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The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question

UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL

Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

 

Thank you, Madam President, and thank you Special Coordinator Serry for your briefing.

The Middle East continues to experience dangerous conflict and instability.  The intensifying conflict in Syria and its destabilising impact on countries like Lebanon and Jordan are a direct threat to wider peace and security.

The political developments in Egypt are also of serious concern, creating both uncertainty for Egypt and also wider implications for the region.  It is vital for Egypt’s stability and development that the transition back to a democratically-elected government is inclusive and transparent.

One welcome and positive development is the agreement the Palestinians and the Israelis have reached on a basis to resume direct final status negotiations.

Australia warmly congratulates the United States for its leadership and in particular the perseverance and tireless efforts of Secretary of State Kerry.

We also commend Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas on reaching this agreement. It is important that all Israelis and Palestinians support this effort.

We congratulate the Arab League and encourage its continuing role in support of the peace process.

Australia recognises that the resumption of negotiations is a first step on what will be a challenging and difficult path towards a two-state solution. The challenges of the negotiations on final status issues are immense. 

Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas must now seize this historic opportunity and commit to negotiating in good faith, with the aim of achieving a lasting peace, with a secure Israel living alongside an independent and viable Palestinian state.  As we all know, there is no Plan B. 

As a friend of the Palestinians, we encourage them to engage fully in the negotiation process.  The path to Palestinian statehood lies in negotiations, and not through UN resolutions, nor in pursuing membership of international organisations. 

For negotiations to have any chance of success conditions on the ground must remain stable – and rocket attacks on Israel must cease.

Equally, Israel must stop creating and expanding new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Settlement activity is illegal and undermines confidence in the peace process.

As a friend of Israel we can say that the only way to ensure the durability of a democratic state is through the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

All of us in the international community must help sustain an environment conducive to peace talks.  Support for the Palestinian economy will also remain fundamental.

Madam President

Syria continues to descend into ever more brutal and widening conflict.  Seven million Syrians – one third – need help.  Internally displaced are approximately five million. 

Over a third of housing has been destroyed.  A third of the schools have been damaged.  Thousands of civilians are trapped under siege in Homs and Aleppo and elsewhere. 

Almost 60 per cent of the hospitals are out of operation or severely damaged – and medical supplies are being systematically targeted to prevent their delivery.  Australia will, as a priority, continue to work with others to improve access to and the protection of, medical workers, facilities and supplies.

Refugees are approximately two million; as UN High Commissioner Guterres said last week, at a rate not seen since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.  Hundreds of thousands of other Syrians have informally sought shelter in neighbouring countries.  Human rights abuses – including war crimes and crimes against humanity – are rampant and unpunished.

Syria’s neighbours – above all, Lebanon and Jordan – are at breaking point.  The UN humanitarian system is being stretched beyond its capacity.  We urge all countries which can do so to support the humanitarian appeals for Syria and the region.  The UN appeals, when combined with direct appeals from Lebanon and Jordan, require $5.2 billion – making them the largest appeals in history.

Both Lebanon and Jordan require strong support politically from the international community.  Lebanon faces internal violence.  Hizballah’s overt involvement in Syria threatens Lebanon’s policy of disassociation, and the stability of the state.  Australia reiterates its support for President Sleiman and the efforts of the Lebanese Armed Forces to maintain stability.

We encourage the early formation of a Lebanese government to confront these challenges and strongly endorse the Council’s recent Presidential Statement in support of Lebanon and its institutions of state.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr visited Syrian refugees in the Beka’a Valley in May and was struck by the scale of their suffering, and by the generosity of Lebanon in hosting so many fleeing from Syria.  Foreign Minister Carr had earlier visited refugees in Jordan.  He announced a $12 million increase in Australia’s humanitarian response, bringing our total contribution to $78.5 million. 

Lebanon and Jordan need strong support from the international community going beyond the immediate humanitarian assistance to include broader recovery assistance; the pressures from refugees and displaced people on the essential services of these countries are becoming untenable: these pressures can only increase.

Australia is gravely concerned at the growing body of evidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons.  Australia welcomes the UN’s 11 July decision to accept the Syrian government’s invitation to visit Damascus for talks on chemical weapons investigations but talks alone do not address these serious allegations and we remain concerned by the delay in admitting UN inspectors.  The Syrian regime must facilitate full access for UN investigations into all allegations.

Clearly the need for a political solution in Syria has never been greater and Australia supports the UN’s central role in convening a “Geneva II” conference on political transition.  We must not lose momentum in ending what has become the single biggest catastrophe of the new century.

We again repeat our call for the Council to live up to its responsibilities under the Charter – and international expectations – and work harder to end the conflict, to pre-empt a broader threat regionally to peace and security, and to alleviate the terrible humanitarian disaster we face.

Most immediately, the humanitarian crisis demands that the Council consider what additional steps can be taken to meet the crisis.  Australia remains prepared to work with others on this as a priority.

Thank you Madam President.

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