UNSC Middle East Open Debate
Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand, 26 January 2016.
Thank you Foreign Minister Novoa.
We commend Uruguay for convening today’s ministerial-level meeting. We thank also the Secretary General for his briefing which made for sobering listening.
New Zealand has been an elected member of this Council for just over a year. During this time, the conflicts of the Middle East have taken up much of the Council’s attention; sadly to too little practical effect.
The fighting and killing in Syria continue with people dying of starvation as well as bombs and bullets.
The conflict in Yemen persists with horrific consequences for the Yemini people, despite the self-evident truth that neither side can win by military means.
And peace in Libya remains elusive.
And the Palestinian-Israeli peace process remains dormant while disaffected on both sides resort to violence, threatening a renewed outbreak of serious fighting while the parties themselves engage in mutual recrimination, sharing only their manifest failures to show leadership and to engage.
This bleak situation is the responsibility of the countries of the Middle East, of those who involve themselves in the region and of this Council.
The conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal gives hope. It shows what can be achieved when states commit themselves to diplomacy, determined to find a solution.
IAEA confirmation that Iran has lived up to its undertakings and the resulting lifting of sanctions are highly encouraging next steps.
We exhort Iran to continue on this path of engagement with the international community and avoid acts that call into question its commitment to the agreement.
It is not just Iran and the P5 + 1 that want this agreement to succeed. All member states have a stake in its faithful implementation.
We continue to hope this example will be followed in Syria.
The establishment of the International Syria Support Group and the adoption of Resolution 2254 were promising signs after almost five years of war.
But we need those involved – in Syria, in the region and beyond - to make the difficult political decisions necessary to come to a political solution. The bargaining must take place at the negotiating table, not beforehand, nor on the battlefield.
We welcome the news from Special Representative de Mistura that invitations to the talks are being issued today and that the talks themselves are now scheduled to start on Friday.
While we were concerned at the delayed start, we support Mr de Mistura’s determination to ensure that the talks start on the best possible and properly inclusive basis.
We urge all parties to bring the necessary political will to find a solution to the conflict, and salvage what is left of Syria. The Syrian people need leadership, relief from fighting and starvation, some reason to believe there is a way out of their current nightmare.
Amidst the devastating and persistent conflicts in the Middle East, this Council has done too little to address the situation in Israel and the occupied territories. For seven years, we have been largely silent – and, worse still, inactive – on the Middle East Peace Process.
In the year that New Zealand has been on the Council, settlement activity has increased as has violence affecting hundreds of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians. Shockingly, this street level violence has now become the new normal.
Neither side has shown willingness to make the concessions essential for peace. Both have increased their unhelpful rhetoric and the blaming of the other. And moves such as Israel’s intention to declare 385 acres of land in the West Bank as ‘state land’ is deeply unhelpful and further hobbles the prospect for peace.
The two-state solution is the only credible model we have for bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end. But its viability is slipping away.
Given levels of violence, mistrust and entrenched positions, resuming negotiations seems improbable in the near future, neither side seems willing or able to demonstrate the political vision necessary to broker peace.
The vacuum is being filled with extremist voices who will find an increasingly receptive audience the longer the stalemate continues.
Israeli, Palestinian and influential world leaders must stand up and reverse this trend.
The parties are not so far apart that there is no scope for a decisive role for this Council.
That is why New Zealand has been consistent in our call that this Council must play its part.
This Council must assume a role in reaffirming the fundamental importance of the two-state solution and in creating the conditions necessary for a resumption of talks.
We know some disagree. For some the Security Council and the UN system are too partisan to play a role. For others, any gesture the other way is seen as rewarding intransigence.
Let us change that perception by taking reasonable, meaningful, action to encourage the parties back to talks.
Sadly, there was no agreement in 2014 on Jordan’s draft resolution. In 2015 both France and New Zealand put forward proposals for Council action.
These proposals were met with mixed responses from Council members and from the parties themselves. Some want more, some want less, some want nothing at all.
Agreement will inevitably require compromise.
It may well be that after seven years of inaction, a Council contribution will have to begin with a single step.
We have suggested what such a step might look like and we remain ready to take forward our proposed draft resolution.
But we are also ready to support other reasonable initiatives to generate momentum toward the peace talks and we have listened carefully in this regard to the statement just made by the Permanent Representative of Egypt.
But this Council doing nothing is not an option.
We hope 2016 will be remembered as the year where we, as a Council, found the requisite political will and determination to affirm the two-state solution and set out a path towards a resumption of the Middle East Peace Process.