Sat, 04 Apr 2020

NEW YORK, New York - While the Trump administration and the Israeli government are displaying major exuberance over the peace plan devised by U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kuschner, unveiled on 28 January, there has been no support from any other country, at least publicly.

Britain, however has said the United States proposal reflects a genuine desire to resolve the conflict. Germany too has given tacit support, saying the outline for talks contained in the United States proposal merits consideration.

At a meeting to discuss the issue at the United Nations on Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General, lamenting rising tensions and instability across the globe, particularly in the Middle East, said there ewas an urgent need to resolve the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Antnio Guterres was delivering introductory remarks at the open briefing held just weeks after Mr. Trump, in company with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and an assembled crowd of Israel's supporters, announced his controversial peace plan.

With the Palestinian President on Tuesday present in the Council chamber watching on, together with Israel's Ambassador, the UN chief reiterated the the UN's continued support for a two-State solution: "This is a time for dialogue, for reconciliation, for reason", he said.

"I urge Israeli and Palestinian leaders to demonstrate the necessary will required to advance the goal of a just and lasting peace, which the international community must support."

The U.S. plan would legalize Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and allow annexation of parts of the West Bank, while Jerusalem would remain the "undivided" capital of Israel, among other proposals in the Trump plan.

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process reported that it has been rejected by the Palestinian Government, the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and some members of the African Union.

"Today is the time to hear proposals on how to move the process forward", Nickolay Mladenov said, "and to find our way back to a mutually agreed mediation framework that ensures meaningful negotiations can restart."

He added that there had been a violent reaction throughout the occupied West Bank and in Gaza shortly after it was unveiled.

"Just as unilateral steps will not resolve the conflict, those who reject the proposal should not turn to violence. That would be the worst possible response at this sensitive moment," he said.

"Indeed, what is needed is political leadership and serious reflection on what needs to be done to bring the parties back to the negotiating table."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the Council that the U.S. plan will not bring peace or stability to the region as it annuls the legitimacy of Palestinians' rights, including the right to self-determination.

It would also create a Palestinian State that would, in effect, look "like a Swiss cheese", he added, with so many Israeli settlements remaining.

"I would like to reaffirm that this plan, or any part in this plan, should not be considered as an international reference for negotiations", he said.

"This is an Israeli-American preemptive plan in order to put an end to the question of Palestine. It was rejected by us because it considers that East Jerusalem is no longer under the sovereignty of the State of Palestine: that alone is enough for us to reject this plan."

Israeli backing

For Israeli ambassador Danny Danon, the U.S. plan offers a "sane approach" to address the longstanding conflict, as all previous attempts have failed.

"What this plan does differently is refuse to accept the same out-of-date concepts of previous peace plans. This plan refuses to accept that the only way to solve the conflict is with a formula that has failed for over 70 years", he said.

"The plan represents the requirement of a realistic approach that is not afraid to incorporate innovative ideas to address the concerns of both parties. It represents the necessity of a pragmatic approach in order to solve a complex problem."

UN framework for negotiations

Mr. Mladenov, the UN envoy, expressed hope that ambassadors will support the Secretary-General's call for a negotiated solution to the conflict and constructive engagement between the sides.

"There is no other framework except the one that Israelis and Palestinians together agree on, a framework based on relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements," he stated.

"In the absence of a credible path back to negotiations, we all face a heightened risk of violence. Violence, which will drag both peoples - and the region - into a spiral of escalation with no end in sight."

He continued that the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy described the United States proposal as departing from internationally agreed parameters, adding that a number of African Union member States similarly rejected it during that regional bloc's recent summit.

However, senior figures within the Israeli government said they would be willing to use the proposal as the basis for direct negotiations, he noted. Similarly, some countries have expressed hope that its release will offer an opportunity to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. He went on to emphasize that "the United Nations policy on this issue is defined by relevant United Nations resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements".

Since the proposal was announced, he continued, violent incidents have occurred throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as in and around the Gaza Strip. However, escalation will only serve those seeking to radicalize people, he warned, emphasizing: "All must show restraint and unequivocally condemn violence."

He went on to note that senior Israeli officials vowed to unilaterally annex large portions of the West Bank, including all settlements in the Jordan Valley. Underlining the Secretary-General's consistent opposition to such unilateral action, he cautioned that such plans could close the door to negotiations, severely undermining opportunities for normalization and peace. However, those who reject the proposal should not turn to violence, he stressed, declaring: "That would be the worst possible response at this sensitive moment." What is needed, rather, is political leadership and serious reflection on what must be done to bring the parties back to the negotiating table, he said.

Recalling that the United Nations has long supported a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on United Nations resolutions, international law and previous agreements, he said it is time to hear proposals on how to return to a mutually agreed mediation framework that ensures the resumption of meaningful negotiations. While it is difficult to envision a comprehensive agreement under current circumstances, "we must avoid continued entrenchment in the status quo", he said.

Warning that continuing on the current trajectory would only push the sides further apart, he said: "There is no other road to achieve this goal except through negotiations." There is no framework other than the one that the two sides agreed together on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements. He went on to warn that the absence of a peace accord could drag both peoples, and the region, into a spiral with no end in sight.

Secretary-General Antnio Guterres said "this is the time for dialogue, for reconciliation, for reason". Urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to demonstrate the necessary will to advance peace, he reiterated that the position of the United Nations remains defined by General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. The Organization remains committed to the end goal of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security within recognized borders, based on the pre1967 lines, he affirmed.

President Abbas reaffirmed his rejection of the peace plan proposed by Israel and the United States, saying it violates the Arab Peace Initiative and the right of Palestinians to self-determination. "This plan, or any part of it, should not be considered as an international reference for negotiations," he declared, emphasizing: "We will never surrender our rights." He went on to reiterate his readiness to begin negotiations immediately with an Israeli partner who is similarly ready for peace, under the auspices of the Middle East Quartet (United Nations, Russian Federation, United States, European Union) and within internationally agreed parameters.

Israel's representative, while also stating his readiness to take steps towards peace, said President Abbas came to the Council to distract the international community instead of going to start negotiations in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, those who voted in favour of more than 150 related United Nations resolutions only encourage his behaviour. In fact, the United States plan is simply a starting point for negotiations, using a new approach to replace the failed old strategies presented over the past 70 years, he said, pointing out that previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements acknowledged that borders were to be the subject of bilateral negotiations.

The Secretary-General of the League of Arab States said the measures proposed in the United States peace plan will impact many issues that should be addressed through negotiations, adding that the measures benefit only the Israeli side.

"This is shameful," he said, pointing out that the international community would be accepting another type of apartheid - and in the Holy Land, no less. The League of Arab States already has a peace plan, he continued, describing the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative strategy as a viable proposal that is subject to negotiations. By contrast, the United States plan undermines the idea of negotiations whereas it should, in fact, have been the fruit of discussions. It appears there cannot be peace unless one side admits defeat and submits.

Some Council members took issue with the United States proposal, saying it remains a unilateral plan that excludes input from the Palestinian authorities. France's representative emphasized that international law and Security Council resolutions are not mere options that countries can choose to embrace or abandon. Cautioning against executing any annexation plans in occupied Palestinian territory, he emphasized that no solution can emerge from unilateral decisions. The proposal by President Abbas to establish a multilateral mechanism for the relaunch of negotiations warrants close consideration, he added.

The representative of the United States explained that the proposed peace plan remains a fresh, viable option for reopening a path to peace talks. Describing it as a blueprint for a Palestinian State and an opening offer to talk, she expressed hope that the Council will give the new approach a fair hearing and that Israelis and Palestinians will have the courage to sit down and talk with one another.

Some delegates said that a range of proposals should be considered, since previous efforts to restart peace talks have all failed. Germany's representative said the outline for talks contained in the United States proposal merits consideration. He also noted the ideas of President Abbas in that regard and invited the parties to submit proposals.

In a similar vein, the United Kingdom's delegate said the United States proposal reflects a genuine desire to resolve the conflict, adding that Palestinian leaders owe it to their people to give it due consideration. Where there is disagreement or outrage, the only path forward is dialogue, she added. "We must now take the first step towards negotiations; there is no other way forward."

The Russian Federation's representative said his country's vision aligns with Arab assessments in the outcome of the 1 February meeting of the League of Arab States. By contrast, the United States proposal fails to reflect the core elements of an internationally recognized legal framework, as set out in the Arab Peace Initiative and countless United Nations resolutions, he noted. What is to be done when Palestinians reject it, he asked. The silver lining is that the Palestinian situation, relegated for years to the back burner, is once again in the global spotlight, with the so-called "deal of the century" calling attention to the need for peace in the Middle East and advocating international action to formulate a lasting settlement, he said, calling for the revival of the Middle East Quartet as an international mediator and the sole mechanism recognized by the Council for that purpose. The Moscow platform should be revived without preconditions, he added.

South Africa's representative recalled that Nelson Mandela was released from prison 30 years ago today, and that his eventual election as President of a united and democratic South Africa demonstrated that what had once seemed intractable was solvable. "May this be a lesson in finding peace between Palestinians and Israelis."

Tunisia's representative said that his delegation, alongside Indonesia and others, is preparing a draft resolution with a view to ending the Israeli occupation and promoting a solution to the conflict.

Also delivering statements were representatives of Indonesia, China, Estonia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and Belgium.

The meeting began at 10:09 a.m. and ended at 12:41 p.m.

President Abbas of the State of Palestine, said he was attending the Council on behalf of 13 million Palestinians to call for a just peace and reaffirm their rejection of the proposal by Israel and the United States. It violates international legitimacy and the Arab Peace Initiative and annuls the very legitimacy of Palestinian rights to self-determination, freedom and independence, he said, adding that it legitimizes what is illegal: settlements and the annexation of Palestinian land. "This plan, or any part of it, should not be considered as an international reference for negotiations," he emphasized, noting that it considers East Jerusalem no longer under the sovereignty of the State of Palestine. "That alone is enough for us to reject this plan," he stressed, pointing out that it leaves Palestine fragmented and lacking control over its own land, air and sea; ends the question of Palestine refugees; and ends all steps towards a peace plan.

"This plan will not bring peace or stability to the region," he reiterated, underlining that Palestinians, therefore, will not accept it and will confront its application on the ground. Describing a map of its terms as resembling Swiss cheese, he demanded: "Who among you will accept a similar state and similar conditions?" The deal entails the entrenchment of occupation and annexation by military force, he said, stressing that it only strengthens an apartheid regime, rewarding the occupation instead of holding it accountable for the crimes it perpetrated against Palestinian land and people. He went on to thank those who helped Palestinians support the international consensus, all Israelis who rejected the proposal, those who stood with Palestinians in the United States House of Representatives and Senate - some of whom are presidential candidates - as well as Gazans who took to the streets in rejection of the plan. "This deal is not just," he reiterated. However, peace between Israelis and Palestinians is still possible and achievable, he said, adding that his presence today was intended to build an international partnership to pursue a just, comprehensive and lasting peace - a goal to which Palestinians are committed as a strategic choice.

He went on to question the unilateral drafting of the proposal, recalling that he had entered into dialogue with the President of the United States in 2017 to discuss all finalstatus issues and a two-State solution, and was assured that the United States would, in fact, declare a Palestinian State. He said he was surprised at the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, D.C., the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the cutting of contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Citing the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, the Washington, D.C., negotiations, the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 2007 Annapolis Conference, he called for negotiations over Jerusalem. "Jerusalem is occupied land," he pointed out, demanding: "Who has the right to give this as a gift to one State or another?"

Palestinians are committed to all Council resolutions and have behaved responsibly, he said, noting that 140 countries now recognize the State of Palestine. Palestinians are now recognized as an observer State at the United Nations, have joined 120 regional and international organizations, and recently chaired the "Group of 77" developing countries and China. They continue to build their national institutions on the basis of the rule of law and within international parameters in their quest for a modern State that supports transparency and accountability, he said, urging the Council to send a factfinding mission in order to understand Palestine's fight against corruption. The State is also empowering women and young people, as well as spreading a culture of peace, he said, noting that it has signed protocols with 83 countries, including the United States, Canada, Russian Federation and Japan. "We are not terrorists," he emphasized, expressing belief in democracy.

Recalling Israel's rejection of the Palestinian push to hold elections out of concern about the polls being conducted in Jerusalem, he declared: "East Jerusalem is ours and West Jerusalem is theirs," stressing: "Nothing prevents cooperation between both States and both capitals." He went on to reject criticism that Palestinians have wasted opportunities for peace, pointing to their acceptance of 87 United Nations resolutions and their signing of the Oslo Accords, in which they recognize Israel. Palestinians have responded to all offers of dialogue yet have never been offered the bare minimum of justice, he pointed out, recalling that he personally travelled to Moscow three times. Israel, meanwhile, has sought to destroy every effort for peace while advancing its settlements on land occupied since 1967, changing the characteristics of Jerusalem, fomenting violence against Muslim and Christian holy sites and continuing war in Gaza, he said.

Criticizing the proposal further for linking economic assistance to a political settlement, he underlined that Palestinians cannot accept an economic solution before a political one. "If you impose peace, it will not last," he cautioned, adding: "Let us reach peace between one another," as was done in Oslo, without outside intervention. Paying tribute to Israel's late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, he urged the Council and the Middle East Quartet to organize an international peace conference. Members must uphold all resolutions, particularly resolution 2334 (2016) and the Arab Peace Initiative, the latter of which is part of resolution 1515 (2003) and establishes an international mechanism to sponsor negotiations between the two sides.

He went on to stress that the United States cannot be the sole mediator and to call for pressure on Israel. "What gives you the right to annex these lands?", he asked, reiterating: "You will destroy every opportunity for peace." Expressing hope of finding a real partner in Israel, he emphasized "we have to be partners" and remain committed to this just choice, before it is too late. Palestinians are not against the Jewish people, he said, adding that their fight is against those attacking Palestinian land. "We will never surrender our rights," he stressed, reiterating his readiness to begin negotiations immediately with an Israeli partner who is similarly ready for peace, under the auspices of the Middle East Quartet and within internationally agreed parameters.

Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said that, if President Abbas is truly interested in peace, he would not be present today, but would instead have used the opportunity to start negotiations in Jerusalem or with partners in Washington, D.C. President Anwar Sadat did not come to New York in a time of crisis, but went to the Knesset, speaking directly to the Israeli people, he said, recalling that he listened to that speech as a child. All of Israel was listening and not long after that show of leadership, President Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed a peace agreement, he said. However, President Abbas came to distract the international community from his unwillingness to speak to Israel, evidenced by that fact that he has met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only once in the last decade. Complaining instead of leading is not leadership, he emphasized, describing his words as lip service and his call for sovereignty as a battle cry to keep the conflict alive.

At the same time, more than 150 United Nations resolutions have been adopted over past decades, he said, adding that voting in favour of one-sided resolutions only encourages the behaviour of President Abbas. Citing previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he recalled that they agreed a border would only be determined through bilateral negotiations, and not what has been called for regarding the pre-1967 lines. He went on to state that, when President Abbas feels there is no reason for compromise, it makes peace an ever more impossible goal. Instead, the international community should focus on bringing both sides to the negotiating table, he said. Indeed, it is time to reconsider the international community's approach because the current strategy is not working and all previous attempts have failed, he added.

President Trump's proposal takes a sane, new approach to resolving the conflict, he said, noting that the plan refuses to accept failed concepts from previous peace plans dating back more than 70 years. Taking a new approach represents a pragmatic way to resolve a chronic problem, he said, adding that the spirit of the proposal represents the need for such a new approach, with its drafters recommending that it serve as a starting point for negotiations. However, President Abbas is not committed to finding a realistic solution, he said, emphasizing that there will be no progress if President Abbas continues to choose rejectionism. Only when he steps down can Israelis and Palestinians start negotiating, he added. For its part, Israel remains determined to fight for peace and is willing to negotiate, despite the consistent refusal of President Abbas to do so, he said, urging the Council to advise him that speeches at the United Nations cannot replace direct negotiations.

Tarek Ladeb, representative for Tunisia said that, at the present critical juncture, amid violence and a stalled peace process, the Council must play its role of advancing a settlement through a two-State solution. With Indonesia and other actors, Tunisia is preparing a draft resolution with a view to ending the Israeli occupation and promoting a solution to the conflict, he said. Yet, the occupying Power continues to violate international law through blockades, collective punishment and annexation plans, he added, emphasizing that Israel must end such policies, which only fuel violence and threaten the prospects for peace. The international community must adopt a unified position and reject the violations, he said, stressing that restoring peace and stability in the region is contingent upon Israel ending its occupation of Arab territory and complying with relevant resolutions.

Dian Triansyah Djani for Indonesia said said his country's position on the question of Palestine is guided by the Bandung Principles - adopted at the 1955 Bandung Conference - in which representatives of Asian and African countries expressed support for the independence of Palestine. Reaffirming that a two-State solution is in accordance with international law and based on internationally agreed parameters, he warned that the occupying Power's measures to change the demographic character of the Occupied Palestinian Territory will only imperil the viability of the two-State formula and jeopardize the pursuit of peace. He went on to stress the need for credible multilateral negotiations, calling for early resumption of talks on the question of Palestine and reaffirming the importance of dialogue among the relevant parties, under the multilateral framework, and guided by the internationally agreed parameters.

Kelly Craft on behalf of the United States, pointing out that none of the resolutions addressing the question of Palestine has led to a just and lasting peace, said the United States proposal challenges the status quo. "I heard you speak of hope," she said to President Abbas, noting that, to keep hope alive, there must be willingness to compromise. It is time for a new conversation, she said, emphasizing that the United States is not here to lecture or to tell people how to live. It is here to offer partnership based on shared interest and values. Stressing that real peace is based on real experiences of security, economic opportunity and freedom, she questioned whether documents filled with high-level principles will ever lead to dignity. Lasting peace is intrinsic to the 28 January plan, she said, describing its vision as specific and realistic. Israel's acceptance of the proposal represents a historic step towards the creation of a Palestinian State with its capital in East Jerusalem, she added, emphasizing that the plan also respects Jordan's role in ensuring the ability of Muslims to worship at AlAqsa Mosque.

She went on to state that the proposed plan offers realistic prospects for a self-governing and fully recognized Palestinian State, and more broadly, recognizes that a political solution to the conflict is not enough. It proposes historic levels of economic investment in a Palestinian future - more than $50 billion - to reverse the cycle of poverty that has trapped Palestinians for decades, she said. In laying the foundations for economic opportunity, the plan outlines a blueprint for a flourishing Palestinian State, she added. It is implementable, she emphasized. Disputing claims that it is a "takeitorleaveit" proposition, she said that, rather, the plan represents the start of a conversation, underlining that the United States supports all efforts to begin that conversation. Expressing support for Israel, she similarly made clear that the United States stands by the Palestinian people and supports their will for themselves and for their children. She encouraged Palestinian leaders to see the plan for the opportunity it is and to begin a new conversation with Israel.

France's ambassador Nicolas De Riviere emphasized that international law and Security Council resolutions are not merely options that countries can choose to embrace or abandon. In the absence of efforts to advance a two-State solution, the political vacuum and the deteriorating situation on the ground threaten to dash the hopes of new generations and risks fostering radicalization among young Palestinians, he warned. He went on to underline the importance of security guarantees for Israel, while stressing that peace negotiations must begin immediately. The United States plan was the fruit of months-long efforts, and action must be taken to relaunch the political process, with the involvement of both parties and their partners. Emphasizing that a solution cannot come from unilateral decisions, he said the proposal by President Abbas to establish a multilateral mechanism for the relaunch of negotiations warrants close consideration. Calling upon the parties to create suitable conditions for dialogue, he said all sides must stop the violence, emphasizing the need to end settlement activity, as well as any unilateral actions contravening international law. He went on to caution against any annexation plans in the West Bank, emphasizing that France remains committed to restarting the peace process, with the Security Council and the United Nations playing their respective roles in that regard.

Zhang Jun of China said political means and a start to dialogue are the only way to advance peace, with due consideration for the views of the major parties. Expressing support for efforts by Indonesia and Tunisia, he said the Council must base its work on resolutions adopted in the past and call upon the parties to abide by them. He went on to state that China is highly concerned about the economic and humanitarian conditions, calling upon all parties to fully implement all relevant resolutions, including by lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip. In addition, the international community must increase its contributions to UNRWA and provide inputs for economic reconstruction.

Estonia's Sven Jurgenson welcomed all efforts to find a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, emphasizing that the European Union and the United States must work as closely as possible on that complex global issue. Estonia urges Israel and the Palestinians to take steps towards a resumption of negotiations to resolve all permanent status issues related to borders, Jerusalem, security and the refugee question, he said, emphasizing that direct talks between the two sides are the only way to reach lasting peace. Estonia is committed to a negotiated two-State solution that meets the needs of both sides for security, as well as Palestinian aspirations for statehood, based on the pre1967 lines, he emphasized, urging all parties to refrain from unilateral actions, while expressing concern over Israel's settlement activity.

Inga Rhonda King of the islands-nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said that an essential contribution that small countries like her own can make is to advocate tirelessly for the timeless principles enshrined in international law. Expressing deep concern about attempts to deviate from the settled parameters governing the delicate quest for peace between Israel and Palestine, she emphasized that any measures aimed at altering the legal, geographic and demographic character and status of Jerusalem, and of the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a whole, are null and void. While acknowledging the ongoing efforts by the United States to reinvigorate the peace process, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines remains committed to supporting the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including to selfdetermination, and for a two-State solution based on the pre-1967 borders, she stressed.

Dang Dinh AQuy, representing Vietnam, reaffirmed his delegation's support for the inalienable rights of Palestinians and its strong support for a two-State solution entailing a sovereign Palestinian State, the borders of which are enshrined in United Nations resolutions, existing peacefully alongside Israel in mutual recognition. However, he expressed concern about Israel's settlement activities and calls for annexing Palestinian territory, instead supporting a just and comprehensive negotiated settlement based on international law and relevant United Nations resolutions, particularly resolution 2334 (2016). He went on to caution against any actions that could further complicate the situation and welcomed all efforts to re-start the Middle East peace process on the basis of international law.

Juergen Schulz of Germany expressed his delegation's commitment to a negotiated two-State solution along the pre-1967 lines and with Jerusalem as the future capital of both Israel and an independent, contiguous viable State of Palestine. Unilateral actions and the creation of facts on the ground to impose certain outcomes will not result in a just and lasting settlement, nor lead to peace and security, he warned, emphasizing that questions of borders, Jerusalem, security and refugees must be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. He urged the parties to refrain from measures that could undermine the viability of a two-State solution. Noting that the proposal by the United States departs from the internationally agreed parameters regarding Jerusalem, borders and settlements, he stressed that the absence of direct negotiations is a source of frustration - for Israelis and Palestinians first and foremost. However, Germany welcomes fresh thinking to revive the political process, he said, emphasizing that any viable proposal must be accepted by both parties. The outline for talks contained in the United States proposal merits consideration because reviving a multilateral format would allow for the elaboration of proposals that could then create an environment suitable for reviving genuine negotiations, he said. Noting the ideas of President Abbas in that regard, he invited the parties to submit proposals, urging them, as well as relevant regional actors, to demonstrate commitment to a negotiated solution. Adherence to the United States proposal for an immediate temporary halt to settlementexpansion would be an important step to advance peace and respect Council resolutions, he noted, while expressing concern about Israel's plans to annex Palestinian territory, in violation of international law, and cautioning against any such steps. Germany will continue to distinguish between Israel and land occupied since 1967, he stressed. He went on to call for free and fair Palestinian elections while pressing both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to stop launching rockets into Israel.

Xolisa Mfundiso Mabhongo of South Africa recalling that the Security Council held its first meeting on the question of Palestine on 9 December 1947, said that, unfortunately, there has been no progress since. Noting that the recently proposed initiative does not consider the substantive views and aspirations of the Palestinian people, he emphasized that lasting peace and stability can be achieved only through initiatives developed with the full participation of all parties, specifically Palestinians themselves. The Council must support the necessary environment for Israel and Palestine to come together, he said, stressing that peace initiatives must conform to internationally endorsed terms of reference and agreed parameters. Nelson Mandela was released from prison 30 years ago today, he recalled, stressing that his eventual election as President of a united and democratic South Africa demonstrated that what had once seemed intractable could be solved. "May this be a lesson in finding peace between Palestinians and Israelis," he added.

The United Kingdom's Karen Pierce said the current political vacuum will only continue to fuel violence and extremism. Palestinians deserve self-determination and Israelis deserve security, she noted, emphasizing that finding a path towards negotiations remains the only way forward after a decade-long impasse. The United States has proposed to break the deadlock, reflecting a genuine desire to resolve the conflict, she said, stressing that Palestinian leaders owe it to their people to give the plan due consideration. Noting that President Abbas has expressed serious reservations, she emphasized that, where there is disagreement or outrage, dialogue is the only path forward. With the United States plan on the table, the United Kingdom anticipates that the Palestinians will offer talks or counterplans, she added. However, unilateral actions by either party - including annexation plans and any changes to the status quo - are unacceptable and cannot be taken forward without agreement among the parties themselves, she stressed. "We must now take the first step towards negotiations; there is no other way forward."

Jose Singer Weisinger of the Dominican Republic said international law must be respected to ensure peace, justice and development for all nations. Calling for a just resolution of the conflict, he reaffirmed his delegation's support for the two-State approach. Reconciliation efforts must be redoubled to guarantee the inalienable rights of Palestinians to self-determination, as well as the rights of Israelis to live in safety, he said, emphasizing that there is no need to pass new resolutions or revisit ground already covered. Previous bilateral agreements exist between Israel and Palestine, he added. Meanwhile, collective international action must help overcome the impasse until constructive dialogue resumes.

Vassily A. Nebenzie on behalf of the Russian Federation expressed his country's continuing for a just solution to the Palestinian question on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid Principles and the Arab Peace Initiative, all of which call for the creation of a contiguous Palestinian State within the pre-1967 borders, existing peacefully alongside Israel and with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Russian vision aligns with Arab assessments in the outcome of the 1 February meeting of the League of Arab States, he added, pointing out that the United States proposal fails to reflect the core elements of an internationally recognized legal framework, as set out in the Arab Peace Initiative and countless United Nations resolutions. What is to be done when Palestinians reject it, he asked. The silver lining is that the Palestinian situation, for years relegated to the back burner, is once again in the global spotlight, with the so-called "deal of the century" calling attention to the need for peace in the Middle East and advocating international action to formulate a lasting settlement. Calling for the revival of the Middle East Quartet as an international mediator - and the sole mechanism recognized by the Council for that purpose - he said the Russian Federation is ready to work with Israel, Arab partners and others to facilitate a compromise. He added that the Moscow platform should be revived without preconditions.

Belgium's Marc Pecsteen De Buytswerve the Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, emphasizing the need to renew international efforts for a lasting peace. There is no alternative to forging a credible negotiation process within the framework of international law and Security Council resolutions, he said. Recalling that the international community has ratified the parameters, notably those relating to borders, he said Israel's settlementbuilding represents a growing risk to the two-formula and there must be efforts to end it. He went on to stress that any annexation would violate international law and the European Union will not be able to recognize changes to the pre-1967 borders unless the parties accepted them beforehand. The status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both States must be negotiated, he added. Any peace plan must respect Palestinian sovereignty, as well as Israel's need for safety, precluding the prospects for terrorism.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit , Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, said the collective decision to reject the United States peace plan reflects due consideration of the matter. International law remains on the side of the Palestinian people, who are calling for the international community's recognition of justice. Direct negotiations are of vital importance, but have yet to lead to peace, he noted. Measures proposed in the United States plan will impact many issues that should be addressed through negotiations and benefit only the Israeli side, he said, adding that, whereas the "blueprint" was presented as the "fruit" of negotiations, it excludes the Palestinians and seems to imply that the plan will be imposed on them.

In fact, the plan appears to have been drafted with the idea of having it rejected by Palestine and the world, he said, adding that it also has new parameters - granting land, settlements and Jerusalem to Israel, while not proposing a realistic two-State solution. Instead, he noted, it seems to propose the creation of a single State with two categories of citizens: those with and those without rights. "This is shameful," he said, pointing out that the international community would be accepting another type of apartheid, and in the Holy Land, no less. The League of Arab States already has a peace plan, he continued, describing the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative strategy as a viable proposal that is subject to negotiations. By contrast, the United States plan undermines the idea of negotiations whereas it should, in fact, have been the fruit of discussions.

It appears there cannot be peace unless one party admits defeat and submits, he continued, suggesting that perhaps today's power struggles allow such ideas to surface. What is needed is for the international community to safeguard its own credibility and principles that recognize agreed parameters for negotiations dating back to the Oslo Accords, he said. He concluded by stating that he was appalled today upon hearing a call to exclude President Abbas from negotiations on the grounds that he is not a good dialogue partner. Underlining that the question is not about any individual, he recalled that the same type of characterization was made about another Palestinian President 15 years ago.

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