FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Mr. President, I'd like to thank Special Coordinator Serry for his very informative report. It only underscores the importance of the work that lies before us in this troubled region. Since this is my first time discussing the Middle East in the Council, I thought I would take a few minutes to offer my colleagues some sense of the distinct, determined, and active approach that the Obama Administration will take.
We are moving quickly and assertively to seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and its Arab neighbors. We believe that vigorous, resolute American engagement can help support the parties as they make progress and take the necessary risks for peace. Our goal remains a comprehensive resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including an Israeli-Palestinian settlement based on the principle of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
In just four short weeks, we have already invigorated America's efforts. On the Administration's second full day in office, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton named a distinguished special envoy, former Senator George Mitchell. He immediately flew to the region to listen to the parties, to help consolidate the cease-fire in Gaza, and to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.
We seek real peace, not just a cease-fire. But, in Gaza, a cease-fire is where we must start.
Our goal remains a durable, fully respected cease-fire. That means an end to all violence, hostilities, and acts of terrorism—including Hamas rocket, mortar, and other attacks on Israel. It means that member states must work to ensure that Hamas does not restock its arsenal. It means bringing Hamas's illicit smuggling of arms and ammunition into Gaza to an end. And it means reopening the Gaza border crossings in a controlled, sustained, and continuous manner, with an appropriate monitoring regime, and with international and Palestinian Authority participation.
Senator Mitchell will return to the region in the days ahead to help firm up the cease-fire—and to galvanize the international community to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of civilians in Gaza.
American aid plays an important role here and will continue to do so; the United States provided $600 million in assistance to the Palestinian people last year, and we also rushed to provide approximately $61 million more in emergency aid to help give nourishment, shelter, and emergency medical care to the people of Gaza.
Our emergency assistance was provided through UNRWA, the ICRC, the World Food Program, and NGOs. UNRWA remains a key vehicle for meeting urgent needs and fighting the desperate poverty in Gaza—which is why the United States provided $185 million for UNRWA's important work last year.
We also strongly support the work that the UN agencies are doing in Gaza, and the US is moving quickly to review the recent Consolidated Appeal Process document and expects to be able to give it our strong support.
We hope other member states, donors, and international organizations will participate in the international donors' conference to be held in Cairo on March 2—not only to help Gaza recover, but also to support the Palestinian Authority's plan for the reconstruction of Gaza as an integral part of a future Palestinian state and for the development of the economy in both the West Bank and Gaza.
The United States will be represented at the Cairo conference by Secretary of State Clinton, which indicates how seriously we take this gathering and how important we think it is that the international community band together to provide sure and swift assistance to Gaza. I'm glad as well that the Secretary General will also attend, and we are grateful to Egypt, Norway, the European Union, and the UN for their leadership in this effort.
Mr. President, the United States believes that we must look beyond the smoke of war that so recently shrouded Gaza and southern Israel.
The terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is simply intolerable. And a future without hope for the Palestinians is equally intolerable.
We have a clear vision of the way out of this tragic conflict: a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and all its neighbors that respects Israel's rightful place in the community of nations.
A lasting cease-fire in Gaza will make it far easier to resume serious negotiations leading toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as described in Security Council Resolution 1850 and numerous other resolutions from this body. And it will make it easier to achieve further agreements to promote peace and security between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
We strongly support President Mubarak's important efforts here, including his invitation to the leaders of Palestinian factions to join reconciliation talks to be held in Cairo starting on February 22. It's clear to the U.S. that the only way to assure a better life for the Palestinian people is through a Palestinian Authority that Israel and the international community can continue to work with. Such a Palestinian Authority would of course have to continue to reject violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements.
At the same time, these are necessary conditions for the achievement of an independent and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Mr. President, we believe that the Quartet remains the most effective instrument for advancing the international community’s engagement in the effort to bring lasting peace to the Middle East.
As President Obama has noted, we face a set of interlocking series of global challenges, and I hope we will all remain mindful of the important struggles beyond Gaza.
In particular, I want to note that we recently marked the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon. The United States sees the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as a crucial part of the effort to ensure that there will be no impunity for those who bankroll, plan, and perpetrate this sort of appalling crime.
Prime Minister Hariri's tragic death is a reminder of the stakes in Lebanon, and we in the United States will continue to support the forces of sovereignty, freedom, and democracy in Lebanon.
The right basis for the international community's continued commitment to Lebanon's independence, territorial integrity, and unity is Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701.
We must continue to insist upon an end to weapons smuggling and on the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon, including Hizballah.
This is a particularly turbulent time in a typically turbulent region. The Security Council has laid down important benchmarks that can help show the way forward, on both Lebanon and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and set the tone for a new era of cooperation.
Both Israelis and Palestinians have obligations to meet. We hope that this body will be able to help them make real progress toward the lasting peace that the innocent civilians caught up in this conflict so richly deserve.
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