Thank you, Mr. President. Let me also thank the Secretary-General for his report and Assistant Secretary-General Fernández-Taranco for his briefing, and we welcome you to your new position and your first appearance here before the Council.
The United States is firmly committed to working toward a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, including a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security. President Obama is personally engaged in this effort, and he will continue to lead it. In consultation with states in the region and beyond, the United States is working vigorously to create the conditions for the prompt resumption and early conclusion of negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts. My government’s distinguished Special Envoy, Senator George Mitchell, is again in the region today, consulting with his counterparts about the way forward.
As Special Envoy Mitchell emphasized yesterday, comprehensive peace is the only way to guarantee stability, security, and prosperity for all states in the region. We will need Arabs and Israelis alike to work with us to succeed.
As we move forward, we should recall that all parties have responsibilities. With Israel and the Palestinians, these responsibilities center on fulfilling their Roadmap commitments. With Israel, our focus is on settlements, outposts, and movement in the West Bank; with the Palestinians, our focus includes their commitment to provide effective security in areas under their control, to continue important security and other reforms, and to end incitement. With the Arab states, we are seeking increased support for the Palestinian Authority and forward movement on their offer to normalize relations with Israel, made in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. As a concrete gesture we urge the leaders of Arab states to do their part by taking meaningful steps toward normalization.
We have been working intensively with the Israeli government to deal with the issue of settlement activity. For decades, U.S. Administrations have had a consistent position on this subject. While we recognize that these decisions are difficult, we are asking Israel to uphold commitments it has made, including to stop settlements and to dismantle outposts.
At the same time, Israel is taking positive steps to ease the living conditions of Palestinians and create circumstances that can help lead to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Over the last several months, Israel has removed or eased conditions at several key checkpoints in the West Bank. The Israeli military has also withdrawn its troops to the outskirts of four cities. If expanded and sustained, these changes should have a significant impact on Palestinian freedom of movement, economic development and growth, and overall quality of life. We expect this process will continue.
These positive developments make it all the more imperative that we work together to support the Palestinian Authority—and its nonpartisan, transparent programs that aim to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The World Bank and the IMF have endorsed the Palestinian Authority’s 2009 budget and the accounting controls it has put in place. But the Palestinian Authority’s domestic revenue is still not enough to cover all its operational expenses and continue security and institutional reforms. According to IMF projections for 2009, the Palestinian Authority needs $120 million each month in donor assistance to cover its operational expenses. Yet donor support has failed to keep up with the Palestinian Authority’s needs—falling almost $50 million short on an average monthly basis during the first quarter of the year. Thus the Palestinian Authority is accumulating arrears and unsustainable levels of debt to private banks, threatening its financial stability. On July 24, Secretary of State Clinton announced the transfer of $200 million in direct budget support from the United States to the Palestinian Authority. We call on other countries that wish to see a strong, viable Palestinian state to join us in providing such concrete support to the Palestinian Authority.
On the security front, the Palestinian Authority is taking its responsibilities for security-sector reform seriously. To date, 1,998 Palestinian security personnel have completed training in Jordan and have been deployed to the West Bank; another full battalion of roughly 500 men will begin training in August. These efforts must continue—in conjunction with the invigorated efforts to promote the rule of law—so that Palestinians can live in the secure environment they have long deserved, and so they can demonstrate that Palestine will be a responsible state in the region.
Mr. President, the unimpeded distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance—including food, fuel, and medical treatment—remains a pressing issue. As Secretary Clinton has said, progress toward the goals we seek is more likely to grow out of opportunity than out of futility, out of hope than out of misery. By ensuring the delivery and distribution of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, we aim to foster the conditions in which a Palestinian state can be fully realized—a state that is a responsible partner; a state at peace with Israel and with its Arab neighbors; a state accountable to its people; a state that Palestinians everywhere can be proud of; a state that is respected around the world. The United States continues to urge the Government of Israel to ensure that UN and other humanitarian agencies are able to go about their work.
Moreover, all UN member states, including those in the region, must work to ensure the end of illicit smuggling of arms and ammunition into Gaza lest Hamas restock its arsenal and spark further conflict. My government therefore supports reopening Gaza’s border crossings in a controlled manner, with an appropriate monitoring regime involving international and Palestinian Authority participation.
Arab states also have responsibilities—in particular, to support the legitimate Palestinian Authority and help President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, thus demonstrating that negotiations, not the terrorism and violence chosen by Hamas, are the paths to an independent and viable state. President Obama has also called for Arab states to take clear and unambiguous steps toward normalization with Israel, in the context of significant Israeli actions, in order to advance our shared goal of comprehensive peace in the Middle East and stability for all the region's people. The Arab Peace Initiative, supported by the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, was a positive step. But more is needed. Those who embrace the proposal should take meaningful steps now, and this includes contributing to a more positive international backdrop to our efforts for peace in international fora, including here at the UN. We will be looking for early signs of such a change.
Mr. President, the Quartet remains the most effective instrument for marshalling the international community’s diplomatic efforts in support of Middle East peace. In Trieste last month, the Quartet underscored that the only viable solution to the conflict is one that fulfils the aspirations of both parties for independent homelands—two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security. It also welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s and President Abbas’ commitment to the two-state solution. The Quartet voiced its support for Palestinian unity in pursuit of such a solution; it called on all Palestinians to commit themselves to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements, as well as to the obligations to facilitate the reconstruction of Gaza and the organization of elections.
I should note here that since the last Security Council consultation on the Middle East, we have marked the third year that Gilad Shalit has been held in captivity by Hamas, in direct contradiction of international law. To compound this grave violation, Hamas has never allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross access to Corporal Shalit. We encourage all efforts to secure Gilad Shalit’s immediate release.
Mr. President, events in Lebanon over the past several weeks have underscored the importance of full implementation of Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701. Implementing these resolutions is the only sure path to protect Lebanon’s sovereignty, stability, and independence. As the Council heard last week, on July 14, a series of explosions shook a house in the village of Khirbat Salim, well south of the Litani River. Initial findings point to a large quantity of arms and ammunition being stored there, in serious violation of Resolution 1701, with all evidence pointing to Hizballah.
The Khirbat Salim events clearly demonstrate the urgent need to bring arms in Lebanon under legitimate control of the state—and the need for the international community to remain fully committed to supporting UNIFIL and its mission. We are deeply concerned about the threat that such weapons pose to the civilian populations in both Israel and Lebanon. By Hizballah’s own admission, it is continuing to rearm. This is a dangerous development, which represents a severe violation of a core objective of Resolution 1701, since it was Hizballah that launched the 2006 war that neither Israel nor Lebanon sought.
We join the Secretary-General in calling on Hizballah to disarm and transform itself into a solely political party. We also call for UNIFIL and the Lebanese government to act energetically to follow up on information about Hizballah’s weapons stocks, and call for a full and unimpeded investigation into the explosion of the weapons cache at Khirbat Salim.
Resolving this situation would reassure the Government of Israel that its northern border and citizens are secure. Until it has such assurances, Israel has said that it will persist with its reconnaissance over-flights of Lebanon. While we recognize those over-flights also as violations of the Blue Line, we understand Israel’s justification for them: simply put we have not ensured that Lebanon has secured its borders in order to prevent the entry of illegal arms or related materiel. In short, Hizballah has intentionally perpetuated the threats that lead to these Blue Line violations.
The United States remains firmly committed to supporting UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces in their efforts to fully implement the provisions of Resolution 1701. We stand firmly in support of Lebanon’s state institutions, and that includes providing the Lebanese Armed Forces with support to protect Lebanon and its citizens, pursue international peace and security, and implement the resolutions of this Council.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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