Home > covid-19, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, statement, UN > Some parting thoughts as I leave the post of #UN Special Coordinator for the #MiddleEast Peace Process

Some parting thoughts as I leave the post of #UN Special Coordinator for the #MiddleEast Peace Process


Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs have lived with conflict for too long. The painful reality of their struggle has affected every single family for generations. Loss and displacement is part of the personal history of every single household. Palestinians have been upended from their homes, forced to seek refuge across the region. Jews have been upended from across the region, forced to seek refuge in Israel. This conflict is not just a conflict over land, for both peoples have the right to call Israel and Palestine their home. It is not only a conflict over history – personal and collective.

It is a conflict over the very right of two nations to co-exist.

In 1994, the leaders of Israel and the PLO agreed on something that has rarely been done in the troubled history of the Middle East – they agreed to end the conflict not through war, not by declaring one side a winner and the other side a loser, but through peaceful negotiations. Surely that was not an easy decision. It was a decision that faced opposition from all sides. Yet it was a decision that was so bold, so visionary, so fragile that the international community came together immediately to protect it, to nurture it and to help them advance it. 

Sadly, today that vision remains unachieved. It is a vision that has been marred by intifadas, continuing occupation and rapidly diminishing will to reach an agreement that is just and sustainable. Over the course of the past five years, I have met almost no Palestinian who doesn’t believe that negotiations are only a façade for the loss of more land. Neither have I met an Israeli who does not believe that every round of negotiations will lead to more violence and terror. 

My Security Council briefings serve as a testament to the situation on the ground.

As I depart from this office, I remain firmly convinced that the world cannot leave the situation unattended. The UN Security Council has over the years passed a set of resolutions speaking to key aspects of how the conflict can be resolved. Bilateral agreements have been signed and ratified. The Middle East Quartet has been created. In the last two years, the U.S. has put forward a vision, albeit different from the broad consensus in this Council. Despite the differences, no one in the international community has questioned the foundation that any resolution of the conflict must be based on two-States, with the appropriate security and economic arrangements, achieved through direct negotiations and facilitated by the international community.

For all our collective efforts, the only way forward out of the one-State reality that we increasingly face on the ground is through engagement between the parties and not through violence. 

Perhaps today is not the time for big international initiatives, but the time for steps – maybe small, sometimes maybe bold — that protect that goal of two-States, side by side in peace and security, and create the conditions for agreement. 

Perhaps today is not the time for grandstanding or symbolic victories.

Perhaps today is the time to admit that both Israelis and Palestinians must look inwards and see what they can do, both in coordination and independently of one another, to protect the goal of sustainable peace. In 2016, the UN, together with its partners in the Middle East Quartet, produced a joint report on what some of these steps may be. I encourage you to look at that report again as its recommendations remain valid.  

Perhaps today is the time to admit that there are real opportunities for agreement, ones that come from the fact that we face a global COVID-19 pandemic, that we all need to work together to protect our societies from radicalization, religious extremism and economic implosion and to build on the new opportunities created by the Abraham Accords in the region. 

It is not going to be easy, in fact it will be very, very hard, painstaking work to stitch back together what is necessary to allow the leaders on both sides to engage in a meaningful process.

Yet for all the goodwill in the world that the Palestinian and Israeli people can count on, rekindling the hope that the conflict can be resolved through peaceful negotiation cannot be imposed from the outside. It must come from within, from both peoples and from their freely elected leaders. 

In the absence of meaningful negotiations, I have worked on upholding the international consensus that the goal is of a two-State solution, I have warned of the dangers of the eroding status quo, supported intra-Palestinian reconciliation efforts, and, most of all, focused on preventive diplomacy. Together with Egypt, and with critical support from Qatar and others in the international community, the United Nations has played a pivotal role in preventing another devastating war in Gaza. 

I have spoken out against injustices. I have condemned terror.

I firmly believe that the goal of a just and lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples remains achievable through negotiations that can be mediated by the Middle East Quartet and critical Arab partners.

I would like to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, their Governments, their civil servants and all interlocutors in Israel and Palestine for their open engagement with the United Nations. Surely on many occasions we have not seen eye-to-eye, however, their openness and willingness to engage has helped put the UN, in a unique position to mediate and talk to all sides of the conflict.

I want to thank the Security Council for their relentless engagement and support to our work and to the Secretary-General and the services of the Secretariat for their steadfast guidance.

Finally, I want to thank my colleagues at UNSCO for their outstanding professionalism and friendship.

UNSCO is in an excellent position to deal with the challenges of the future and to use the opportunities presented to advance the goal of a just and lasting peace on the basis of two States, in line with UN resolutions. In January, my successor Tor Wennesland should take over this mission. He is one of the most capable diplomats I have ever worked with. I wish him every success in the years ahead and hope that you will extend to him your full support, as you have done to me.

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