Statement by the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations, during the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine, Thursday, 23 April 2020

Thank you, Mr President

Allow me to begin by reiterating South Africa’s position on the situation between Palestine and Israel. We will continue to support all efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian State, existing side-by-side in peace with Israel, within internationally recognised borders, based on those of 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in line with all relevant UN resolutions, international law and internationally agreed parameters.

Additionally, a viable and sustainable peace plan for the Middle East must ensure that Palestine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and economic viability is guaranteed, with sovereign equality between Palestine and Israel.

Impact of COVID-19

In light of the recent developments pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa fully supports the call by the Secretary-General for an immediate global cease fire, as well as the call by the UN Envoys to the Middle East for “all parties to engage, in good faith and without preconditions”. This call is particularly pertinent to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. In this regard, we have noted the coordination between Israel and Palestine in responding to the pandemic. It is important for all parties to use this opportunity, in jointly responding to the virus, to build trust and confidence between the parties. This health crisis should not be a means to further individual political objectives.

Settlement activity and annexation

In this regard, it is disconcerting to hear that, during these unprecedented times, there is still continuous, indiscriminate use of force against Palestinians, the wanton destruction of their property, the annexation of occupied territory and the continuing establishment of settlements. Israel’s policy of settling its civilians in occupied Palestinian territory and displacing the local population contravenes fundamental rules of international humanitarian law – in reference to Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention.

Moreover, South Africa has noted the recent announcement of a Unity Government in Israel and consequent reports of its intention to advance legislation to annex parts of the West Bank from as early as 1 July 2020.

Mr President,

This cannot be continued! No country should have the right to decide over the fate of the Palestinians, but the Palestinians themselves. These actions are in direct contravention of several Council resolutions, including Resolution 446 (1979) and 2334 (2016) and goes against the principles of international law. South Africa therefore continues to insist on the full implementation of these resolutions as these threats and pronouncements of annexation undermine any prospect of peace between the parties.

Mr President,

In this time, when all efforts should be focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel, as the occupying power, must ensure that it fulfils its responsibility, as mandated by international law to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance to all those who require it. This includes ensuring the unhindered and safe passage of humanitarian aid, medical supplies and volunteers providing medical assistance to the occupied territories.

With regard to the situation in Gaza, we are deeply concerned at the precarious situation prevailing there, given its severely overburdened and fragile healthcare system. We share the concern expressed by the Director of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) that an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip would be “a disaster of gigantic proportions.”

Consequently, South Africa urges the Israeli authorities, that in line with its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, it should waiver the requirements for transit permits to allow those in need of urgent medical attention and services to seek so freely outside Gaza. It is particularly concerning to note reports of children leaving Gaza to seek hospital treatment, having to do so without their parents as their requests for permits have been denied. This inhumane practice must stop, and compassion must prevail.

In this regard, South Africa calls on Member States, as well as the international community to support the efforts of UNRWA in providing much needed humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees. Aside from the need to provide emergency support in light of COVID-19, UNRWA is reliant on resources for the continuation of its core operations, which necessitate the provision of education and health services as well as food assistance to Palestinian refugees. We are concerned that given current budget projections, there is a risk that UNRWA’s resources could be exhausted by the end of May 2020.

Mr President,

The impact of COVID-19 on prisoners and detainees

South Africa is deeply troubled at the conditions that Palestinian political prisoners, including children continue to face. These are now exacerbated by the potential impact of COVID-19. We call for the necessary measures to be taken to improve the provision of healthcare and hygiene for Palestinian prisoners and detainees, in line with the WHO’s guidance for preventing the outbreak of COVID-19 in prisons and detention centres.

We would also like to take this opportunity to remind the occupying power, Israel, of the UN Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) which stipulate that “Prisoners shall have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation”.

To this end, South Africa reiterates its calls for the immediate release of political prisoners, especially vulnerable groups such as the elderly, women, children and people with disabilities, in accordance with international law.

Mr President,

Allow me to conclude by stating that peace can only prevail once the parties engage in inclusive dialogue and peaceful negotiations as this is the only means to ensure lasting peace, security and stability.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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