Statement by the European Union to the United Nations at the Security Council Open VTC on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”
Members of the Security Council,
I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of the European Union
The EU reaffirms its commitment to a just and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the two state solution, with the State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign, and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security and mutual recognition.
The EU reaffirms that there is no alternative to a negotiated two state solution. The status-quo is not an option, as the viability of the two state solution is constantly being eroded by new facts on the ground. The EU urges both parties to demonstrate their stated commitment to the two state solution through concrete actions. Actions by either side which call into question their stated commitment to a negotiated solution must be avoided. The EU will actively support the parties to restore confidence and create an environment of trust necessary to engage in meaningful negotiations as soon as possible.
In this regard, the EU has welcomed the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and a number of recent countries in recent months, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. The EU believes that these developments represent a positive contribution to peace and stability in the Middle East.
The preservation of the viability of the two state solution is at the core of EU policy and will remain a priority. In this regard, and recalling that settlements are illegal under international law, the EU reiterates its strong opposition to Israel's settlement policy and actions taken in this context, such as building the separation barrier beyond the 1967 line, demolitions and confiscation - including of EU funded projects - evictions, forced transfers including of Bedouins, illegal outposts, settler violence and restrictions of movement and access. These actions seriously threaten the two state solution. Settlement activity in East Jerusalem seriously jeopardizes the possibility of Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both states. The EU will continue to closely monitor developments on the ground and their broader implications and remains ready to take further action in order to protect the viability of the two state solution.
The EU calls for all parties to take swift steps to produce a fundamental change to the political, security and economic situation in the Gaza Strip, including the end of the closure and a full opening of the crossing points, while addressing Israel's legitimate security concerns. Rocket fire by militant groups is unacceptable. All stakeholders must commit to non-violence and peace.
Strong, inclusive, accountable and functioning democratic Palestinian institutions based on the respect for the rule of law and human rights are vital for the two-state solution. In this context, the EU has welcomed the decree-law by President Abbas on holding legislative, presidential and National Council elections in the coming months, starting with legislative elections on 22 May. This is an important development as participative, representative and accountable democratic institutions are key for Palestinian self-determination and state-building. The EU calls upon all Palestinian factions to unequivocally commit to democratic principles prior to elections. The EU has consistently supported the work of the Central Elections Commission and reaffirms its willingness to engage with relevant actors in support of the electoral process. We call on Israel to facilitate the EU in monitoring the electoral process, and in this context we hope that the EU election expert mission will soon receive the authorisation to travel. The EU also calls on the Israeli authorities to facilitate the holding of elections across all of the Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem, in line with the Oslo accords.
The EU reiterates its deep and genuine appreciation for UNRWA’s work and for its dedicated staff who are working in an extremely difficult and challenging context. UNRWA is an essential provider of vital services to millions of Palestine refugees, and a stabilising force in the region. Until a just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue in accordance with international law is found, UNRWA remains crucial for providing the necessary protection and essential services for Palestinian refugees, and we will continue to support UNRWA in all its fields of operations, including in East Jerusalem. The EU welcomes the additional financial support from other and new donors and calls upon all partners to increase their contributions to UNRWA
Securing a just and lasting peace will require an increased common international effort. The EU will work actively on a renewed multilateral approach to the peace process in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, including partners in the Quartet, notably the US, in the region and the United Nations Security Council.
Please allow me to turn to the situation in Syria.
Just a few weeks ago, at the fifth Brussels Conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region, co-chaired by the EU and the UN, held in Brussels on 30 March, the international community once again reiterated its faith in and commitment to a sustainable solution to the Syria conflict through a genuine, inclusive political transition in line with UNSCR 2254 and the 2012 Geneva communique, to be negotiated by the Syrian parties within the UN-facilitated Geneva process.
Yet after a decade of conflict, that solution has yet to be achieved. Conflict, violence and instability in Syria continue to have profound repercussions for the stability of the entire region, causing furthermore enormous human suffering, with millions of Syrians still displaced or living as refugees in other countries. The economic situation in Syria is deteriorating in alarming fashion. The COVID-19 pandemic only adds to the gravity of the situation.
The recent Brussels Conference encouraged international donors to offer a significant level of pledges to alleviate the humanitarian and economic challenges faced by the people of Syria, in Syria - in line with the Parameters and Principles for UN assistance - and as refugees throughout the region, and in support of refugee-hosting countries.
This as an important result. Yet within Syria, violations of international law, including abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, by all parties - particularly the Syrian regime and its allies - remain persistent.
In the northwest the situation remains highly insecure. The ceasefire agreed in March 2020 is fragile and must be upheld, civilians must be protected at all times, and attacks on civilian objects, including hospitals, must cease completely. The EU also notes with concern the ongoing insecurity in the northeast of Syria. Military action by any party in any part of Syria renders ordinary life dangerous and intolerable for all parts of the civilian population.
The EU once again echoes the call made on a number of occasions by the UN and the Security Council for the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire, in line with UNSCR 2254 and 2532.
While the EU welcomed the decision by the UN Security Council on 10 July 2020 to extend the authorisation for cross-border humanitarian assistance to people in need in Syria, for a further twelve months, the authorisation of only one crossing point, in the north west, was disappointing. The renewal by the UN Security Council of the authorisation for cross-border assistance in July 20121 is vital, and should fully reflect the humanitarian needs on the ground. As the largest humanitarian donor across the whole of Syria with over €24 billion provided by the EU and its Member states since 2011, the EU continues to demand to all parties to the conflict, in particular the Syrian regime, to allow safe, unimpeded and sustained access for the humanitarian convoys and humanitarian actors to the Syrian population in need in all parts of Syria.
Turkey is a key partner of the European Union and a critically important actor in the Syrian crisis and the region. Turkey’s security concerns in North-East Syria should be addressed through political and diplomatic means, not by military action, and in full respect of international humanitarian law.
The EU continues to call upon the Syrian regime and its allies, and indeed upon all parties to the conflict, to fully respect international humanitarian law, and in particular to permanently cease indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling of civilians and humanitarian workers.
The EU welcomes the release of the second report by the Investigation and Identification Team of the OPCW. This report concludes that there is reasonable ground to believe that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons during an attack in Saraqeeb, Syria, on 4 February 2018. The EU insists further that the Syrian regime must fully cooperate with the OPCW, including its investigations of the use of chemical weapons in the conflict, and deplores the continued lack of cooperation of the regime with the OPCW. We continue to encourage all States Parties to fulfil their responsibility and uphold the credibility of the Convention. We welcome the adoption of Decision CSP25/DEC.XX by the 25th Conference of States Parties of the OPCW and we reiterate our call to the Syrian Arab Republic to fully implement the decision. As a member of the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, the EU reiterates that the use of chemical weapons is a violation of international law and unacceptable anywhere, at any time and under any circumstances, and impunity for the use of chemical weapons must not and will not be tolerated.
The EU welcomes the latest report of the Commission of Inquiry, into the disappearances and associated torture that have been practised by the parties to the conflict, overwhelmingly by the regime; the EU expresses its grave concern at the findings of the report.
All those responsible for breaches of international law and human rights law, some of which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity must be held accountable. The EU reiterates its call to have the situation in Syria referred to the International Criminal Court. In the absence of avenues for international justice, the prosecution of war crimes under national jurisdiction where possible, now under way in several EU Member States, and the initiative of the Netherlands to invoke Syria’s responsibility for human rights violations represent an important contribution towards securing justice. Moreover, the EU will continue to support efforts to gather evidence with a view to future legal action, including by the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Syria.
The EU remains committed to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian state, and recalls that any sustainable solution to the conflict requires a genuine, inclusive political transition in line with UNSCR 2254 and the 2012 Geneva communique negotiated by the Syrian parties within the UN-led Geneva process, with the full, effective and meaningful participation of women.
The EU fully supports the efforts of UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen towards the full implementation of UNSCR 2254 in a comprehensive approach, and continues to encourage the work of the Syrian-led Constitutional Committee, under UN auspices. It is disappointing that the fifth round of talks that took place in January turned out to be fruitless, in the absence of genuine engagement by the regime. The EU urges that a sixth meeting take place as soon as practically possible, this time on the basis of a clear understanding of working methodology and objectives. The EU insists on engagement in good faith in the work of the Committee with the aim of achieving meaningful progress on constitutional reform.
The EU reiterates the necessity of full implementation of UNSCR 2254, including the issue of detainees and missing persons and the establishment of a safe and neutral environment in order for free and fair elections to be held under UN supervision.
Presidential elections organised by the Syrian regime later this year will not fulfil the criteria set out under UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and therefore cannot contribute to the settlement of the conflict nor lead to any measure of international normalisation with the Syrian regime. The European Union would be prepared to support free and fair elections in Syria in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and under supervision of the UN, to the satisfaction of the governance and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.
The Syrian refugee crisis is the largest displacement crisis in the world, with 5.6 million registered refugees and another 6.2 million people displaced within Syria, and with conditions not in place for their safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return in line with the parameters defined by UNHCR and in accordance with international law. The EU insists that the return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their places of origin will only be encouraged once these conditions are met. The underlying causes of the refugee and displacement crisis must be addressed through the implementation of UNSCR 2254. The EU continues to warn against any further displacements in any part of Syria, as well as against the potential exploitation of such displacements in for the purposes of social and demographic engineering.
The EU, in line with EU Council Conclusions, will be ready to assist in the reconstruction of Syria only when a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition, in the framework of UNSCR 2254 and the Geneva process, is firmly under way. As long as the repression continues, targeted EU sanctions on leading regime members and entities will be renewed at the end of May.
As the Brussels conference in March once again reiterated, a political solution to the conflict has the potential to bring about stability and to open the way for Syria to become once again the united, sovereign, prosperous and free country we all want to see.