Israel/Palestine conflict poses a permanent threat to international security [fr]
Situation in the Middle East - Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - Security Council - 20 April 2017
I thank Nickolay Mladenov for his commitment and briefing, which highlights once again the risks posed to the entire region by the lack of a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The conflict has dragged on for nearly 70 years, and the occupation of the Palestinian territories has lasted nearly 50. The lack of a settlement in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is in and of itself of particular gravity, also poses a permanent threat to international security. By its gravity, its symbolic dimension and its place in the collective imagination, the scope of the unresolved conflict is foundational and goes far beyond the borders of Israel and the Palestinian territories. Any escalation in the conflict carries the risk of uncontrollable regional destabilization. That is why we cannot resign ourselves to a false status quo that masks a day-by-day regression, both on the ground and in the mind.
The end point of this path is clear. The disappearance of the two-State solution, like a mirage in the desert, would represent a leap into the unknown and the risk of unleashing a worst-case scenario. The situation is even less acceptable considering that we all know that the best guarantee of the security of Israel and the region is a just peace with the Palestinians, which arises through a two-State solution that ensures the creation of a viable and independent Palestinian State. That is not an ideological stance but a pragmatic and realistic observation, since there can be no denial of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians to statehood or the equally legitimate aspirations of the Israelis and the Palestinians for peace and security.
It is on the basis of that observation that France embarked on an international process that led to the adoption in Paris on 15 January of a joint declaration signed by more than 70 States and international organizations. The declaration was the result of all ongoing efforts, particularly those of the Middle East Quartet, the Arab Peace Initiative, the initiatives of Russia and Egypt, and the essential role played by the United States. The declaration reinforced the unanimous commitment of the international community to the two-State solution and the fundamentals that bind us, namely, the international framework of any future settlement — the 1967 borders and the relevant resolutions of the Security Council.
We reaffirmed that priority at the Paris conference in spite of the fact that the prospects for a two-State solution are endangered on the ground every day. The absence of a political process, the encroaching settlement policy — which is illegal under international law and has fragmented the Palestinian territories for decades — the deterioration of the humanitarian situation, the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure in Zone C, violence and incitement to hatred, terrorism and rocket fire are all elements that feed a relentless vicious circle threatening the very conditions necessary to lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Those were the conclusions reached by the Quartet in its July 2016 report, and it was the shared observation that led to the adoption by the Security Council of resolution 2334 (2016).
Since early 2017, the situation on the ground has further deteriorated. Announcements of settlements by the Israeli Government have increased, including concerning more than 6,000 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the first three months of 2017. On 6 February, the Knesset enacted a law opening the way to the normalization of unapproved settlements, which are illegal even under Israeli law. IN late March, the Israeli Government decided, for the first time in two decades, to establish a new settlement in the West Bank and declared new private Palestinian land to be “State lands”.
As for the policy of restraint in matters of announced settlements, it is a mere optical illusion whose conditions are so vague that they actually give carte blanche to the ongoing rampant settlement-building in the most sensitive areas — the very ones that cause despair and escalation of conflict. Those developments are contrary to international law and Security Council resolutions, in particular resolution 2334 (2016), which requires Israel to halt its settlement activities and to respect its obligations under international law. France also condemns with extreme firmness all acts of violence and terrorism, which remain an almost daily and unacceptable reality. I want to be unambiguous on that point. France will never compromise with Israel’s security.
In this context of extreme volatility, it is more important than ever to recall our position on Jerusalem. Pending a negotiated settlement of the conflict and under international law, including resolution 478 (1980), France does not recognize any sovereignty over Jerusalem. Its status will have to be resolved by negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, which will have to allow Jerusalem to be the capital of the two States, Israel and the future State of Palestine.
The elements that triggered the three wars in Gaza over the past six years are still present today and could once more lead overnight to an eruption of conflict. From the perspective of a lasting settlement, the lifting of the Israeli blockade on the territory seems more necessary than ever.
After years of stalemate, it is our duty to re-establish the conditions for the resumption of credible political negotiations. The Security Council, through resolution 2334 (2016), renewed its commitment to supporting the parties during the negotiations and the implementation of a peace agreement. It was also the message of the joint declaration of Paris, the purpose of which was to remind the parties of their interest in peace and how the international community could, without imposing anything, help them get there. To reiterate, France will support any effort to reopen a credible political process, which is the only answer to despair, radicalization and disengagement among the parties. We will spare no effort to that end.
Let me say a few words about Syria, which is one of the most important threats in the region. The cessation of hostilities no longer exists. The humanitarian situation is catastrophic because of the lack of access to populations in need. On 19 April, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons indicated that it had conclusive evidence that sarin gas had been used in the attack of 4 April at Khan Shaykhun, which constituted a war crime and whose perpetrators must be held accountable before justice.
Chemical weapons are only one element in the work of annihilation in Syria. In addition, there are inhuman sieges worthy of the Middle Ages, the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, incendiary bombs, as reported by the United Nations in recent days, torture, executions, displacements and many others crimes. That appalling record belongs and foremost to Bashar Al-Assad and bears his signature written in blood. There will be neither peace nor reconstruction in Syria so long as the regime clings to power through terror and destruction. Nor will any victory be achieved against the terrorist threat, which will continue to feed on the violence and misery that gave birth to it and caused it to flourish, as we were sadly reminded by the terrible attack carried out in Rashidin on 15 April.
More than ever, a political solution is urgent and inevitable. We encourage the Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, to begin on an accelerated timetable the next round of negotiations in Geneva for a political transition, in line with the Geneva communiqué (S/2012/522, annex) and resolution 2254 (2016). That is our top priority — an issue of national security for France and of collective security for us all.
Finally, allow me to add a comment on the situation in Lebanon. That country is linked to France by a profound friendship, and its resilience to suffering demands our admiration. The international community will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Lebanon in facing all the consequences of the Syrian conflict, beginning with the refugee crisis. Providing support and essential humanitarian aid is the primary objective of the conference convened in Brussels on 4 and 5 April by the European Union.The Lebanese people have made political and institutional progress since the election of Michel Aoun as President of the Republic and the establishment of a Government by led by Saad Hariri. It is our hope that the Lebanese parties will be able to agree as soon as possible on an electoral framework leading to free and fair elections, consistent with the Constitution. It will not be possible to indefinitely extend the Parliament that was elected in 2009. Legislative elections are crucial to Lebanon’s stability and the preservation of its democratic tradition. Political progress must be strengthened in order to reinforce State authority throughout Lebanese territory and allow the country to address its challenges.In that context, Lebanon’s disengagement from the Syrian conflict and implementation of resolutions 1701 (2006) and 1559 (2004) remain more necessary than ever. We therefore encourage the parties to firmly reconfirm their commitment to that end, in the interest of Lebanon and of the entire region.