We are taking the floor today to draw attention to the grave consequences of Syria’s tragic path to civil war and also to stress that we must not lose sight of the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both conflicts require a political solution.
Historical changes and popular uprisings in the Arab world, in particular Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have removed lifelong dictators and replaced them with representative governments. These changes have been driven by the people demanding greater political freedom that is their legitimate right. Governments that draw their legitimacy from consent of their people rather than fear and repression are best suited to deliver justice and lasting order, stability and peace. The international community must now help to consolidate these developments by providing political and economic support, while holding the new governments accountable.
The conflict in Syria did not break out as a sectarian civil war 19 months ago but as a call for dignity, freedom and democratic change through peaceful protests by the Syrian people. This was a genuine call by the Syrian people. It was not an external manipulation nor a pretext of foreign intervention as the regime is propagating. Tragically, the call for change was met by brutal military force, not dialogue. President Assad and his regime decided to turn the legitimate struggle of the Syrian people into a sectarian war by redefining peaceful protests as terrorism and foreign conspiracy. Every government has a responsibility to protect its own people but Assad chose to turn the deadly state apparatus against the Syrian population. Popular demands for meaningful change have never been given serious consideration by the Syrian regime.
Syria’s conflict has already spilled over into neighbouring countries and is destabilising the region, as we have seen on the Syrian-Turkish border. We condemn the shelling by the Syrian forces and the continued violence in the strongest possible terms. All violence and atrocities in Syria, including the systematic use of sexual violence and torture against children, men and women, must stop. Crimes of this nature must never go unpunished. Even in times of war, there are rules. All parties to the conflict are bound by international humanitarian law. It is our duty to end impunity for international crimes and ensure accountability for crimes committed.
The Syrian government bears the primary responsibility for the conflict. One tragic result of the conflict is the escalation of humanitarian needs both inside Syria and beyond. We commend Syria’s neighbours for their generosity in receiving Syrian refugees and their efforts to support them. Increased humanitarian support and access is necessary and all parties are obliged to protect the civilian population, to ensure unhindered humanitarian access and protect health workers and medical facilities.
As the level of violence is intensifying it is urgent to move forward with a meaningful political transition that will meet the aspirations of the Syrian people and bring stability. Such a plan has already been endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the UN General Assembly. A credible political transition must be inclusive, peaceful and preserve the unity of the state as well as protecting the rights of all constituencies in Syria. But this transition will not be possible until there is an end to the violence, Assad’s regime cedes power and the political opposition unites around a roadmap for peace and shared principles.
By staying engaged with all parties the Joint UN-Arab Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, plays a key role to help defining a common ground in order to move the political process forward. Norway fully supports his efforts. It is however unfortunate that Brahimi’s tasks have been hampered by a divided UN Security Council. It is inexcusable that the Security Council has failed to act on its clear responsibilities by using its collective weights to impose serious consequences if the Syrian government did not end the violence or comply with its responsibilities.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains deadlocked, with no political solution on the horizon. This deadlock must be broken and negotiations on a two-state solution resumed.
On 23 September Norway once again hosted the donor support group for the Palestinian Authority – the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee – in New York (AHLC). The meeting was held against the backdrop of a serious fiscal crisis facing the PA. The PA may face a financing gap of at least USD 400 million at the end of this year.
The AHLC was established in accordance with the Oslo Accords to mobilise funding to promote the development of a Palestinian institutional structure upon which an independent and viable Palestinian state can be built. This aim has been achieved. The assessment made last year that the Palestinian Authority is ready for statehood still stands.
However, the PA should not be allowed to become a perennial client of the international donor community. The task of the donors will not be completed before the Palestinian economy can prosper and fiscal independence be ensured. The reports to the AHLC meeting noted that restrictions to the Palestinian economy are limiting the prospects for reaching sustainability. While acknowledging that Israel has taken steps to facilitate growth in the Palestinian economy, the donors called on Israel to take further steps to improve access in the West Bank and Gaza, including in Area C and East-Jerusalem. Further realization of the Palestinian private sector’s potential can be achieved by relaxing Israeli restrictions on access to land, a range of raw materials and export markets.
While welcoming PA’s efforts to strengthen its fiscal position, the donors noted the importance of further mobilizing all available Palestinian resources to overcome the current crisis to continue to reform the institutions. The donors reaffirmed their willingness to continue to support the PA, but only as part of international efforts to promote the two-state solution. The current political stalemate is however untenable.
The Israeli occupation, which severely hampers Palestinian economic development, remains the main obstacle to the realisation of Palestinian statehood. A self-sustaining Palestinian economy cannot be achieved as long as the occupation remains in place and illegal settlements continue to expand, encircling East Jerusalem and undermining the very concept of the two-state solution.
Norway, as Chair of the AHLC, urges donors to honour their outstanding commitments and continue their assistance to help build a viable Palestinian economy to sustain the institutions which are vital for statehood. If the present fiscal crisis in the Palestinian Territory is not resolved, there is a risk of growing social and political unrest that could spiral into chaos.
The continued impasse of the negotiations between the parties threatens the common vision of the two-state solution and is an obstacle to a peaceful future of the Palestinian and Israeli people. That is why Norway calls on both parties to resume negotiations on the final status issues. This is the only way to achieve a viable and just solution.