Speech Foreign Minister Koenders on the Middle East to the UN Security Council

Speech by Foreign Minister Bert Koenders to the UN Security Council on the Middle East (New York, January 26, 2016)

This speech is only available in English. Check against delivery.

Thank you very much Mr President, thank you Minister Nin Novoa, and esteemed colleagues, members of the Security Council,

The Kingdom of the Netherlands currently holds the Presidency of the European Union. Today, I will make a number of comments in my national capacity. An EU statement will be delivered later.

Mr. President, I am extremely worried about the different crises in the Middle East. It sometimes seems that our common Responsibility to Protect and our obligations for the Protection of Civilians have been all but forgotten. International humanitarian law in countries like Yemen and Syria is threatened every day. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. Millions have had to flee their homes. Entire populations are afraid for what tomorrow may bring. The Security Council has an enormous responsibility to help putting an end to this violence. We owe it to the people. Peace cannot wait - it is long overdue.

Mr. President,

The civil war in Syria is about to enter its sixth year. The numbers are staggering: half the population has been displaced, and more than one in a hundred Syrians have died, with the overwhelming majority killed by their own government. Many people flee to neighboring countries or are internally displaced. We all have a responsibility to ensure that people in Syria are able to live their lives, free from violence, free from poverty, free from fear, in their own homes, in their own villages, in their own countries. The Netherlands urges all parties involved to step up efforts to fully implement Security Council resolution 2254, which incorporates two elements: a political process with a calendar towards transition and the fight against Da’esh. Both elements are necessary and can strengthen each other. We need to beat terrorism, boost freedom and prioritize the humanitarian needs of all Syrians. One not without the other and that is also how the Dutch government sees it.

This is why we have to act intelligently against Da’esh, whose ideology and actions against innocent men, women and children -Muslims, Christians and Yezidi - are abhorrent. The international coalition against Da’esh consists of more than 60 countries. We’re making progress: on the battlefield, especially in Iraq, as well as undercutting their financial resources and vicious narrative.

Prevention is also key, worldwide. We must do more to find solutions for the ongoing conflicts in the region by tackling the political and socio-economic crises and root causes on which Da’esh and other terrorist groups feed.

Thankfully, meaningful steps were taken over the past months with regards to the political process as well. We have seen the establishment of the International Syria Support Group. We have also seen the opposition, to a large degree, joining ranks in Riyadh. Resolution 2254 provides a framework for transition in Syria, a necessary precondition for peace. And 29 January talks will start that should ultimately lead to sustainable peace. I think we should all do our utmost to convince the parties to engage fully and unequivocally, and we need to stand ready to help where we can. In this light the Netherlands specifically supports a group of Syrian women who will play an advisory role in the talks. it is important for all of us to put our money where our mouth is in implementing Security Council resolutions, including Security Council resolution 1325. In addition we have been supporting the political process with training and capacity building for the opposition groups involved in the talks and in supporting diplomacy

We have deep respect for UN Special Envoy De Mistura and other partners who are working hard towards this end. I worked myself as Special Representative and I had the opportunity to brief you often Mali and other places, and I can tell you how important it is, that a Special Envoy is really promoted but also supported by everybody.

We have been supporting substantially De Mistura’s team. We also commend Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov, whose efforts have shown that great differences can be overcome and Security Council members can effectively collaborate towards the same goal. Diplomacy can still work.

Because peace can’t wait, more needs to be done. We also need to step up our humanitarian efforts, our humanitarian help, our humanitarian imperative to the people inside Syria and those who are fleeing. Making sure that they will be safe from the violence and deprivations that they suffer, and that they have a home to go back to where they can live in peace and security. Countries such as Lebanon, here present, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, who host the majority of refugees, deserve much more assistance. In that regard, we welcome the conference the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the United Nations are hosting in London on the 4th of February, where the Netherlands will pledge more humanitarian aid and structural support for Syrians in Syria and abroad

The number one priority of this Council should be to find a lasting solution to Syria. Because peace cannot wait. I call upon this Council to set aside its differences and pave the way for a solution. A solution that addresses the need for justice and accountability. Because there can be no peace without justice.

Mr. President,

We also urgently need peace between Israel and its neighbours. It is a matter close to my heart ever since I was working in Gaza for three months in 1999. That was a time of cautious optimism. A time when there was a breaking ground ceremony for a Gaza harbor. Nothing has come of this and many other initiatives, and we all know why. This cannot go on like this.

It’s now been 23 years since the Oslo accords were signed. And despite the commendable efforts to negotiate a lasting peace agreement, peace remains elusive. Conditions on the ground have worsened. After decades of negotiations, a final status agreement seems further away than ever. Many have lost all hope. The latest escalation of violence illustrates just how volatile the situation is. For Israelis and Palestinians, peace cannot wait.

We can’t afford to look away as the situation on the ground further deteriorates. Innocent lives have been lost on both sides. I urge both sides to show maximum restraint. All responses must be proportionate and comply with international law. Violence against innocent civilians can never be justified.

Let me reiterate our long standing engagement in favour of a two-state solution, with an independent, democratic, and viable State of Palestine and the State of Israel, living side by side in peace and security and mutual recognition, based on the borders of 1967. Preserving the viability of the two-state solution is crucial.

For that to happen, I believe a new, transformative approach is needed, with three sets of actions:

First, we must create a more favorable climate for negotiations. This can be done by stopping violence, building confidence, including continued security cooperation, strengthening the Palestinian economy and improving conditions in Gaza. Both sides must refrain from steps and inflammatory rhetoric that undermine confidence and trigger further escalation. In this regard, it is critically important that Israel halts all settlement expansion: as the European Union has pointed out time and again, settlements are illegal under international law and a severe threat to the two-state solution. And I deplore the planned authorization by the Israeli Government to confiscate 370 acres in the West Bank, south of Jericho.

Second, while commending the progress made in Palestinian state building, I believe it should be enhanced. The Palestinian Authority plays a vital role in keeping the prospect of the two-state solution alive. But it must be capable, accountable and responsive. And it must respond to extremist propaganda. Good governance, effective service delivery, as well as a pluralistic and inclusive government, with space for dissenting views, will strengthen the legitimacy of Palestinian leadership. And it would be good if the PA could return to Gaza.

The third element builds on developments in the region. A new format of negotiation is needed, with substantial roles for Arab partners and the European Union alongside the United States, based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. I fully support efforts to create a new dynamic and welcome the work of Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and the Arab League in the context of the “Arab Quartet”. And I favour a Security Council consensus as a basis for renewed final status negotiations, in which parameters for a peace accord could be incorporated.

The Netherlands stands ready to assist where it can.. It is close to both parties, we have to find a compromise. Together with our EU-partners we are working on this In line with the European Union Council Conclusions we will work with all relevant stakeholders, towards a renewed multilateral approach to the peace process and we fully support the European Union’s reiterated offer to both parties of a package of European political, economic and security support and of a Special Privileged Partnership with the European Union, which offers substantial benefits to both parties, in the event of a final peace agreement.

Mr. President,

In the past, this Council has shown that it can and will unite against threats to international peace and stability. In the face of today’s threats, the Council can prove to the world that it doesn’t shy away from its collective responsibility, but rather, that it will work together to resolve the Middle East Peace Process and the conflict in Syria, once and for all. We - the world, the people we represent - need the leadership of this Council. Because we cannot let peace wait.

Thank you, Mr President.