Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Under-Secretary-General Feltman, for your briefing.
I’ll begin with Syria, where the horrifying situation is getting worse. Escalating violence, driven by the Assad regime, has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions of Syrians. And there’s no clearer demonstration of the situation’s threat to regional peace and security than the Syrian government’s recent shelling of Ackakale, which this Council rightfully condemned. As the violence and atrocities mount, the United States will not wait for all members of this Council to get on the right side of history. Together with our allies, we’re supporting the opposition as it moves toward an inclusive, democratic transition. We’re further pressuring the regime, and we are addressing the growing humanitarian needs in the region. At the same time, we continue to support the efforts of Joint Special Representative Brahimi to find a durable solution to this crisis.
As President Obama told the UN General Assembly last month, the future does not belong to a dictator who massacres his people. The regime of Bashar al-Asad will come to an end. Indeed, this transition is not just inevitable – it has already begun.
Assad’s merciless assault upon the Syrian people has not cowed them into submission, far from it. The opposition is getting stronger, and parts of Syria have slipped from the regime’s control. In these areas, Syrian citizens are banding together to administer towns, reopen schools, and rebuild their economy. And the United States is helping them do so, providing the unarmed civilian opposition with help to organize in support of the transition plan agreed in Cairo last July with its vision for a democratic, pluralistic Syria where all of its people have a say in how they’re governed.
More than one and a half million people have fled their homes, either to neighboring countries or to safer places within Syria. As refugee numbers climb, we commend Syria’s neighbors – including Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq – for their generosity and recognize their need for additional support. The United States has committed over $130 million in food, medical supplies, and other life-saving assistance. We encourage all Member States to respond to the needs identified in the UN’s Syria appeals and to coordinate closely with the United Nations in responding to the crisis. As Syrians plan for transition, we are looking for additional ways to support Syrian efforts to document serious violations of international law, including indiscriminate bombardment and deliberate targeting of civilians.
No one can deny that Assad’s war against the Syrian people now poses real challenges to all of Syria’s neighbors, including Lebanon. From deadly Syrian regime attacks across the border to tens of thousands of refugees, Lebanon is already suffering the consequences of this conflict. Hizballah’s active and growing support for Assad’s war exposes Hassan Nasrallah’s claims of promoting Lebanon’s national interest as nothing more than a deadly form of deception. The group’s leaders may try to change the subject by invoking hollow rhetoric about so-called resistance, but the truth is plain to see: Nasrallah’s fighters are now part of Assad’s killing machine and Hizballah leaders continue to plot with Iran new measures to prop up a murderous and desperate dictator.
We encourage the international community to counter Hizballah’s terrorist activity and do more to expose Hizballah’s deepening involvement in Assad’s war. We commend the Lebanese government – and the Lebanese Armed Forces in particular – for maintaining stability and law and order at this critical juncture. We welcome the efforts of President Sleiman and others to promote dialogue, including with respect to the disarmament of illegal militias, as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1559, and we reiterate our firm commitment to a stable, sovereign, and independent Lebanon.
Turning to Middle East peace efforts, as President Obama said in his address before the United Nations General Assembly last month: “The road is hard, but the destination is clear: a secure Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine.” We actively support the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution resulting from direct negotiations without preconditions between the Israelis and Palestinians. Unilateral actions, including initiatives to grant Palestinians non-member state observer status at the United Nations, would only jeopardize the peace process and complicate efforts to return the parties to direct negotiations. Any efforts to use international fora to prejudge final status issues that can only be resolved directly by the parties will neither improve the daily lives of Palestinians nor foster the trust essential to make progress towards a two-state solution.
We remain focused on helping Israelis and Palestinians improve the environment between them, and in particular, to addressing the Palestinian Authority’s chronic fiscal crisis. We recognize the serious financial challenges facing the Palestinian Authority and its vital efforts to sustain the institutions of governance it has built.
The Palestinian leadership has taken several steps to address its financial challenges, but it needs our help. We appreciate the support of Israel and the wider donor community to provide financial resources to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian people. All of us understand the severity of the current economic situation in the Palestinian territories and the consequences of inaction. In parallel, we urge continued international support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, to further its efforts to provide needed assistance for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, and elsewhere until a final negotiated solution is reached.
Lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis requires both parties to take meaningful steps. Palestinians should continue security cooperation, further strengthen public institutions, and end incitement. The onslaught of rockets fired by terrorists in Gaza must cease immediately. We condemn these attacks in the strongest terms.
And Israel should step up its efforts to deter, confront, and prosecute anti-Palestinian violence and extremist hate crimes, including vandalism at religious sites. We agree with President Peres that “holy sites must not be harmed.” In the West Bank, the recent and repeated destruction of Palestinian olive groves, a critical source of income for the local population, is deplorable. We look to Israeli authorities to act decisively to protect these resources and investigate such acts.
Like every U.S. administration for decades, we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. We continue to oppose any efforts to legalize outposts. The fate of existing settlements must be dealt with by the parties along with other permanent-status issues.
Indeed, the road to peace is long and hard, but the United States remains fully committed to helping the parties reach peace through a negotiated two-state solution.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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