two-State solution impossible.

Namibia equally deplored the action of the Israeli Government in withholding Palestinian tax revenue as a punishment for Palestine’s new status in the United Nations.  The upgrading of that status was a matter of legitimate aspiration for the people of Palestine, he stressed, as well as the decision of Member States in exercise of their sovereign rights and free will.  In addition, he said, while there was no substitute for negotiations to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East, the process could not be open-ended, and should not be turned into “a perpetual orbit with no destination”.  Namibia reaffirmed the legitimate right and aspiration of the people of Palestine to their own independent State.  He stressed, in that regard, that its position was not based on any bias against Israel, but was merely opposed to its actions.  Israel, like other countries, was duly entitled to its security.  “However, the pursuit of security should not be a blatant excuse to violate the human rights of the Palestinian people,” he said.

CHARLES NTWAAGAE ( Botswana) said that since 2010, the world had witnessed transformations of epic proportions throughout the Middle East, ushered in by a wave of demonstrations and protests led by ordinary men and women demanding freedom and economic emancipation.  Those changes had sent a strong and clear message across the region and beyond that even the most selfish of regimes could not perpetuate a status quo against the will of its people.  It was, therefore, ill-advised for those who, in the eyes of the citizens, had lost the legitimacy to govern, to continue clinging to leadership positions unperturbed by the mass loss of life and destruction of property that accompanied their insatiable appetite for power.

He reminded delegations that even as the meeting was under way, the Syrian people continued to endure hardship and violence that was being, ironically, waged on them by the very people and structures sworn to protect them.  For 23 months, the world had stood by watching helplessly while President Assad’s Government “brutally persecuted” its own people.  The United Nations, and especially the Security Council, must take the high moral ground and prevent further “massacres” of civilians in Syria, he said, adding that the members of the Security Council must set aside their strategic interests and end the suffering of the Syrian people.  Turning to the Palestinian question, he said Israel and the Palestinians must summon the necessary political will and courage to address the hurdles that had thus far prevented the achievement of a balanced and sustainable solution.  Botswana was also in favour of stepped-up diplomatic efforts to create conditions conducive for the parties to return to negotiations.  In the meantime, both sides must shun violence and reject actions that undermined the push for peace.

ABDULRAHMAN YAAQOB AL-HAMADI (Qatar) said that international consensus on solving the Palestinian issue and achieving peace in the Middle East through a two-State solution simply required that Palestine be recognized as a full member of the United Nations.  He called on the Council to support that effort.  Despite that consensus, the Israeli Government had not demonstrated a sincere interest in the establishment of conditions for a two-State solution or a sincere desire for peace based on it, which was best evidenced by its reaction to the granting of observer status to Palestine — an intensification of settlement activity.  In addition to its recent settlement activity, Israel’s handling of Jerusalem did not serve the chances for peace, he said, reemphasizing that the actions taken by the Israeli authorities in order to “Judaize” Jerusalem were null and void, with no legal effect.  The city would remain an Arab Islamic and Christian one, and there could not be a Palestinian State without Jerusalem nor a Jerusalem without the Aqsa Mosque.  Qatar hoped that the new Israeli Government would pursue an approach conducive to the resumption of the peace process and the achievement of a lasting and comprehensive peace.

With regard to Syria, he recalled that, at the beginning of the year, the death toll had been estimated at nearly 60,000, while the number of Syrian refugees could double up to 1.1 million before the middle of the year.  “All of these figures indicated that the world is living in a humanitarian catastrophe that necessitates an international intervention to resolve it, in accordance with the United Nations Charter and international norms,” he said.  The only one responsible for the deteriorating situation in Syria was the Syrian regime, who met the will of the people with heavy weapons.  The international community, including the State of Qatar, had tried to support a peaceful solution to the crisis in various ways, but it was clear that the Syrian regime impeded the successful outcome of those endeavours, and exploited them to buy time and continue down the path of its bloody approach.

USMAN SARKI ( Nigeria) said that the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process could be reenergized through direct negotiations between the parties, and he, therefore, urged the Quartet to spare no effort in creating the enabling environment for such talks to thrive.  Mindful of the need for the parties themselves to evince the political will to move forward, he called on them to return to the negotiating table, without pre-conditions.  As for the situation on the ground, he said that the situation in Gaza, under Israel’s years-long blockade, was a source of serious concern.  The continued closure had left the most vulnerable people in that area facing abject poverty and the situation remained a scar on the collective conscience of the international community.  Nigeria, therefore, called on Israel to fulfil all its obligations as specified in relevant human rights conventions and legal instruments.

“My delegation believes that there exists an opportunity for both Israel and Palestine to live side by side as independent and sovereign entities, and that both parties need to show genuine commitments to the negotiation process,” he continued, underscoring Israel’s right to exist, as well as the fact that Israel should withdraw to its pre-1967 border and cede Jerusalem to the Palestinians to serve as the capital of a Palestinian State.  Turning to the situation in Syria, he said that external involvement in the crisis there should assist rather than polarize the parties to the conflict.  Nigeria deplored the ongoing violence and regretted that the international community had been unable to bring an end to it through diplomatic means.  Peace must be allowed to return to Syria and all sides to the conflict must adhere to the rule of law and address the suffering of the people.  The international community should help the parties come together so the people of Syria themselves could resolve their differences.

Taking the floor to respond to the statement made by the Canadian representative, SEYED MOHAMMAD ALI MOTTAGHI NEJAD ( Iran) said that the delegation once again abused this Council by making completely irrelevant accusations against his country in today’s debate.  In the speech, the delegation had referred to Iran’s nuclear programme, which was essentially aimed at producing electricity and energy, and it was regrettable that Canada’s representative “forgot” to say that Israel was the only country in the region that possessed nuclear weapons.

Turning to allegations regarding human rights, Mr. Mottaghi Nejad said that, unfortunately, countries claiming to be the bulwark of democracy and champions of human rights were suffering from political paranoia and manipulating the human rights issues for their politicized and biased goals, while on the contrary and fully documented by human rights bodies, their own records in that field were seriously tainted.  Canada was the prime example in that regard.

He said that human rights in Canada were systematically denied to large parts of its population, regardless of the different ideologies of successive Canadian Governments.  It was well known that Canada was failing in its international obligations, failing in its constitutional and legislative framework, failing in the areas of equality and non-discrimination and the right to life and liberty of persons, and failing in the context of minorities and indigenous persons.  In fact, there seemed to be no area in which Canada had not disgraced itself when it came to upholding human rights.

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For information media • not an official record 


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