Gaza : the prevailing situation in Gaza is not sustainable [fr]
Middle East - Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 15 May 2018
At the outset, I should like to thank Mr. Nickolay Mladenov for his detailed and informative briefing and his dispassionate approach to a particularly troubling situation, the developments about which he has consistently alerted us.
Yesterday and today mark the culmination of a month and a half of violence and repression by the Israeli forces against Palestinian protesters in Gaza. The repeated warnings to the Council, including by France, since late March have gone unheeded. The situation on the ground continued its relentless escalation, yesterday reaching the shocking total of more than 60 demonstrators killed in a single day, which brings the number of Palestinian demonstrators killed by the Israeli forces over the past month and a half to nearly 100. These tragic numbers speak for themselves.
1/ First, the ongoing situation in Gaza is a tragic new illustration of the human consequences of the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a result of a total absence of political hope. We have been saying this for years: the prevailing situation in Gaza is not sustainable. The ongoing violence is itself rooted in a decade of Israeli blockades, aggravated by the stalemate in the process of reconciliation and its humanitarian consequences. The Hamas-backed protests of recent weeks are fuelled by this situation, together with the absence of any prospects for hope in the peace process with Israel or on inter-Palestinian reconciliation; the absence of any prospects for economic improvement, due to the land, air and sea blockade maintaining one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, at around 40 per cent, and per capita income lower than 25 years ago; and a very youthful population, more than half of them aged under 18, for whom, in this context, hope for peace has given way to the feeling of having nothing to lose.
The unfolding tragedy cannot be separated from the desperation of the people of Gaza. That is why, beyond de-escalation —which is an immediate imperative— and beyond meeting emergency humanitarian needs, it is essential to work towards sustainable solutions for Gaza in the broader context of the two-State solution. This is why we urge Mr. Mladenov to engage in-depth in that regard in the Gaza Strip.
2/ Secondly, the record of repression of the weekly demonstrations, which have been taking place since 30 March, is shocking. A new line was crossed yesterday, which risks heralding a point of no return and triggering a cycle of uncontrollable violence. Since 30 March, 99 Palestinians, including 12 minors, have been killed while demonstrating along the separation line in Gaza. This very heavy toll is directly related to the inadequate and disproportionate response of the Israeli security forces. Yesterday President Macron clearly condemned the violence of the Israeli armed forces. These serious incidents must be fully explained, and we recall in that regard the request of the Secretary-General for an independent and transparent inquiry.
In the immediate term, two fundamental requirements must be met to put an end to this cycle that threatens to continue this very day with demonstrations related to the commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of Palestinian exile in 1948: on the one hand, respect for international humanitarian law, which is fully applicable in the Gaza Strip, in particular the imperative to protect civilians; and, on the other hand, respect for human rights, in particular the right to peaceful demonstration. Any steps Israel takes to safeguard its security, which is a legitimate concern that we share, must be taken within this context. We therefore call on the Israeli authorities to demonstrate careful judgement, the utmost restraint and to avoid the disproportionate use of force. Israel is a State governed by the rule of law and must, as such, apply rules of engagement that respect international standards of law and order, in accordance with its international commitments.
We condemn indiscriminate fire against protesters, which has been systematic in recent weeks, in particular yesterday. Nothing can justify that. Lethal weapons must not be used against unarmed demonstrators who pose no serious or imminent threat. This is the message of numerous non-governmental organizations, including Israeli and Palestinian ones. They underscore the extreme seriousness of the gunshot wounds inflicted on demonstrators without any justification in terms of security and that the Gaza health system is overwhelmed and approaching breaking point.At the same time, we call on the protesters to refrain from any acts of provocation or violence, and we warn those, principally Hamas, who would seek to hijack the demonstrations or use them to threaten Israel’s security along the barrier. As members know, France will never undermine the security of Israel.
Not only in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the risk of the situation deteriorating and escalating out of control is extremely high in an increasingly tense regional context, especially on the northern border of Israel. Everyone must therefore show restraint and a spirit of responsibility, in particular the Palestinian and Israeli officials in their respective statements.
It is also up to the Security Council to speak with a strong voice in order to help to prevent the ongoing escalation. That is a key point. The silence observed by the Council since the beginning of the crisis is less and less understandable. Since yesterday, it has left a dangerous void. That silence must be replaced by a clear public statement without delay. To that end, France is ready to work in a constructive spirit with its partners.
The Security Council cannot be prevented from speaking on such a serious matter. Otherwise, its very calling, if not its raison d’être, are at stake.
3/ I come to my last point. In the tense context that I have just described, our collective responsibility is to preserve the parameters that alone will in due course resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The question of Jerusalem is at the heart of such parameters because it is a precondition for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and, beyond that, regional stability. The question of Jerusalem concerns the entire international community.
Jerusalem has been the subject of several Security Council resolutions. In that context, the status of Jerusalem should be considered by the parties in their discussions with a view to a peace agreement. In line with the consensus that has prevailed for 70 years in the international community, France does not recognize any sovereignty over Jerusalem without agreement. Following the June 1967 conflict, we therefore did not recognize the annexation of East Jerusalem, which is part of the occupied territories under international law.
Similarly, in 1980, we did not recognize Israel’s unilateral acts with regard to Jerusalem. The Security Council adopted resolutions 476 (1980) and 478 (1980), which provide for two principles in particular. First, any decision or action to alter the status or character of Jerusalem is considered null and void and must be rescinded. Secondly, all States Members of the United Nations that have established diplomatic missions in Jerusalem must withdraw them from the city. That is what happened as a result of resolution 478 (1980) without exception.
Jerusalem should become the capital of two States — Israel and Palestine — in line with modalities that must be defined through negotiation. No unilateral decision can replace that. France condemned the decision that was taken by the United States in December and implemented yesterday.
As we all know, there is no solution other than the two-State solution. However, there will be no two-State solution without agreement between the parties on Jerusalem, and no possible agreement on Jerusalem outside the internationally recognized parameters. Abandoning that framework will fuel tensions and violence because of the symbolic, historical and religious importance of Jerusalem to both the Palestinians and the Israelis. It would also create a space that will be rapidly filled by all kinds of extremists in the region who have an interest in the political conflict becoming a religious conflict.
France cannot allow itself to again see Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories, starting with the Gaza Strip, descend into chaos. Yesterday President Macron met the King of Jordan, the Custodian of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, as well as President Abbas. Today he will speak to the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the symbolic and historical context of these commemorative days, which are essential to both the Palestinians and the Israelis, we call on everyone to exercise restraint, ensure calm and prevent any escalation. We call for a resumption of dialogue and negotiations, in which the international community should shoulder its full responsibility in order to support the parties and to ensure results.
Because it is a friend of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, France intends to continue its efforts with unwavering resolve. We call on the Council to fully play its role in that regard.