UN Security Council: The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question

  • Murray McCully
Foreign Affairs

It is deeply disappointing to have to acknowledge that the comments I am about to make, and that others will make today, could have been made with equal force and relevance at any time in the last two and a half years since negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were suspended. 

We all express dismay and outrage about the violence affecting ordinary Israelis and Palestinians; and yet innocent lives continue to be lost.

We all condemn settlements; and yet they continue to expand.

We repeatedly encourage both sides to compromise and find a road to peace; and yet angry rhetoric and incitement prevail.

The international community does what it can to support the parties in resuming negotiations; and yet despite the best efforts of a range of players, we are no closer to a solution. 

We all proclaim our firm commitment to the two-state solution as the only viable option; and yet this Council remains a spectator as the two-state outcome erodes.

There have been some positive developments, such as this week’s agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resolve the Palestinians’ debt to the Israel Electricity Corporation.

But the picture painted by the Secretary-General in his briefing should alarm all of us.

New Zealand regards itself as a friend to both Israelis and Palestinians.

We are not a part of this troubled region.

We have no baggage, no vested interests.

We try hard to bring a fair and balanced perspective to this complex and difficult topic.

And today we say to both parties that they are falling seriously short of the expectations of the international community; that it is time for them to step back and think again about what they need to do to keep the prospect of a negotiated two state solution alive.

And it is time the Security Council and the international community told them so, and resolved to take practical steps to help them on their way.

Recent developments with respect to Israeli settlements are of particular concern. The announcement on 31 August of approvals for a further 463 housing units on the West Bank, including 284 new units, is at odds with Israel’s stated commitment to talk with the Palestinians and reach an agreement.

So far this year, plans for 2,623 settlement units have been advanced, including the retrospective legalisation of 756 units.

No amount of spin can hide the fact that these actions are a violation of Israel’s international obligations, and have profoundly negative implications for the peace process.

The Palestinian side too has fallen short of the expectations we should all have.

Violence against Israeli citizens continues to be condoned.

The first local elections in a decade - a chance to mend fences and renew mandates – seem to have been postponed.

Reconciliation has been placed on the back burner.

And rockets from Gaza continue to target Israeli towns and cities.

The result of these developments is that the two state solution - the vision and goal of this Council for newly 50 years, is close to becoming a shattered dream.

For those in Israel who think that this does not matter, who think that time is their friend, I urge them to think again.

If the prospect of a two state solution is shattered by this negative trajectory of events, international attention will shift to the two standards of citizenship that exist in the single state that remains.

No friend of Israel wishes to see such an outcome.

So today I say to colleagues on the Security Council: time is running out.

It has been eight long years since this Council passed a resolution on this issue.

History and the international community will not judge us well.

So it is time for us to ask more of each of each of the parties, to require that they face up to their responsibilities and to ask more of this body that is charged with maintaining international peace and security.

While we welcome other efforts to bring about an improvement to this negative cycle, New Zealand believes the Quartet remains the body best placed to harness the efforts of other parties, and to report to and give advice to this Council.

In this respect we note with concern yesterday’s reports that Israel’s Defence Minister has placed a boycott on Special Coordinator Mladenov. This action, reportedly taken in response to the Special Coordinator doing the job we have all asked him to do is deeply counter-productive.

It was seriously disappointing that the recent report of the Quartet was subject to such significant delays, and that when it arrived, its recommendations were not adopted as a basis for further Council engagement.