Situation in the Middle East
Delivered to the Security Council by Ambassador Ron Prosor on 29 April 2014
Next week, Israel will celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, its Independence Day which commemorates the Jewish people’s return to the land of Israel after thousands of years in exile. In the land of Israel, every hill and valley, every stream and ravine is steeped in history.
In Hebron, you can visit the spot where Abraham purchased a burial plot for his wife, Sarah. In Jerusalem, you can visit the place where King David established his kingdom and where King Solomon built the Jewish Temple. For thousands of years, the Jewish people maintained a constant presence in the land of Israel – watching empires rise and fall and conquerors come and go - until 1948 when the modern State of Israel was reborn.
Since then, we took a desolate land and made it flourish; we took a language on the verge of extinction and brought it back to life; and, we took an ancient people and gave them refuge from the persecutions that plagued them across the centuries and across the globe.
The State of Israel is proof that the strength of a nation can be measured by the freedom of its citizens. From the Red Sea to the Caspian Sea, Israel is the only democracy providing its citizens the right to worship freely, the right to vote in elections, and the right to read from an uncensored media.
It is also the only nation that defends the rule of law and upholds rights of minorities. Israel doesn’t preach these rights – we practice them. Where else in the Middle East could a Druze Arab serve a senior role in Parliament? In Israel, Majalli Wahabi did. And where else in the Middle East could a member of a minority group serve as a Supreme Court Justice? In Israel, Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab Israeli, has done so for over a decade.
I am proud to represent an ancient people in its modern homeland; a people whose numbers are few, but whose contributions are immeasurable; a people who confront terror and pray for peace.
When I think about the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, there is a predictable pattern on the part of the Palestinians – demand, delay and desert. Before taking a single step towards the negotiating table, the Palestinian leadership demands that Israel submit to substantial concessions. Once Israel agrees, they drag their feet and evoke every delay tactic in the book. And then, as the deadline approaches and courageous leadership decisions are required, Abbas deserts the talks.
He did so in 2008. After the Israeli Prime Minister offered an unprecedented and far-reaching peace deal, the Palestinians simply walked away.
He did it again in 2009. Prime Minister Netanyahu courageously extended an olive branch to the Palestinians in his historic Bar-Ilan speech and agreed to a ten month settlement freeze. The Palestinians stalled and did not reciprocate.
In February 2012 – surprise, surprise – just as we were on the verge of a breakthrough, Abbas abandoned the talks and flew to Doha to sign a unity deal with Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization. And then, a few months later, the Palestinian leadership went to the UN seeking to bypass direct negotiations.
While Israel makes tangible concessions to advance peace, the Palestinian leadership has let every window of opportunity fly out the window. This goes to the very heart of the problem. The Palestinians pledge dialogue while fomenting hatred. They promise tolerance while celebrating terrorists. And they make commitments almost as quickly as they break them.
The Palestinian leadership recently broke its commitment by applying to join 15 international treaties and conventions. It seems to me that they have forgotten that they also have to abide by these treaties and address the rampant persecution of women, children and minorities in Palestinians society.
Winston Churchill famously said, “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Only those who can look back and see the patterns in history can prevent the same mistakes from occurring over and over again.
Nine months ago, Israel and the Palestinians returned to the negotiation table and set a deadline of April 29 – today – to reach an agreement. True to form, the Palestinians performed their distinctive two-faced, two-step. When Israel tries to tango with Abbas, we find ourselves abandoned on the dance floor as Abbas waltzes off with Hamas.
The Palestinians have made a career out of squeezing more and more compromises out of Israel, without granting a single tangible compromise of his own. In the latest round of peace negotiations, Israel agreed to do what no other government in the world would even consider and released coldblooded murderers.
Imagine the pain felt by Israelis every time they watched these terrorists receive a hero’s welcome from President Abbas. If these are the values that the Palestinians are embracing, no wonder they are running into the arms of Hamas.
All those in the international community that are here today to commend and support this unity agreement are, in fact, lending legitimacy to terror attacks against Israel. Hamas makes no secret of its intentions. Its Charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Article 7 says (and I quote), “The Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews and kill them.”
Last week, we received another painful reminder of Hamas’s brutality. Baruch Mizrahi, a 47-year-old Israeli father of five was driving with his family when the family car was attacked by Palestinian terrorists. Baruch was murdered and his wife and nine year-old son were wounded. Hamas leader Haniyeh praised the attack and said that the killing (and I quote) “brought back life to the path of resistance,” and he praised “the heroes of Hebron.”
The Palestinian Authority’s unity with Hamas will only bring greater impunity for the terrorists that fire rockets into our cities.
In 2006, when Hamas took control of Gaza, the international community devised the quartet principles to prevent international funding from flowing to a terrorist organization. The quartet set the following conditions - Hamas must renounce violence; recognize Israel; and abide by prior agreements.
Some have even rushed to bless the Hamas and Fatah union faster than a Las Vegas marriage clerk. I have yet to hear Hamas agree to any of the quartet conditions.
Instead of choosing peace with Israel, Abbas has chosen peace with Hamas. Israel wants to negotiate with a single, legitimate entity representing the Palestinian people, but it will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas. If Hamas is in the back office, Israel will not be at the negotiating table. Anyone who wonders why Israel won’t negotiate with Hamas may as well be wondering why nobody shows up to dinner parties thrown by Hannibal Lector.
As we speak, millions of dollars are being channeled to the Palestinian Authority. Now that the Palestinians have signed a unity agreement, that funding will be at the disposal of Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization. I wonder how taxpayers in London, Luxembourg and Paris would feel knowing that they will enable Hamas to launch more rockets into Israel, kidnap more Israelis, and send more suicide bombers into our cafes.
Not a day goes by in which Hamas does not seek Israel’s destruction. Last month, the Israeli Defense Force intercepted a cargo ship sent by Iran and carrying advanced weaponry destined for the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip. The weapons included rockets, ammunitions, and missiles capable of striking the very heart of Israel.
The international community is quick to condemn Israel, but never says a word when Israel is the victim of unrelenting attacks. How many times has the international community criticized Israel for restricting the entry of certain dual-use goods into Gaza? You don’t have to be Christopher Columbus to discover that a second country borders Gaza, yet it is never mentioned by this Council.
And how many times has this Council criticized Israel for restricting the entry of construction materials? And yet, when Israel does allows cement into Gaza, instead of building the Palestinian people up, Hamas is committed to tearing Israel down. They could be using the cement to build schools, homes, and hospitals, but instead they build terror tunnels to smuggle weapons and attack Israel.
If the international community is truly committed to advancing peace than it must stop pointing fingers at Israel and demonstrate real resolve – the Palestinians must be held accountable for their actions. Targeting civilians must be unacceptable. And acts of terror should be condemned publically and unequivocally.
President Kennedy once said, “No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.”
The Palestinians and the Arab states send letter after letter and lodge complaint after complaint filled with lies, misinformation and half-truths. Most recently, they launched a campaign accusing Israel of impeding freedom of worship and denying access to religious sites.
Certain parties have even criticized remarks made in our Parliament. I know that freedom of expression is a foreign concept for most regimes in the Middle East. You are about as likely to hear a Saudi disagree with his government as you are to see a Saudi woman behind the wheel of a racecar in the next Indianapolis 500 – or any car for that matter.
Israel is the only nation in the Middle East that grants full religious rights to people of all faiths. After reuniting Jerusalem in 1967, Israel abolished discriminatory laws and introduced religious freedoms that allow millions of Muslims and Christians to visit and pray in their holy sites. Every year, millions of people visit Jerusalem to celebrate their holy days. The vast crowds pose considerable public safety challenges, but Israel is committed to ensuring Jerusalem is an open city for all faiths that celebrates religious tolerance and diversity.
This is in stark contrast to the Palestinians treatment of minority faiths. Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, more than half the Christian community has fled. They face a grim choice – convert to Islam or face the sword. In Bethlehem, which has been under Palestinian Authority control since 1995, the Christian population has fallen dramatically. Gunmen have terrorized the Christian community and looted and desecrated the Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity’s holiest sites.
One might think that the United Nations would make every effort to support Israel’s protection of religious freedoms. Instead of taking constructive actions to help mitigate the sensitive situation, Robert Serry, the U.N.’s special envoy to the Middle East, took destructive steps that aggravated tensions on the ground. It is unfortunate that a U.N. official abused his position and the U.N. platform to express his personal opinions. Both Mr. Serry and the Arab nations need reminding that core issues, including Jerusalem, must be dealt with at the negotiating table and not by parties tabling false accusations.
In its 65 year history, Israel has not known a single day in which it is not confronting terrorist groups – Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north. This month alone authorities in Thailand foiled a plan by Hezbollah agents to attack Israeli tourists and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah took responsibility for planting a roadside bomb in northern Israel. His admission offers concrete proof that Hezbollah is operating south of the Litani River in violation of Security Council resolution 1701.
Both Hamas and Hezbollah receive funding and support from the world’s primary sponsor of terrorism - Iran. A close look at Iranian foreign policy reveals that their strategy is to defy - D.E.F.Y. - deceive, evade, falsify and yield absolutely nothing. Iran has violated numerous resolutions aimed at curbing its nuclear program and it continues to evade IAEA inspections.
Iran’s campaign to convince the world that its nuclear program is “peaceful” should have earned the regime at least an honorary mention at the Oscars for best acting and best adapted screenplay from a work of fiction. Clearly the production is working. At a time when sanctions should be increased they are being eased. Make no mistake, if you leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power, you will be leaving the world on the threshold of the abyss.
Unraveling the sanctions regime against Iran might prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon today, but it would virtually ensure that Iran has a nuclear weapon tomorrow. That must not be allowed to happen. Iran's nuclear weapons capability and long range missile capability should be fully dismantled.
Iran is one of the world’s worst human rights abusers. The regime is holding 1,000 people as so-called political prisoners, including 35 journalists. Last year, Iran executed 624 people – that is an average of two executions per day. Amongst these so-called criminals, were 28 women, three children and a poet named Hashem Shaabani.
Shaabani’s so-called crime was criticizing the regime’s treatment of minorities. The regime declared him a quote-unquote “enemy of God” and hanged him. This offers further proof that the so-called justice system in Iran is nothing short of an injustice.
The messages of hate and intolerance come straight from the top. Iran’s Supreme Leader of Holocaust denial, Ayatollah Khamenei, is the head of the outlaw regime that continues to make outlandish claims.
Yesterday Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day. We recall how nations dismissed the murderous Nazi rhetoric and downplayed the seriousness of the danger. Ultimately, World War II claimed the lives of 60 million people, including six millions Jews. Today, in the face of Iran’s nuclear ambitions what has the world learned? The facts are clear and the threat is very real.
Iran is fanning the flames of conflict across the Middle East. Rouhani and Assad are brothers in bloodshed directing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Not satisfied at having murdered the Syrian people with chemical weapons, snipers and barrel bombs, they are now intentionally besieging entire neighborhoods and using starvation as a tool of war.
The State of Israel is appalled by the violence. In the face of the horrendous suffering, we are speaking out against Assad’s ruthlessness. And in the face of the unspeakable cruelty, we are acting compassionately and providing medical treatment to hundreds of Syrians.
The Syrian people have seen firsthand that Israel values human life above all else. This is a rare quality in the Middle East. Repressive Arab regimes have kept their people poor and uneducated. They have brutally and mercilessly suppressed their rights. And they have poisoned their people’s minds with hatred.
Blaming Israel will not solve the problems plaguing the Middle East. It will not stop Assad from dropping barrel bombs, or create jobs for the hungry masses in Egypt, or empower women in Saudi Arabia. The Palestinians must be held accountable for their actions. Sanctions against Iran must extract a real price. And dictators should not be allowed to target and torture civilians with impunity.
Someday, I hope that we will read about attacks on the Jewish people in history books rather than in newspapers. Someday, I hope that Israel will be accepted as the nation state of the Jewish people by every member of this institution. Someday, I hope that Israeli children will grow up free from war. But that day has not yet come.
As we prepare to celebrate Israel’s sixty-sixth anniversary as a free and independent state, I wish to reaffirm the commitment made in our Declaration of Independence. “We offer peace and unity to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all.”
Thank you, Madam President.