Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the Security Council Video Teleconference Open Debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine, 26 October 2020

Thank you, Mr President for giving me the floor. We express our appreciation to Deputy Minister Vershinin for chairing our meeting.

Allow me to take this opportunity to welcome Dr Riad Al-Malki, Foreign Minister of the State of Palestine to the Council and thank you for your participation here today.

I would also like to thank Special Coordinator, Mladenov, for his frank and useful update on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. South Africa welcomes your offices concerted efforts to resolve the long-standing conflict that arises out of the occupation of Palestinian Territories and urge you to continue these efforts so that the UN plays a key role, as the representative of the international community, in finding a solution to the Palestinian/Israeli matter.

We took note of the remarks by the new Israeli Permanent Representative to the United Nation and the recent events in the Middle East between Israel and United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, three members of the League of Arab States. We had hoped that these events will lead to less suffering of Palestinians in prisons, exile and internally displaced from their homes.

Mr President,

As we have heard from Special Coordinator Mladenov today, Israel continues its illegal settlement expansion, in blatant violation of resolutions of this Council, the UN General Assembly and international law. Earlier this month saw the announcement by Israeli authorities for the advancement of over 5,000 new housing units in the occupied West Bank. This marks 2020 as the year for the highest settlement expansion since 2012, with over 12,000 units being advanced.

While recent bilateral agreements have seen Israel agree on the suspension of its annexation plans, this continued and increasing settlement activity contradicts these agreements and calls into question the benefits of these agreements for peace as they have not eased the occupation. In fact, these agreements appear to coincide with increased illegal settlement activity and destruction of Palestinian agricultural land. While formal annexation may have been suspended, de facto annexation continues through these illegal practices.

These newly forged relations and ostensibly transactional agreements have done nothing to improve the lives of Palestinians. They continue to be denied their basic human and civil rights, while living under illegal, military occupation. As evidenced by the increase in settlement activity, we can see that Israel has no intention of halting its de facto annexation efforts.

South Africa reiterates that settlements are illegal under international law and are in direct contravention of UN Security Council  Resolution 2334 (2016). These violations and inhumane actions by Israel do nothing but undermine any prospects for peace and jeopardises a permanent and sustainable resolution to the conflict.

Mr President,

We often ask ourselves and now we ask you, fellow Council Members, why resolutions on certain issues are dealt with in a completely different manner than other issues and resolutions on the Council’s agenda? We see this with the matter of Palestine, and we are seeing it this week with Western Sahara.

Israel continues to violate Security Council resolutions and international law. Why then, has there been no action to hold Israel accountable for these illegal actions? If this was occurring with almost any other issue on the Council’s agenda, we would not have hesitated to take action.

Surely these double standards, in a body whose responsibility is to maintain international peace and security, is not acceptable. It is the responsibility of this Council to remain impartial, as partiality and bias undermines and discredits the role of the Council and the United Nations as a whole.

Mr President,

There have been a number of international conferences on the question of Palestine from 1991 to 2007. We had the Madrid Conference in 1991 which led to the Oslo Accords in 1993, and which saw the first face-to-face agreement between leaders of the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. The Annapolis Conference in 2007 saw the parties committing to the Roadmap for Peace; each have brought forth important milestones in the Israel-Palestine Peace Process. The initiatives by the Arab League and the Russian Federation have also played vital roles in the peace process.

Therefore, South Africa fully supports the call, by President Abbas, for an international conference with the participation of all concerned parties for discussions on a genuine peace process, including the resolution of all final status issues. We urge the Council to heed the Secretary-General’s call for a collective and fresh push for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East region.

South Africa will continue to work with all like-minded countries to support international efforts aimed at 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 UN resolutions, international law and internationally agreed parameters.

As South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor stated during last week’s debate on the situation in the Gulf region, sustainable peace and stability in the Gulf and the wider Middle East region requires an end to its core peace and security challenge, which is the occupation of Palestine.

In order to resolve this, any initiative to end the conflict and bring an end to Israeli occupation must take into account the needs and aspirations of the Palestinian people. No peace plan or initiative can have any merit or succeed if all parties to the conflict are not included in such talks as equal partners from the very beginning.

Mr President,

South Africa is encouraged by unity efforts by Palestinians including efforts to agree on the dates for holding elections.

In conclusion, South Africa is deeply concerned about recent media reports regarding Israel’s refusal to renew visas for officials working for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). This has resulted in nine of twelve officials, conducting critical work and reporting in the occupied Palestinian territory having to abandon their posts and leave the country. We, therefore, call on Israel to uphold its obligations as a responsible UN Member State to ensure that the UN and all of its various agencies, bodies and partners are able to continue its vital work in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Mr President,

South Africa is ready, as we demonstrated in the past, and based on our own history and recent past, to assist parties to resolve this longstanding decades old question. Its resolution will transform the Middle East into a zone of peace and unprecedented economic development.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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