New York, 22 February 2020
Photo: Twitter (@Portugal_UN)
Members of the Security Council,
I have the honour to speak on behalf of Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, United Kingdom and my own country Portugal. These 27 countries are all of them members of the European Union.
Peace and stability in the Middle East remains imperative for the peoples of the region and is in the fundamental and strategic interest of the European Union. The European Union's position remains unchanged and centred on our firm commitment to a just and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a negotiated two-state solution.
In particular, our goal is to fulfil the legitimate aspirations of both parties, including Israeli and Palestinian security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, end the occupation that began in 1967, and resolve all final status issues on the basis of international law, the internationally agreed parameters and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Ultimately, we want to see the State of Israel and a sovereign, independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security. Such an outcome is also in the interests of the parties themselves and would provide the basis for a democratic and prosperous future for Palestine and Israel alike.
The Middle East Peace Process remains at a stalemate, amidst continuing political uncertainty in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. At the same time, the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate, threatening the very viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a sustainable peace.
One area of concern is that of continuous Israeli settlement planning and construction: at the beginning of January this year, the Israeli authorities approved the advancement of almost two thousand additional units, including the retroactive approval of already existing constructions, some of which were built on private Palestinian land. This decision follows other settlement-related developments in recent months, including in particularly sensitive places such as East Jerusalem and Hebron.
The EU position on settlement policy is clear: Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and a development which threatens to make a two state solution impossible. The EU has also made clear that it will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties. We expect both parties, including any future Israeli or Palestinian government, to act in accordance with international law, and the Israeli authorities to fully meet their obligations as an occupying power under International Humanitarian Law, and to cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion. Moreover, calls for annexation have been made recently: annexation would constitute a serious violation of international law.
The EU is also closely following the continuing demolition and seizure of Palestinian-owned structures across the occupied West Bank, with recent months having seen a significant increase in such demolitions, notably in East Jerusalem, and with a significant number of these demolitions having also included humanitarian projects funded by the EU and its Member States. For its part, the EU remains strongly opposed to such demolitions, confiscations and forced transfers and evictions as well as other actions taken in the context of Israel's settlement policy.
Building strong, inclusive, accountable and functioning democratic Palestinian institutions based on respect for the rule of law and human rights is vital for the two-state solution. A strong, accountable, inclusive and functioning Palestinian government, based on respect for the rule of law and human rights is vital for the two-state solution. In this context, and taking note of the announcement made by President Abbas last September, the EU reiterates its call for a date to be set for the holding of elections in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in Gaza. These could represent an important building-block towards the reunification of the West Bank and Gaza as well as a positive step in terms of democratic legitimacy and accountability. The EU once again calls upon all Palestinian factions to unequivocally commit to democratic principles prior to such elections.
A further area of significant concern is that of the ongoing threat of violence, terrorist attacks against civilians and incitement to violence and hatred on both sides. We are concerned at reports of an increased number of attacks by settlers. The EU calls on Israel to fulfill its obligations, in line with its responsibilities as an occupying power, to protect Palestinians civilians and to ensure accountability for any human rights violations.
In Gaza, a serious escalation took place in November 2019, with over 450 rockets fired indiscriminately at Israel, while 34 Palestinians, including 8 children, were reported to have been killed as a result of strikes by the Israeli military. More broadly, the political and security situation in Gaza remains highly volatile, while the humanitarian situation and the suffering of ordinary people are also of deep concern. Last November's upsurge in violence reminds us that restoring a political horizon for peace remains as essential as ever. The EU reiterates its condemnation of the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians. The EU also continues to oppose and condemn all forms of terror, and firmly rejects any incitement to violence and hatred, which are fundamentally incompatible with advancing a peaceful two-state solution.
We once again call upon all parties to take urgent steps in line with Resolution 2334 leading to a fundamental change in the humanitarian, political, security and economic situation in Gaza, including through an end to the closure policy, full opening of the crossing points, and unimpeded access for humanitarian actors, while addressing Israel's legitimate security concerns. Such steps would also implement Resolution 2334 (2016) and would increase the chances for a two-state solution.
One of the fundamental parameters for peace in the Middle East is a just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue in accordance with international law. Until such agreement is found, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Near East (UNRWA) remains crucial for providing the necessary protection and essential services for Palestinian refugees, and we will continue to support UNRWA in all its fields of operations, including in East Jerusalem. It is of the utmost importance that UNRWA can continue to provide Palestinian refugees with the necessary protection and essential services. The work of UNRWA is also important for the stability of the region.
Progress towards a solution to this conflict, with an end to the occupation and on the basis of a two-state solution, can also have a positive impact on efforts to resolve other crises in the region.
In the absence of a renewed effort the situation is likely to worsen further in the period ahead. We reiterate our readiness to work with both parties and our partners in the region and the international community towards the resumption of meaningful negotiations to resolve all final status issues and to achieve a just and lasting peace.
Please allow me to turn to the situation in Syria.
The conflict is now in its ninth year and has led to the death of half a million Syrians and the displacement of half of the Syrian population. The conflict has also had profound repercussions on the overall stability of the Middle East and has provided fertile ground for the rise of the so-called ISIL/Da'esh.
The situation in Syria remains highly volatile.
The EU remains greatly concerned by the continued escalation of violence in north west Syria, and the devastating impact it is having on civilians. The ongoing regime offensive has led to over 1400 civilian deaths and has caused yet another wave of displacement affecting more than a million Syrians. Only days after the latest ceasefire announcement, we are seeing renewed attacks by the Syrian regime, including aerial strikes on Idlib, leading to numerous civilian casualties. The presence of UN-listed terrorist groups in the area is a common threat that has to be addressed. However, fighting these groups as authorised by the UN does not permit violations of international humanitarian law such as the targeting of civilians. The EU continues to call upon the Syrian regime and its allies to permanently cease indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling on civilians, and to respect international humanitarian law.
In north east Syria, volatility and insecurity persists following Turkey’s unilateral incursion in October 2019. The EU has firmly condemned this military operation which has caused renewed civilian suffering and further displacement, and has called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of Turkish forces. We welcome the significant reduction in fighting.
The incursion has threatened the progress achieved so far by the Global Coalition to defeat Da'esh and risks having a negative impact on the UN-facilitated political process in Geneva. The EU has on many occasions underlined that Turkey’s security concerns in north east Syria should be addressed through political and diplomatic means and in full accordance with international law and international humanitarian law.
Throughout last year we have witnessed persistent and grave violations of international law and human rights across Syria, a worsening of the humanitarian crisis and a growing risk of Da'esh resurgence. For those reasons the EU remains convinced that only a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition in line with UNSCR 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué can lead to sustainable peace and stability in Syria. In September 2019, the EU welcomed the establishment of the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned Constitutional Committee under UN auspices. Regrettably, the second round of meetings of the drafting committee in November was unable to agree on an agenda for the joint discussions and no progress could be reached. Furthermore, no third round was convened yet, largely due to preconditions requested by the Assad regime delegation, which are in clear violation of the Constitutional Committee’s rules of procedure. While the Constitutional Committee could serve as a door opener for a broader political process, all elements of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 are vital to achieving an inclusive political transition and must be implemented, including the release of detainees, a nationwide ceasefire, and the establishment of a safe and neutral environment in order for free and fair elections to be held under UN supervision.
As proven by so many years of war, we need to reiterate, once again, that there can be no military solution to the Syrian crisis. Europe will continue to maintain the Syrian crisis high on the agenda of the international community by promoting dialogue and mobilising international humanitarian support for the Syrian people. In this regard, we welcome the decision by the UN Security Council on 10 January to extend the authorization for cross-border humanitarian assistance to people in need in Syria. In light of the huge humanitarian needs in northern Syria, failure by the Council to agree on an extension would have had catastrophic consequences. However, the EU regrets the exclusion of the Yaroubia crossing point between Iraq and northeast Syria, where unmet needs persist on a large scale, and looks forward to the upcoming report by the Secretary-General on alternative modalities in order to ensure the delivery of critical medicine and medical equipment to northeast Syria. Meeting acute humanitarian needs requires sustained and predictable access and the Council must continue to act to safeguard the humanitarian needs of the people in need in Syria.
The EU will also continue to strongly support the UN Special Envoy's efforts to unblock the political process.
In accordance with UNSCR 2254, we will continue to promote a genuine political transition, to pave the way for free and fair elections, to support Syrian civil society, with a particular attention for women's equitable and meaningful engagement in the political process, to identify confidence-building measures between parties to the conflict, including on the issue of detainees and missing persons. Promoting accountability and justice and combating impunity remains a high priority for the EU, as fundamental part of any future process of national reconciliation in Syria. For this reason we reiterate our support for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) and welcome that the Mechanism will from 2020 onwards be financed in its entirety under the UN’s regular budget.
Our position on returns has not changed: as everywhere in the world, also in Syria we support the right of refugees and IDPs to safe, voluntary and dignified return, however, we consider that these conditions, as defined by UNHCR, are still not in place. We also wish to reiterate our well known position on reconstruction: we will be ready to assist in the reconstruction of Syria only when a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition, negotiated by the Syrian parties in the conflict on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015) and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué, is firmly under way. The EU also reiterated that it will not provide stabilisation or development assistance in areas where the rights of local populations are ignored or violated.
With this I conclude the statement of those 27 EU Member States and I thank you, Mr. President.