Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Special Coordinator Serry, for your briefing.
Mr. President, the terrorist attacks in the desert of Algeria, the threat posed by Iran and its nuclear program, the internal challenges with which Arab societies today are grappling to make their governments more democratic and more responsive to the needs of their people, all make the Middle East a region that must command our enduring attention and active engagement. Today, I will focus on the Palestinian question and the Syrian crisis.
The current financial crisis in the Palestinian territories is severe, and recent news of Saudi Arabia’s generous $100 million donation to the Palestinian Authority is welcome. We have made enormous investments to the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people that we wish to be sustained, including through the immediate resumption of regular clearance revenue transfers. Over the years, no government has invested more in assistance to the Palestinians than the United States. We remain committed to supporting the Palestinian people.
Yet, as we all know, the November 29, 2012 vote in the General Assembly has not brought the Palestinians any closer to our common goal of achieving a state. As we have said repeatedly, the only way to establish a real Palestinian state is through the painstaking work of direct negotiations on final status issues, without preconditions, between the Israelis and Palestinians. UNGA Resolution 67/19 cannot be viewed as establishing terms of reference or as prejudging any final status issues, notably with respect to territory. These are simply inescapable facts. Thus, the United States remains fully committed to direct negotiations, and we will continue to work vigorously toward that end. We are consulting with the parties and international partners on the way forward, and we are underscoring that every step taken must aim to reduce tensions and create a climate for peace. The Quartet envoys met earlier this month in Jordan to discuss the measures necessary to create a positive atmosphere conducive to future negotiations. This meeting followed U.S. Special Envoy David Hale’s engagement with Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, and Arab League leaders to advance Middle East peace and security – including by maintaining and strengthening the Gaza cease-fire.
Throughout our engagement, we have reiterated our longstanding opposition to Israel’s West Bank settlement activity, as well as construction in East Jerusalem, which run counter to the cause of peace. Construction in the E-1 area would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution, and we have urged Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and to exercise restraint. For decades, the United States has not accepted the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, and we oppose any efforts to legalize outposts. We will continue to urge leaders on both sides to avoid unilateral steps and provocations that make peace negotiations harder to resume.
The position of the United States regarding Palestinian status, including as reflected in our explanation of vote in connection with the adoption of General Assembly resolution 67/19, remains unchanged. The United States does not consider UNGA resolution 67/19 as bestowing Palestinian “statehood” or recognition. Only direct negotiations to settle final status issues will lead to this outcome. Therefore, in our view, any reference to the “State of Palestine” in the United Nations, including the use of the term “State of Palestine” on the placard in the Security Council or the use of the term “State of Palestine” in the invitation to this meeting or other arrangements for participation in this meeting, do not reflect acquiescence that “Palestine” is a state. This statement of our position shall apply to Palestinian participation in meetings of United Nations Security Council or in other UN meetings, regardless of whether the United States specifically intervenes on this matter in the future.
Mr. President, let me now turn to Syria, where the situation is dire and deteriorating. We have seen a sharp increase in indiscriminate attacks in the last month. In a small village outside of Homs, regime militia reportedly killed over 100 people last week, including entire families and numerous children. The regime’s airstrikes near the University of Aleppo killed 87, and attacks on health clinics and hospitals across the country have made it impossible for wounded civilians to seek help.
In the face of these mounting atrocities, we reiterate our utter condemnation of any attack directed against unarmed civilians. At all levels, those responsible for atrocities – no matter their allegiance – will be identified and held accountable. As the transition proceeds, we stand ready to assist Syria’s new leaders in their efforts to address issues of accountability and reconciliation. For this purpose, the United States will continue to support Syrian and international efforts to document evidence of atrocities committed by all sides for use in future accountability processes. The international community should also play a role in ensuring that any future domestic accountability processes have the expertise they need to meet international standards.
On the political and diplomatic front, I underscore my government’s strong support and gratitude for Joint Special Representative Brahimi’s efforts to find a durable solution to this crisis. Every member of this Council knows that a political transition would be the fastest and most effective way to end this horrific bloodshed. Thus, the United States will continue to engage with our partners both on and off this Council to support a meaningful political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. In this regard, I reaffirm our commitment to the principles outlined in the Geneva Communiqué, including a transitional body with full executive powers, formed on the basis of mutual consent.
At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to support the Syrian Opposition Coalition as it works toward a more unified opposition that is able to start addressing the needs of the Syrian people now. We are supporting the Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit so that increased assistance gets to local councils providing basic services. In addition to over $210 million in humanitarian assistance, the United States has contributed over $50 million to bolster Syrian civil society, including its emerging leaders, to help them communicate, organize and prepare for an eventual political transition.
The burden is on all of us to help the millions of people displaced and in urgent need of life-saving assistance. There is no doubt that the tireless work of many UN agencies to deliver such aid, including UNRWA’s support for Palestinian refugees, has saved countless lives. We look forward to the UN’s pledging conference in Kuwait on January 30, and encourage states to increase their contributions to the two combined UN appeals. We also encourage UN agencies and donors to seek more opportunities for cross-border assistance to help Syrians in under-served areas and to work with the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit to respond to needs on the ground.
We will continue helping Syria’s neighbors – including Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan– to respond to the influx of refugees. We appreciate their generosity in affording shelter and services to nearly 630,000 refugees, a number sure to rise so long as Assad’s forces continue their assault. We commend the Lebanese government’s recent approval of a refugee response plan and encourage all neighboring governments to maintain open borders to those fleeing Assad’s brutality.
Difficult days lie ahead, especially so long as Assad remains in power. We continue to support all Syrians within and outside the government who aim to bring an end to the bloody Assad regime and build a democratic and unified Syria in which the rule of law is respected. And we will continue to seek the valuable contributions of the international community towards this end.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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