(Part 2) General Assembly: 68th Plenary Meeting (Middle East, Palestine)

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20-May-2021 01:15:53
Gaza children living in ‘hell on earth’ Secretary-General tells General Assembly, as calls for end to violence crescendo, news of Israel-Hamas ceasefire breaks.

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‘We Hope It Will Last,’ Egypt’s Representative Says, Citing Diplomatic Foray by Cairo, Calling for Swift Activation of Middle East Quartet

With the Security Council unable to respond to the worst round of fighting between Israel and the Palestinians in years, and as welcome news of a ceasefire agreement broke, speakers in the General Assembly today demanded an immediate halt to the violence and intensified efforts to restart peace talks that advance a two‑State solution to a conflict nearly as old as the United Nations itself.

The day-long special debate was convened by the President of the General Assembly following a request from the representatives of Niger and Algeria, in their capacities as Chairs of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab Group, respectively, in response to more than 10 days of deadly fighting in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

“If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza,” António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said in opening remarks. With every passing day, the risk that the violence could spread beyond Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory grows, he cautioned, calling on Israel to exercise maximum restraint and urging Hamas to stop the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars. Describing the Organization’s diplomatic efforts — alongside Egypt, Jordan and Qatar — to secure a ceasefire, he also called on Member States to support its humanitarian efforts in Gaza.

Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, echoed global calls for an immediate ceasefire and for swift action by the Security Council. He acknowledged that Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian lands, coupled with a political impasse, has led to widespread feelings of hopelessness among Palestinians. Civilians in Israel are also being impacted and he called on that Government to comply with the principle of proportionate use of force.

Riyad al-Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Observer State of Palestine, condemned Israel’s decision to break into one of the holiest places during the holiest month of Ramadan, during the holiest of nights of Al-Qadr. Israel’s criminal occupation has caused so much pain that the situation cannot be solved by a ceasefire. “Jerusalem is not for sale,” he insisted, as he reaffirmed the holy city’s cultural, legal and historical status.

Palestinians will not accept a peace process that “leaves Palestinians out” or attempts to “gift” Jerusalem to the occupier, he said. Israel, with its settlement activities, is seeking to displace forcibly Palestinian families from East Jerusalem to erase any Arab Palestinian presence in the city. To those who say that Israel has the right to defend itself, he asked: “How can an occupying Power have the right to defend itself when the people under occupation are deprived of the same right?” Israel’s Government does not believe in a two-State solution, he informed, and Member States should not acknowledge the illegal status created by its policies.

Israel’s representative said that “this is a war between Israel and Hamas, not Israel and Palestine,” adding that Hamas is an internationally designated jihadi terrorist organization. Quoting from its charter, he said that that Hamas is committed to the genocide of the Jewish people. Speakers who fail to condemn Hamas and who cannot distinguish between its war crimes and Israel’s legitimate right to self-defence are emboldening terrorist organizations, he stressed.

Hamas rockets are indiscriminate by design and have killed Jewish and Muslim Israelis, whereas Israel’s air strikes are precise and surgical, he said. A false moral equivalent is being drawn between Israel, which abides by international law, and a murderous terrorist organization with an ideology similar to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). Israel wants a ceasefire, but only after reducing the power of Hamas’s terrorist regime.

During the marathon debate, speaker after speaker called for an immediate ceasefire and reiterated their countries’ support for a two-State solution, with Israel and Palestine living in security side by side and East Jerusalem serving as the Palestinian capital. Many emphasized the humanitarian cost of the conflict on both sides, with some describing Gaza as the world’s biggest open-air prison. Speakers also voiced frustration at the Security Council’s lack of action.

Egypt’s representative took the rostrum as news of a ceasefire deal reached the Assembly in mid-afternoon, calling it the fruit of intensive efforts by Cairo and others. “We hope it will last,” he said. Looking ahead, he called for the swift activation of the Middle East Quartet and an international peace conference, under United Nations auspices, aimed at renewing negotiations for a Palestinian State with pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital.

The United States representative said that no country is working more urgently for peace in the Middle East than hers. Pointing to some 60 diplomatic meetings in recent days, including a telephone conversation between President Joseph R. Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, she said the Security Council has met four times in the last 10 days to discuss the situation. Israel now is now in a position to de-escalate hostilities, she said, reaffirming its right to protect itself and condemning Hamas’s rocket launches.

The Russian Federation’s delegate, emphasizing that events in the Middle East have a direct impact on his country’s security, said that there is no alternative to a political solution. “We have no further margin of error,” he said, adding that Moscow also favours activating the Quartet, starting with a ministerial meeting with regional participation that would seek to restore calm and build trust.

Iran’s representative said that, with the United States obstructing action by the Security Council, the Assembly — as the “collective conscience” of the international community, should condemn Israel’s military aggression and hold it accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The only path to peace, he said, lies in a referendum among all residents of Palestine — including Jews, Christians and Muslims — in which displaced Palestinians would also have a vote.

Ireland’s speaker, whose country is a non-permanent Security Council member, was among many who candidly laid bare their frustration that, despite four rounds of discussions, no pronouncement has been forthcoming from that organ. Ireland will keep working in the Council so that it might find a collective voice on this matter. “We cannot return to business as usual after this,” she said. On that front, Germany’s delegate pointed out that high-level German officials are facilitating discussions between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and that France presented a draft resolution to the Council on the need for a cessation of hostilities, protection of civilians and resumed negotiations.

Cuba’s delegate, meanwhile, blamed the Council’s failure on the repeated obstruction of the United States — “in complicit silence with Israel”. Turkey’s delegate suggested the establishment of an international protection force for Palestine.

Senegal’s delegate, in his capacity as Chair of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said Israelis and Palestinians, “as well as the region at large”, could be on the brink of a more dangerous conflict, with unthinkable consequences. Commending Egypt’s efforts to negotiate a ceasefire, he said “this is just a first step to stop the suffering on both sides”. Echoing that point, Venezuela’s representative accused Israel of orchestrating ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people. He described the fresh round of fighting as “a new phase in the colonial war against Palestine”.

Japan’s speaker, casting a spotlight on the humanitarian impact, said civilian facilities must be protected and aid permitted to reach the 2 million people of Gaza, while the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives likewise emphasized that the United Nations commitment to “every right, for every child” must include Palestinian children.

The Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, and expressed support for Israel’s right to self-defence, which must be exercised in a proportionate manner. He reiterated the bloc’s strong opposition to Israel's settlement policy, adding that, to achieve peace in the region, a political horizon must be created that can provide meaningful re-engagement between the parties, build confidence, improve living conditions and open the path towards relaunching the peace process. In that context, the holding of Palestinian elections, including in East Jerusalem, must be a priority, he emphasized.

Algeria’s representative, speaking for the Arab Group, said the Palestinian people’s only fault is their refusal to accept occupation. Impunity for the occupation must stop, he said, calling on the Secretary-General to declare a state of humanitarian emergency. “We have to start calling the occupation by its name,” he said, pointing to a chain of broken promises, from the Madrid Peace Conference and the Oslo Accords to dozens of Security Council resolutions and hundreds of Assembly texts.

Also speaking today were representatives of Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kuwait, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic Group), Comoros (on behalf of the African Group), Azerbaijan (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Mexico, Morocco, China, Niger, France, Lebanon, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Germany, Ecuador, Ireland, Sudan, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Malaysia, Guyana, Canada, New Zealand, Somalia, Mauritania, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Australia, Kenya, San Marino, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nepal, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Chile, Libya, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, South Africa, Malta, Peru, Italy, Republic of Korea, Albania, Luxembourg, Viet Nam, India, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Bolivia, Estonia, Czech Republic, Uruguay, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Guatemala, Liechtenstein, Slovakia and Brazil.

The Observer of the League of Arab States also spoke.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 24 May, to take action on a draft decision related to participation in its high-level meeting on HIV-AIDS, submitted by its President, and a draft resolution on peacekeeping put forward by its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization). The Assembly will resume its debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine, at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 25 May.

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