UN Security Council: open debate on the situation in the Middle East

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

  • Peace, Rights and Security
Statement by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand, 19 October 2016.

Thank you Mr President. Let me also thank Nikolay Mladenov and Stephen O’Brien for their briefings.

This is the final Middle East Open Debate of New Zealand’s current Security Council term.

We think it appropriate, therefore, to reflect on our Council’s collective response to the grave and intensifying peace and security challenges confronting the region.

Over the past two years, New Zealand has sought to challenge the passivity that has often characterised the Council’s response to these problems.

We have encouraged Council colleagues to focus on identifying practical contributions to preventing and resolving these conflicts; and we have put forward our own ideas for action to support progress.

Frankly it’s been an uphill battle. The forces that gave rise to these conflicts are complex and intractable. And often, the Council has allowed itself to outsource to other players the role envisaged for it in the Charter as the principal international organ responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. 

Today I will focus on three specific situations where we need to make progress.

First, Syria.

After more than five years of brutal conflict and intolerable suffering for the Syrian people, it is shocking that those with the power to halt this war continue to delay, equivocate and escalate, rather than genuinely pushing for a political solution.

As my Prime Minister underlined to this Council last month, the key steps needed are clear to all: a nationwide ceasefire; negotiations on a meaningful political transition; a united front for fighting ISIL and other terrorist groups.

We were deeply disappointed that the efforts by the United States and Russia to chart a way out of the Syrian crisis broke down.  We were appalled that that breakdown was followed by a devastating escalation in bombing, particularly of Eastern Aleppo. We were outraged that the alleged pursuit of terrorists was used to justify large scale indiscriminate attacks for which civilians paid the price.

And in the face of all of that, this Council has been unable to act, as was demonstrated so clearly 10 days ago. 

So we welcome the resumption of diplomatic efforts in Switzerland last weekend, and are encouraged those discussions are continuing.

Those taking part in the Lausanne process have the opportunity and responsibility to translate those talks into making a meaningful and sustained difference for Syrians.

But so too does this Council.

As is widely known, New Zealand has, we the active support of other Council members, made an effort in recent days to promote a new approach to a possible Council resolution. 

Our immediate priority is to deescalate the current violence, particularly in eastern Aleppo. This could be achieved by ending attacks against civilians. We also wanted to take steps to build trust – medical evacuations and pauses for humanitarian access.

We have been encouraged that all Council members have been prepared to engage in discussions on our draft.  But it has also been apparent that the level of distrust between key players is high, as is scepticism about the prospects for a meaningful outcome.

We find that very sad.  If we can do nothing, we will only confirm the view prevalent in many of our populaces that this Council is not capable of fulfilling its responsibilities under the Charter.  

Second, Yemen.

Eighteen months after the actions of the Houthi and their allies tipped Yemen into conflict, all sides to the conflict need to do much more to pursue a sustainable peace.

As in Syria, civilians on both sides have borne the brunt of this conflict.

Thousands have been killed. Most Yemenis are now in need of humanitarian assistance. Millions are at risk of famine. And there is an increasingly serious risk of economic collapse, which would further exacerbate the suffering.

Like others, New Zealand was shocked by the Coalition airstrike against a funeral in Sana’a on 8 October, which resulted in significant levels of civilian casualties.

We are encouraged by the Coalition’s response in moving quickly to acknowledge its responsibility and to investigate the circumstances of this tragic event.  Urgent steps are now needed to ensure such incidents do not happen again and that those responsible are held to account.

But our central focus must be on ending the fighting.

We welcome the ceasefire announced by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy and due to begin later today. We urge all involved to respect its terms and use this opportunity to commit – genuinely and fully – to achieving a political solution.

We extend our strong support to the ongoing efforts by the UN Special Envoy, the ‘Quad’, by Kuwait, and by others in the region to maintain momentum towards a peaceful resolution to this crisis. This Council must be ready to act in support of their efforts.

Third, Israel/Palestine.

It has been deeply disappointing to witness the continued stagnation of efforts to resolve the decades old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

During our time on the Council, we have seen several initiatives to encourage progress, including by my delegation.

None has borne fruit in the continued absence of a genuine will by leaders on both sides to make the hard decisions and tough compromises necessary to break the current deadlock, and to put peace ahead of short-term thinking and self-interest.

To draw on Amos Oz’s recent eulogy for Shimon Peres, where now are the brave leaders that recognise that peace is not only possible but necessary, because the Israelis and Palestinians have nowhere else to go?  

Instead, what we have seen has been the continuation of actions and trends that take us further and further away from the possibility of a negotiated, two-state solution.

Israel’s continued policies of settlement construction and demolitions are particularly concerning, as last Friday’s Arria formula meeting underlined.

As my Minister stressed to this Council last month, no amount of spin, or indeed criticism of well-intentioned Israelis and others can hide the fact that these settlements are a violation of Israel’s international obligations, and have profoundly negative implications for the peace process.

The significant expansion of these settlements deep into the West Bank increasingly calls into question the continued viability of any future Palestinian state and we call on Israel to stop the settlements and the demolitions.

Continued inflammatory rhetoric, incitement, and acts of violence are also profoundly damaging to prospects for peace. 

We continue to see attacks on Israeli security and civilians, at times with the tacit acceptance or outright encouragement of elements of the Palestinian leadership. 

This is unacceptable, and is further eroding what trust remains between the parties. The Palestinian Authority must do all it can to prevent and condemn such attacks. 

Mr President, the only alternative on offer to a two-state solution is a future of perpetual occupation, characterised by endless violence and increasingly brutal oppression. 

This should provide a compelling rationale for engagement and action by this Council.

And yet it is almost eight years since the Security Council last passed a resolution on this issue. In July the Council was unable even to acknowledge the Quartet’s last report.

We fervently hope that Council members will commit themselves to supporting action to reaffirm the need for a two-state solution, and to enable practical steps towards making this a reality.

I thank you.


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