Statement by Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim at the UN Security Council Open Debate on "The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question", 24 January 2012

South Africa expresses its appreciation to Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez Taranco for his briefing to the Council. We thank the Permanent Observer of Palestine and the Permanent Representative of Israel for their statements.  My delegation associates itself with the statements to be delivered later today by the distinguished Representatives of Benin on behalf of the Africa Group and Egypt on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Excellencies,

The historical celebrations on 8 January 2012 in South Africa, which marked the 100 years of the existence of the African National Congress, the oldest modern liberation movement in Africa, were a stark reminder of the resilience of the human spirit.   In 1994, after decades of struggle for liberation, South Africa emerged from the scourge of apartheid to become an equal among the nations of the world. This year marks 45 years since the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel. Taking lessons from our own experience, we are certain that the Palestinians, with the assistance of the international community, will prevail in their quest for a viable state of their own. We should all play our part in fulfilling the aspirations of the Palestinian people, who have long yearned for freedom and continue to endure the harshness of Israeli occupation. 

In this regard, South Africa remains convinced that Palestine meets all the criteria for UN membership as set out in the UN Charter and deserves to become a full member of this organisation. 

Additionally, we must work towards a solution which maintains the right of Israel to exist and ensures long-term peace and stability for its people.

Excellencies,

We have come to the beginning of another year and yet peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis continues to be elusive. South Africa remains disappointed that since 23 September 2011, when the Quartet committed itself to assist the parties to make progress in the peace process, tangible progress is yet to be registered.

We appreciate the efforts of the Quartet over the last two months, in particular its facilitation of the meetings with the parties, albeit separately.  We also support the Quartet’s appeal urging the parties to begin direct negotiations immediately and without preconditions and to submit proposals on borders and security.  Palestine’s submission of proposals on these issues is emblematic of its commitment to the prompt and peaceful resolution of the conflict with its neighbour.  Conversely, Israel’s failure to comply in submitting proposals as required by the Quartet on the same issues is disappointing.

My delegation further welcomes the efforts of Jordan in its attempt to restart direct peace talks. We can only hope that these discussions will yield positive results and culminate in an earnest beginning of direct negotiations between the parties. 

Excellencies,

It is perhaps opportune that as the international community we ask ourselves some questions, namely:

  • Is it not time to assess the effectiveness of the Quartet model?
  • What more can the Security Council do to help the parties resume negotiations and find lasting peace?

What is of concern is that despite attempts to resuscitate the negotiations, the prospects for direct talks  seem non-existent, as the Israeli Government continues its acts of aggression, such as ongoing illegal settlement construction, home demolitions, illegal excavations of religious sites and restricting the access and movement of the Palestinian people.  It is worth noting that in the midst of attempts to reinvigorate the peace process, Israel has continued to issue tenders for new illegal settlements, including on 3 January 2012 - the same day deliberations between the parties began in Jordan. These illegal actions cast a shadow over the sincerity of Israel as a partner to peace, especially since settlements have led to a fragmentation of the West Bank and the isolation of Jerusalem from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories undermining the feasibility of a contiguous Palestinian state. 

These are antagonistic acts and make the reality of a two state solution, as called for by the international community, a distant if not a pipe dream. It is the Security Council’s responsibility to act against these actions, as they violate international law, including the resolutions of this Council.  The last time the Council attempted to take action on settlements was in February 2011, and we failed to carry out our responsibility, despite all of us agreeing that settlements are indeed illegal.

Excellencies,

Another disturbing development is the escalation of settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In this regard, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has recently reported that settler attacks against Palestinian civilians have increased by at least 50 per cent. Settler attacks on civilians, desecration of Palestinian mosques and churches, as well as destruction of property including the cutting of olive trees should be unequivocally condemned.  It is vital for the Israeli Government, as the occupying power, to prevent such acts of violence and take action against perpetrators.  The failure of the Israeli Government to address violence perpetrated by its settlers has led to a state of impunity, which according to OCHA encourages further violence and undermines the physical security and livelihoods of Palestinians.

We welcome the implementation of the second stage of the prisoner release agreement, which we hope will serve as a positive confidence building measure. We reiterate that this is a positive step towards greater cooperation between Israel and Palestine that should be maintained and built upon.   With regard to the remaining prisoners, we urge the Israeli Government to fulfill its obligations under international humanitarian law by ensuring their safety, allowing access to them by family members and respecting their basic human rights. 

Excellencies,

South Africa has always maintained that the future of Palestine is significantly dependent on the unity of its people. The Arab Spring augurs well for the Palestinian struggle and in this regard we encourage the Palestinians to take advantage of the new regional context and strive for greater unity among their various political groupings. In particular, we urge Hamas and Fatah to implement the Cairo Reconciliation Agreement and collectively consolidate the gains of the Palestinian people. Having learnt from our own experience, we believe that intra-Palestinian unity is essential for long-term reconciliation and sustainable peace in Palestine. 

Regarding the situation in Gaza, South Africa remains deeply concerned about Israel's continued blockade. We concur with the call made by the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ms. Valerie Amos, after her visit to Gaza last year, for an end to the man-made and protracted humanitarian situation through the lifting of the blockade on Gaza. This blockade and restrictions imposed are in violation of international humanitarian law, including Article 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and contrary to the will of the international community, as expressed in various Security Council resolutions, including 242, 338, 1515 and 1860. 

Violence and rocket attacks against Israel emanating from Gaza are also of concern and should be condemned. These actions are indiscriminate and in no way advance the legitimate Palestinian cause. 

Excellencies,

On Syria, South Africa has taken note of the outcome of the Arab League Ministerial meeting on 22 January 2012.  We welcome the League’s decision to extend its Observer Mission and the League’s efforts at achieving a peaceful resolution of the situation. We remain deeply concerned at the ongoing violence by all sides including the recent spate of car-bombs and the resultant loss of life and injuries.  South Africa emphasizes that the primary goal is for the violence to cease in Syria.  We reiterate that any solution to the Syrian crisis should be Syrian-led based on genuine national dialogue, devoid of any form of intimidation and free of interference from outside. My delegation has also taken note of the draft resolution submitted by the Russian Federation and we will continue to participate constructively in the negotiations on the text.

Excellencies,

In conclusion, we believe that the current developments in the Arab world will undoubtedly have a bearing on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. In our search for a solution to the Palestinian question it is now more than ever clear that we should not lose sight of the broader regional question to which Palestine is inextricably linked. We therefore call on the Council and other stakeholders to accelerate efforts towards the holistic resolution of the Middle East crisis, including the Lebanese and Syrian tracks. 

Thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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