Statement by H.E. Mr A Botes, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, during the United Nations Security Council Open Video Teleconference Meeting on the Question of Palestine
Allow me to express my gratitude to you for calling this session today. Our deliberations should by no means be seen as business as usual. In this regard, I would like to thank Mr Nickolay Mladenov for his insightful, yet perturbing account on the situation in the Middle East more specifically, the Question of Palestine.
Seventy-two-years ago, we spoke of a “catastrophe” a period in Palestinian history known as the “Al-Naqba” when more than 700 000 Palestinians were forced to abandon their homeland and seek refuge in neighbouring countries and abroad as a Jewish state came into being on Palestinian soil.
Today, seventy-two-years later, it would seem Palestinians are facing another imminent “catastrophe” as Israel is set to advance legislation to annex parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley from as early as the 1st of July. These threats and pronouncements of annexation are in stark violation of international law, disregard international humanitarian law, UN Security Council Resolutions, including Resolutions 446 (1979) and 2334 (2016), agreed upon parameters for peace, and further undermine any prospect of peace between the parties.
For more than half a century the world has stood by and watched as Palestinian land, olive grove by olive grove, village by village, town by town has been lost. We have witnessed the daily suffering of Palestinians as they are being subjected to the continued construction and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on their rightful land. We have watched as Palestinians have endured systematic discrimination as opposed to settlers who are provided services and allowed civil liberties such as freedom of movement and the issuance of building permits, a right denied to Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Moreover, we have observed as Palestinian land and property was seized and livelihoods snatched away and destroyed, despite being on the right-side of the law, as determined by international law and numerous UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.
We have borne witness as violence, riots and civil disobedience campaigns have swept across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as Palestinians have engaged in their struggle for their inalienable right to freedom and self-determination. We have looked on as men, women, the elderly and children have been victimised, assaulted and detained.
We have looked on as the humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate in the Gaza Strip with Palestinians continuing to live in unacceptable, precarious circumstances, where their movement has been restricted, where they have been given limited access to water and electricity, and deprived of the basic human rights you and I take for granted on a daily basis. We have also witnessed the occupying power restricting access to educational and economic opportunities. Additionally, at a time when the world is facing a global pandemic with the spread of COVID-19, the Palestinians have to contend with a severely overburdened and fragile healthcare system. We have also unfortunately seen the reduction of contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which for decades have been providing basic social and humanitarian services to Palestinians.
It is said that history has a way of repeating itself, yet it would appear that we do not learn from these turbulent and painfully unjust historical events which continue to shape our present. My own country has in its past not been spared these injustices, where one people is assigned a higher value above another. This unfortunately runs at the core of the occupation of Palestine and it threatens peace, stability and security, a collective value that is it at the very core of the United Nations, which is commemorating its 75th anniversary this year.
Yet, we ask ourselves, what is the raison d’être of the Security Council if we continue to look the other way, adopt hollow resolutions, ignore current resolutions and fail to act against those that so arrogantly defy the very principles that this organisation has been founded on?
Israel, the occupying power in Palestine, has consistently illustrated through its actions a total disrespect for legality and justice. This is, once again, evident in the Secretary-General’s fourteenth quarterly report on the implementation of Resolution 2334 of 2016 in which there are detailed accounts of continuous settlement activity by the occupying power, despite the intentions set-out by adopted Security Council resolutions, such as Resolution 2334. In this regard, South Africa concurs with the observation by the Secretary-General that “the establishment and expansion of settlements fuel resentment, hopelessness and disillusionment among Palestinians and are key drivers of human rights violations, and significantly heighten Israeli-Palestinian tensions”.
Therefore, the intention to annex more Palestinian land should be regarded as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It is time that Israel, as the occupying power be held accountable for its illegal actions and consistent violations of international law and resolutions of this Council.
To date, this Council has taken no action to stop the building of settlements on illegally occupied land; to stop the confiscation and destruction of Palestinian land and property; to stop the illegal blockade of Gaza. This Council’s inaction has carried on for far too long and in so doing has failed the people of Palestine. How can we expect to remain credible and call on parties in other conflicts on the Council’s agenda to abide by and implement resolutions or face further Council action, when we seemingly condone the actions of the Israeli Government by failing to act against its violations.
We should be ashamed of ourselves.
We should be ashamed that on our watch we have ignored and denied Palestinians their basic human rights and aspirations. We should be ashamed that by our silence, we have protected the oppressor instead of the oppressed. We should be ashamed that decades later a lasting and just, peaceful resolution of the continued occupation remains as elusive as it did in 1948 when this matter was first brought to this Council. We should ask ourselves what message is sent those that are fighting for their inalienable rights to freedom, self-determination and sovereignty and to those that oppress and deny these rights?
Allow me to reiterate that South Africa will continue to support all efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state, existing side-by-side and in peace with Israel, within internationally recognised borders, based on those of 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in line with all relevant UN resolutions, international law and internationally agreed parameters.
In this regard, peace can only prevail once both parties engage in inclusive dialogue and constructive negotiations without preconditions as this is the only means to ensure lasting peace, security and stability. Additionally, there must be an accountability mechanism in place to ensure that commitments made are implemented. To this end a viable and sustainable peace plan for the Middle East must ensure that Palestine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and economic viability is guaranteed, with sovereign equality between Palestine and Israel.
I thank you.