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

(UN translation)

I should like at the outset to thank Mr. Feltman, Under-Secretary- General for Political Affairs; the Permanent Observer of Palestine, Mr. Riyad Mansour; and the Permanent Representative of Israel, Mr. Ron Prosor, for their statements.

This spring, the Middle East has been racked by two crises that require an urgent response on the part of the international community.

First, the urgency of the question of the Israeli- Palestinian peace process has been emphasized on numerous occasions and is based on the threat that the issue poses to the two-State solution, which is clearly the only fair and potentially lasting way to settle that conflict.

We naturally welcome the fact that the United States shares that sense of urgency and has responded, and we are resolved to support their efforts to bring about a resumption of the peace process. We hope that that will result in the two parties returning to direct negotiations without preconditions and on a credible basis, with a view to reaching a lasting settlement addressing the full range of final status issues.

Creating a viable political environment for such negotiations will include adopting confidence-building measures that will make it possible to end the cycle of distrust between the parties and prove to their peoples that a better future is possible through negotiation.

In that regard, we are concerned about the situation of Palestinian prisoners and the tensions that have resulted. Beyond the humanitarian aspect, which the Israeli authorities must be aware of and which should compel them to take speedy and appropriate measures, we call on them to respect the full range of their international obligations concerning Palestinian detainees, regardless of their status.

Equally, Palestine’s economic development must be encouraged, a task that the former Prime Minister, Mr. Salam Fayyad, particularly devoted himself to, and we have commended his decisive actions aimed at building the institutions necessary for a future Palestinian State. We attach great importance to the continuation of such good governance practices aimed at strengthening the Palestinian State’s credibility, which have brought it the recognition and trust of the international community. It should therefore be possible to go beyond the project stage and promote development in Zone C for the benefit of the Palestinian people.

Moreover, ending the activities aimed at demolition and confiscation is clearly a humanitarian imperative, and we greatly regret the 16 demolitions that took place in the course of a single day only yesterday, as reported by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Activities. Furthermore, nothing can be achieved without the parties’ willingness to work towards advancing genuine peace. We welcome the responsible attitude shown by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and by their statement supporting a two-State solution.

That statement must be backed by actions: unilateral measures, particularly settlement activities, which are ongoing and violate international law, undermine prospects for peace and must therefore be stopped. As for the Palestinian Authority, we expect to see it make constructive use of its new status here at the United Nations. In connection with the prospect of a two-State solution, the issue of Palestinian unity remains a matter of concern. We support President Abbas’s efforts and call on regional actors to support them so that progress towards reconciliation under his authority can be made, and in keeping with international commitments made by the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Changing Israeli policy with regard to the Gaza Strip and ending the blockade are also prerequisites for progress in that regard. Such changes will strengthen those who support peace on behalf of a population that today ruled exclusively by Hamas. At the same time, of course, we need to bear in mind Israel’s security requirements; we continue to condemn the rockets being fired on Israel and call for strict compliance with the truce.

I would once again like to reiterate France’s readiness to contribute to a lasting solution, particularly in cooperation with our European partners. That faint hope must be nourished by the jointly agreed support of the international community, particularly on the part of regional actors, who must be involved in the quest for a solution in the context of the Arab Peace Initiative.

In Syria, it is difficult to detect any glimmer of hope.

We heard only recently about hundreds of civilians, women and children, who were massacred by the regime and its militias in the Jdeidet Al-Fadel area. Four and a half million Syrians have now been displaced; one and a half million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The human scale of the crisis now stands at some 100,000 dead, the majority of them civilians, as well as tens of thousands who have disappeared. The question therefore arises as to when the Security Council is going to take the measures necessary to put an end to the suffering. We know what those measures are, as we have tried to get them adopted in this forum.

The first of them would be to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court in order to put on trial the war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated in Syria, for which the responsibility falls first and foremost on the Bashar Al-Assad regime. Secondly, we should exert increased humanitarian pressure with a view to ending the indiscriminate violence being inf licted on civilians, such as the bombing of civilian districts by the regime so as to enable access for all those in need by ensuring cross-border access for humanitarian assistance and authorize competent non-governmental organizations to provide such assistance. The Security Council’s message regarding those issues has, however, remained inadequate. Such assistance is essential to containing the f low of refugees, who are putting intolerable pressure on neighbouring countries, particularly Jordan and Lebanon, and thereby undermining the already compromised stability of those countries. We can only continue to commend their efforts to ensure that the borders remain open. We must listen to Mr. Guterres’s plea for the international community to mobilize and lend its support to the host countries; similarly, donors must also mobilize to rapidly make good on the pledges of aid made at the Kuwait Conference.

However, what is necessary, first and foremost, is a political transition that clearly marks a break with the past and responds to the Syrian people’s legitimate aspirations to choose their own destiny in a democratic manner. In order to accomplish that, we have the Geneva communiqué (S/2012/523, annex) and the necessary clarifications that have been made by the Joint Special Representative, Mr. Brahimi, in addressing the Council. Above all, we must ensure that presidential powers are transferred in full to a transitional Government. That is the sequence of events that can lead to the establishment of a transitional Government, with full executive powers and able to organize elections, a Government that we are prepared to work with in order to do what has to be done.

Unfortunately, we have not yet reached that stage; only last week President Al-Assad reiterated his rejection of it in a statement that ignores the reality of the Syrian crisis. The only glimmer of hope is to be found with the opposition, which we continue to support. As the result of a bold initiative by Mr. Moaz Al-Khateeb, which we commended, the coalition has recognized the principle of political transition and is committed to it, as was stated in Istanbul. We call on the international community to back that initiative, in order to give support to the only force that is ready to prepare the way for political transition. We sought a viable interlocutor, and now we have one, recognized by the Arab League and a majority of the international community; one engaged in establishing a Government that seeks to unite the various components of Syrian society. Such an actor is indispensable to the creation of the conditions for a political transition, and we in the United Nations must also take that into account. Before concluding, I would like to touch on

Lebanon, which is caught in the middle of this storm.

We welcome the efforts adopted by the Lebanese Government, under President Sleiman, to implement the so-called disassociation policy, the only policy that can protect Lebanon from relapsing into civil war. While events on the border continue to increase in number and violations by Syria of Lebanon’s borders are growing, we appeal to the Lebanese people to continue to uphold the principles agreed on in the Baabda Declaration, in the interests of their country’s stability. We welcome the fact that agreement was rapidly reached on nominating Mr. Tamam Salam as Prime Minister, as well as the efforts to ensure a speedy agreement on the composition of the new Government, and the organization of parliamentary elections on a consensus-based approach and within the constitutional time frame.

In conclusion, this is a region that is on the brink of disaster as a result of the Syrian crisis, as a result of the burden represented by the refugees, which is creating sociopolitical problems, and the problem of radical terrorism, which is spreading, as we feared, over the slaughterhouse that Syria has become. We cannot afford to ignore this region, which is strategically so crucial to global peace and security and which will, without our prompt action, spiral into a chaos that will spill over beyond the Middle East. We face a choice: either we support the resolute action of the international community by backing the United States in ensuring that the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians can move forward and produce a lasting settlement, or we do not. We must display similar enthusiasm in tackling the Syrian situation in our search for a political transition, an enthusiasm that we have so far failed to display, thus allowing the region to plunge ever more deeply into the abyss.

Learn more on Israel and Palestine, on Syria and on Lebanon.

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