Thank you Mr President,
I will begin by welcoming the briefing from the Secretary-General. As this will probably be your last public session on this issue, Secretary-General, I want to thank you for your unrelenting activism on the Middle East Peace Process. It has been a difficult, and at most times frustrating, portfolio, but you have not wavered in your resolve to bring a conclusion to what is one of the longest running issues on this Council’s agenda. I agree with every word that you have said in your briefing just now.
But it is perhaps with your successor in mind that I want to talk today. He faces a challenge on which we – in the broadest possible sense – have failed for over 60 years.
So what can we do, as the Security Council, to make sure that the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations doesn’t endure the frustrations of his predecessors? What can we do together to ensure that the people of Israel and Palestine enjoy decades of peace ahead, rather than relapse into the decades of division and hatred?
I want to focus on three issues where our activism is needed most; illegal settlements, Gaza, and tackling incitement and violence.
The UK’s position on settlements is clear. It’s a position shared by all of us around this table I think. Settlements are illegal under international law, and take us further away from the two-state solution that we all want to see.
Despite the findings of the Quartet report this year, the situation has only got worse. Like the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, we are especially concerned by the land regulation bill in the Knesset, which would retroactively legalise settlement outposts in the West Bank. Should this proposal go ahead, it would be a serious blow to the prospects for a two-state solution. It would pave the way for an exponential rise in settlements deep in the West Bank, creating more grievances, more hopelessness, more anger amongst Palestinians.
The United Kingdom regularly raises settlements with Israel at all levels. The Foreign Secretary raised it when he met Prime Minister Netanyahu on 30 September. But we should use the voice of this Council to also make this call, to urge Israel to cease its policy of settlement expansion, to lift this grave barrier to peace.
Turning to Gaza, it’s clear that there is a real risk of a return to conflict. As we saw in October, rocket attacks have continued, as have the Israeli’s response. We should speak loudly and clearly in this chamber; terrorist groups in Gaza must permanently end rocket fire and other attacks against Israel.
But the woes of Gaza go beyond the unacceptable acts of these groups. It’s estimated that 90% of Gaza’s water is not fit even for agricultural use, and Gaza continues to have the highest unemployment rates in the world.
Some progress is being made; education and health facilities are now largely rebuilt. But reconstruction is far from complete. Efforts need to focus on house rebuilding, and reviving the economy, stimulating exports, creating jobs. So we encourage the Israeli authorities to improve Gazans’ access to clean water and to improve the flow of necessary materials into Gaza, such as concrete.
In tandem, let us recognise that our support is needed too. Donors must honour their commitments made at the Cairo conference. Too many are still outstanding. The UK stands ready to play our part.
Turning to my third point, we are pleased to see that levels of violence have dropped in recent months. But again there is much for both parties to do to de-escalate tensions and prevent incitement.
We cannot underestimate just how corrosive, racist, anti-Semitic and hateful language is in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Together we must deplore incitement on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including any comments that stir up hatred and prejudice.
Sadly, such hatred is not limited to words alone. We’re appalled by terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. We’re appalled at violence by extremist settlers against Palestinians. We unequivocally condemn all such incidents.
Before I give up the floor, Mr President, I recognise that it will take more than this Council’s words to finally make progress on this issue. We need also to work with partners in the region and internationally to drive improvements on the ground and build trust between the parties, if we are to secure progress towards meaningful negotiations.
And with that in mind, it is incumbent on this Council to take appropriate action in support of these efforts. We believe that there is clear merit in a Council resolution which commands the full support of this chamber.
We will judge any proposal that emerges on its merits, and whether it supports progress towards peace. But there is a great deal that we all clearly agree on, and I hope that we can make progress towards a lasting peace in the days and weeks ahead.