FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Under Secretary-General Pascoe, for your briefing today.
Mr. President, the United States remains committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is agreed to by the parties. We call on both parties to return to good-faith, direct negotiations, which remain the best path for the parties to reach a solution that resolves all issues, ends all claims, and establishes a sovereign state of Palestine alongside a secure state of Israel, as a key part of a comprehensive peace among Israel and all of its neighbors. There is no better alternative to reaching mutual agreement. The stakes are too high, the sorrows too deep, and the issues too complex.
Mr. President, U.S. policy on settlements has not changed and will not change. We believe that continued settlement expansion is corrosive—not only to peace efforts and the two-state solution—but to Israel’s future itself. The fate of existing settlements is an issue that must be dealt with by the parties, along with the other permanent-status issues—but, like every U.S. administration for decades, we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.
U.S. policy on Jerusalem also remains unchanged. The status of Jerusalem and all other permanent-status issues should be resolved through negotiations between the parties. The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply important issue for Israelis and Palestinians and for Jews, Muslims, and Christians around the world. We believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can agree to an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the world.
So we are very concerned about the start of demolition of the Shepherd’s Hotel in East Jerusalem and about reports that Israel will consider planning for 1,380 new units near Gilo. These disturbing developments undermine peace efforts to achieve the two-state solution and contradict the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties. We have long urged both parties to avoid actions, including in Jerusalem, that could undermine trust or prejudge negotiations.
Mr. President, ultimately, the lack of a resolution to this conflict harms Israel, harms the Palestinians, and harms the United States and the international community. We will continue to press ahead with the parties to resolve the core issues, including Jerusalem, in the context of a peace agreement.
As we have consistently said, permanent-status issues can be resolved only through negotiations between the parties—and not by recourse to the Security Council. We therefore consistently oppose attempts to take these issues to this Council and will continue to do so, because such action moves us no closer to the goal of a negotiated final settlement. Rather, we believe it would only complicate efforts to achieve that goal.
Mr. President, we are troubled by the violence in recent weeks involving civilians. We condemn continued and escalating incidents of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel. We must work together to stop Hamas and other violent extremists from launching terrorist attacks and bringing increased misery to the people of Gaza. And we once again call on Hamas to immediately release the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, abducted and held by Hamas since 2006.
Mr. President, we also call upon the Government of Israel to fully investigate the deaths of at least three Palestinian civilians in encounters with Israeli forces in the West Bank since January
We remain concerned about the situation in Gaza. The United States is working with the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and international partners to improve the lives of ordinary people there and to increase the flow of needed commercial goods and construction supplies—while taking appropriate measures to ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands. We are pleased with Israel’s decision to allow exports from Gaza, which will foster legitimate economic growth there. This is an important and overdue step, and we look forward to seeing it implemented soon. We also welcome the recent approvals of additional UN and international reconstruction projects for Gaza.
Mr. President, the United States remains convinced that peace in this troubled region is both necessary and possible. We will persist. We will push the parties to grapple with the core issues. As Secretary of State Clinton said in her speech to the Saban Forum in December, in the context of our private conversations with the parties, we will offer our own ideas and bridging proposals when appropriate. We will also work with the Palestinians to continue laying the foundations for a future Palestinian state. Israelis deserve to be able to live in security, at peace with their neighbors and confident in their future. And Palestinians deserve to have the dignity and justice of a state of their own and the freedom to chart their own destiny.
Mr. President, let me now turn to Lebanon. We echo the Secretary-General’s statement of support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and his call to all parties to refrain from any interference or influence in its work.
We welcome the recent announcement by the Prosecutor for the Tribunal that he has filed an indictment relating to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others. This represents an important step toward ending the era of impunity for political murder in Lebanon and achieving justice for the Lebanese people.
Mr. President, we urge that Lebanon’s constitutional process be followed in selecting its next government, and we encourage all parties to avoid threats or actions that could cause instability in Lebanon or the region. We urge this Council and the international community to remain firm in its support for Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, resolute in its commitment to all Security Council resolutions related to Lebanon, and vigilant to threats to international peace and security.
We commend the efforts of France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other key international and regional actors working to maintain calm in Lebanon and ensure that the Tribunal’s work continues unimpeded. We support French President Sarkozy’s intention to form a contact group to help resolve the political crisis in Lebanon. We support a political outcome that reduces tension and allows the Lebanese government to return to the business of the people, without undermining the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The Lebanese people should not have to choose between justice and stability. Like all nations, Lebanon deserves both.
Finally, Mr. President, let me say a few words about the situation in Tunisia, which is important for the Middle East as a whole. The United States stands with the entire international community in bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights that we must all uphold. We will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard. We urge all parties to maintain calm and avoid violence, and we call on the interim Tunisian government to respect human rights and to hold free and fair elections that reflect the true will and aspirations of the Tunisian people. The United States is prepared to assist the people and the interim government of Tunisia as they move toward these elections.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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