HomeUnited NationsGeneral Assembly: Situation in the Middle East

General Assembly: Situation in the Middle East

Note:  A complete summary of today’s General Assembly meetings will be made available after their conclusion.

Opening Remarks

VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, condemning the attacks against civilians and religious sites, called it heartbreaking that the escalation of violence began at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.  Urging respect for all places of worship, including the Aqsa Mosque compound, he noted that the fatalities in Gaza include 63 children and 35 women.  The situation in the occupied West Bank is also dire, he said, noting that civilians in Israel are likewise impacted, with fatalities and hundreds of injuries.  Sending thoughts and prayers to the families of those who died, he echoed the call for a ceasefire.  Israel, as an occupying Power, must ensure compliance with its international human rights law obligations, including proportionate use of force.  Pointing out that the insecurity that Palestinians experience has been exacerbated by the pandemic, he called for immediate humanitarian relief.  United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) facilities have become refuges for thousands of Palestinians, he said, requesting Member States to ensure that the Agency, whose work is critical for regional security, receives support.

The Palestine question, he continued, is the longest‑standing issue on the United Nations agenda and has been around as long as the Organization itself.  This latest escalation did not happen in a vacuum and cannot be divorced from the decades-long crisis, and the protracted military occupation of Palestinian territories.  Coupled with the political impasse and lack of negotiations, such a sustained occupation has led to widespread feelings of hopelessness among Palestinians.  Noting that the Organization’s position has been documented in countless reports and resolutions, he said:  “We have to show the Palestinians and Israelis that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”  The institutional record of the United Nations clearly prescribes the way forward — swift return to negotiations, with the goal of ending the occupation, addressing all final status solutions and achieving two independent, sovereign, viable States living side by side in peace and security.  Stressing the role of ongoing negotiation efforts, including by the Middle East Quartet, he called on the Security Council to overcome its paralysis and demonstrate to the Palestinians that their legitimate aspirations will be heard.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary-General, recalled the surge of deadly violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory over the past 10 days and reiterated his call for an immediate ceasefire on both sides.  The hostilities have caused serious damage to vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including roads and electricity lines, contributing to a humanitarian emergency.  “If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza.”

He said UNRWA is providing drinking water, sanitation and electricity generators for those sheltering in its schools, while the World Food Programme (WFP) has provided electronic vouchers to 74,000 people in Gaza.  In addition, he is working on an allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund, and the Humanitarian Coordinator intends to release $14 million from the Humanitarian Fund for the occupied Palestinian territories, he said.  Israel has a duty to allow and facilitate rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian aid including food, fuel and medical supplies into Gaza.

“Even wars have rules,” he insisted.  “First and foremost, civilians must be protected.  Indiscriminate attacks, and attacks against civilians and civilian property, are violations of the laws of war.”  He called on Israel to exercise maximum restraint in the conduct of military operations, likewise urging Hamas and other militant groups to stop the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars from highly populated civilian neighbourhoods into civilian population centres in Israel.

Turning to the violent clashes between Israel’s security forces and Palestinians in the West Bank, he urged Israel to cease demolitions and evictions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.  With every day that passes, the risk that the violence could spread beyond Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory increases.  The conflict creates an environment that is ripe for exploitation by radicals and extremists.  He said he and the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process are undertaking “extensive” diplomatic efforts with Egypt, Jordan and Qatar, and engaging directly with the parties to conflict — including Hamas — in efforts to secure an end to hostilities.

“We know far too well that violence begets violence,” he said.  “The unconscionable death, suffering and destruction of the past 10 days only serve to push the prospect of sustained peace further into the future.” He called for resumed negotiations to address final status issues, as well as an end to the occupation, allowing for the realization of a two-State solution on the basis of the 1967 lines, United Nations resolutions, international law and mutual agreements, with Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine.


RIYAD Al-MALKI, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Observer State of Palestine, said that the current meeting is a clear message to Israel to end the massacre.  Families are being targeted as they sleep, he said, and Israel is not even pretending it was a mistake.  Instead of apologizing, Israel is asserting that it has a right to kill innocent people and then blame the victims.  Noting the deaths of 230 Palestinians and the destruction of 1,500 residential apartments and 50 schools, he said Israel also displaced Palestinians during the pandemic, despite clear calls against such actions from the United Nations.  To those who say that Israel has the right to defend itself, he raised the question:  “What right?  Israel asks, ‘What would you have done if missiles were targeting your cities?’, but Israel forgets that the occupation is the root cause,” he asserted.  “How can an occupying Power have the right to defend itself when the people under occupation are deprived of the same right?”, he asked.

The Palestinian people are facing many disasters and nakbas, he said, adding that they have never let go of their struggle.  Israel is attempting to displace forcibly Palestinian families from East Jerusalem in order to erase any Arab Palestinian presence in the city, with the compliance of the military and settlers.  Pointing to the obliteration of the Islamic and Christian identities of Jerusalem, he condemned Israel’s decision to break into one of the holiest places during the holiest month of Ramadan, during the holiest of nights of Al-Qadr.  To those who were willing to make a peace that “left Palestinians out”, and were ready to make a gift of Jerusalem to the occupier, he said Palestinians responded that Jerusalem is not for sale.  Reaffirming the cultural, legal and historical status of the holy sites, he said that Palestine has long accepted political and peaceful strategies to end the occupation.

However, he added, the occupying Power has procrastinated since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s and Israel’s current Government does not believe in the two‑State solution.  Dealing with Israel as if it is above the law only encourages it to act as such, he warned, urging Member States not to acknowledge the illegal status created by its policies.  Every country in the world has a responsibility to hold Israel accountable, he said, calling on the international community to not just “watch and idle”.  Some accuse the United Nations of siding with the Palestinians when, in reality, it is siding with its own Charter and human rights.  Condemning the former United States Administration’s “shameful deal that pretended that Palestine is not a relevant question anymore”, he said the international solidarity for Palestinians demonstrates otherwise.  Israel’s criminal occupation has caused so much pain that the situation cannot be solved by a ceasefire, he said, recalling the stories of children in Gaza and West Bank, from Suzie who went to sleep with her family and woke up in the rubble, to Muhammad who now lives in a prison cell.

MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL THANI (Qatar) called on the international community bring an end to Israel’s aggression against Palestinian civilians and protect the holy sites of Jerusalem.  Despite the condemnation of the international community in response to attempts by the Israelis to evict Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, those activities have continued.  In addition, the numerous attacks on the Aqsa Mosque compound, with no respect for the Ramadan holiday, is a provocation towards millions of Muslims throughout the world.

He said the use of disproportionate force and attacks against civilian populations, including in refugee camps, must stop immediately.  In Gaza, residential neighborhoods continue to be targeted.  When will the international community act to protect international law?, he asked, calling on Member States to ensure that the sanctity of holy sites is respected.  Inaction is undermining the authority of the United Nations and its ability to maintain international peace and security, he warned.

AYMAN SAFADI (Jordan) said the conflict over the last 11 days has displaced 75,000 people in Gaza, most of whom took shelter in schools run by UNRWA, an agency that requires additional support.  Israel’s practices push the region towards conflict, he cautioned, stressing that the occupation has turned the Aqsa Mosque compound into a centre for injustice, provoking millions of Muslims around the world.  Furthermore, Israel attempts to alter the demographic character of East Jerusalem with evictions, where Palestinians have a clear right to live in their homes and the occupation has no authority.  Jordan will continue to dedicate all its resources to protect the status and Hashemite custodianship of the holy sites in Jerusalem.

If left unchecked, he said Israel’s aggression will lead to more serious escalations.  There are now more than 700,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, a sharp and unprecedented increase over the past several years and one that undermines the two-State solution.  There will be no peace and security in a one-State apartheid regime, he insisted.  Instead, one escalation will follow another in a deadly cycle of violence.  Immediate action to address the root causes of the conflict is a both a strategic choice and regional necessity, he asserted.

NAME TO COME (Algeria), speaking for the Arab Group, recalled the graphic images of killing and destruction, and said that the Palestinian people’s only fault is their refusal to accept occupation.  Is it possible to stay silent after counting the victims and witnessing the destruction?, he asked, cautioning against equating the oppressed with the oppressor.  Pointing to irrefutable evidence of houses being destroyed while innocent civilians were sleeping, he said that the impunity given to the occupying force must stop.  The Arab Group believes that the Assembly must act quickly to reach a comprehensive cessation of violence against Palestinians and protect them and their holy sites.  The gravity of the situation requires collective efforts, he said, pointing to the catastrophic humanitarian situation across the occupied territories.

Calling for accountability for the crimes against civilians, he requested the Secretary-General to declare a state of humanitarian emergency to allow the international community to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians and reconstruct Gaza.  “We have to start calling the occupation by its name,” he said, adding that the Palestinian question cannot be solved without ending that occupation, and allowing Palestinians to practise their right to self‑determination.  Though Al-Quds Al-Sharif remains occupied, he said, Jerusalem will forever be the capital of Palestine.  Reaffirming the historic and legal status of Jerusalem and its holy sites, he noted the many promises to Palestinians that were not kept, from the Madrid Peace Conference and the Oslo Accord to hundreds of Assembly resolutions and dozens of Council resolutions.

NAME TO COME (Turkey) said that the world must not remain silent in the face of unspeakable brutalities and oppression against Palestinian people, because such a silence is equal to complicity.  Calling for a diagnosis of the root causes of the conflict, he pointed to the continuing Israeli provocations in Jerusalem, the desecration of the Aqsa Mosque compound and the forced evictions of the Palestinian people.  All these acts of aggression took place during the holy month of Ramadan, he noted, adding that, not only high rises, but schools and hospitals were targeted.  Not even the UNRWA buildings were spared, he said, noting the deaths of the Agency’s doctors.  A land of 365 square kilometres with more than 2 million people is a prison, he said.  Noting the disturbing lack of action from the Security Council, he said:  “The world is bigger than five.”  Recalling that the Assembly has adopted landmark resolutions in the face of the Council’s paralysis, he pointed to the need for establishment of an international protection force for Palestine with military and financial contributions from the international community.  Calling for a revival of a two-State solution, he said that the status of Jerusalem is an important component of any lasting resolution.


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