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, 18 November 2020

Thank you, Madame President,

Let me begin by expressing my deepest sadness at the passing of Dr Saeb Erekat. The people of South Africa extend their sincere condolences to his family and all the Palestinian people. It is people of this calibre and stature that are required on both sides of this conflict, in order to bring about a peaceful, long-lasting solution.

I also thank Special Coordinator, Mladenov, for his briefing on the realities on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territory. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the work that you and your office do in contributing towards the resolution of this conflict.

Madame President, allow me to begin by expressing South Africa’s condemnation of Israel’s continuing and abundant illegal actions. On 3 November 2020, the Israeli Government conducted its largest demolition of Palestinian property in a decade.

Israeli authorities destroyed the Bedouin village of Khirbet Humsa in the Jordan Valley. They destroyed 76 structures, including homes, animal shelters, sheds, sanitation facilities and solar panels. This has left 74 people, including 41 children, homeless and exposed to the harsh elements.

In 2020 alone, Israel’s illegal actions have left 869 people homeless and 689 structures demolished. Additionally, the destruction of agricultural and farmland also continues, which severely effects Palestinians’ ability to provide a reliable source of food and generate a valuable source of income.

This wide-spread destruction of property, including agricultural land and the forcible transfer of protected people in an occupied territory, are grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which all of us are signatories.

These actions continue to violate UN Security Council resolutions including Resolution 2334 (2016) and, in our current context, are simply inhumane especially in light of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

Madame President,

In addition to Israel’s continued illegal demolitions, illegal settlement activity continues in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. Over the weekend, Israeli authorities approved a tender for over 1,200 housing units in Givat Hamatos in East Jerusalem, in addition to previously approved settlements in the West Bank. All of these illegal settlements would severely damage the prospects for a contiguous Palestinian State and any possibility for sustainable peace.

South Africa once again wishes to remind Israel and Council Members that such settlement activity is illegal under international law and UN Security Council resolutions, particularly Resolution 2334 (2016).

The combined illegal actions by Israel of its continuing demolitions, including donor funded structures, and continuing settlement activities all contribute to Israel’s illegal de facto annexation plans. While Israel and its allies may not call it annexation, the evidence, as heard here today and previously in this Council, all point to continuing de facto annexation.

As we have done previously, South Africa calls on the Security Council to hold Israel accountable for its illegal actions, that are in contravention of this Council’s resolutions as well as international law. If this was occurring with almost any other issue on the Council’s agenda, we would not have hesitated to take action. Double standards perpetrated by the Council only undermines its credibility and ability to fully implement its mandate to maintain international peace and security.

Madame President,

South Africa shares the significant concerns of Mr Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, regarding the Agency’s financial situation. UNRWA is an essential service provider to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East region. UNRWA’s health, education, protection, social services and humanitarian assistance programmes are vital to millions of displaced Palestinians.

UNRWA’s dire financial situation is jeopardising its ability to fully pay salaries of 28,000 staffers in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan.

This comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is spreading across the Middle East including in Palestinian refugee camps. Many of these refugees have no alternative to UNRWA assistance. South Africa therefore appeals to the international community to support the efforts of UNRWA in providing much needed humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.

Madame President,

The only viable resolution to the conflict in the Middle East is direct talks between the parties, on equal footing, based on internationally agreed parameters, that 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. Conflicts can only be resolved by treating each party as part of the future solution, and not as a potential adversary or ally.

In conclusion, Madame President, a viable peace plan should not 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 for all who have a right to live in the territories of Israel and Palestine. This includes the sovereign equality between States.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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