The demolition of Khan al-Ahmar would have disastrous consequences [fr]
Speech by Mr. François Delattre, French Permanent Representative at the United Nations
Security Council – 20 September 2018
At the outset, I want to thank Mr. Nickolay Mladenov for his briefing to the Security Council on resolution 2334 (2016) and for his daily commitment, as well as that of his team. In Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, every passing day increases, bit by bit, the despair by ref lecting a three-pronged reality.
First, the false status quo actually covers up the daily deterioration on the ground.
Secondly, the situation could, at any moment, degenerate into an full-blown crisis, as has been the case in Gaza for many long months. Finally, when peace prospects diminish on the ground, they also diminish in hearts, minds and words. It is that vicious cycle that is at play today. Generation after generation of Palestinians and Israelis are losing hope in a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
A quarter century, nearly to the date, has elapsed since the Oslo Accords were signed in Washington, D.C. Twenty-five years after Oslo, nearly three quarters of Palestinians, according to opinion polls, believe that their situation has deteriorated. Barely half of them still believe in a two-State solution.
Nevertheless, the observation that we consistently make in the Council remains valid. No viable alternative to the two-State solution has emerged since Oslo. The
unique territorial structure that seems to take form before our eyes under the effects of the settlement policies will ultimately lead to the coexistence of two unequal classes of citizens on one territory. For Palestinians it would mark the abandonment of their aspirations to statehood, and for the Israelis the end of their democratic project. While it is essential to fill the current political vacuum, a peace plan not based on the internationally agreed parameters of two States would be doomed to failure. It is therefore essential that all negotiations take place within that framework, which in turn is based on international law and the relevant resolutions of the Council, including resolution 478 (1980), on Jerusalem, as well as resolution 2334 (2018), which brings us here today.
With regard to the latter resolution, 10 members of the Council, including France, requested that, in accordance with the established practice, written reports be submitted to the Council. We thank the Secretariat for the circulation of a written report last June (S/2018/614), and we encourage the continuation of that practice.
Today I would like to emphasize two points: the Israeli settlement policy in Area C and Jerusalem, which now threatens to irreversibly undermine the two-State solution — and I would refer to the risk of the imminent demolition of the village of Khan Al-Ahmar — and the situation in Gaza, which may at any time lead to an escalation in violence.
According to the judgement of the Supreme Court of Israel on 5 September, the decision to demolish the village of Khan Al-Ahmar is now entirely up to the Israeli Government. That decision, which has been in force since 12 September, can be implemented at any time. France, in conjunction with several of its European partners, has expressed its deep concern over that and calls on the Israeli authorities not to proceed with the demolition. The demolition of that Bedouin village, which would include the forced displacement of its inhabitants, would contravene international humanitarian law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as the resolutions of the Council. Several structures that have received European funding, including one school, are being directly targeted. Two hundred and thirty inhabitants, including nearly 160 children, are being threatened with deportation.
In addition to its humanitarian consequences, the demolition would be disastrous, and probably irreversible, to the political landscape. It would pave the way for the settlement of the so-called E-1 area, which 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 it impossible for the two States to reach a solution, with a strategy of de facto annexation of the West Bank by Israel in its place. That would represent a significant responsibility, historically and for both peoples.
Secondly, the erosion of the two-State solution as a consequence of settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank must not make us forget the imminent risks facing Gaza. For the past six months, there has been a succession of violence in Gaza, against the backdrop of a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented severity. In the face of the terrible record of successive demonstrations along the separation barrier, France condemned the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force and called on Israel to respect the right of Palestinians to demonstrate peacefully. We have also denounced the instrumentalization of demonstrations by Hamas and other armed groups. Finally, we condemned the firing of rockets and the use of incendiary devices directed at Israeli territory, as well as the construction of offensive tunnels by Hamas.
On several occasions in recent months, the Gaza Strip has found itself on the brink of a new armed conflict, as it experienced three times in the past decade. Each time, the worst was avoided, thanks in particular to the efforts of Egypt, which we especially welcome, and to the mediation work of Nickolay Maldenov, for which I am also grateful. But we know that, if the current situation persists, a large-scale escalation cannot be avoided indefinitely. It is then the people of Gaza who will once again pay the price. We must do everything we can to avoid it. It is up to the Council to speak with a strong voice to prevent an escalation. The silence it has observed since the beginning of the crisis is, every day, more deafening and, to be honest, incomprehensible.
Beyond an immediate de-escalation and respect for the 2014 ceasefire, there will be no lasting solution in Gaza without inter-Palestinian reconciliation within the framework of the Palestinian Liberation Organization principles and without restoring the prerogatives of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. In that regard, we welcome the relaunching of the process begun in Cairo almost a year ago, which must be followed by a genuine commitment by the Palestinian Authority to improve the living conditions of the people in Gaza. Above all, only lifting the blockade, with the necessary security guarantees for Israel, will make it possible to meet the needs of the population.
In parallel with those efforts, we must give our full support to the Special Coordinator’s proposals for the accelerated implementation of priority projects. We will have an opportunity to discuss that in more detail next week at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for the Coordination of International Assistance to Palestinians meeting in New York. Those projects must be accompanied by quick-impact humanitarian measures, necessary to meet the immediate needs of the population and prevent further escalation.
In the same spirit, unprecedented international mobilization is needed to enable the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East to continue its essential activities and keep its schools open, without interruption, in Gaza and throughout the region. We will have an opportunity to call for such collective mobilization during the week of high-level meetings during the General Assembly.
The stakes are high for the populations concerned, of course, but no less so for regional stability. In that context, we call on the United States to maintain its historic commitment to refugees and the Palestinian territories, with the necessary engagement of the international community.France is a friend to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. It has no other interest than peace in the region and the possibility for the populations concerned to live in safety and dignity. As we all know, the destinies of Israelis and Palestinians are intertwined: neither of the two peoples will achieve their national aspirations in a sustainable way at the expense of the other. Twenty five years after the Oslo Accords, and in a context of increasing regional crises, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not lost any of its gravity, centrality and symbolic significance. The international community cannot turn away from it.
It is in that spirit that the President of the French Republic, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, will meet tomorrow in Paris with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas. In that same spirit, there will be an exchange with the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, next week on the sidelines of the General Assembly. France’s conviction is that our shared compass, more than ever, needs to be implementation, through negotiation, of a two-State solution — the only way to achieve just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. France will spare no effort in that regard.