Israel/Palestine : May, a month of grave danger [fr]
Open debate on Middle-East - Statement by M. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - Security Council - 26 April 2018
I would like at the outset to thank Mr. Nickolay Mladenov for his precise and enlightening briefing, as well as for the clear warning bells he has sounded today. We also thank him and his team for their exemplary commitment.
We have been saying for years that the reality on the ground is wrongly described as the status quo; it is in fact marked by a daily deterioration of the situation, which could erupt into an open crisis at any time in Gaza, Jerusalem or the West Bank. Decade after decade, peace has given way not only on the ground, but also in speeches, in minds and in hearts, as successive generations of Palestinians and Israelis lose hope for a resolution of the conflict. The ongoing occupation, the intensification of settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the blockade imposed on Gaza, as well as the inter-Palestinian division and the continued violence, are creating an untenable and unstable situation, as demonstrated by the three conflicts that have struck Gaza over the past decade.
In that context and for the reasons Mr. Nickolay Mladenov outlined, May will be a month of grave danger. The elements for escalation and even conflagration are present. It is therefore urgent for us to coordinate our efforts to convey the right message to the stakeholders.
1. The ongoing situation in Gaza — on which my first and main point will focus — is yet another tragic illustration of the human consequences resulting from the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition to the ongoing risk of an armed escalation that those tensions are fuelling, the outcome of the repression of the weekly demonstrations that have been taking place for a month is tragic. After four consecutive Fridays of protests in Gaza near the border with Israel, at least 35 people have been killed, including two minors and two journalists, as well as several hundred wounded by bullets.
We are extremely concerned by those developments and their recurrence, which aggravate an already tense situation in the Gaza Strip. A line was crossed in the violence from the first Friday of protests, and the level of violence has remained constant since then. The very heavy toll of the demonstrations in recent weeks, which we deplore, is directly linked to the inadequate and disproportionate response now regularly offered by the Israeli security forces. Full light must be shed on these serious events. We take note of the announcement made by the Israeli Defence Forces concerning the establishment of a fact-finding mechanism. Beyond those first steps, we recall the Secretary-General’s request for an independent and transparent inquiry.
Two fundamental requirements must immediately be put in place in order to avoid having the same causes produce the same dramatic effects during the next two Fridays and around the dates of 14 and 15 May.
The first requirement is respect for international humanitarian law, which is fully applicable in the Gaza Strip, in particular the responsibility to protect civilians.
The second requirement is respect for human rights, in particular the right to demonstrate peacefully. The measures taken to preserve the security of Israel, which is a legitimate concern and one that we share, must fall within the framework of international human rights law. We therefore call on the Israeli authorities to exercise judgement, restraint and the proportionate use of such force as is strictly necessary. We condemn the successive, indiscriminate firings on protesters over the past month. Israel is a democracy and as such must apply standard international rules of engagement in the maintenance of order. The use of lethal weapons must be rejected when facing unarmed demonstrators who pose no serious or imminent threat. Several Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organizations have conveyed the same message.
At the same time, we call on protesters to refrain from all outbursts and violence, and we caution those, in particular Hamas, who would seek to take over and exploit the demonstrations or use them to challenge Israel’s security along the security fence.
In Gaza, but also in the West Bank and Jerusalem, where the protest movement threatens to spread in the coming weeks, the risk that the situation will degenerate and escape control is extremely high, and this is taking place in an already tense regional context. Everyone must therefore show restraint and a spirit of responsibility. It is up to the Council to speak with a strong voice so as to prevent escalation. The silence of the Council since the beginning of the crisis must immediately give way to a sign of unity and a clear public expression.
2. I come to my second point. The violence of recent weeks cannot be dissociated from the more general situation in the Gaza Strip, which itself must not be separated from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole. The deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Gaza over the past year, characterized in particular by an unprecedented energy crisis and the worsening of the wage crisis, is closely linked to the inter-Palestinian division. That deterioration adds to the structural humanitarian crisis imposed by the Israeli blockade, which has lasted for more than a decade. It feeds the ongoing protest movement among a very young population, which feels it has nothing to lose.
Beyond the de-escalation that is required in the immediate future, there will be no lasting solution in Gaza without Palestinian reconciliation under the principles endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organization, and without the exercise by the Palestinian Authority of the full extent of its authority in Gaza. In that regard, we call for the implementation of the agreement reached in Cairo on 12 October under the auspices of the Egyptian authorities. That process must lead to a rapid improvement in the living conditions of the population in Gaza. We encourage the Palestinian Authority to take concrete steps in that direction. Beyond that, only a lifting of the blockade and the restrictions imposed on Gaza, with the necessary security guarantees for Israel, will meet the needs and expectations of the population. France stands ready to support those efforts.
In the current extremely fragile situation, the presence of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) among the population, two-thirds of which is comprised of Palestinian refugees, is one of the last remaining stabilizing elements in Gaza. An interruption of UNRWA services, which could take place as early as this summer, would hasten the Gaza Strip’s falling into chaos. We therefore once again call on the United States not to give up the historic and essential role it has played with UNRWA. We also call for increased efforts on the part of all donors to the Agency, which were announced last month during the Rome Conference and which will have to continue. As you know, France is playing its part in those efforts.
3. Turning to my final point, we must not separate the situation in Gaza from the Palestinian question as a whole. Gaza is an integral part of the Palestinian territories.
There will be no Palestinian State without Gaza, and therefore no viable peace agreement with Israel without Palestinian unity. Neither will there be a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians outside the internationally agreed parameters, the principal elements of which I shall recall here once again:
two States living in peace and security along secure and recognized borders;
frontiers based on the 1967 lines, with exchanges of mutually agreed territories; Jerusalem as the future capital of the two States with, in the meantime, no change in the status of the city, as required by resolution 478 (1980), including the location of embassies;
and a concerted, realistic and fair solution for Palestinian refugees.
Any negotiation must be within that framework, which itself is based on international law and Security Council resolutions. Those parameters are not options or a menu from which we may choose; they are the bedrock of any peace plan and of any future negotiations. In that context, we have a collective responsibility within the Council to ensure the respect of those parameters, which we have defined together and which are recalled by resolution 2334 (2016), adopted a little more than a year ago.
The Gaza Strip is once again on the edge of the abyss. A new conflict, beyond the devastating consequencesalready mentioned, would aggravate regional tensions, which have reached an unprecedented level along Israel’s border. The ongoing escalation in Gaza is also strengthening radicals and providing all terrorist movements with additional recruitment arguments. Finally, with the approach of a high-risk May in Jerusalem, current tensions contribute to the ongoing shift from a political conflict that can be resolved through concessions made by the parties to a religious conflict in which it would be impossible to reach a compromise.
France will never allow such a dramatic prospect for Israelis, Palestinians and regional security to become a reality. That is why we remain determined to act. We all know that the destinies of Israelis and Palestinians are linked: neither of the two peoples will achieve their national aspirations at the expense of the other. France is not choosing sides. It is the friend of both Israelis and Palestinians, and it is in that capacity that it pursues its clear goal: the implementation, through dialogue, of a political solution for a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.