Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement at the UN Security Council Ministerial Meeting on the Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question

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January 23, 2024

Mr President,

Mr Secretary-General,

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are holding this meeting on the situation in the Middle East, first of all, the Palestinian question, at a truly critical moment. Immediate measures must be taken to bring about a ceasefire and stop the suffering of people in Palestine not just for major political reasons but also in the name of universal human morality. Likewise, steps must be taken to prevent further destabilisation in the other parts of the Middle East.

The Security Council has been unable to formulate an appropriate response to this crucial challenge. As you know, the reason for this is the stance of the United States, which is blocking all attempts and initiatives to halt the bloodshed in the occupied territories. We are shocked by the deviousness of US diplomats, who veto ceasefire resolutions and then demand a reduction in the intensity of fighting in Gaza. This obviously gives them carte blanche to continue with the collective punishment of the Palestinians.

Before this meeting, we undertook yet another attempt to coordinate a collective reaction of the Security Council to this situation. We submitted a draft statement by the council president demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. However, the United States and its allies have blocked that document, thereby confirming that saving Palestinian civilians is not a priority for them.

The humanitarian consequences of this policy are horrific. Nearly 30,000 civilians have been killed, including an enormous number of women and children. The northern part of Gaza has been razed to the ground and rendered uninhabitable. Internally displaced persons constitute 80 percent of the sector’s population. It is a human tragedy that has no end.

The shortage of all basic necessities has reached an alarming level. I would like to draw your attention to an article published in The Jerusalem Post on January 5, 2024. The article, which was contributed by Professor Dorit Nitzan from Ben-Gurion University, previously a health emergencies coordinator at WHO, is based on assessments by environmental experts, including Israeli experts. They doubt that Gaza will be habitable after the conflict.

The bombing has caused an unprecedented contamination of groundwater, the coastal area and the atmosphere with a thick layer of debris and combustion products, destroyed hardware, munitions, chemicals, decomposing biomass (no matter how terrible this sounds), household waste and sewage waters. There are no natural sources of fresh water. The sewage infrastructure has been destroyed. According to experts, 22 percent of farmland in Gaza will never be restored. There have been tens of thousands of cases of diarrhoea, acute respiratory disease, scabies, skin rash and other diseases. The risk of epidemics has increased dramatically. The World Health Organisation has stated that the absence of unimpeded humanitarian access is the main obstacle hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid. The WHO has cancelled six scheduled humanitarian missions to the north of Gaza since the end of December 2023, because the requests it filed had been denied.

To alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza, Russia and a number of other countries have sent tonnes of food, medical equipment and medicines to Gaza. We are providing support to the personnel of UN humanitarian bodies who are working on the ground there and, regrettably, often become victims of that war. About 150 UN aid workers have been killed. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who spoke about this recently, has described the loss as unprecedented in the history of the organisation’s activities in conflict zones.

Promoting vicious ideas such as forcible relocation of Palestinians from places of their permanent residence is a matter of special concern.  This scenario is unacceptable and should not be implemented under any circumstances. The increasingly widespread violence employed by the Israeli Army and Jewish settlers on the West Bank of the Jordan River must be immediately halted. Any attempts to undermine the status quo of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem should also be ruled out.

Our Council’s failure to take comprehensive measures has resulted in a situation where the current escalation of the conflict in Palestine has metastasised throughout the region. Once again, this is happening with the pernicious involvement of the United States and its allies, whose military presence in the Middle East, as in other parts of the Eurasian continent, is creating new and unacceptable risks to international security.  We strongly condemn the completely unjustified aggression against Yemen, which was launched without the UN Security Council’s sanction and with Washington and London playing a leading role.  The actions carried out by the Anglo-Saxons pose a direct threat to international peace and undermine the world order based on the supremacy of universal international law and the central role of the United Nations, not on the “rules” of their own making. We also condemn the Israeli bombing attacks on Syria, including strikes deliberately targeting organisations that are legally present in the country at the invitation of its legitimate government. Political assassinations must be stopped. An explosive situation exists on the border between Lebanon and Israel.

It is clear that the unilateral use of force can only further aggravate the already difficult state of affairs in the Middle East. This situation has taken shape over time and reflects many years of history.  The reference is to the numerous invasions of independent states carried out by the Americans and their satellites, invasions that have led to hundreds of thousands of [civilian] casualties in Iraq, the collapse of statehood in Libya, a war in Syria, massive refugee flows, and an unprecedented surge of international terrorism, including on the African continent.

Terrorist acts in any form are unacceptable to Russia. We have strongly condemned the attacks on civilians in Israel on October 7, 2023. Unlike some of our Western colleagues, who apply double standards, we do not divide extremists into “bad guys” and “good guys” or “friends” and “foes.”  We demand the release of all Gaza detainees, regardless of their ethnicity and origin.

Mr President,

More and more often these days, we hear calls, above all from Western representatives, for us to shift our focus away from the present time and onto “the day after” the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as if escalation in Gaza has stopped and the situation there no longer calls for the Security Council’s attention. It is an example of crafty logic on the part of Western delegations. By blocking the much-needed efforts of the council to bring about a ceasefire, the United States and its allies would like to close this embarrassing page, which is making them accomplices in the slaughter of civilians in Gaza.

I would like to emphasise that the UN Security Council must continue to implement its mandate and call for a ceasefire. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that the hostilities there will not flare up again. In the absence of this guarantee or unconditional implementation of the UN decisions on the establishment of a Palestinian state, all the deliberations about “the day after” are untimely and meaningless. The potential donors who could invest in the future restoration of Gaza are fully aware of this.

The following factors must be of paramount importance when we reach the stage of discussing the parameters of “the day after.”

First, the consolidated will of the Palestinian people themselves. The Palestinians, who not had any chance of statehood in the past decades, deserve to see this matter finally settled. The first and most important condition for this is the unity of the Palestinian nation itself. We believe that our Palestinian brothers and sisters will display strategic wisdom and abandon the time-serving considerations and infighting, which are hindering national development. They themselves must decide what their future will be like, who will rule them and how they will do it. I believe our Western colleagues describe this as democracy. The enforcement of external decisions and “social engineering” solutions, which our Western colleagues like so much, are absolutely unacceptable in this case.

It is equally important to ensure that all external players are united in their positions, guided not by their political interests and plans in the region, trying to spread them through various Palestinian groups, but by the imperative necessity of finding a solution to that age-long conflict as soon as possible. Russia has submitted its proposals on ways to attain this goal. They can become a major element in a new effective mediation mechanism which will be trusted by both Palestinians and Israelis. We will continue working towards this.

The second key factor is the inviolability of the two-state formula for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and the imperative of its early implementation. We have been seriously alarmed by the statements by Israeli leaders which have called it in question. We would also like to draw attention the extremely vague statements on this score made by senior officials of the US Department of State. It appears that Washington is again relying on its allegedly effective bilateral diplomacy, which has been absolutely disastrous, trying to ensure that the parameters of the Middle East settlement suit the United States before the November election and completely disregarding the long-term consequences of this.

We have seen this many times before. Every new round of Washington’s arrogant one-sided policy in the Middle East and separate shuttle negotiations with regional players, accompanied by financial promises, leads to an increasingly bloody escalation. It has happened this time too. Washington started by burying the international quartet of intermediaries and is now blocking all international de-escalation efforts at the UN Security Council. The cynical and shortsighted policy of the American leaders has been demonstrated by President Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who said a week before the October 7, 2023, attack that “the Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades.”

Colleagues (I am addressing my Western colleagues now), the whole world is waiting for you to realise that your stubborn neglect and outright sabotage of multilateral diplomacy have repeatedly led to tragic results.

It is obvious to Russia, as well as to the overwhelming majority of the international community, that the logic of confrontation on the Palestinian issue can only be overcome through joint efforts dictated primarily by the interests of the regional states. It is up to them to ultimately decide on its future. These budding positive processes have already been outlined: the China-assisted normalisation between Iran and Saudi Arabia; Syria rejoining the Arab League, and a new dialogue between Damascus and Ankara.

The goal of any international mediation is not to interfere in these processes, not to turn the region into a platform for geopolitical rivalry, but to create the most favourable external conditions for restoring trust between the parties involved.

This is what every Russian initiative for a Middle East settlement is about. After the acute phase of the current crisis is curbed, something which should be facilitated by the UN Security Council’s joint call for a ceasefire, we propose convening consultations at the ministerial level to consolidate the key regional players’ positions and on the basis of this, to develop practical steps towards restoring Palestinian unity.

At the next stage, an international conference on the Middle East settlement will need to be convened; the representatives who spoke before I did have also proposed this format. The goal is to proclaim a Palestinian state, and work out measures to ensure the reliable security of Israel and the normalisation of its relations with all Arab and Muslim countries in general. Russia proposed convening such a conference at a meeting here about 15 years ago. Hopefully, this idea will get the attention it deserves.

The broader idea of a collective security system in the Gulf area and in the Middle East, which would consolidate trust, transparency and guarantees of equal security for all countries in the region, remains on the table. As you know, Russia has specific proposals in this regard, which we have been discussing with all interested countries for a long time. The above is our vision of further steps. But again, the priority now is to achieve an immediate ceasefire.

In conclusion, I would like to call on Security Council members not to be lulled by the US assurances that they allegedly have everything under control and that they are addressing issues on the ground, and not to postpone the creation of a Palestinian state until better times. Not only is it important for the UN Security Council to reaffirm that there is no alternative to the existing international legal framework for this most pressing issue, but it is also necessary for it to outline specific ways and deadlines for taking action. These are not just obligations arising from UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, the Madrid Principles and other decisions. This is the moral imperative of the international community, and we call for it to be fulfilled.

Mr President,

Some of the delegations here thought it a good idea to just reel off the well-worn list of accusations against Russia in connection with the special military operation against the Nazi regime in Kiev. Colleagues, I leave these statements on your conscience, although I understand that your conscience has gone to sleep.

I would like to underscore a critical point. We have no right to allow the UN decisions to create a Palestinian state to be buried the same way as the 2015 Minsk Agreements, which were unanimously approved by the UN Security Council. France and Germany, which acted as guarantors, later admitted they never planned to implement them. Such criminal acts must not be allowed to happen again, this time against the Palestinian people.

Thank you.

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