UN Security Council Open Debate: Middle East

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, 12 July 2016.

Thank you Mr President.

My remarks today address only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we will comment separately on other Middle East issues as the opportunity presents.

Today’s debate is particularly important because it gives Council members and the wider UN membership the opportunity to reflect on the long-awaited report issued by the Middle East Quartet on 1 July.

I want to begin by paying tribute to the clarity and gravity of the briefing provided by the Secretary-General. We endorse his assessment fully.   The Report highlights what we all know – that current trends on the ground pose a major threat to the continued viability of the two state solution – a solution that would see a secure Israel and an independent Palestine living side by side in peace.

That is the vision that was called for long ago when the state of Israel was first established. It is one that this Council has been working towards for many years. Unless and until it is achieved, it is unlikely we will ever have true peace in the region. The Quartet report lays bare the reality that much of the West Bank has been appropriated by Israel.  Seventy per cent of Area C, which constitutes 60 per cent of the West Bank, is either occupied by Israeli settlers or otherwise taken by the Israeli State. Meanwhile, Israel is systematically denying Palestinian development.  

To any dispassionate observer, the Quartet’s conclusion that these developments are steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution is unanswerable. It also reflects what New Zealand and others have been saying in the Security Council for a long time.

This is not to justify the violence and incitement to which the Report also rightly calls attention.  Terror tactics and intimidation are reprehensible, whoever carries them out.  Leaders on both sides have responsibilities here.  We acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed about the Report. Some have expressed disappointment that the recommendations do not go far enough. Both parties have accused the Report of lacking balance.    Certainly from New Zealand’s perspective, the report does not go as far as we would have liked. But we nonetheless believe that it provides a useful analysis of the most significant threats to the peace process. It is especially noteworthy that four significant stakeholders, United States, the Russian Federation, the European Union and the United Nations have put their names to this common diagnosis of the current situation.   The report also contains recommendations which are hard to disagree with. It reinforces the need to address the wide range of critical issues facing Israelis and Palestinians, including halting settlement activity, strengthening the capacity and authority of the Palestinian Authority, addressing the situation in Gaza, and reducing tensions and preventing violence and incitement.   This must provide a useful basis for further discussions. But of course no Quartet report on its own will change the realities on the ground.   What is required is for the parties to demonstrate the political will to negotiate with each other and make the difficult compromises necessary to reach an agreement.   We welcome all efforts to generate this political will and momentum. This Security Council has a fundamentally important role to play in this regard.

Mr President,

We were deeply disturbed by Israel’s recent decision to advance plans for 800 new housing units in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Such settlements are an affront to this Council, an affront to the Quartet, and take us further from peace.

But they must not divert the Council from carrying out its responsibilities.    We hope this Council will be able to adopt a short balanced statement in response to the Quartet Report.   Such as statement must affirm the centrality of a two-state solution.

But any Council statement like the Report cannot be the end of our ambition. Like the Report, any statement can only be a useful but necessary waypoint, it is not sufficient in itself to resolve the conflict.    The time is coming, indeed many would say has long come, when the Security Council must live up to its responsibility and play its part to support the parties back to negotiations, including by providing guidance to the parties on the issues that must be resolved.   As we have said, if the goal is to generate the political will to negotiate, we believe it is important that the international community engages in a balanced way that reflects and addresses the real concerns of both parties, whether it is through the Security Council, the Quartet, the Arab Peace Initiative, an International Conference or any other initiative.

We pay tribute also to the efforts that Egypt is making. Particularly as highlighted by Minister Shoukry’s visit to Israel. The proposal to host confidence-building talks between the two sides would be an important step to encouraging the parties and their domestic constituencies to move back to negotiations.    New Zealand remains committed to Council action, at the right moment, to make the promise of two states, Israel and a Palestinian State existing side by side in peace, a more realistic possibility. 

I thank you.


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