Statement by Ambassador Xolisa Mabhongo, Deputy Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the United Nations Security Council Briefing on the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine, 20 May 2020

Thank you, Mr President,

Let me begin by thanking Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov for his briefing here today. It is indeed a sobering account of the persistent reality being faced by millions in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Mr President,

Allow me to begin by making a few remarks on the issue of COVID-19 in the occupied Palestinian territory.

South Africa fully supports the call by the Secretary-General as well as the UN Envoys to the Middle East urging all warring parties in the region to end hostilities and turn their focus to the challenge posed by COVID-19. We should however, emphasise that in the situation in Palestine, there are no warring parties in the conventional sense, given the asymmetrical nature of power in the context of an occupation.  We support and continue to call for unhindered passage of humanitarian aid, medical supplies and volunteers providing medical assistance to all parts of the occupied territories.

My delegation commends the Palestinian Authority for the efforts they have undertaken, amidst difficult circumstances to ensure the health and safety of Palestinians in the occupied territories during these unprecedented times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and express solidarity with the people of Palestine.

We call on Member States as well as the international community to support the efforts of UNRWA in providing much needed humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.

Mr President, I would now like to turn to the reality the Palestinian people currently face.

The Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations begins with the quote:

We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind” end quote.

We must acknowledge that we have failed the people of Palestine. Entire generations of Palestinian children have known nothing but violent oppression and the untold sorrow of being stripped of their lands, identity and human rights.

On 15 May, Palestinians observed Nakba Day, when 72 years ago the world stood by and watched while hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee or were expelled from their homes, villages and towns. Very few have been able to return and reclaim their heritage.

It is perhaps ironic that the history of our organisation, which is meant to bring about global peace and security, runs almost concurrently with that of the period of occupation which began with the Nakba.

Mr President,

The stated purpose of the United Nations is, and I quote from Article I of the Charter,

To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace…”

In this regard, we have again failed the people of Palestine. To date no action has been taken to stop the building of settlements on illegally occupied land; to stop the confiscation and destruction of Palestinian land and property; to stop the illegal blockade of Gaza, essentially forcing 3 million people to live in an open-air prison or to stop the annexation of territory illegally acquired through the use of force.

All of these actions area violations of international law and a threat to the maintenance of international peace and security and no collective measures have been taken towards the prevention or removal of the threats to peace facing the Palestinian people.

Mr President,

We, the Security Council, the wider UN membership and the international community cannot allow such flagrant violations of international law to continue. The prevailing situation undermines our credibility.

South Africa reminds members of the Security Council that the fate of the State of Palestine and the two-State solution, that has been endorsed by Member States for decades, is aligned with international law including UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. These cannot be disregarded or ignored.

We, as members of the Security Council and indeed the United Nations, all ascribe to a collective set of norms and values which should conduct our behaviour towards each other. These principles are described in Article II (two) of the UN Charter, including paragraph 2 of Article II (two) which states:

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

In this regard, it is the obligation of the UN and the Security Council to act against those who go against these norms and values.

Mr President,

It is perplexing that during these unprecedented times, as the international community addresses the global challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel is exploiting the situation to further advance its de facto annexation of Palestinian land. The dangerous prospect of Israel continuing with its unilateral actions and to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank and Jordan Valley, is not only belligerent but also threatens efforts to advance regional peace. These acts are illegal and also risk undermining the viability of a negotiated two-state solution, which will have negative consequences on the entire peace process.

The international community must therefore act more decisively now to end the occupation and reset the path towards a viable two-state solution guided by international law.

Additionally, South Africa would like to emphasise that any steps towards formalising the annexation of illegally occupied land or territory, should not go unchallenged.

Any peace plan for the Middle East, cannot allow Palestinian statehood to devolve into an entity devoid of sovereignty, territorial contiguity and economic viability. In this regard, a solution must be premised on a just settlement with just laws that is rights-based and that facilitates equality and equity for all who have a right to live in the territories of Israel and Palestine. This includes the sovereign equality between states.

We therefore call on the parties and any other state to refrain from taking any unilateral action that would jeopardise the two-State solution and remove any option for the parties to find a path towards negotiations in line with international agreed parameters.

South Africa reiterates that the only viable, sustainable option for a peaceful resolution to this conflict is the establishment of a viable Palestinian State, existing side by side in peace with Israel within international recognised borders, based on those existing on 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in line with all relevant United Nations (UN) resolutions, international law and internationally agreed parameters.

Mr President,

The future of the region hangs in the balance. The actions of a few in the coming days and months, will determine whether future generations will continue to live under the threat of the scourge of war or if they will be able to enjoy the freedoms and peace envisaged at the founding of the United Nations.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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