Thank you, Mr. President. It’s an honor to have you, Minister Hoyer, preside over the Council. And thank you Special Coordinator Serry for your briefing today.
Mr. President, the United States is committed to a just and fair resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last May President Obama outlined a comprehensive vision for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He noted that “At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.” The President’s remarks laid out a firm foundation for future negotiations, and these remarks have been strongly supported by the international community.
My government has been clear all along. The only place where permanent status issues can be resolved, including borders and territory, is in negotiations between the parties—not in international fora such as the United Nations.
Mr. President, we must all ensure that our actions help move peace efforts forward. So our focus has been on encouraging direct engagement by the parties on the basis of President Obama's remarks.
We are also continuing our support for the Palestinian Authority's important efforts to strengthen the Palestinian economy, enhance the capability and professionalism of its security forces, and build up the necessary institutions of statehood.
But, as President Obama has made clear, Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity for their people if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. Palestinian leaders must also take further steps to combat incitement to violence. And Hamas must immediately and unconditionally release Gilad Shalit, who has now suffered in captivity for more than five years.
Mr. President, today is our last open debate on the Middle East before the opening of the next UN General Assembly. Let there be no doubt: symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September will not create an independent Palestinian state. The United States will not support unilateral campaigns at the United Nations in September or any other time.
A viable and sustainable peace agreement can only be achieved by mutual agreement of the parties themselves. Only through serious and responsible negotiations can the parties achieve the shared goal of two states for two peoples, with a secure, Jewish state of Israel living side by side in peace and security with an independent, contiguous, and viable state of Palestine.
This is the goal. This is the vision. But there are no short-cuts. We call again on all member states to encourage the parties to take the constructive actions to promote peace—and to avoid actions that could undermine trust, prejudge negotiations, or place the temptations of symbolism over the hard work of reaching agreement.
Let me also reiterate that, like every U.S. administration for decades, we do not accept legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. The fate of existing settlements must be dealt with by the parties, along with other permanent-status issues. And Israel should continue its efforts to deter and prosecute anti-Palestinian violence perpetrated by extremists.
Mr. President, let me turn briefly to the situation in Gaza.
The recent seizures of advanced weaponry bound for Gaza, as well as the recent and alarming rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from Gaza, should remind us all that Israel continues to have clear and legitimate security interests regarding cargo bound for Gaza.
While Israel has eased restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, more needs to be done. Ordinary Gazans still have very real humanitarian needs. So we are working closely with Israel, the international donor community, and the Palestinian Authority to deliver critical assistance to the people of Gaza. We continue to urge those who wish to deliver assistance to use established channels to ensure that Israel's legitimate security needs are addressed while the Palestinians' humanitarian needs are met.
Mr. President, let me say a few words about the ongoing crisis in Syria. The world has been inspired by the courage of the peaceful protestors who have taken to the streets across the country to demand their universal rights. The regime has responded with violence, brutality, and mass arrests.
But Syria is clearly headed toward a new political order, shaped by the Syrian people, in which the government will derive its legitimacy from the consent of the governed. A transition to democracy is already underway. President Asad may try to delay this transition, but he cannot stop it, and Syria can never return to the way it was before.
The United States fully supports the Syrian people's demands for a unified Syria with a democratic, representative, and inclusive government that respects basic liberties and provides equal protection under the law for all citizens, regardless of sect, ethnicity or gender. We call on the Syrian government to immediately stop the violence and the arrests and to allow for peaceful protests and freedom of speech. Human rights abuses must end now, and human rights monitors must immediately be granted access to all of Syria. We again call on the Syrian government to permit access to the Fact Finding Mission called for by the UN Human Rights Council in April.
Mr. President the Security Council has a responsibility, to address the situation in Syria and the government's ongoing repression, which could further destabilize Syria and undermine peace and security in the region.
Finally, Mr. President, let me say a word about Lebanon. We hope that Lebanon’s new government will live up to all of its international obligations, including the full implementation of Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701, as well as uphold Lebanon's commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
In particular, we call on the Government of Lebanon to continue to meet its obligations under international law to support the Tribunal. Lebanon's independent judicial proceedings offer the nation a chance to move beyond its long history of political violence and achieve the peace and stability that the Lebanese people deserve. Those who oppose the Special Tribunal seek to create a false choice between justice and stability. Lebanon, like every other country, deserves both.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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