Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the UNSC open debate on the Situation in the Middle East, Including the Palestinian Question
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Middle East is currently going through a profound transformation that is unfolding in a way that is rather contradictory. Improvement of relations between the states in the region, stabilisation in the conflict zones and greater efforts to achieve their political and diplomatic settlement based on the principles of the United Nations Charter is what we need today more than ever before.
Our position is laid down in the new Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation. We attribute priority importance to building a sustainable and inclusive security and cooperation architecture in the Middle East and promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue. It is our intention to promote active cooperation with all countries in the region, both bilaterally and through the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the League of Arab States and the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf. We see a growing interest in Russia’s initiative to ensure collective security with the involvement of all coastal states in the Persian Gulf – both Arab countries and Iran – and the participation of the outer circle of influential states.
We welcome the positive changes that even a short time ago seemed so difficult to achieve. I am referring, first and foremost, to the restoration of relations between Saudi Arabia and Islamic Republic of Iran with the mediation of the People’s Republic of China, the plans to bring Syria back into the Arab family – something we have been working on for a long time – and the normalisation of relations between Damascus and Ankara, which has begun with Russia’s assistance using the advantages offered by the Astana format. In addition, there are signs that steps will be taken to accelerate the settlement of the bloody conflict in Yemen, largely thanks to the initiatives undertaken by Riyadh.
Having said this, we have to state with deep regret and concern that these positive changes have left the Palestinian issue on the sidelines. By initiating this meeting, our goal was to raise awareness of the unprecedented upsurge of violence and tensions in the zone of the Arab–Israeli conflict. We believe it is high time for us to reaffirm the common denominators in the Middle East settlement laid down in decisions of the Security Council and the General Assembly, to prevent the threat of another armed confrontation and clear the political horizon for the resumption of the peace process.
The events in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip, in East Jerusalem, as well as on the disengagement line between Israel, Lebanon and Syria have driven tensions to extremely dangerous levels. As a result of military raids in Jenin, Jericho, Nablus and Huwara and clashes caused by violations of the status of the Holy Sites, over 100 Palestinians have died since the beginning of this year with thousands more injured. The number of victims among Israelis is also growing, as was just mentioned by that country’s representative.
The situation is being further exacerbated by Israeli strikes against Syria (at least 10 attacks in 2023), including shelling of the Aleppo airport, which is being used to deliver humanitarian assistance to the areas affected by the devastating earthquake on February 6, 2023. There has also been an increased number of incidents along the Blue Line with Lebanon, including the largest exchanges of missile strikes since 2006.
Unilateral moves creating an irreversible reality on the ground and the choice in favour of the use of force to protect these realities remain the major reason behind the regular surges in violence between the Palestinians and Israel. I must also mention the record rate of construction of Israeli settlements with their retrospective legalisation, expropriation of lands, demolition of houses and arbitrary detentions. Nor can we close our eyes to the growing radicalisation of the Palestinian street and a deepening split between the main Palestinian parties, which poses a risk of a military confrontation.
Under these circumstances, it is obviously crucial to prevent and eliminate the symptoms of further deterioration. The absolute imperative, however, is for all leading actors to reaffirm the lack of any alternatives to the two-state solution as one ensuring the right of Palestinians to their own independent state with the capital in East Jerusalem and the right of Israelis to safe and peaceful coexistence with their neighbours and the region as a whole. It is only the return to direct talks on all issues related to the ultimate status that can break the vicious circle of violence and radicalisation and restore mutual trust.
However, instead of helping restore the political horizon, the United States and the EU continue their destructive attempts to substitute genuine peace with some economic half measures and promote the Arab-Israeli normalisation bypassing the just solution to the Palestinian problem and the Arab Peace Initiative. The Middle East Quartet of international mediators has fallen victim to these actions.
Now Washington claims to be the only sponsor of the Middle East peace process, ignoring the fact that it has long ago lost its neutrality and impartiality – qualities that are integral for a fair broker – especially after the well-known decisions of the Trump administration that were in direct violation of UNSC Resolutions and have not been revoked by the Biden administration.
The fact that UN Security Council resolutions are not being implemented – not only those on the Middle East settlement – deserves particular attention, and here is why. A short time ago the United States and its allies spared no effort to make sure that each time a veto was applied on any issue in the Security Council, this issue is then presented for consideration at the UN General Assembly. We did not object, even though this initiative was explicitly spearheaded against Russia. We have nothing to hide: when we apply the veto right, we always clearly explain our motives. Nor do we shy away from repeating our arguments at the General Assembly.
But here is the thing. The power of veto is an inherent right and an integral element of the mechanisms enshrined in the UN Charter. Making use of this right does not represent a violation.
However, failure to implement the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council is a violation of the Charter. Specifically, Article 25 of the Charter, which states that all parties must implement the decisions of the Security Council. Perhaps the time has come for those who derail their implementation to explain themselves to the General Assembly? Such resolutions sabotaged by the West include decisions on Palestine, Golan Heights, West Sahara, Kosovo settlement, Iranian nuclear programme and, of course, the Minsk agreements on Ukraine, which we covered in detail yesterday.
The United States and Europe are unscrupulously speculating on the Ukrainian issue, using blackmail and threats in an attempt to win the support of developing countries and thus distract them from problems in the Middle East and other regions of the Global South. What they are trying to say is this: we will defeat Russia and everything will settle down by itself. Therefore, the crises that the developing countries have long been interested in settling fall victim to the double standards and colonial instincts of the West, which is obsessed with the selfish interests to dictate its demands to the whole world by ignoring the culture and traditions of other nations and making a mockery of international law.
Let me quote from an interview of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer given on February 8, 2021. In response to a question about the Golan Heights, the Secretary of State said: “Leaving aside the legalities of that question, as a practical matter, the Golan is very important to Israel’s security. As long as Assad is in power in Syria, as long as Iran is present in Syria, militia groups backed by Iran, the Assad regime itself – all of these pose a significant security threat to Israel, and as a practical matter, the control of the Golan in that situation I think remains of real importance to Israel’s security. Legal questions are something else.”
I quoted the statement Secretary Blinken, who said twice: "leaving aside the legalities of that question" and "legal questions are something else." This is an example of how resolutions are implemented and how the United States generally positions itself in our Organisation.
Under these circumstances, the role of the UN as coordinator of multilateral diplomacy is particularly relevant. We call on the heads of the Secretariat and еру Secretary-General personally to pay close attention to the implementation of Security Council decisions, with a special emphasis on the Middle East peace process. We would also very much like to see Secretary-General more actively perform his functions as the moderator of the Quartet without waiting for permission to do so.
Recently the Secretary-General took the initiative and announced the convening of a meeting on Afghanistan in early May. We support this. But why not take the initiative to also announce the convening of a meeting of the Quartet? It is his prerogative.
At the same time, we call on the Israelis and Palestinians to cease all unilateral actions that jeopardise the implementation of the two-state formula, including terrorist and other military attacks, incitement to aggression, disproportionate use of force by any side, any irreversible steps related to the issue of settlements, as well as attempts to change the status of Jerusalem.
We wish the Palestinian movements to rise above partisan ambitions and unite on the political platform of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. This will help improve the socioeconomic situation, strengthen administrative institutions and prepare them for dialogue with Israel on behalf of the entire Palestinian people. We know that our friends in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria and other colleagues are also working towards restoring Palestinian unity. We are also making efforts in this area. We will continue them.
I would like to note the special role of Saudi Arabia as the country behind the Arab Peace Initiative, the role of Jordan with regard to its custodianship of the holy sites in Jerusalem, the role of the League of Arab States and the Islamic Cooperation Organisation, as well as the importance of continued effective work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
Russia will continue to contribute to stabilisation in the Middle East and North Africa, and to promote the Middle East peace process together will the countries in the region and in coordination with other mediators acting in good faith. As always, we remain open to discussion on the respective initiatives as part of collective efforts within the UN.