Statement by Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the Security Council meeting on the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
We thank Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, for his substantive briefing on the situation regarding a Middle East settlement.
The Palestinian issue remains at the epicentre of instability in the Middle East and North Africa. The Russian Federation has consistently advocated for a fair settlement of it on the basis of the well-known international legal framework that includes the relevant Security Council resolutions, the Madrid principles and the Arab Peace Initiative, which presuppose the concept of a two-State solution and envision a negotiated settlement to all final-status issues in the Palestinian territories.
We have been compelled to conclude that the task of relaunching the Palestinian-Israeli political dialogue has lately become significantly harder, not only because of settlement construction and the unending provocative rhetoric and violence on both sides but also because of a number of other factors that have undermined every achievement of the Middle East peace process in recent times. Instead of seeing progress with a viable plan for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli situation, we have been witness to some notorious decisions concerning Jerusalem.
The Palestinians — indeed, the Arabs in general — have greeted those measures with total rejection. Palestinian representatives have made statements declaring their loss of trust in the role of the United States as a mediator, proposing suspending their recognition of Israel and withdrawing from the Oslo accords, including the Paris Protocol on economic relations.
Such emotional reactions emphasize how delicate the question of Jerusalem is within the framework of a Middle East settlement. Unfortunately, that was followed by damaging decisions to cut financial aid to Palestine, including contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
We cannot countenance a situation in which the Palestinians find themselves in a position where they will effectively have nothing left to lose. It would fuel radicalism and could cause the situation in the Palestinian territories and the entire region to erupt.
In our view, the solution to this situation lies in resuming a direct Palestinian-Israeli dialogue on all contentious issues, including the status of Jerusalem, as soon as possible. Considering the extraordinary significance of the holy city for followers of the three monotheistic religions, we call on all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from any initiatives that could have dangerous and unpredictable repercussions.
Free access for all believers to Jerusalem’s holy sites must be protected. It will be essential to arrive at equitable, long-term agreements that correspond to previous decisions of the international community and reflect the interests of both sides. Implementation of the recommendations in the 2016 report of the Middle East Quartet (S/2016/595, annex) would establish a good foundation for achieving that objective.
In the context of measures aimed at creating the right conditions for a resumption of the peace process, we would like to point to the gradual return of the legitimate Government of Palestine to the Gaza Strip that began in October 2017, with Egypt’s assistance. We hope that all the Palestinian parties will demonstrate the political will necessary to overcome any issues that may arise and will see the efforts to restore genuine national unity through to the end. Meanwhile, the international community must lend its support to the process.
As a sponsor of the peace process and an active participant in the Quartet, the Russian Federation will continue to contribute to breaking the impasse in the Middle East peace process, including through contacts with involved States of the region. Our proposal to President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who have been visiting us separately on a regular basis, to convene a summit in Moscow is still on the table.
The situation we have now can lead to only one conclusion, which is that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, like other urgent current issues, can be resolved only through a collective effort. There continues to be no alternative to the Quartet as a mediation mechanism for this issue, in concert with key States of the region. Unfortunately, other serious conflicts continue in the Middle East, although we should not allow them to overshadow the issue of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. The Russian Federation is of the view that inter- and intra-State disputes should be resolved through direct political dialogue.
We have been making active efforts to stabilize the situation in the region and put an end to hostilities, while at the same time combating terrorist groups, providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, helping to improve socioeconomic situations and promoting political settlements of crises in the Middle East.
Thanks to the decisive role played by the Russian air force, Government forces have cleared Syrian territory of fighters belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). We have succeeded in preserving Syria as a sovereign State, creating the conditions for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and for launching efforts for a political settlement to the Syrian crisis in earnest, under the auspices of the United Nations.
That specific effort will be further supported by the Syrian national dialogue to be held in Sochi from 29 to 30 January, which we hope will bring a new impetus to the Geneva process. After the Sochi meeting, within the Geneva format and with the consent of the Syrian parties, agreements should be drawn up on constitutional reform and elections, under United Nations supervision, as outlined in resolution 2254 (2015) and affirmed in the Da Nang statement of 11 November 2017 by the Presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States and the Sochi declaration of 22 November 2017 by the leaders of Iran, Russia and Turkey.
The liberation of Iraq from ISIL was a pivotal moment, enabling the country to focus on national reconciliation and on rebuilding the infrastructure destroyed in the war against ISIL. We hope that Iraq can resolve its issues and that relations between Baghdad and Erbil will be restored so as to stabilize the national political situation and enable Iraq to develop as a sovereign and territorially intact State.
The situation in Libya remains complicated, although there have been glimmers recently leading to hopes that the impasse in the political settlement process to date can finally be overcome. We continue to be gravely concerned about the situation in Yemen. The country’s economy is virtually paralysed, major parts of its civilian infrastructure have been destroyed and the people are living with hunger and large-scale epidemics.
We welcome the humanitarian efforts undertaken by the United Nations and Member States, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others. The Russian Federation is also helping to aid the people of Yemen. One thing is obvious, however, which is that the situation cannot be improved until the peace process is resumed.
The international community should also do everything possible to maintain stability in Lebanon. It will be crucial to ensure that steps to improve the situation in the Persian Gulf are taken as soon as possible. The mutual recriminations and accusations should give way to the launch of a regional process establishing confidence-building measures, while the potential in that regard of resolution 598 (1987), adopted as long ago as 1987, is still untapped.
We would like to underscore that the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa reflects the importance of concerted international cooperation and the adoption of a united agenda. We must strive to unite our efforts to combat terrorism and consolidate our approaches to resolving the serious crises in the region.
In that context, we believe that the initiative of Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, to hold a comprehensive review in the Security Council of the situation in the Middle East remains relevant. In that regard, I agree with Mrs. Haley. Like her, we are ready to discuss the situation as a whole. Russia is prepared to participate in such efforts with all interested partners.
We maintain friendly and equitable relations with every State in the Middle East without exception, relations that are not marred by negative instances of interference in internal affairs. Incidentally, just for the record, it is not only in the Middle East that we refrain from interfering in others’ internal affairs, and we advise others to do the same.