FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Under Secretary-General Pascoe, for your briefing today.
The United States remains deeply committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict agreed to by the parties. As President Obama said after his recent meeting with Israeli President Peres, “With the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it is more urgent than ever that we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”
We continue to consult with the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as to work with the Quartet and our partners in the region, toward our shared goal of a two-state solution. Negotiations between the parties remain the only path to a solution that resolves all issues 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.
In this regard, let me say a word about settlements. Like every U.S. administration for decades, we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. We have long urged both parties to avoid actions, including in Jerusalem, that could undermine trust or prejudge negotiations. The fate of existing settlements must be dealt with by the parties, along with the other permanent-status issues.
We will continue to work with the Palestinian people as they lay the foundations for a future Palestinian state. At the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in Brussels on April 13, the United States welcomed the progress the Palestinian Authority has made on the crucial task of building public institutions, capacities, and improving conditions for economic growth. We also underscored the importance of moving forward on the other track: political negotiations that will result in a future Palestinian state. Palestinians deserve the dignity and justice of a state of their own and the freedom to chart their own destiny. And Israelis deserve to live in security, at peace with their neighbors, and confident in their future.
Mr. President, we condemn, in the strongest possible terms, recent attacks on innocent civilians. We are deeply concerned by the escalation of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza into southern Israel. We are particularly disturbed by reports indicating the increased use of advanced weaponry, including rockets, in attacks against Israeli civilians. After enduring dozens of rocket attacks on civilian targets in southern Israel—including the deeply disturbing use of an advanced anti-tank missile in a fatal attack on a yellow school bus—Israel responded by exercising its inalienable right to self-defense.
We must work together to stop Hamas and other violent extremists from launching terrorist attacks and bringing increased misery to the people of Gaza. Let there be no doubt: there is no justification for targeting innocent civilians, and those responsible for these terrorist acts must be held accountable. We also call again on Hamas to immediately release the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, abducted and held by Hamas since 2006.
The United States remains concerned about conditions in Gaza. We note that the humanitarian situation has improved over the last year, including increases in the range and scope of goods and materials moving in, an increase in international reconstruction activity, and a gradual expansion of exports. We will continue to work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and others to do more to ensure that the people of Gaza’s needs are being met. That includes increasing the flow of commercial goods and construction supplies—while taking appropriate measures to ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands.
Mr. President, we strongly condemn Iran’s recent attempts to export advanced weapons and munitions in violation of several Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1747. The interception of Iranian weapons in Turkey, along the Egyptian-Sudanese border, and aboard the M/V Victoria, which was carrying sophisticated anti-ship cruise missiles and other munitions, all clearly demonstrate that Iran is trying to flout this Council’s will—dramatically increasing the risks of conflict and instability in the region. We urge all member states to make clear to Iran the consequences for regional security of its reckless behavior. All countries have obligations under Security Council resolutions to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition.
We are also deeply concerned about reports that groups are organizing another flotilla that will attempt to sail to Gaza, ostensibly to deliver humanitarian assistance. The recent seizures of advanced weaponry underscore that Israel has clear security interests regarding cargo bound for Gaza. There are existing mechanisms to deliver goods to Gaza, and there is no justification for attempts to sail directly to Gaza. We therefore urge strongly all those who wish to deliver goods and assistance to Gaza to do so through existing mechanisms and avoid any provocative actions. This will ensure that the Palestinians’ humanitarian needs are addressed and Israel’s legitimate security needs are met. We also urge all member states to reinforce this message with their nationals and organizations and to use every legal means at their disposal to discourage additional flotillas to Gaza.
Mr. President, as colleagues know, the Goldstone Report is back in the news. We have long said the issues it raised should be resolved through credible domestic investigations and follow-up. Israel has the democratic institutions and ability to carry out serious investigations—and is doing so. Justice Goldstone recently concluded that Israel has undertaken an appropriate review process and made changes in its combat doctrine. As we made clear when the Goldstone Report was first presented, we did not see evidence that the Israeli government intentionally targeted civilians. Justice Goldstone has now reached the same conclusion. He also concluded that Hamas has “done nothing” to investigate the “allegations of its war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.” The United States urges the United Nations to end, once and for all, its actions in relation to the Goldstone Report.
Mr. President, let me now turn to Lebanon. We continue to urge that Lebanon’s constitutional process be followed as it forms its next government, and we encourage all parties to avoid threats or other actions that could cause instability in Lebanon and the region. This Council and the international community as a whole must remain firm in their support for Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, resolute in their commitment to all Security Council resolutions related to Lebanon, and vigilant to threats to international peace and security. We likewise continue to support the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and we reiterate our call for all parties to refrain from any interference or attempts to influence its work.
The United States is pleased that during the April 14 incident along the Blue Line, both parties demonstrated restraint, and UNIFIL immediately dispatched patrols to defuse tension and prevent escalation. We continue to urge both parties to cooperate with UNIFIL in swiftly marking the entire Blue Line to help prevent such incidents. The parties must respect the Blue Line in its entirety.
Mr. President, we are deeply concerned by continuing violence and arrests in Syria, where the government’s brutal crackdown on political protests has already resulted in more than 200 deaths and hundreds of arbitrary arrests, according to credible human rights organizations. We are particularly disturbed by reports that medical personnel have been targeted when attempting to help people injured at the hands of their own government and by reports that the injured fear seeking medical attention at hospitals due to the presence of Syrian secret police. We urge the Syrian government to allow foreign media, diplomats, and human rights organizations to independently verify humanitarian conditions throughout all of Syria. Finally, we urge the Syrian government to respect the human rights of its people and to implement meaningful political reforms that meet their legitimate aspirations.
Let me close, Mr. President, by restating my government’s deeply held commitment to promoting and protecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, in the region and around the world, including freedom of expression and association. We demand accountability wherever these freedoms are violated. We urge all governments to create an environment where journalists can carry out their work free from fear and intimidation. We call on all governments to protect civilians, not to attack them—and to respect their citizens’ rights to peaceful assembly and free expression.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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