Statement by H.E. Michael Spindelegger at the debate of the Security Council on "The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question"
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New York, 11 May 2009
I would like to thank the Secretary General for his comprehensive briefing on the developments on the ground and Minister Lavrov for his initiative of bringing us together.
Four months ago, with the tragic violent confrontation in and around the Gaza Strip ongoing, we met here facing an unprecedented challenge to the Middle East Peace Process. The Security Council agreed on a resolution calling for an immediate and durable cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. Even though a fragile cease-fire is in place today, we saw no further progress at the political, security and economic levels. The parties and the international community are thus confronted with the urgent need of creating the conditions for re-launching a credible and comprehensive peace process.
Our discussion is taking place at an important moment for the future of the region: The new government of Israel is engaged in a strategic review of its approach towards its neighbours and the peace process. Palestinians have to face the challenge of bridging the deep internal rift, agree on unification and prepare for new elections in order to give new democratic legitimacy to their leadership.
In this period of uncertainty and transition, the international community must shoulder its responsibility and engage with the parties in order to move towards substantial negotiations for a lasting settlement of the Middle East conflict. Therefore, the Security Council must reconfirm its steadfast support for the peace process and its basic parameters, namely durable peace and freedom from violence and terrorism based on a two-states-solution as required by the Road Map with two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders. I would like to thank the Russian Presidency for preparing a statement that will hopefully serve as a guideline to the parties for re-engaging in comprehensive negotiations on all tracks.
Three months ago, at the Gaza Reconstruction Conference, the international community pledged its full support to humanitarian relief to the civilian population and to early reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. The Secretary General’s report leaves no doubt that there is an unacceptable lack of progress in alleviating the dire living-conditions in the Gaza Strip.
While Austria supports coordinated action by all parties concerned to prevent the illegal flow of arms and ammunition into the Gaza Strip we urgently call on Israel to allow for the immediate and comprehensive supply of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip with goods to satisfy everyday needs and the requirements of reconstruction. The Gaza Strip needs fuel, cash and materials to repair schools, clinics, sanitation networks and shelters.
Together with EU partners Austria has contributed funds to be disbursed by the European Commission to socially vulnerable Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Under the current circumstances, this money simply cannot be disbursed to those whom we want to support. Innocent citizens must not be held hostage by Israel because of irresponsible policies of an illegitimate political leadership in the Gaza Strip. Let me say this very clearly: The current policies imposed on the Gaza Strip deprive its people of their human dignity. This is not acceptable.
Rebuilding Gaza and moving forward on the path to peace also requires rebuilding trust, including by strengthening respect for the rule of law, human rights and international humanitarian law. In this context, I would like to thank the Secretary General for having provided us with a summary of the findings of the Board of Inquiry on a number of deeply disturbing incidents during the Gaza crisis. As a matter of principle, allegations of violations of international humanitarian law must be investigated wherever they occur and whoever may have committed them. Austria believes that this report also merits the further attention of this Council.
We are concerned about the lack of political progress in the West Bank, where Israeli road-blocks and closure policies continue to render regular social life and economic activities impossible. Settlement construction and the destruction of Palestinian homes in East-Jerusalem and in the West Bank undermine any meaningful peace talks and, in consequence, weaken the credibility of the political process and playing into the hands of radical forces.
At the same time, we urgently call on Palestinian political representatives to assume their responsibility and seriously engage in efforts to work towards a unified political leadership. In view of the upcoming round of talks in Cairo (16th / 17th May) we strongly encourage inter-Palestinian reconciliation behind President Mahmoud Abbas, which is key not only for the future of the peace process but also for the implementation of reconstruction efforts in Gaza. Palestinians need a government that enjoys legitimacy among their own population and is acceptable as a partner to Israel and the international community. Such a government needs to be fully committed to the two-states-solution and the other principles of the peace process.
In their efforts towards lasting peace in the region, the parties have the firm support of the international community, with the Security Council and the Middle East Quartet as its main actors. The international conference on the Middle East Peace Process that the Russian Federation plans to convene, in consultation with the Quartet and the parties, in Moscow in the course of this year will provide the international community with another important occasion to demonstrate this support.