UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
24 April 2013
The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
Statement by H.E. Mr Gary Quinlan
Ambassador and Permanent Representative
of Australia to the United Nations
(Check against delivery)
Thank you Mr President.
And thank you to Under Secretary General Feltman for his briefing.
The deepening crisis around the conflict in Syria is rightly an overriding preoccupation. But we should not be deterred from the imperative of reinvigorating the peace process between Israel and Palestine. Australia remains firmly committed to a lasting resolution of this conflict.
Australia supports all efforts to achieve lasting security for Israel and the establishment of an independent and viable Palestinian state. Our view remains that a durable two-state solution will only be achieved through direct negotiations without preconditions, on the basis of the 1967 boundaries, and with agreed land swaps.
There is a window of opportunity to re-engage in the peace process. It is vital that this opportunity be seized.
Australia welcomes President Obama’s visit to the region in late March and the work being done by Secretary of State Kerry. United States leadership is crucial in bringing the two sides to the negotiating table.
President Obama set out his firm conviction that peace is not only necessary but achievable, through negotiations leading to two states for two peoples.
Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed his new government’s commitment to a peaceful two state solution – to sit down at the negotiating table without preconditions to work together to end the conflict.
President Abbas said the Palestinians were prepared to implement all their commitments and obligations.
We hope that these sincere declarations will quickly be translated into actions by all parties.
There are signs of a more conducive environment for Israelis and Palestinians to re-engage in direct negotiations.
We welcome the restraint shown by Israel following recent rocket attacks from Gaza; and urge all sides to abide by the November ceasefire.
We welcome the restraint shown by the Palestinian Authority in refraining from taking unilateral action in international forums. The path to Palestinian statehood does not lie through UN resolutions.
We are also encouraged that in recent months Israel has not announced further expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Illegal settlement activity directly undermines the prospects for peace and threatens the viability of a future Palestinian state.
But more needs to be done, by both Israel and the Palestinians.
Reports to the Ad-hoc Liaison Committee meeting in March painted a bleak picture of the Palestinian economy. If unaddressed, the fiscal crisis threatens to unravel much of the institution-building that has taken place these past 5 years.
Continuing donor support to Palestinian economic development is crucial; as is ongoing economic reform by the Palestinian Authority.
Australia regrets Prime Minister Fayyad’s resignation at this important juncture. I want to record the Australian Government’s appreciation for his role in building the institutional foundation for a future Palestinian state and his efforts in promoting economic development and driving reform. The Palestinian Authority must not allow his achievements to be lost.
We look to the Government of Israel to take immediate steps to ease restrictions towards a sustainable Palestinian economy. We welcome the resumption of tax transfers, but the clearance of tax revenues needs to be improved on a sustained basis. Prosperity in the Palestinian Territories is in the direct interest of the security of Israel, and of the region and we call on those countries in the region which are in the position to do so to provide further financial support to the Authority.
We urge the Palestinians to cease acts of violence against Israel, resolve their internal differences and unite for peace.
The ongoing stalemate in the peace process is not in the interests of Israel, the Palestinians, the region or the international community. It is past time, but still possible, for the stalemate to be broken.
Just as the stalemate in the peace process has implications for regional stability, so too does the deepening crisis in Syria, where the Palestinians are among those who are suffering from the conflict. There are around half a million Palestinians in Syria – many are now facing displacement and discrimination.
Like other Council members, Australia was chastened by last week’s briefings on the humanitarian and human rights situation in Syria by senior UN agency heads.
The situation in Syria is now at a tipping point. The scale of the humanitarian crisis, its impact on the Syrian people and its destabilising impact on its neighbours and the region, must be a decisive concern for the Council.
The disastrous state of medical services is just one example of the dimensions of the crisis – over half the hospitals badly damaged and a third no longer operational, medical staff not able to work. The protection of medical workers and facilities and access to them remains a key priority for Australia. We will continue to work to focus attention on this vital issue, to secure commitment from all sides to comply with international humanitarian law and to cease targeting medical workers and facilities.
The cost of further inaction is unbearable for the Syrian people. It is also unbearable for Syria’s neighbours – especially Lebanon and Jordan, but also Turkey and Iraq - who are facing destructive pressures from refugee flows, spill-overs of violence and cross-border violations. There were 3000 refugees a day in January, 5000 in February, 8000 in March. More today. Syrians account for almost one in four people in Lebanon and between one in five or six in Jordan. As the violence worsens, the effects become exponential. And the ability to cope collapses.
All parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, must cooperate fully with the UN and other humanitarian agencies, to allow access for aid organisations and to remove obstacles to the provision of humanitarian assistance. And as Under-Secretary-General Amos told the Council on 18 April, this needs to include cross-border access. The safety of all humanitarian personnel must be ensured.
We are deeply concerned that the UN appeals for Syria remain severely under-funded, and urge countries to follow through on their pledges from the International High-Level Pledging Conference in Kuwait.
In the face of this looming humanitarian catastrophe – and the direct threat to the security and stability of Syria’s neighbours – the Council must act decisively to meet its Charter responsibility to maintain peace and security and help end the conflict in Syria.
Mr Brahimi has made clear to the Council how it can support his efforts, including through building on the agreement reached by the Action Group in Geneva last June. It is well past time for the Council to respond to Mr Brahimi’s plea and act firmly so that a political solution can be realised and the crisis brought to an end.
We call on both the Syrian government and the opposition Syrian National Coalition to engage in meaningful dialogue for an orderly and inclusive transition towards a future Syria that is democratic and exercises the rule of law.
We urge the Syrian National Council and all opposition groups to respect international humanitarian law, to reach out to the women of Syria and to minority communities and to distance themselves emphatically from terrorist and extremist ideology that has no place in a future Syria.
Australia is concerned by the impact of the conflict on UNDOF operations in the Golan Heights and urges all parties to respect UNDOF’s mandate and the security of its personnel. We commend efforts by the Lebanese Armed Forces, in cooperation with UNIFIL, to maintain stability in the face of regional tensions and the ongoing presence of armed groups in Lebanon.
We remain seriously concerned over allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria and call on the Syrian government to allow immediate and unhindered access for the Secretary General’s investigation into all allegations. Should these allegations be substantiated, the Council must be prepared to respond swiftly and credibly.
In concluding, Mr President
We are now in the third year of the Syrian conflict. The Council simply cannot continue to fail to do what we all know we need to do to begin ending this catastrophic situation.