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 to Special Coordinator Serry for his briefing.
We have today arrived at the nine-month mark since final status negotiations resumed between Israel and the Palestinians in July last year – the most ambitious and substantial chance to secure a permanent peace for years. The extraordinary and singular nature of this opportunity cannot be overstated.
We commend the persistence and patience of the United States in encouraging serious negotiations between both sides. The Israelis and the Palestinians – with the support of the international community – need to confront the urgency of the moment and reach an agreement for talks to continue. We commend the statesmanship and commitment that President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu displayed in launching negotiations last year. But we urge leaders on both sides to press on. Those who work with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas in their respective governments must also support the peace process, by showing restraint especially during difficult periods. We urge both sides to refrain from actions or statements that increase tensions on the ground. And any Palestinian unity government must uphold the principle of non-violence and accept previous commitments the Palestinians have made, particularly on Israel’s right to exist. All rocket attacks towards Israel from Gaza must cease.
The economic and security gains that a peace deal would bring to both sides are tremendous. Conversely, the fallout from failed negotiations would be devastating. A just and lasting two-state solution remains in the fundamental interests of both parties and the wider region. We urge both sides not to be diverted by mutual recriminations, but to maintain their political courage, so that the immense efforts invested to date do not prove futile.
Turning to Syria, the conflict has now entered its fourth year. Nearly half the Syrian population needs assistance, one-third has been displaced and over 2.7 million have fled as refugees to neighbouring countries. Last week, Australia’s Foreign Minister visited Jordan and Lebanon to see firsthand the terrible refugee crisis created by this conflict. She announced an increase to Australia’s humanitarian response targeted specifically at Syrian refugee children, who make up half the Syrian refugee population.
A political solution is urgently needed and Joint Special Representative Brahimi has made sound proposals on how negotiations should be conducted. But the Assad regime’s refusal to discuss transition in parallel with security talks – as Mr Brahimi has proposed – demonstrates it is not interested in serious negotiations, as does President Assad’s announcement he will run for re-election as President before substantive negotiations have even begun. The circumstances of the civil war in Syria – a completely fractured country – make genuine elections impossible. They will have no credibility in the eyes of the Syrian people and the international community – and further undermine the prospects for a solution. The Syrian authorities must return now to the negotiating table.
In the meantime, reality for millions of Syrians remains increasingly desperate and brutal. Despite the unambiguous language in Resolution 2139, indiscriminate weapons continue to be savagely used by the regime against civilians. 240,000 civilians remain besieged, the vast majority by regime forces and millions more are in hard-to-reach areas denied food and medicine. The Syrian military strategy which deliberately targets civilians through indiscriminate aerial bombardment, barrel bombs and “surrender or starve” tactics is unacceptable.
The Syrian authorities continue to remove medical supplies from humanitarian convoys, and put up bureaucratic hurdles that prevent the effective distribution of aid. We welcomed the opening of one Syria-Turkey border crossing in March. But there are at least seven more border crossings which could be opened or better utilised – this needs to happen now. It is the Assad regime that has primary responsibility for addressing the desperate humanitarian situation in Syria, but there is unavoidable evidence it is not complying with Resolution 2139. If this persists the Council will need to take further measures.
The Council has heard recently of further horrific crimes being committed in Syria. It remains essential that those responsible for such crimes – including those outlined in the “Caesar report” – be held to account. Australia also condemns terrorist acts perpetrated by jihadist groups ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra, and the involvement of foreign fighters, including from Lebanese Hizballah, in this conflict. Extremists have no place in Syria’s future.
Finally, we commend the efforts of Special Coordinator Kaag and her team in assisting Syria to meet its obligations to remove its chemical weapons – it is essential that the final deadline of 30 June is met. The OPCW mission authorised today to establish the facts about the possible use of chlorine in Syria must be given access to all it needs.
The Australian Foreign Minister’s visit to Lebanon and Jordan last week reaffirmed our support for both countries as they face increasingly insurmountable humanitarian and security challenges as a direct result of the Syrian crisis. Last month, the one-millionth Syrian refugee crossed into Lebanon – a staggering 300 per cent increase from one year ago. We also commend Iraq, Turkey and Egypt for their intake of Syrian refugees –international support for all these countries is necessary to manage this burden. During her visit, Foreign Minister Bishop encouraged Lebanon to maintain its policy of disassociation regarding the Syrian conflict. We welcomed the formation of the new Lebanese government in February – a crucial step for the country’s political stability. It will be vital that the parliament elect a president by 25 May, as scheduled, and that an incoming President can continue President Sleiman’s efforts to unite all Lebanese and act as a force for stability during this difficult time.