Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Under Secretary-General Pascoe, for your briefing.
Before turning to the subject at hand, let me join my other colleagues in extending our own condolences the government and people of China for the loss of life and injuries suffered by so many as a result of the devastating earthquake.
Mr. President, advancing the cause of comprehensive peace in the Middle East remains one of the United States’ highest foreign policy priorities. Our commitment to this goal is undiminished, and the resumption of negotiations toward a two-state solution is the best way forward.
All concerned must confront a basic reality: and that is that the status quo of the last decade has neither produced long-term security nor served the interests of the parties. Such a path means more instability and more unrealized aspirations for Israelis, Palestinians, and others throughout the region.
Today, we are witnessing a struggle between those in the region who accept peace and coexistence with Israel and those who reject it and seek continued violence. The latter course means drawing out a conflict with tragic human costs—a conflict that threatens Israel’s long-term future as a secure and democratic Jewish state and denies Palestinians the dignity of a state of their own. The two-state solution is the only way to resolve the conflict. The status quo strengthens the rejectionists who claim peace is impossible and weakens those who embrace coexistence.
At the same time, those willing to negotiate must be able to show results for their efforts—and those who preach violence, strife, and bloodshed must be proven wrong. All of the regional challenges that we face—including combating violent extremism and promoting both democracy and economic prosperity—become harder if rejectionists grow in power and influence. And the current path is not sustainable for either Israelis or Palestinians.
So we call again on our international partners—both inside and outside this Council—to support the resumption of proximity talks leading as soon as possible to direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We invite all involved to promote an atmosphere of cooperation between the parties, and we renew our specific call for Arab states to establish regional and multilateral dialogues with Israel, concurrent with the resumption of bilateral negotiations.
Only through good-faith negotiations can the parties mutually agree on an outcome that ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.
We also believe that the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the world.
The Secretary-General underscored these points when he addressed the Arab League Summit in Libya on March 27. He also conveyed the belief of the Quartet’s members that these talks should lead to a settlement—negotiated between the parties within 24 months—that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors.
It is also important that the parties fulfill their Roadmap obligations. Unilateral actions taken by either party cannot be allowed to prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community.
Our position remains clear: we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. Israel should also halt evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes. We made our views on these issues clear over the past several weeks.
At the same time, the Palestinian Authority should continue to make every effort to ensure security, to reform its institutions of governance, and to take strong, consistent action to end all forms of incitement. In this regard, Mr. President, we strongly condemn the glorification of terrorists, either through official statements or by the dedication of public places.
Still, we should not overlook the significant progress made by both sides in the West Bank over the past year—including marked improvements in the local economy, greater fiscal transparency and accountability, advances in the rule of law, and the start of a more cooperative practical relationship between Israelis and Palestinians that we hope will develop further.
The Palestinian Authority has demonstrated its commitment to reform and institution-building. It is laying the foundations of a future Palestinian state. The Authority’s strong fiscal policies—supported by more than $3 billion in donor assistance over the past two years—and its commitment to improving security and the rule of law in the West Bank helped generate significant economic growth in 2009.
The PA’s actions are inspiring investor and consumer confidence, and we are seeing positive signs of private-sector growth and development in the West Bank. For instance, three venture capital funds are set to be launched this spring, with the support of U.S., Arab, and European investors.
The PA is also beginning to prepare for an investment conference in Bethlehem in June that will focus on small and medium-sized enterprises. Meanwhile, subscription rates in Wataniya, the Palestinians’ second mobile-telephone provider, have continued to climb since its launch in November 2009. And nine affordable housing initiatives, which could result in 16,000 new units, are in various stages of development throughout the West Bank. We strongly endorse the PA’s two-year program to build the institutions for a Palestinian state that will undergird this progress.
Israel has also taken significant steps to improve Palestinian access to domestic and external markets, including by easing checkpoints. For example, thousands of vehicles per week have been entering the West Bank from Israel through the Jalameh/Gilboa crossing since it was reopened and expanded in November 2009. This step, coupled with continued relaxation of checkpoints between Jenin, Nablus, and Ramallah, has helped infuse cash and raise demands for goods and services into the northern West Bank.
In another example, tens of thousands of people traveled to Bethlehem from Israel and the West Bank during the Christmas season, contributing millions of dollars to the local economy. Of course, these signs of increased economic activity and growth can be undermined by renewed violence, and more needs to be done—but we should not ignore these reminders that Israelis and Palestinians can work together to build a brighter future for ordinary citizens on both sides.
In contrast, Mr. President, the situation for civilians in Gaza remains extremely difficult, despite some small recent steps forward. The Palestinian Authority is, in effect, a lifeline to more than half a million people in Gaza, making sure that PA salaries are paid and social welfare payments are made on time. The PA plans to devote roughly half of its $3.9 billion budget to Gaza in 2010. We urge all parties and partners, including Israel, to focus on meeting the humanitarian needs of those in Gaza and rebuilding the civilian private sector that will be the engine of Gaza’s recovery.
Israel has taken steps to improve the flow of humanitarian goods into Gaza in order to alleviate the hardship and stress that civilians in Gaza continue to face every day. Israel has also increased the quantity and scope of non-food items entering and exiting Gaza through the official crossings to include glass, wood, aluminum, some construction material including cement, and some other goods. Israel has also agreed to the completion of several critical UN projects. We continue to urge Israel to further open the crossings, consistent with Resolution 1860 and the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, and with appropriate monitoring to address security concerns, in order to allow the unimpeded flow to and from Gaza of people, humanitarian aid, and commercial goods.
Hamas’ interference with international assistance shipments and the work of our nongovernmental organization partners complicates our efforts in Gaza. Hamas’ continued arms smuggling, and its recent direct interference with the official commercial banking system, undermines security and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Hamas has yet to accept the principles established by the Quartet that are the building blocks of an independent Palestinian state: renouncing violence, recognizing Israel, and accepting previous agreements. Nor has it shown an interest in building a future for the Palestinian people that could exceed its own hateful rhetoric and embrace of violence.
Mr. President, we have recently seen a significant increase in rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel—a direct threat to international peace and security. There were 20 such attacks in March alone, and a total of 40 this year. Groups other than Hamas have claimed responsibility for these terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, Hamas asserted control of Gaza in 2007 and is thus accountable for ensuring that these attacks cease. We also call again for the immediate release of Gilad Shalit, abducted and held by Hamas since 2006.
In closing, Mr. President, permit me to remind the Council of the important role that Lebanon can play in efforts to secure a comprehensive peace.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon remains a key tool to end the era of impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon. As Secretary of State Clinton has noted, the Tribunal is not a bargaining chip; it is an independent judicial process. U.S. support for the Tribunal and its pursuit of justice will not waver.
We reiterate our support for Lebanon’s sovereign government and for the full implementation of resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701, all of which are equally binding. But the transfer of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah undermines the Lebanese government’s ability to exercise sovereignty over all of its territory and risks sparking a conflict that no one needs.
We are increasingly concerned about the sophistication of the weaponry being transferred. We have continued to reiterate our strong concerns to the Syrian and Lebanese authorities and we have made clear that they need to be taking steps that reduce the risk and danger of conflict, not taking steps that increase it.
Mr. President, the United States has continued to emphasize to all relevant parties the importance of implementing Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, which call for ending weapons smuggling into Lebanon and the disarmament of Hezbollah, among other things. We remain committed to supporting Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, and working to strengthen our partners in the Lebanese government and armed forces.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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