I wish to thank Under-Secretary-General Feltman for his briefing.
I will begin with Syria, where the horrifying situation is getting worse. Escalating violence driven by the Al-Assad regime has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions of Syrians. There is no clearer demonstration of the situation’s threat to regional peace and security than the Syrian Government’s recent shelling of Akakali, which the Council rightfully condemned.
As the violence and atrocities mount, the United States will not wait for all members of the Council to get on the right side of history. Together with our allies, we are supporting the opposition as it moves towards an inclusive, democratic transition. We are further pressuring the regime and addressing the growing humanitarian needs in the region. At the same time, we continue to support the efforts of Joint Special Representative Brahimi to find a durable solution to the crisis.
As President Obama told the General Assembly last month, "the future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people". The regime of Bashar Al-Assad will come to an end. Indeed, that transition is not just inevitable; it has already begun. Al-Assad’s merciless assault upon the Syrian people has not cowed them into submission; far from it. The opposition is getting stronger, and parts of Syria have slipped from the regime’s control. In those areas, Syrian citizens are banding together to administer towns, reopen schools and rebuild their economy. The United States is helping them do so, providing the unarmed civilian opposition with help to organize in support of the transition plan agreed in Cairo last July, with its vision of a democratic, pluralistic Syria where all of its people have a say in how they are governed.
More than 1.5 million people have fled their homes either to neighbouring countries or to safer places within Syria. As the number of refugees grows, we commend Syria’s neighbours, including Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, on their generosity and recognize their need for additional support. The United States has committed more than $130 million in food, medical supplies and other life-saving assistance.
We encourage all Member States to respond to the needs identified in the United Nations Syria appeals and to coordinate closely with the United Nations in responding to the crisis. As the Syrians plan for transition, we are looking for additional ways to support Syrian efforts to document serious violations of international law, including the indiscriminate bombardment and deliberate targeting of civilians.
No one can deny that Al-Assad’s war against the Syrian people now poses real challenges to all Syria’s neighbours, including Lebanon. From deadly attacks by the Syrian regime across the border to tens of thousands of refugees, Lebanon is already suffering the consequences of the conflict. Hizbullah’s active and growing support for Al-Assad’s war exposes Hasan Nasrallah’s claims of promoting Lebanon’s national interest as nothing more than a deadly form of deception. The group’s leaders may try to change the subject by invoking hollow rhetoric about a so-called resistance but the truth is plain to see. Nasrallah’s fighters are now part of Al-Assad’s killing
machine and Hizbullah leaders continue to plot new measures to prop up a murderous and desperate dictator with Iran.
We encourage the international community to counter Hizbullah’s terrorist activity and to do more to expose its deepening involvement in Al-Assad’s war. We commend the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese Armed Forces, in particular, for maintaining stability and law and order at this critical juncture. We welcome the efforts of President Sleiman and others to promote dialogue, including with respect to the disarmament of illegal militias, as called for in resolution 1559 (2004). We reiterate our firm commitment to a stable, sovereign and independent Lebanon.
Turning to Middle East peace efforts, as President Obama said in his address before the General Assembly last month: "The road is hard, but the destination is clear: a secure, Jewish State of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine" (ibid., p. 14). We actively support the creation of a Palestinian State as part of a two-State solution as a result of direct negotiations, without preconditions, between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Unilateral actions, including initiatives to grant the Palestinian Authority non-member State observer status at the United Nations, would only jeopardize the peace process and complicate efforts to return the parties to direct negotiations. Any efforts to use international forums to prejudge final status issues, which can only be resolved directly by the parties, will neither improve the daily lives of Palestinians nor foster the trust essential to make progress towards a two-State solution.
We remain focused on helping Israelis and Palestinians to improve the environment between them and to address the Palestinian Authority’s chronic fiscal crisis, in particular. We recognize the serious financial challenges facing the Palestinian Authority and its vital efforts to sustain the institutions of governance that it has built. The Palestinian leadership has taken several steps to address its financial challenges but it needs our help. We appreciate the support of Israel and of the wider donor community to provide the financial resources to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian people.
We all understand the severity of the current economic situation in the Palestinian territories and the consequences of inaction. In parallel, we urge continued international support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East in order to further its efforts to provide the necessary assistance for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere until a final negotiated solution is reached.
Lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis requires both parties to take meaningful steps. Palestinians should continue their security cooperation, further strengthen public institutions and end incitement. The onslaught of rockets fired by terrorists in Gaza must cease immediately. We condemn those attacks in the strongest terms. Israel should step up its efforts to deter, confront and prosecute anti-Palestinian violence and extremist hate crimes, including vandalism at religious sites. We agree with President Peres that "holy sites must not be harmed".
In the West Bank, the recent and repeated destruction of Palestinian olive groves, which are a critical source of income for the local population, is deplorable. We look to the Israeli authorities to act decisively to protect those resources and to investigate such acts.
Like every United States Administration for decades, we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. We continue to oppose any efforts to legalize outposts. The fate of existing settlements must be dealt with by the parties, along with other permanent status issues.
Indeed, the road to peace is long and hard, but the United States remained fully committed to helping the parties to reach peace through a negotiated two-State solution.
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