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23 January 2013 – Security Council - Situation in the Middle East – Statement by Mr Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

(UN translation)

I thank Mr. Robert Serry, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, as well as the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine and the Permanent Representative of Israel for their statements.

In these early weeks of 2013, the Middle East is undermined by two crises that, after another year of blockade and paralysis, call for resolute action on the part of the international community.

First, with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Secretary-General has continuously warned us over the course of the past year that the window of opportunity for a two-State solution is closing. The options now are simple. Either 2013 will be a year in which substantive negotiations are undertaken, leading to a final agreement settling all issues and demands, or it will see the disappearance of this unique opportunity to establish peace via a viable, independent, sovereign and contiguous Palestinian State, living in peace and security within recognized borders alongside the Israeli State, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the two States.

Indeed, the reality on the ground cannot be denied, given the latest announcements of the Israeli Government on settlement activity, in particular in the E-1 area, that if completed would separate Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank — that is, from the State of which the eastern part of the city should be the capital. We condemn that settlement policy, which is illegal and a serious obstacle to peace.

In that context, the withholding by Israel of taxes and tariffs collected on behalf the Palestinian Authority is a counterproductive retaliation measure that we have called upon Israel not to take after the General Assembly’s sovereign vote. It must stop. It exacerbates a financial crisis in the Palestinian Authority that undermines the succesful institutional reforms achieved. Donors must mobilize to address this problem. The European Union will soon allocate a large part of its annual contribution to the Palestinian budget, and France will also endeavour to make a first payment of its budgetary assistance as quickly as possible.

However, it is time to stop talking about the two- State solution; we must work to realize it in 2013. We know how many efforts have been made since the Oslo Accords, first and foremost by the United States. We recognize also the courage needed by the leaders in both Israel and Palestine. But in order for their future efforts to bear fruit, it is essential to define a framework likely to relaunch substantive discussions on all final status issues in an adequate climate of trust and within a realistic timeline. With our European partners, we have already proposed parameters for defining that framework. We call on all key stakeholders in such a process — the new American Administration as well as regional partners — to make a new commitment on the basis of those principles, with the active support of the international community as a whole. A new approach is needed, with the active support of the United States, the Europeans and the Arabs. France will give unstinting support to those efforts, including within the Security Council and the European Union.

However, no process will materialize without the will of the parties to restart substantive negotiations immediately and without preconditions. That implies, on the Palestinian side, that they make constructive use of the status resulting from resolution 67/19, adopted on 29 November by the General Assembly, and, on the Israeli side, that the next Government concretely show its peaceful intentions so that the trust shaken, particularly by the unilateral measures, may be re-established.

To reach a final settlement, inter-Palestinian reconciliation under the auspices of President Abbas, in conformity with the principles of the Palestine Liberation Organization, is necessary. We welcome the Egyptian efforts to that end. It is important to support partners for peace and not to offer a platform for Hamas radicals, whose declaration with respect to Israel we condemn, as we have always done, in French and Hebrew, on the site of our embassy in Tel Aviv. We are pleased that the ceasefire in Gaza is holding, but it needs to be strengthened. That involves combating arms trafficking and lifting the blockade against Gaza, in order to offer other political horizons for the residents of Gaza and ensure the security of Israel for the long term. France and its European partners are ready to contribute to that effort, in particular through the reactivation and strengthening of the European Union Border Assistance Mission in Rafah.

My second subject is Syria. The year 2013 must also be the year of the liberation of the Syrian people, whose situation is tragic. Ms. Valerie Amos and Ms. Navi Pillay described for us again on Friday the ordeal of the Syrian population — at least 60,000 dead, 600,000 refugees, and 4 million people, mostly women and children, in utter destitution. Despite the repeated condemnations of the international community, the Damascus regime continues to violate international law by using cluster bombs, incendiary bombs and now ballistic missiles against its own people. We recall that any use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashir Al-Assad would be unacceptable and would lead to a reaction from the international community.

In that context, the Council’s inability to take action is scandalous. That is why with 58 other States we have called on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. We must not let the silence draw a veil across the war crimes and crimes against humanity that are being perpetrated in Syria today. We must not stop demanding that the Syrian authorities, their agents and their accomplices be brought to account before the Syrian people and the international community after Syria’s liberation. That is a precondition for reconciliation in the country.

With regard to humanitarian issues, the emergency calls for a response that covers all affected Syrians, including in the liberated areas. We support the efforts of the humanitarian coordinator, Ms. Amos, as well as those of the specialized agencies, in particular the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, to expand access to populations in need. It is absolutely necessary that the Syrian authorities authorize the full range of humanitarian actors to operate in their territory, whether or not it be under their control. Confronted with the immense needs within Syria, as well as in countries of the region, where more than 600,000 Syrians have sought refuge, donors must remobilize. In that connection, we welcome the organization of the Kuwait conference by the Secretary-General.

France will also continue to work in coordination with the Syrian National Coalition and its assistance coordination unit to bring aid to vulnerable populations that do not have access to traditional assistance channels. We support the contacts that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has made with the Coalition to ensure access to zones liberated by the opposition.

But beyond the humanitarian crisis and the human rights issues, the way out of the Syrian crisis remains political. We have therefore worked for a transition in line with the aspirations of the Syrian people. We support the efforts of the Joint Special Representative, Mr. Brahimi, to reach a solution, and we welcome his resolve. Unfortunately, President Al-Assad, in his statement of 6 January — a speech he could have delivered 18 months ago, without alterations — showed once again that he had closed the door on a political transition.

Nevertheless, to encourage that possibility, France is helping the opposition to develop a structure and actively prepare for transition. The creation of the Syrian National Coalition, recognized by more than a hundred States on 12 December in Marrakech, is a major political turning point, as it shows the international community that the Coalition represents the credible political alternative we had hoped for, based on principles of inclusiveness, democracy, national unity and respect for human rights. Today, a majority of Members of the United Nations recognize and support it. We will continue to support this project, which represents the aspirations of the Syrian people. We encourage all the Members of the Organization to do the same.

A quick transition in Syria depends on regional security and stability. The displacement of populations and the socioeconomic tensions resulting from the Syrian crisis for the neighbouring countries, as well as the intensification of violence such as the regime’s attempts to export the crisis, are destabilizing factors. We once again remind the Syrian regime of its obligations with regard to respect for the territorial integrity of neighbouring States, primarily its obligations with regard to Lebanon and Turkey. Similarly, in the Golan, the violation of the area of limitation must stop. Faced with the these risks of destabilization, France is offering its support to the countries that are generously taking in refugees. We also recall our solidarity with Turkey and the Council’s commitment to the end of impunity in Lebanon respect for its integrity and sovereignty. France continues to offer its support to the efforts of the Lebanese authorities to preserve the unity and stability of the country. and it encourages all Lebanese political stakeholders to constructively take part in the consultations led by President Sleiman to that end.

The international community must remobilize to find without delay a way to settle the two crises. If the year 2013 does not see the achievement of a two-State solution, the West Bank and Gaza will be swept up in the regional turmoil and radicalization. All the efforts made since Oslo would be reduced to nothing. If 2013 does not see the transition in Syria, we will have to bear responsibility for the destabilization of the entire region.

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