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Ministerial Meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the Middle East

Ministerial Meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the Middle East

Published on May 4, 2009
Speech by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs

New York, May 11, 2009

First, I would like to thank Mr Lavrov and the Secretary-General for their encouraging words, and to tell you that we are not satisfied with the progress made thus far, that progress has been insufficient, despite the efforts many countries have made around this table.

Our countries already met here four months ago – four months almost to the day – to adopt a call for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza. The fiercest part of the conflict has ended since then. Our appeal, our efforts in New York had, I think, something to do with this. But most of the objectives enumerated in UNSCR 1860, to which you have all made reference, have not yet been achieved. Far from it.

First, the situation on the ground, in Gaza, remains extremely troubling, and that’s a euphemism. Aid and humanitarian workers can barely make it into the Gaza Strip. For the most part, the blockade is being maintained. Reconstruction is not possible, or minimal. The crossing points must be permanently opened to all goods, as we have all called for. And never mind a lasting ceasefire – the rocket fire, albeit episodic, continues, and our compatriot, Gilad Shalit has not been released, nor have the Palestinian prisoners.

Secondly, it is imperative for the Palestinians to speak with a single voice. Efforts at inter-Palestinian reconciliation under President Abbas’s authority, that respect the principles guiding the peace process, must succeed. My country wishes once again to express support for Egypt’s efforts in this regard.

Finally, Mr President, and this is the main objective of our meeting and the aspect I want to develop today, we must once again be able to look to the future to bring about peace. 2008 began with hope, with the resumption of inter-Palestinian final status negotiations. In the end, the timetable envisaged for their completion, in Annapolis, couldn’t be met. But UNSCR 1850 very clearly reiterated the irreversibility of this process. We can’t call it the Annapolis process. The military operations in Gaza brutally interrupted negotiations. Should we therefore conclude that the time isn’t conducive to reviving the peace process? No, no, and again, no. If there’s a message that France wants to convey to the Council today, it’s that – to the contrary – we should be driven by a feeling of urgency.

Urgency, because of the veritable time bomb that the situation in the Gaza Strip represents. Urgency, because the Palestinian Authority’s financial situation is critical. Urgency, finally, because we must not lose sight of the fact that Palestinian elections are scheduled for January 2010. For us, the window of opportunity is measured in months, not years. We must therefore redouble our efforts to facilitate a resumption of political negotiations in order to achieve a comprehensive peace. For us, Israel’s existence and security are not negotiable, but we are all just as strongly committed to the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and only, in our view, can the creation of a Palestinian State make it possible to combine these two objectives.
To succeed, the leaders must be standard-bearers for peace, as our friends have said, but we must be very attentive to this second element: that it is just as necessary for people to believe in the possibility of peace. In the end, they stop believing in it. Immediate measures are necessary on the ground to create conditions conducive to negotiation. In this regard, the continuation of Israeli settlement activity makes efforts to achieve a solution less and less credible each day by creating facts on the ground, by dividing the West Bank into two and totally isolating East Jerusalem. President Sarkozy said so in his speech to the Knesset in June 2008. He said, “There can’t be peace without a complete and immediate stop to all settlement activity.” The Israeli government must heed this message, this friendly message. Continued settlement activity is one of the main obstacles on the ground to peace, and in the long run threatens Israel’s security. To my mind, the statement that should be adopted at the end of our meeting would benefit from taking this fundamental aspect into account.
Furthermore, France naturally calls on the Palestinian Authority to continue its efforts to combat terrorism. Former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s efforts in this regard should be applauded.

All forms of terrorism, all types of attack as well as arms smuggling, the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, are unacceptable and must stop. There should also be a comprehensive regional approach – work on the Lebanese and Syrian tracks of the peace process, among others. We hope the indirect discussions between Israel and Syria can resume, and that Israel and the Lebanese government can resolve the question of the village of Gadjar and the Shebaa Farms, within the UN framework. Beyond that, the entire region must be involved in the quest for peace. That is why we ascribe so much importance to the Arab peace initiative. The initiative of 2002 – 2002, already so far away! – the one that takes that interdependence into account. We must ponder confidence-building measures, the gestures needed on both sides to achieve the objectives set by this initiative.

Mr President, preparing for the future and for peace also means agreeing to work on the past, without fear. We cannot ignore today the allegations of violations of international humanitarian law reported since the Gaza crisis. France supported the UN Secretary-General’s establishment of a board of inquiry on the attacks on UN buildings in Gaza. I have also signalled that France would support any investigation as long as it is impartial, independent and covers all violations of international humanitarian law, whether the civilian victims be Palestinian or Israeli. In the light of the conclusions of the board of inquiry, which have just been conveyed to us, we must examine this issue in the coming days.

Mr President, my final message is the need for a strengthened commitment on the part of the international community. Only such a commitment can offer the assurance that peace negotiations will resume and conclude swiftly. Only such a commitment can offer the parties the assurance that the terms of a peace agreement will be effectively respected, thanks to the direct contributions of third countries in the form of troops, financing and guarantees. And I am aware that negotiations, that meetings will be wrapped up by the end of the month, a date we are impatiently awaiting.

France and the European Union have repeatedly expressed their willingness to support, facilitate and take part in negotiations insofar as it is necessary, and to consider the guarantees that a potential agreement would require. I note – with great hope – the intentions expressed by the new US administration. I want to say to them that we will be ready to work with the United States on a new process, but it can no longer wait; as I said before, the situation is urgent. And here in this Council, in keeping with all the points I believe I have emphasized, we are giving our full support to the project to organize a new international conference on the Middle East this year, as Russia has proposed. Thank you, Mr President./.

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