Delegation of the European Union
to the United Nations - New York

EU Statement – United Nations Security Council: Open Debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question

New York, 19/10/2021 - 16:40, UNIQUE ID: 211019_9
Statements on behalf of the EU

19 October 2021, New York – Statement by H.E. Mr. Olof SKOOG, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations, at the Security Council Open Debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question

Mr President,


Members of the Security Council,


I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.


The Candidate Countries the Republic of North Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, align themselves with this statement.

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. To this end, meaningful re-engagement between the parties, confidence-building measures and improving living conditions for ordinary people, are urgently needed. The EU welcomes recent high level contacts between the parties, including to agree on measures to improve the socio-economic conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory, and encourages them to continue. The EU stands ready to support such efforts, with the aim to improve the situation on the ground and restore confidence, and to open the path towards the relaunch of the peace process as soon as possible. Restoring a political horizon towards a two-state solution, for which the EU reaffirms there is no alternative, remains of utmost importance.


The EU continues to call for the consolidation of the ceasefire in Gaza, and recalls its unequivocal position that rocket fire, launching of incendiary balloons and other attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups are unacceptable. The EU welcomes the steps that Israel has taken to ease some restrictions on Gaza and calls for the further lifting of restrictions to allow for early recovery and reconstruction efforts, basic service delivery as well as for unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza. 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. The situation in the Gaza Strip has long been unsustainable: only a political solution will bring an end to the conflict.


The preservation of the viability of the two state solution, with Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both states, is at the core of EU policy and will remain a priority. The EU urges both parties to demonstrate their stated commitment to a two state solution through concrete actions and to avoid unilateral actions which threaten it.  In this context, the EU is concerned about demolitions and evictions, including in East Jerusalem. Furthermore, the EU firmly condemns settler related incidents. The EU reiterates that settlements are illegal under international law. The EU’s opposition to Israel’s settlement policy and actions taken in this context, including in East Jerusalem, is well known. Such actions 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 severely threaten the two-state solution and will only escalate an already tense environment. It will be important not to proceed with any planned evictions. The EU recalls the special significance of the holy sites, and calls for upholding the status quo put in place in 1967 for the Temple Mount / al-Haram al-Sharif in line with previous understandings and with respect to Jordan's special role. 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 reiterates its call on the Palestinian Authority to organize the postponed national elections without further delay. The EU has consistently expressed its support for credible, inclusive and transparent elections for all Palestinians. We firmly believe that strong, inclusive, accountable and functioning democratic Palestinian institutions based on respect for the rule of law and human rights are vital for the Palestinian people, for democratic legitimacy and, ultimately, for the two-state solution. We strongly encourage all Palestinian actors to resume efforts to build on the successful talks between the factions over recent months, to adhere to previous agreements, renounce violence and terrorism, and recognize Israel’s right to exist and to commit to democratic principles, including rule of law. We reiterate our call on Israel to facilitate the holding of such elections across all of the Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem. The EU continues to stand ready to work with all those involved to facilitate EU observation of the electoral process.


Palestinian civil society organisations and actors must be allowed to carry out their important task free from obstruction, harassment and intimidation, where also the Palestinian Authority must take responsibility. The EU expects a full, independent investigation into the death of Nizar Banat to be duly carried out, and those responsible to be held accountable. The EU calls for the fundamental right to freedom of expression in areas under PA control to be upheld.


The European Union 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 playing a vital role in the humanitarian response and in the early recovery and reconstruction in Gaza, it 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 refugee issue in accordance with international law is found, UNRWA remains crucial for providing the necessary protection and essential services for Palestine refugees, and we will continue to support UNRWA in all its fields of operations, including in East Jerusalem.  The European Union recalls that together with its Member States it is the largest contributor to UNRWA. We welcome the additional financial support from other and new donors, including the renewed commitment from the United States, and calls upon all partners, including Arab Gulf states, to increase their contributions to UNRWA. The upcoming conference hosted by Sweden and Jordan will be an important opportunity to take steps towards a sufficient, predictable and sustainable funding of the Agency.


Mr. President, 


Please allow me to turn to the situation in Syria.


After more than a decade of conflict, the international community must not give up on Syria and must continue its efforts for a political solution in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254.


Conflict, violence and instability in Syria continue to have profound repercussions for the stability of the entire region, causing enormous human suffering, with millions of Syrians still displaced or living as refugees in other countries, which has been made clear once more in the recent devastating statistical update from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.


Syria continues to be a EU priority, as the EU declaration to mark the tenth year of the conflict, followed by the Brussels conference on Syria in March this year, made clear. 


The European Union 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 communiqué negotiated by the Syrian parties within the UN-led Geneva process, with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women. We recognise the important role played by the Women’s Advisory Board in advising the Special Envoy.


The European Union fully supports the efforts, approach and determination of UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen to advance on all aspects of UNSCR 2254 in a comprehensive approach, including on the issue of detainees in the hands of the regime 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, and continues to encourage the work of the Syrian-led Constitutional Committee, under UN auspices.


The European Union encourages progress during the sixth round of negotiations of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, which started on 18 October, and calls on all participants and particularly on the Syrian regime, to engage in good faith with the aim of achieving swift and meaningful progress on constitutional reform.


The European Union has taken positive note of UNSE Pedersen’s proposals for a new political format and for a “steps for steps” approach to move forward in the political process.


Mr President,


The European Union continues to call upon the Syrian regime and its allies, and indeed upon all parties to the conflict, to fully respect human rights and international humanitarian law, and in particular to permanently cease indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling of civilians and humanitarian workers. The recent siege and the attacks perpetrated by the Syrian regime on Deraa are not acceptable.


In the northwest of Syria, the situation continues to be highly insecure. The ceasefire agreed in March 2020 is fragile and must be upheld and strengthened, civilians must be protected at all times, and attacks on civilian objects, including hospitals, must cease. The EU strongly condemns the recent attacks on Idlib. Signs that parties to the conflict are, once again, preparing to escalate the military confrontation are worrisome.


The European Union also continues to be concerned by the situation in the northeast of Syria.  Military action by any party in Syria renders ordinary life dangerous and intolerable for the civilian population. The European Union once again echoes the call made on a number of occasions by the United Nations and the Security Council for the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire, in line with UNSCR 2254 and 2532.


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 the northeast of Syria should be addressed through political and diplomatic means, not by military action, and in full respect of international humanitarian law.


Mr President,


Within Syria, violations of international law, including violations and abuses of human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law by all parties, particularly the Syrian regime and its allies, remain persistent.


The latest report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria again has shed a troublesome light on the continued violations committed across the country. Among those most exposed to the ongoing violations are women, children, older persons, displaced persons and individuals who have returned to Syria, as well as persons with disabilities. Conditions for a safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees and displaced persons, including IDPs, are still not met in Syria. We share the Commission’s conclusions in this regard. We also reiterate our strong concern about reports of social and demographic engineering in all areas throughout Syria.


The European Union continues to demand an end to repression, the release of detainees, information on the fate of the missing, and meaningful engagement by the Syrian regime and its allies towards the full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254.


The EU continues to insist that the Syrian regime must fully cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, including in its investigations of the use of chemical weapons in the conflict, and deplores the continued lack of cooperation of the regime with the OPCW.


All those responsible for breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights law, some of which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, must be held accountable.  The European Union reiterates its call to have the situation in Syria referred to the International Criminal Court. 


The recent event organised by Liechtenstein at the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, co-sponsored by the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and Qatar: “Raising the Bar: Working towards Comprehensive Justice for Syria”, has once again underlined the continued commitment of the wider United Nations membership towards achieving justice for the most serious crimes committed in Syria during the last decade.


The EU remains convinced that accountability and justice for victims is essential for a stable, peaceful Syria, based on a credible, inclusive and viable political solution in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.


In the absence of avenues for international justice, the prosecution of war crimes under national jurisdiction where possible, now under way in several European Union Member States, represents an important contribution towards securing justice.


The European Union will continue to support efforts to gather evidence with a view to future legal action, including by the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria and the work of the Commission of Inquiry. We welcome the initiative of the Netherlands, together with Canada, to invoke Syria’s responsibility for human rights violations that breach its international obligations, notably under the United Nations Convention against Torture.


Mr President,


The Syrian refugee crisis is the largest displacement crisis in the world, with 5.6 million registered refugees and another 6.7 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 European Union 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 European Union continues to warn against any further displacements in any part of Syria, as well as against the potential exploitation of such displacements for the purposes of social and demographic engineering. 


Mr President,


Humanitarian needs in Syria have continued to increase: from 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2020 to 13.4 million people in need in 2021. The EU and its Member States are the largest donors in this humanitarian crisis, having provided EUR 25 billion during the last 10 years. We will continue to show our solidarity.


The European Union has welcomed the unanimous adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2585 (2021) on 9 July 2021, which constitutes a considerable relief for the next twelve months for millions of Syrians who rely on the humanitarian assistance delivered through this mechanism for their survival. The renewal of the United Nations Security Council Resolution on cross-border assistance will continue to be vital, as long as there is no adequate alternative to meet the immense, and growing, humanitarian needs in northwest Syria. All parties must allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, including across conflict lines, to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people in need through the most direct routes.


The EU calls on all parties to the conflict, in particular the Syrian regime and its allies, to depoliticise the delivery of humanitarian aid, abide by their international humanitarian law and human rights obligations and permanently cease indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling.


Mr President,


The European Union, in line with European Union 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. 


We call on all parties to the conflict to advance a credible sustainable and inclusive political solution based on the full and comprehensive implementation of UNSCR 2254, which is the only way to bring sustainable peace to Syria. The EU will continue to support the office of the Special Envoy in its efforts to bring about such an inclusive political solution.


* The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

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