The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question
- Middle East
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by H.E. Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you for convening this debate. Middle East issues remain at the vortex of global concerns. Thank you also to Under-Secretary-General Pascoe for his briefing.
Australia – like all of us – shares the world's frustration with the lack of progress in the Middle East Peace Process. Oslo was 1993. The historic Arab Peace Initiative 2002 – ten years ago. Like many, we welcomed the Quartet statement of 23 September last year but progress is stagnant. We applaud the efforts of King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Judeh of Jordan to kick-start direct dialogue. And we encourage them to continue – despite the obstacles.
We also welcome the meeting last week in Jerusalem between the senior Palestinian delegation led by Chief Negotiator Erekat and Prime Minister Netanyahu. And Mr Netanyahu's commitment to respond within two weeks to the letter delivered to him from President Abbas. We share the hope expressed by Under-Secretary-General Pascoe this morning that this exchange of letters will provide an opening for peace. But we have to recognise that the window is closing very quickly. Closing on achieving the Palestinian right to self-determination. Closing on the best prospect for Israel's long-term security.
As the Quartet noted in its statement on 11 April, the situation on the ground is increasingly fragile. The Quartet has repeatedly called upon the parties to refrain from unilateral or provocative actions which prejudge the outcome of negotiations. But Israeli settlement activity remains a very serious concern. Australia has consistently called for this activity to cease. Our Foreign Minister did so again, on 10 April. Settlements are directly corroding the viability of a two-State solution.
Australia calls on both sides to comply with their obligations under the Quartet's roadmap for peace and to refrain from actions which are counter-productive to the peace process.
It is also imperative that violence of any kind targeting civilians – including rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza – must stop. But – while recognising Israel's legitimate security concerns – more must be done, and quickly, to ease the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Australia is greatly concerned that if direct negotiations do not commence soon, the prospects for peace will simply disappear. An early resumption of direct talks – on the basis of the 1967 boundaries with agreed land swaps – is needed urgently. And we encourage both sides to resume talks on this basis.
We also call on international and regional donors to continue to assist the Palestinian Authority to ensure its financial viability, even during times of tight global financial circumstances. While recognising that economic assistance alone will not be enough to bring peace, it is essential that the decisive gains made in building Palestinian institutions are not reversed if we are genuine about a Palestinian state.
We admire the efforts of the Palestinian leadership to create a strong base for statehood. And Australia will continue supporting the Palestinians in these efforts, including through our multi-year partnership agreement signed last year. We will also soon sign a new multi-year partnership with UNRWA with increased funding.
We all know that we are living through a period of historic change in the Middle East. The result has been new political space. But the stagnation in the Middle East Peace Process between Israeli and Palestine is not sustainable. We must prevent a two-state solution slipping away. There must be an immediate end to settlement expansion and the early resumption of direct talks.
Turning to the situation in Syria.
We welcome the Council's unanimous support, through Resolution 2043 to deploy a UN observer mission to monitor a ceasefire and to support the full implementation of Special Envoy Annan's six point plan. It is essential that we continue to speak with one voice against the serious atrocities we have been witnessing.
But we must be hard-headed. The Syrian Government has yet to implement its obligations regarding the actions of its troops and the removal of heavy weapons. Violence continues and too little progress has been made on the ground. Denial of humanitarian access is unacceptable.
We urge Syria in the strongest terms to ensure the effective operation of the mission and urge all parties to honour the ceasefire.
We must also be concerned about the approximately 40,000 Syrians who have fled to neighbouring countries. Australia will continue to play a practical role in helping to meet the immediate needs of the Syrian people and in neighbouring countries including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. On 10 April, we announced that we would provide an additional $5 million to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and its neighbours – additional to the $6 million already provided through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Red Crescent.
The situation in Syria remains dangerous. The atrocities within the country are unacceptable. The regional implications are growing. The Council has unanimously recognised the need for it to remain very closely seized of how its own resolutions are being implemented – or not being implemented. This need is as compelling as it is obvious.