Statement by Zaheer Laher, Charge d'Affaires a.i. of the Republic of South Africa, to the United Nations General Assembly on Agenda Item: The Question of Palestine, 29 November 2012
It is with great joy that we stand here today to congratulate the people of Palestine for attaining an enhanced Observer State status of this august organisation – the United Nations. Albeit this is not what we would have ideally wanted– as we support full membership of the State of Palestine to the United Nations – it is satisfying that the organisation has now cemented in the books of history the fact that Palestine is indeed a State. This is an historical achievement towards the creation of a viable Palestinian State that should be celebrated by all.
This year has historical significance as it marks 45 years since the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel. If the South African experience is anything to go by, 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. The UN and the rest of the international community should play their part in ensuring that the aspirations of the Palestinian people are fulfilled.
We call on the international community to avoid any retributive actions that could stifle the very existence of the State of Palestine. We say this in view of threats from some that there would be negative implications for Palestine and the United Nations flowing from the success of the resolution adopted today as we witnessed last November when Palestine joined the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The Middle East peace process, including the question of Palestine has been on the agenda of the United Nations for more than 60 years. It is an indictment on the conscience of the UN that after all these years there still has not been any significant movement towards the attainment of a permanent and sustainable solution to this long-drawn-out crisis.
Despite attempts to inject life into the negotiations process, the prospects for direct negotiations get dimmer by the day as the Israeli Government continues its counter-productive acts of aggression, particularly ongoing illegal settlement construction, home demolitions, illegal excavations of religious sites and restricting the access and movement of the Palestinian people. The illegal Israeli settlements have led to a fragmentation of the West Bank and the isolation of Jerusalem from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and continue to threaten the feasibility of a contiguous Palestinian state. Continued failure to take any meaningful action to halt these settlements only serves to undermine our commitment to a two-state solution.
The recent events in Gaza were disturbing. The events are a reminder of how fragile the security situation is without the fulfillment of a sustainable solution. South Africa is pleased that the ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Groups in Gaza is holding after so many had lost their lives including women and children. The violence also resulted in the obliteration of critical infrastructure, such as schools and medical facilities that will take a long time to rebuild due to the blockade of the enclave.
South Africa welcomes the mediation efforts of the Government of Egypt, the League of Arab States, the UN Secretary-General and other countries that led to the implementation of the ceasefire and the restoration of calm.
At this point it is appropriate to ask the question: Where was the Quartet during the crisis in Gaza? The Quartet’s silence during this critical time justifies the critique that its utility should be urgently assessed with a view to reconfiguring, strengthening or disbanding it. As a member of the Quartet, the members of the United Nations have an obligation to ask these questions lest we become a docile partner in this equation.
Likewise, we must also register our disappointment that the Security Council did not act at an appropriate time, thus prolonging the conflict that led to the loss of more lives. It is the responsibility of the Security Council to respond to threats to international peace and security wherever they may arise and without prejudice. Meetings of the UN that only pays lip service to the Middle East Peace Process do not translate into meaningful action nor do they advance peace. South Africa calls on the international community to redouble its efforts aimed at a permanent and sustainable political solution, namely the implementation of a viable two-state solution providing for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, existing side by side in peace and security with Israel within internationally recognised borders, based on those existing on 4 June 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital. We also call on those countries that have leverage over the parties to encourage them to choose the path of negotiations instead of the destructive path of conflict.
While we condemn the actions of some Palestinian Groups who fire rockets into Israel directly threatening its civilian population, including women and children, we would like to reiterate that continued occupation of Palestine remains the root cause of the conflict.
The international community's demand that Israel should end the illegal blockade of Gaza that has exacerbated the suffering of the ordinary people of Palestine must be adhered to. The blockade of Gaza continues to negatively affect the lives of the inhabitants of this territory and has contributed directly to the increase in unemployment and poverty. The blockade has also resulted in delays in the provision of humanitarian assistance as the entry of humanitarian agencies such as UNRWA and the UNDP into Gaza has been thwarted. We therefore call on Israel to end the illegal blockade of Gaza in respect of international humanitarian law including the Fourth Geneva Convention and UN Security Council resolutions such as 242, 338, 465, 681, 1397, 1515, 1860 as well as the Arab Peace Initiative.
In keeping with its practice of contributing to the alleviation of the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people, South Africa has donated an amount of R2 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Conflict between Israel and Palestine affects regional stability and impacts on the fragile situation in the region and therefore a resolution of the conflict remains necessary.
In conclusion, Mr. President, Resolution 181 adopted this very day 65 years ago was a promissory note to the people of Israel and Palestine guaranteeing the creation of two states. The adoption of the landmark resolution today is a further fulfillment of this promise.
It proves that we cannot avoid the reality of an independent state of Palestine. Our responsibility remains to ensure that it is viable, contiguous and sustainable so that it is in a position to live peacefully with its neighbour, the State of Israel. It is our duty to ensure that beyond today, the State of Palestine provides adequately to its population and enjoys the privileges that are inherent in Statehood.
I thank you.