Thank you, Mr. President.
At the outset, I would like to extend my condolences to the people of Turkey following yesterday’s tragic earthquake.
Let me begin by reminding this Council that the name of today’s debate is the “Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” – and not vice versa. This morning I’d like to take the unusual step of actually focusing on the situation in the Middle East.
Let me assure you that I will give proper attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, first, let’s look at the facts: the Middle East is in turmoil. Thousands of innocents have been gunned down in the streets. People are calling for their freedom and demanding their rights. Yet, month after month, this Council focuses disproportionately on one and only one conflict in our region.
I don’t claim that this Council does not deal with the situations of specific countries in the Middle East. It does. However, I think it is time to start connecting the dots so that we can face the bigger picture.
For generations, the Arab world has failed miserably to address the needs of its own people. The United Nations Development Program has sponsored five “Arab Human Development Reports” since 2002. Year after year, the Arab researchers who write these reports offer a glimpse into the real world of the Middle East. Young people struggle without access to jobs and education. Women are denied basic rights. Free expression is repressed. Minorities are persecuted. Elections are a sham.
And with their world in flames, Arab leaders continue to blame Israel and the West for all their problems. For years, it’s the only explanation that they have been able to offer to their own people. From time to time, they spice up the story. When a shark attacked a tourist in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, the local Egyptian governor suggested that the Mossad was using sharks to harm Egyptian tourism. Everything wrong in the Middle East, according to many Arab leaders, is simply Israel’s fault. If it’s not the Mossad, it’s the CIA, or MI6, or some other “foreign force”.
Today the people of the Middle East demand real answers for their plight. We have seen their brave stands in public squares. We have heard their cries. And we have witnessed the deadly response to these calls for freedom.
In Hama, Daraa and Latakia, the Syrian regime slaughters its citizens in a desperate bid to hold onto power. Some members of this council remain blind to Assad’s brutality.
In Libya, the reign of Moammar Qaddafi is over after more than 40 years of repression and many months of bloodshed. The Libyan despot’s violent end illustrated what Churchill once described as a signal disadvantage of the dictator: what he does to others may often be done back to him. This truth haunts the minds of many leaders in our region – and Qaddafi’s fate rings an alarm for them.
In Iran, an Ayatollah regime represses its own people as it helps other tyrants to butcher theirs. Last week, UN Special Rapporteur Shaheed briefed the General Assembly, offering a chilling picture of daily life in Iran. His report highlighted “a pattern of systemic violations of… fundamental human rights… including multifarious deficits in relation to the administration of justice… practices that amount to torture… the imposition of the death penalty in the absence of proper judicial safeguards… the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, and the erosion of civil and political rights.”
Iran remains the world’s central banker, chief trainer and primary sponsor of terror. Recent events have shown that its state-directed terrorist activities extend from the Persian Gulf to the Washington Beltway, with targets that range from innocent protestors to foreign soldiers to official diplomatic representatives. This is the way the regime behaves today. One can only imagine what it would do with a nuclear capability – with the dangerous combination of extremist ideology, advanced missile technology and nuclear weapons.
IAEA reports make clear that Iran continues to march toward the goal of a nuclear bomb in defiance of the international community. We cannot allow it to place the entire world under the specter of nuclear terrorism. The world must stop Iran before it is too late.
Yes, Mr. President,
The Middle East is trembling. Its future is uncertain. And two roads stand before us.
There is the future offered by Iranian and Syrian leaders – a future of more extremism, greater violence and continued hate. Their vision will not liberate human beings, it will enslave them. It does not build, it destroys. And there is another road – a path of progress, reform and moderation.
The choice before us is clear – and it has never been more critical to make the right choice for the future of the Middle East and all its inhabitants. It is time for this Council to stop ignoring the destructive forces that seek to keep the Middle East in the past, so that we can seize the promise of a brighter future.
Make no mistake: it is important for Israel and the Palestinians to resolve our longstanding conflict. It is important on its own merits, so that Israelis and Palestinians alike can lead peaceful, secure and prosperous lives. But it will not produce a sudden outbreak of stability, harmony and democratization from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. And seriously addressing the underlying problems of the Middle East will be essential for advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The road to peace can only be built on a foundation of mutual recognition and dialogue.
A month ago, President Abbas stood in this building and said the following:
“I come before you today from the Holy Land, the land of Palestine, the land of divine messages, ascension of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the birthplace of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him).”
He denied 4,000 years of Jewish history. It was not a small omission. It was not an oversight. The Palestinian leadership attempts to erase the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
Others in the Arab world have offered a different message. For example, in 1995, King Hussein came to the United States and said: “For our part, we shall continue to work for the new dawn when all the Children of Abraham and their descendants are living together in the birthplace of their three great monotheistic religions.” Let me repeat this. King Hussein said three monotheistic religions, not one or two.
Those who seek peace do not negate the narrative of the other side. On the contrary, they recognize its existence and choose to sit down and negotiate peace in good faith. This is what President Sadat did. This is what King Hussein did.
The ancient Jewish bond to the land of Israel is unbreakable. This is our homeland. The UN recognized Israel as a Jewish state 64 years ago. It is time for the Palestinians and the more than 20 Muslim countries around the globe to do the same.
Let there be no doubt: Israel wants peace with a future Palestinian state. Let me repeat that: Israel wants peace with a future Palestinian state. In word and in deed, my government has demonstrated time and again that we seek two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in peace.
Prime Minister Netanyahu stood in this hall last month and issued a clear call to President Abbas. Let me reiterate that call today to the Palestinians. Sit down with Israel. Leave your preconditions behind. Start negotiations now.
The international community has called on the Palestinians to go back to negotiations. Israel has accepted the principles outlined by the Quartet to restart negotiations immediately, without preconditions. We are waiting for the Palestinians to do the same.
The Palestinians suggest that settlements are the core cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s an interesting assertion considering that our conflict was raging for nearly a half century before a single settlement sprung up in the West Bank. From 1948 until 1967, the West Bank was part of Jordan, and Gaza was part of Egypt. The Arab world did not lift a finger to create a Palestinian state. And it sought Israel’s annihilation when not a single settlement stood anywhere in the West Bank or Gaza.
The issue of settlements will be worked out over the course of negotiations, but the primary obstacle to peace is not settlements. This is a just a pretext for the Palestinians to avoid negotiations. The primary obstacle to peace is the Arab world’s refusal to acknowledge the Jewish people’s ancient connection to the Land of Israel – and the Palestinian’s insistence on the so-called right of return.
Today the Palestinian leadership is calling for an independent Palestinian state, but insists that its people return to the Jewish state. It’s a proposition that no one who believes in the right of Israel to exist could accept because the only equation in political science with mathematical certainty is that the so-called right of return equals the destruction of the State of Israel. The idea that Israel will be flooded with millions of Palestinians is a non-starter. The international community knows it. The Palestinian leadership knows it. But the Palestinian people aren’t hearing it. This gap between perception and reality is the major obstacle to peace. The so-called right of return is the major hurdle to achieving peace.
Since the Palestinian leadership refuses to tell the Palestinian people the truth, the international community has a responsibility to tell the Palestinian people about the basic compromises that they will have to make.
The many issues that remain outstanding can only – and will only – be resolved in direct negotiations between the parties. Israel’s peace with Egypt was negotiated, not imposed. Our peace with Jordan was negotiated, not imposed. Israeli-Palestinian peace must be negotiated. It cannot be imposed. The Palestinians’ unilateral action at the United Nations is no path to real statehood. It is a march of folly.
Today the Palestinians are far from meeting the basic criteria for statehood, including the test of effective control. The President of the Palestinian Authority has zero authority in the Gaza Strip. Before flying 9,000 kilometers to New York to seek UN membership, President Abbas should have driven 50 kilometers to Gaza, where he has been unable to visit since 2007.
In the same breath that they claim their state will be “peace-loving”, Palestinian leaders speak of their unity with Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization. Hamas and “peace-loving”? There is no greater contradiction in terms. This month, on a fundraising excursion for terrorism with his Iranian patrons, Hamas Leader Ismail Haniyeh stood in front of an audience in Tehran and said, “the correct strategy to liberate our country and Jerusalem is violent resistance.”
Under Hamas rule, Gaza remains a launching ground for constant rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians, which are fueled by the continuous flow of weapons from Iran and elsewhere. Israel has the right to defend itself. As the Palmer report made clear, the naval blockade is a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea.
When it is not attacking Israelis, Hamas is oppressing its own people. In Gaza, civil society is nonexistent, political opponents are tortured, women are subjugated, and children are used as suicide bombers and human shields. Textbooks and television glorify martyrdom and demonize Jews. Incitement against Israelis also continues in the West Bank and in the official institutions of the Palestinian Authority, which names its public squares after suicide bombers.
The unresolved questions about a future Palestinian state cannot be simply swept under the carpet. They go to the core of resolving our conflict. They have to be addressed. Let me be clear: for Israel, the question is not whether we can accept a Palestinian state. We can. The question is what will be the character of the state that emerges alongside us and whether it will live in peace.
The Palestinians’ unilateral action at the UN breaches the Oslo Accords, the Interim Agreement, the Paris Protocol and other bilateral agreements that form the basis for 40 spheres of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation – all of which could be jeopardized by a unilateral action at the UN. This unilateral initiative will raise expectations that cannot be met. It is a recipe for instability and potentially, violence. Members of the international community should be clear about their responsibilities: You vote for it, you own it. All those who vote for unilateral recognition will be responsible for its consequences.
At this critical juncture, the Palestinians’ true friends will encourage them to put aside the false idol of unilateralism and get back to the hard work of direct negotiations.
Speaking of friends, the many so-called Arab champions of the Palestinian cause have a responsibility to play a constructive role. Constructive support from the Arab world is vital for building the civic and economic structures necessary for real Palestinian statehood and peace. Instead of simply adding to the chorus of state-bashing, the Palestinians true supporters will help advance state-building.
Arab donors provided just 20 percent of the international funds for the Palestinian Authority’s regular budget last year. Let me put this in perspective: last year, Arab donations to the regular PA budget accounted for a little more than half of what Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal spent on his newest personal luxury jet. People in Washington, London, and Paris are struggling with an economic downturn, but still providing the bulk of support for Palestinian institutions, while Arab states saturated in petrol dollars don’t even give the Palestinians crumbs off the table.
In the Jewish tradition, we are taught: “Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe.” This sacred principle forms the backbone of Israel’s democracy. It drives our government’s policy. We witnessed a clear reflection of these values last week – as all of Israel welcomed home our kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit, after more than five years in Hamas captivity. It was a moment of great joy, but it came with tremendous costs.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Secretary-General personally and some of the countries represented here today that played an important role in the release of Gilad Shalit.
For us, the supreme value of a single human life justified releasing more than a thousand terrorists and criminals covered in the blood of innocents.
The values inherent in such an act shine bright in our region. Many took note. On Twitter, one Syrian blogger, Soori Madsoos, wrote “Their government is prepared to pay the ultimate price for one citizen, while our government kills us like we are animals and our Arab neighbors say that it’s an internal matter.” Time and again, Israel has shown that it is ready and able to make bold and courageous decisions to preserve life, to uphold human dignity and to pursue peace.
Sustainable peace must be negotiated. It must be nurtured. It must be anchored in security. It must take root in homes, schools and media that teach tolerance and understanding, so that it can grow in hearts and minds. It must be built on a foundation of younger generations that understand the compromises necessary for peace. A brighter future in the Middle East must be forged from within, when we are open and honest about the challenges before us – and resolute in our determination to meet them together.