On March 7th I addressed the 71st session of the Foreign Minister’s Council of the League of Arab States in Cairo on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian Question.
I started by noting the unfaltering commitment of the League to supporting the Palestinian people in their rightful quest to put an end to a half-century of occupation and establish an independent state of their own.
Today, as the region faces challenges however, what is required is that all moderate forces work together against the common threat of extremism and terror. The Arab League has extended its hand through the Arab Peace Initiative. But true peace will remain elusive without the recognition that
both Palestinians and Israelis have legitimate national aspirations
that can only be realized in two states that live in peace, security and mutual recognition. That is why now is not the time to give up on the two-state solution. Unfortunately, it is being undermined not so much by statements, but by policies and actions. Settlement expansion, violence, and the absence of visionary leadership continue to define the conflict.
I spoke of the grim reality, the anger and the frustration on the ground. The adoption of the so-called “Regularisation Law”, which contravenes international law; legislative attempts to annex parts of the West Bank; a rise in the demolition of Palestinian structures and the situation in Gaza — all these developments eat away at the two-state solution, destroy hope and strengthen the hand of extremists.
Since the beginning of the year significant settlement moves have been made in the occupied West Bank. These have included tenders for around 800 units and the advancement of plans for over 3,300 units, some of which have reached the final approval stage. Construction has also been advanced in East Jerusalem.
I expressed my concern by continuing violence. So-called “lone wolf” attacks continue, though greatly reduced as compared to 2016. Clashes also continue and the UN has repeatedly warned that the use of force must be calibrated.
And I spoke about Gaza that for the last 10 years has remained under the control of Hamas. where after three brutal conflicts, Israel’s crippling closures and the decade-long political divide, two million Palestinians are trapped in a humanitarian tragedy. All this has convinced many that there is no hope for peace.
Much work remains as 50,000 Palestinians live in temporary shelters. The UN needs some USD 160 million for the reconstruction of nearly 4,000 totally destroyed homes in Gaza. Addressing chronic challenges, such as unemployment and access to basic services of water and energy, must remain a priority.
I used the meeting to once again call for the illicit arms build-up, militant activity and provocations to stop. They risk renewed escalation and further suffering for all.
Unfortunately these negative trends — settlement expansion, violence and the situation in Gaza, entrench a dangerous one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict. They must be urgently reversed.
We need a new approach to restore hope and create a political horizon.
In December, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2334 that reiterated some of the key obstacles to achieving a negotiated two-state solution. Later in January, at the Paris Conference, the international community reaffirmed its commitment to the two-state solution and to the need for follow up and international engagement. The Arab League engagement must also play its role in furthering these objectives. So must the parties.
Israel must demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution by ceasing illegal settlement activities and by implementing policy shifts consistent with prior agreements that increase Palestinian civil authority. Palestine must continue its state-building investment and tackle the challenges of violence and unity. Just days before the meeting the Palestinian government, civil society and the business community finalised an ambitious National Policy Agenda. This was an important step forward. Translating that vision into reality is critical to strengthening the foundations for a future Palestinian state and the UN stands ready to support it.
In closing I reminded everyone that resolutions and communiques alone are not enough. What is required is action. Action by the leaders themselves. Action by the international community and the region.