Remarks by Ambassador Robert Wood, Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs, at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East

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May 29, 2024

Thank you, Mr. President. Special Coordinator Wennesland, thank you for your briefing this morning. It is clear the situation in Gaza remains dire. And we also remain concerned regarding the situation in the West Bank.

Colleagues, we are heartbroken and horrified by the deaths of dozens of Palestinian civilians and the more than 200 individuals who were seriously injured, including children, following an Israeli airstrike on May 26. Words cannot capture the sense of loss the families, whose lives were shattered by this tragic incident, feel.

The Palestinians affected by the May 26 airstrikes had been displaced multiple times, heeding Israeli evacuation orders and seeking shelter in the camps impacted by this weekend’s Israeli airstrikes.

Israel said the civilian deaths were a mistake, potentially caused by secondary explosions, and that the strike was aimed at two senior Hamas terrorists who also died. We have urged Israel to do more to protect innocent Palestinian lives and to undertake a swift, transparent, and comprehensive investigation.

As we have said before, Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas, but Israel also has obligations to protect civilians. The fact that Hamas’ leaders and fighters hide among civilians does not lessen the requirement for Israel to conduct its operations in accordance with international humanitarian law. Israel must do more to protect innocent Palestinians in Gaza.

We also have emphasized that Israel must connect its military operations to a political strategy that can ensure the lasting defeat of Hamas, the release of all the hostages, and a better future for the Palestinian people. The continued pattern of significant civilian harm resulting from incidents like Sunday’s airstrikes undermines Israel’s strategic goals in Gaza.

Colleagues, many of you have raised last week’s order by the ICJ, which we note echoes the U.S. position that Israel must avoid a major military operation in the heart of Rafah that would put huge numbers of civilians at risk. We continue to believe there are alternatives to a major operation that would better advance Israel’s goal of the enduring defeat of Hamas, and also protect innocent Palestinians.

We remain concerned that too little aid is flowing into Gaza and reaching those in need. In this regard, we welcome Egypt’s decision to allow the shipment of aid through Kerem Shalom and call on Israel to remove all barriers to the flow of aid at scale through all crossings and routes. More must be done to ensure more aid is getting into Gaza through all routes and is able to be safely distributed to those in need throughout Gaza.

The closure of the Rafah border crossing has impacted the humanitarian and security situation. As Gaza faces famine, it is essential we increase food, fuel, and supplies reaching those in need.

Attacks by violent extremist settlers on humanitarian aid convoys bound for Gaza, and against Palestinian civilians, must stop.

We condemn these attacks and have made clear that Israel must provide security for the convoys and their drivers and take action to ensure accountability for those individuals committing violent acts and hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians in need.

We take note of Special Coordinator Wennesland’s discussion of reconstruction in Gaza and underscore Senior Coordinator Kaag’s important role in that effort.

The United States has made its views on reconstruction clear. Chief among them is that there must be no occupation of Gaza or reduction of territory following the conflict.

Also, there can be no forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, no attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza, as well as no use of Gaza as a platform for terrorism or other violent attacks.

Further, Palestinian voices, self-determination, and aspirations must be at the center of post-crisis governance in Gaza. And Gaza must be unified with the West Bank, under a reformed Palestinian Authority. For this to be achieved, a sustained mechanism for reconstruction is needed.

We remain concerned about the situation in the West Bank. Special Coordinator Wennesland made clear the economic impacts of the Israeli government withholding revenue transfers.

We believe this policy is counterproductive and that, with all necessary safeguards, these funds should continue to flow. It is wrong to withhold funds that provide basic goods and services to innocent people. The United States has been clear: withholding funds destabilizes the West Bank and undermines the Palestinian people’s search for security and prosperity, which is in Israel’s interest.

We are also troubled by Israel’s threat to cut off Palestinian banks from their Israeli correspondent banks. These banking channels are critical for processing transactions that enable almost $8 billion a year in imports from Israel, including electricity, water, fuel, and food, as well as facilitating almost $2 billion a year in exports on which Palestinian livelihoods depend. It is essential that these banking channels remain open, and that Israel stop withholding funds.

Colleagues, the United States is committed to advancing enduring peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike – including through practical, timebound, and irreversible steps to establish a Palestinian state to stand side-by-side with Israel.

This is the only way to advance an enduring peace.

To that end, we recognize the need to revitalize the Palestinian Authority so that it can most effectively advance the aspirations of the Palestinian people and deliver for them.

Secretary Blinken has been engaged with the Palestinian Authority leadership on reforms. Proposed ideas, if implemented, would be a step in the right direction.

We also continue to work towards a framework that would better integrate Israel into the region so that it enjoys normal relations with the Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. This would present a powerful front to deter aggression and uphold regional stability.

These efforts – to free the hostages, to reform the PA, to support regional integration, to increase humanitarian assistance and protect civilians – are all consistent with President Biden’s longstanding view that, ultimately, a two-state solution is the only way to ensure a strong, secure, Jewish, democratic state of Israel, as well as a future of dignity, security, and prosperity for the Palestinian people.

The United States will continue to engage here in New York, in Jerusalem, in Ramallah, and throughout the region to work towards these ends, and we would urge others to do the same.

Thank you, Mr. President.


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