UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
23 January 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
Thank you for convening this debate. I would also like to thank Special Coordinator Robert Serry for his report.
So often we say that the situation between Israel and the Palestinians is at a crucial juncture – it often is. But we now seem to be facing a decisive stage. The status quo is self-evidently unsustainable. The prospect of a two-state solution is quickly disappearing. There is a particularly urgent need at this time for progress in the Middle East peace process. It is time for a new effort to resuscitate the peace process. But with a genuine focus on the objective: peace.
The conflict in Israel and Gaza last November highlighted again the fundamental risks to peace and security of allowing the status quo to continue.
Australia condemned the rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. We recognised Israel’s right to defend itself. We deeply regretted the civilian casualties, both Israeli and Palestinian, and the humanitarian impacts of the conflict.
Australia welcomed the ceasefire, and commended Egypt’s leadership role in brokering the agreement, with support from the United States, the Secretary-General and other regional countries.
It is critical for the effective implementation of the cease-fire that efforts to prevent the flow of weapons into Gaza are intensified. And while acknowledging that Israel has already taken some steps in this regard, there is an urgent need for a further relaxation of restrictions on the flow of lawful goods in to and out of Gaza, so that the Gazan econony can grow.
Of course, a ceasefire does not guarantee lasting peace. The only way to secure an enduring end to the conflict is for both Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations without preconditions towards a two-state solution.
The General Assembly resolution on the Palestinians’ status as a non-member state observer reflected international support for a future Palestinian state as well as the international community’s deep concern about the continuing stalemate on the ground.
Australia abstained on the resolution, reflecting both our support for a Palestinian state and our concern that the only way to achieve the reality of statehood for Palestinians is through direct negotiations.
Australia urged both Israel and the Palestinians not to exploit or overreact to the vote. Instead, actions by both sides must be in the interests of peace. Neither side should create obstacles to that objective.
Australia has therefore been deeply concerned by Israel’s decisions since the vote to expand settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Settlement activity undermines the prospects for peace. Settlements directly threaten the viability of a contiguous Palestinian state and hence a negotiated two-state solution. The recent announcements about zoning and planning in the ‘E1’ block were of particular concern, and took us further away from the path to peace. And we continue to be deeply concerned by instances of settler violence.
We also call on the Palestinian Authority to exercise restraint and avoid provocative actions at international forums. We urge the Palestinians to resolve their internal differences, unite for peace and cease acts of violence against Israel.
Australia wants to see a secure Israel living in peace alongside a viable Palestinian state.
Lasting security for Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state cannot be achieved by unilateral actions. They can be achieved only through negotiation of a two-state solution, on the basis of the 1967 boundaries, with agreed land swaps.
Australia calls on Israel and the Palestinians to return to direct negotiations, in good faith and prepared to make the compromises required by both sides to achieve an agreed outcome. We also call on both sides to refrain from further actions which undermine confidence and damage the prospects for negotiations to resume.
Australia recognises the critical funding shortfall currently facing the Palestinian Authority. Australia has made a five-year commitment - from 2011 to 2016 - to supporting the Authority, including through direct budget support. The effective functioning of the Authority is fundamental to stability in the region and we call on those countries which are in a position to do so to provide further financial support to the Authority. In this context it is also vital that tax transfers to the Authority are resumed.
The continuing stalemate in the Middle East peace process has implications for the region’s stability and economic development.
So too does the worsening conflict in Syria, which will soon enter into its third year.
The assessment from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier this month that the death toll from the conflict has reached 60,000 was truly shocking. It underlined the urgent need to end the violence and the appalling suffering of the Syrian people.
As a member of the Security Council, Australia will work with our colleagues and international partners to encourage a strong and unified response to bring about a process of political transition in Syria. In this context we continue to support the work of the Joint Special Representative of the UN and the Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, including his call for strong backing from the Security Council to enhance the prospects for transition. The Council needs to take a fresh look at how it can best support Mr Brahimi’s efforts – continued Council inaction will only condemn Syrians to further bloodshed and the region to greater instability.
President Assad has had many opportunities to take a different path and to end the brutality against his people. We have seen nothing from Damascus which would suggest that President Assad is willing to engage in meaningful negotiations with all parties in Syria. His speech on 6 January was not a step on the road to peace – it led down a cul-de-sac. He must step down now.
Australia joined more than 100 countries at the Friends of Syria meeting in Marrakesh in December in acknowledging the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
With this comes a heavy burden of responsibility for the National Coalition. Australia will work with partners to encourage the National Coalition to establish itself as a credible and responsible respresentative of the Syrian people and their aspirations. It is imperative that the National Coalition abide by the norms of international humanitarian law.
As I have said, the regional implications of this conflict are also serious, as seen in cross-border incidents in Turkey and the spill-over of violence in northern Lebanon. Australia acknowledges the burden borne by Syria’s neighbours in providing assistance to the thousands of civilians who have been displaced, and respects their generosity and assistance.
The humanitarian dimension of the conflict continues to worsen, increasing the need for international support, including through the current UN appeals. The meeting in Kuwait at the end of this month will be an opportunity to galvanise further support.
Australia is particularly concerned about securing respect for and adherence to principles of international humanitarian law and ensuring the safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel. In this context, we have advanced a humanitarian initiative for protecting medical facilities and workers in Syria. This is a major priority for Australia. We will continue to work with other countries to secure a commitment from all sides in the conflict not to target medical personnel, not to block access to doctors and hospitals and not to attack medical facilities.
As we approach the third year of the Syrian conflict, our collective efforts – both within the Council, and in the international community more broadly – must be directed towards an immediate end to the violence, the realisation of a political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of all of Syria’s citizens, ensuring accountability for the crimes being committed, and planning for post-conflict stabilisation assistance to help rebuild Syria. The UN will play a decisive role in this.
Thank you Mr President.