Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Representative to the United Nations, at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East

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November 29, 2023

Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Secretary-General Guterres and Special Coordinator Wennesland, for your briefings. I also join in welcoming the many ministers with us here today.

Colleagues, we are now on the sixth day of the humanitarian pause in Gaza. A pause that – amidst the darkness of a conflict that Hamas set into motion – has been a glimmer of hope. A pause that, quite frankly, would not have been possible without the leadership of Qatar, Egypt, and the United States.

From day one, the United States’ approach to this conflict has been driven by direct, personal, presidential diplomacy. Diplomacy is hard. A lot of it takes place behind the scenes. And while the work we do in this Chamber is tremendously important, oftentimes, progress happens outside these walls.

Take the humanitarian pause we helped broker. Water, food, fuel, and other essentials are now reaching Palestinian civilians in the south and, crucially, the north. And this week, the United States is airlifting UN medical items, food aid, and winter necessities to the region. Just yesterday, we delivered over 54,000 pounds of assistance to the humanitarian logistics hub. During the first five days of the humanitarian pause, we saw approximately 1,000 trucks enter Gaza. And there are more regular shipments of fuel going to UNRWA.

But more humanitarian assistance is needed. Much more. So, we must do everything possible to scale up aid.

And all parties must do everything possible to protect civilians, including UNRWA staff and journalists.

The United States has urged Israel to take every possible measure to prevent civilian casualties as it exercises its rights to safeguard its people from acts of terror. We know Hamas continues to use civilians as human shields purposefully, cruelly putting Palestinian civilians in harm’s way. But this does not lessen Israel’s responsibility to protect civilians – consistent with international humanitarian law.

Colleagues, during this pause, we have welcomed the release of hostages who were pried away from their families by Hamas. We’ve seen emotional reunions. Children running to embrace their parents. Families back together, finally able to breathe a sigh of relief after weeks of agony. I simply cannot imagine what these hostages and families have been through. None of us can.

I think about Abigal Edan, a 4-year-old girl who was freed this week, but whose parents were killed by Hamas, right in front of her eyes. And Yafa Adar, an elderly woman bravely – bravely – showing her face steely, now free, now able to smile once again.

This is Hamas. Clearly, there is no one too young or too old for its terror. These are horrors they celebrate. And these are horrors some Member States still refuse to condemn. And it is unacceptable, and it is outrageous.

Colleagues, even as we welcome the release of these hostages, so many others are not yet free. And their families are still living in hell, unsure when or if they will see their loved ones again. And I think of Hersh Goldberg-Polin and his parents with whom I met. To those families, I want to say this: We will not rest until all hostages held by Hamas and other groups are released. Every single one.

Towards that end, we want to see this humanitarian pause extended. Israel has been very clear that it is prepared to continue the pause in fighting for every day that Hamas releases an additional ten hostages. The ball is now in Hamas’ court. And if Hamas decides not to extend this deal, the responsibility will rest squarely on its shoulders.

Colleagues, while the last week has been a source of hope, I want to raise three deeply troubling developments.

First, we continue to be concerned by the possibility of a further spillover of this conflict. In particular, the United States does not want to see conflict in Lebanon, where escalation would have grave implications for regional peace and security, and for the well-being of the Lebanese people. Restoring calm along the Israel-Lebanon border is of utmost importance, and fully implementing Security Council Resolution 1701 is a key component of this effort. UNIFIL plays a vital role along the Blue Line, and we expect all parties will ensure the safety of peacekeepers.

We also call on this Council to condemn in the strongest terms the recent Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which pose a significant risk to the maritime security of vessels. These attacks must cease, and the M/V Galaxy Leader and its crew must be immediately released.

Second, we are deeply troubled by the sharp rise in violence by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. Extremists that attack civilians in the West Bank must be held accountable and this violence must stop. And President Biden has made clear that the United States is prepared to take action, including by issuing visa bans against these extremists. We strongly oppose the advancement of settlements in the West Bank, which undermines the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.

Third, we call on all parties in the region and people around the world to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric that exacerbates tensions and hate. That includes dehumanizing language. Over the past two months, we have seen a spike in antisemitism and Islamophobia. We see this playing out online across social media. And we also see it in our communities, where hate begets violence. The violent attack on three students of Palestinian descent in Vermont was horrific. We all have a responsibility to condemn of these attacks.

Colleagues, even as we focus on the immediate task before us, we must look forward to a better future. So, the next generation of children will never know the horrors of terror and conflict. So that we can stamp out the distrust and the trauma that continues to plague the region. And so, Israelis and Palestinians can secure a future free from Hamas and free from terror.

Because let’s be clear: An outcome that leaves Hamas in control of Gaza would deny Palestinian civilians the chance to build something better for themselves and it would also expose Israel to the possibility of future attacks.

We need a two-state solution, where Gaza and the West Bank are reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalized Palestinian Authority. This is the only guarantor of a secure and democratic Israel. This is the only guarantor of Palestinians realizing their legitimate aspirations to a state of their own. This is the only way to end this cycle of violence once and for all.

Progress will not come overnight. Peace is never easily won. And diplomacy requires hard work. But that must not deter us. Let us work together. We must commit to diplomacy. And let us do everything possible at long last deliver on the promise of peace and the hope for a brighter future.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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