Situation in Gaza : we are close to the point of no return [fr]
Situation in the Middle East
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 18 October 2018
At the outset, I would like to thank Mr. Nikolay Mladenov for his briefing and his commitment day in and day out, and to renew France’s support for him. I would also like to commend Bolivia’s initiative in inviting Mr. Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of the Israeli non-governmental organization B’Tselem, who has been doing remarkable work under difficult conditions. It is an ongoing policy of France to support opening the work of the Security Council to the voices of civil society, which must be heard in the context of addressing the crises on our agenda.
Turning to the situation on the ground, every passing day confirms the tragic threefold observation that we regularly make before the Council. First, the false status quo before us masks a daily deterioration of the situation that is linked in particular to the settlement policy. Secondly, that situation has the potential to degenerate into open crisis at any moment, as we have been seeing in Gaza for months, and it also produces its daily share of violence, including an incident that recently claimed the lives of two Israelis and that we condemned. Thirdly, when the prospects for peace on the ground diminish, they do the same in people’s minds and conversations, feeding into a particularly dangerous vicious cycle. Last month was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Oslo Accords, and according to opinion surveys, almost three quarters of Palestinians now believe that their situation has worsened since the Accords were signed. Today, only a small percentage of Palestinians and Israelis still believe in the possibility of a two-State solution. Generation by generation, Palestinians and Israelis are losing hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, which opens the door to the worst possibility, the despair that is our common enemy. That is why it is so important for the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to preserve a pluralistic and open space within their respective societies. The democratic future of those societies depends on that and on the possibility of dialogue between them.
Any negotiations must take place within the framework that I have just outlined, which is based on international law and the relevant Security Council resolutions, including resolution 478 (1980), on Jerusalem.
Today, I would like to underscore two points, both dictated by the urgency of what we are seeing on the ground — the situation in Gaza, where we are once again on the edge of a cliff, and the Israeli settlement policy, which, through the case of Khan Al-Ahmar, threatens to irreversibly undermine the possibility of a two-State solution.
First, with regard to the situation in Gaza, for the second time since the beginning of the summer the Gaza Strip is on the verge of a new conflict, something it has experienced three times in the past decade. In that context, France calls on all actors to exercise restraint. The rockets that were launched during the night of Tuesday and Wednesday from Gaza to Israel, one of which hit a house in Beersheba, fortunately without causing any casualties, are an extremely worrying development. I want to say it again with the greatest clarity: France condemns the indiscriminate firing on Israeli territory, regardless of the perpetrators, just as it condemns the use of incendiary devices and the construction by Hamas of offensive tunnels, of which a new one was dismantled again over the past few days by Israeli forces.
Already in mid-August, the worst had been avoided thanks to the efforts of Egypt and the steps taken by the Special Coordinator. However, we know that if the current situation continues, a large-scale escalation cannot be definitively avoided, and if there is one, the people of Gaza will once again pay the price. We must therefore do everything we can to prevent it. It is up to the Council to speak with a strong voice to prevent an escalation by breaking a silence that is becoming increasingly deafening and incomprehensible to the world every day.
Those peaks in tension are arising in the context of humanitarian collapse and political impasse in the Gaza Strip. For more than six months, there has been a series of acts of violence in Gaza against the backdrop of a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented severity. The toll of recurring demonstrations along the separation barrier is appalling: more than 150 Palestinians have been killed since 30 March in rallies fuelled by the despair of the population. France has condemned the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force and calls on Israel to respect the right of Palestinians to demonstrate peacefully, on the one hand, and to live up to its obligations to protect civilians in the context of international humanitarian law, on the other hand. We have also denounced the exploitation of the demonstrations by Hamas and other armed groups and their use in attempts to cross the separation barrier, as seems to have been the case during last Friday’s rallies.
To restore hope among the people of Gaza in the short term, we must respond to the humanitarian emergency. The efforts of the Special Coordinator and all United Nations agencies to rapidly improve the humanitarian situation contribute significantly to this response. All actors must coordinate their efforts in this regard. Ultimately, only a lifting of the blockade, together with the necessary security guarantees for Israel, can meet the needs of the people. At the same time, the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) remains essential, particularly in Gaza, where two thirds of the population are refugees. International drives have raised an additional $120 million for UNRWA at the margins of the General Assembly and must continue to do so. France has played its part and intends to continue to do so by doubling its contribution to the Agency for 2019. The stakes are high both for the populations concerned and for regional stability. Tensions since the start of the school year, in particular in Gaza and Lebanon, attest to that.
Finally, there can be no sustainable humanitarian response to the crisis in Gaza without a political solution, including the full return of the Palestinian Authority to the territory. Gaza is not a landless territory, and it cannot be dissociated from the question of the Palestinian State in the context of the two-State solution. We call on all parties to pursue dialogue in the context of Egypt’s ongoing efforts, which we commend, to relaunch the inter-Palestinian reconciliation process within the framework of the agreement reached in Cairo a year ago.
The gravity of the situation in Gaza should not make us forget the severity of the situation in the West Bank and Jerusalem, where the critical advances in settlements are creating an irreversible situation before our very eyes. We are close to the point of no return, and if we are not careful, the two-State solution may disappear before us, like a mirage in the desert. France’s position is clear and unchanging: the settlements are illegal under international law and counterproductive because they destroy trust between the parties and stoke tensions on the ground. They are accompanied by worrisome developments in violence, including by certain radical settlers. We have called for all light to be shed on the death of a Palestinian woman last week close to Nablus, which we condemned.
Today, I will focus on the case of Khan Al-Ahmar, which has long been identified by the entire international community as a red line. On 12 September, the Israeli Government decided that it would demolish the village. This decision could be implemented at any time. Together with its main partners, France has expressed its profound concern about this matter and solemnly calls on the Israeli authorities not to proceed with the demolition. The demolition of this Bedouin village, which would result in the forced displacement of its inhabitants, would contravene international humanitarian law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as Council resolutions. I note that several of the structures that are directly targeted, including one school, have received European funding.
In addition to its humanitarian consequences, that demolition would have potentially irreversible political effects. It would pave the way for the settlement of the so-called E-l area, which, as everyone knows, is of strategic importance for the two-State solution. It would separate the north and south of the West Bank and isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian territories. By destroying the continuity of the Palestinian territories, it would make the two-State solution impossible and would instead favour a strategy of de facto annexation of the West Bank by Israel, which would be taking on a heavy responsibility in terms of the history of both peoples.
France is a friend to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. It has no other interest than peace in the region and ensuring the possibility for the populations concerned to live in safety and dignity. As we all know, the destinies of the Israelis and the Palestinians are intertwined; neither of the two peoples will achieve their national aspirations in a sustainable way at the expense of the other.
As I have said, there is no solution other than a two-State solution, but there can be no two-State solution without an agreement between the parties on Jerusalem, and there can be no possible agreement on Jerusalem outside internationally agreed parameters. These parameters are not options or a menu that we can pick and choose from; rather they are the cornerstone of any peace process and any future negotiation. Moving away from this framework would fuel tensions and violence because of the symbolic, historic and religious dimensions of Jerusalem, both for the Palestinians and for the Israelis. It would also provide a space for all radicals in the region, who want to see this political conflict become a religious conflict, to rush into. Given that risk, we have a collective responsibility in the Council to act within the parameters that we have defined together and which are recalled in resolution 2334 (2016), which was adopted almost two years ago. France will spare no effort in that regard.