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Statement by Minister Coveney at UNSC Debate on the Middle East, Including the Palestinian Question

Thank you President, and this will be my last intervention during your Presidency, so I want to warmly acknowledge the excellent work of your team in Tunis and in New York. Let me also take the opportunity to send my best wishes to Foreign Minister Jerandi for a speedy recovery.


I welcome Foreign Minister Malki and Ambassador Erdan to the Council.  Ireland looks forward to working constructively with Palestine, Israel and the wider international community during our term on the Council.


We also welcome Special Coordinator Wennesland and thank you for your comprehensive briefing.  Let me assure you of Ireland’s strong support as you take up your new responsibilities. 


Finally, I want to welcome the Secretary General of the League of Arab States Mr. Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Ireland works closely with the League and appreciates the important role it plays regionally.


Ireland aligns itself with the Statement to be made by the EU Head of Delegation


Mr. President


In his final speech on the Middle East to the Security Council, the late Kofi Annan reminded his listeners that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just one regional conflict amongst many”.  “No other conflict”, he continued, “carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge, even for people very far away”.


His words still ring true in Ireland, where there is great public and political interest in the peaceful resolution of this conflict which has gone on for far too long.


Ireland’s approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is based on respect for international law and the agreed international parameters.


We are firmly committed to a negotiated two-state solution that ends the occupation that began in 1967; with Jerusalem as the capital of both States, on the basis of international law, including relevant UN Security Council resolutions.


We know that this will not be easy.  Progress requires dialogue and ultimately there can be no substitute for direct negotiations between the two parties.


During the lowest moments of our own peace process in Ireland, we never lost sight of the need for what was called then the “duty of hope”. We encourage the Council to renew its commitment to tackle the most intractable conflicts that we face. It is time to look afresh at how we can assist Israelis and Palestinians to bring new momentum to resolving this conflict. 


Confidence building measures, such as the resumption of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority last December, which can help build trust, are vital and should be encouraged and supported. The engagement of the parties themselves, and that of international partners, is critical to opening the way for dialogue.  


Ireland welcomes the bilateral agreements between Israel and United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.  These new partnerships have the potential to contribute to a just and peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine issue. We encourage regional partners to identify concrete ways to build trust and cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. 


We salute the efforts of Egypt, Jordan, France and Germany in the Munich format to lend momentum.  We want to see a reinvigorated role for the Quartet and we look forward to a fresh engagement by the US Administration.


We are interested in learning more about President Abbas’s proposal for an international peace conference, and how such an initiative could align with other international efforts to bring new impetus to the peace process.


Mr President


We welcome the Presidential decree issued on the 15 January by President Mahmoud Abbas to hold Legislative, Presidential and Palestinian National Council elections this year.


The holding of elections in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and in Gaza is a crucial step towards Palestinian unity and reconciliation, giving a voice to Palestinians throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, and renewing the legitimacy of national institutions, including a democratically elected Parliament and Government.


We stand ready to assist for free, fair and inclusive elections. And we echo the UN Secretary-General’s call on the Palestinian authorities to facilitate, strengthen and support women’s political participation throughout the electoral cycle.


Last month the former Special Coordinator, Nickolay Mladenov, briefed the Council on the implementation of Resolution 2334.  Ireland reaffirms its position that all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory is illegal under international law.


Israel's latest decisions to advance plans for the approval and construction of thousands of new settlements in the West Bank, are contrary to international law.


I am extremely concerned at the Israeli decision last week to award a tender contract for the construction of housing for an entirely new settlement, in Givat Hamatos,  I urge Israel to reverse this decision and halt all continued settlement expansion, including in East Jerusalem and other sensitive areas. Continued settlement activity is not only illegal, but also erodes trust between Palestinians and Israelis.


The acceleration in demolition or confiscation of Palestinian-owned structures in recent months, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in recent months, is also deeply concerning. Making already vulnerable Palestinians homeless in the midst of a global pandemic is unacceptable. We call on Israel to halt demolitions, which in 2020 was the highest since 2016, according to OCHA, and to allow for legal construction for Palestinian communities. 


As part of our commitment at the Council to ensure accountability, Ireland will continue to speak out against unilateral actions which fail to respect the resolutions of this Council and are in breach of international humanitarian law.


We also speak out clearly against violence. The missiles from Gaza into Israel must stop, disproportionate Israeli military retaliation must stop, the attacks against civilians in the occupied Palestinian Territories, by Israeli settlers or by Palestinians, must stop.


Ireland is a proud supporter of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), whose programmes deliver essential services to Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory and in the region, and I visited many of them myself.


I urge others within the region and beyond, including the new US Administration, to step up and fund UNRWA. Their vital work needs support now more than ever. We are particularly concerned about the situation in the Gaza Strip, where 80% of the population depend on humanitarian assistance.    The rise in COVID cases has affected children in Gaza in need of access to life-saving medical treatment. Once again, Ireland calls on Israel to lift the illegal blockade of Gaza.


Ireland stands with Palestinian and Israeli people alike as they battle this dreadful virus. Ending the worst effects of the pandemic requires constructive cooperation, to support timely, effective and unimpeded vaccination of all, in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.  


Mr. President, I do want to address important regional issues, which we will have an opportunity to discuss again I hope in much more detail. We welcome the Al-Ula Declaration of 5 January by the members of the GCC and Egypt and thank all of those who made it possible. The Declaration represents a key milestone in the development of closer regional integration and stability and we hope that the progress can be made and built on. 


The terrible conflicts in Yemen and Syria continue to drive unimaginable humanitarian suffering and instability across the region. We must redouble efforts towards their resolution, and continue to provide pivotal assistance to all those who need it. Of course, there will be a time for a detailed discussion in relation to Iran and the JCPoA. I note the comments that have been made in relation to that, and I look forward to a detailed debate on that at a future moment.


Mr. President,


Let me conclude though, as I began, by quoting the late Kofi Annan.  In that final address to the Council on the Middle East, he said, “…the Quartet retains its validity because of its singular combination of legitimacy, political strength and financial and economic clout. But the Quartet needs to do more …. to create the conditions for resuming a viable peace process. It needs to engage the parties directly in its deliberations … and to be clearer at the outset on the parameters of an end-game deal. And it will have to be open to new ideas and new initiatives”. 


I can think of no better guidance today as we once again look at this important task.


Thank you Mr President

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