Remarks by Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the UN Security Council Ministerial Meeting on the Situation in the Middle East

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October 24, 2023

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Mr. President, thank you for convening this ministerial and for convening this council.  And thank you very much, Special Coordinator Wennesland, Deputy Special Coordinator Hastings, for your important briefings.

Mr. Secretary-General, we’re grateful for your leadership in this incredibly challenging time, particularly in helping get humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.

And to the entire UN team – their incredible bravery, their dedication – all of those who continue to serve in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable, we express our gratitude and our admiration.

I’m here today because the United States believes the United Nations – and this council in particular – has a crucial role to play in addressing this crisis.  Indeed, we’ve put forward a resolution that sets out practical steps that we can take together toward that end.

The resolution builds on many elements of the text that Brazil put forward last week.  It incorporates substantive feedback we received from fellow council members over recent days.  It also draws heavily on the views that I heard firsthand from partners across the region after Hamas’s appalling attack on October 7 – views that the United States shares.

First, we all recognize the right, and indeed the imperative, of states to defend themselves against terrorism.

That’s why we must unequivocally condemn Hamas’s barbaric terrorist attack against Israel – babies riddled with bullets; young people hunted down and gunned down with glee; people, young people beheaded; families burned alive in a final embrace; parents executed in front of their children; children executed in front of their parents; and so many taken hostage in Gaza.

We have to ask – indeed it must be asked – where is the outrage?  Where is the revulsion?  Where is the rejection?  Where is the explicit condemnation of these horrors?

We must affirm the right of any nation to defend itself and to prevent such horror from repeating itself.  No member of this council – no nation in this entire body – could or would tolerate the slaughter of its people.

As this council and the UN General Assembly have repeatedly affirmed, all acts of terrorism are unlawful and unjustifiable.  They’re unlawful and unjustifiable whether they target people in Nairobi or Bali, in Luxor, Istanbul, or Mumbai, in New York or Kibbutz Be’eri.  They’re unlawful and unjustifiable whether they are carried out by ISIS, by Boko Haram, by al-Shabaab, by Lashkar-e Tayyiba, or by Hamas. They’re unlawful and unjustifiable whether victims are targeted for their faith, their ethnicity, their nationality, or any other reason.

And this council has a responsibility to denounce member states that arm, that fund, and train Hamas or any other terrorist group that carries out such horrific acts.

Let’s not forget that among the more than 1,400 people Hamas killed on October 7 were citizens from more than 30 UN member states, including many of the members around this very table.  The victims included at least 33 American citizens.  Every one of us has a stake, every one of us has a responsibility, in defeating terrorism.

Second, we all agree on the vital need to protect civilians.

As President Biden has made clear from the outset of this crisis, while Israel has the right – indeed, the obligation – to defend itself, the way it does so matters.

We know Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people, and Palestinian civilians are not to blame for the carnage committed by Hamas.  Palestinian civilians must be protected.

That means Hamas must avoid using them as human shields.  It’s hard to think of an act of greater cynicism.

It means Israel must take all possible precautions to avoid harm to civilians.  It means food, water, medicine, and other essential humanitarian assistance must be able to flow into Gaza and to the people who need them.  It means civilians must be able to get out of harm’s way.  It means humanitarian pauses must be considered for these purposes.

The United States has worked relentlessly to make real these principles.  We continue to coordinate closely with Egypt, Israel, and partners across the region as well as with the United Nations to build mechanisms that will enable sustained humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza without benefiting Hamas or any other terrorist group.  President Biden appointed one of our most senior diplomats, Ambassador David Satterfield, to lead our humanitarian efforts, which he is currently doing on the ground.

The United States has committed an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, bringing the total aid that we provided to the Palestinian people over the past two and a half years to more than $1.6 billion.  That makes the United States the largest single-country donor by far to the Palestinian people.  We call on all countries, particularly those with the greatest capacity to give, to join us in meeting the UN’s appeal for the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

At the heart of our efforts to save innocent lives in this conflict and in every conflict, for that matter, is our core belief that every civilian life is equally valuable.  There is no hierarchy when it comes to protecting civilian lives.  A civilian is a civilian is a civilian, no matter his or her nationality, ethnicity, age, gender, faith.

That’s why America mourns the loss of every single innocent life in this crisis, including innocent Israeli and Palestinian men, women, children, elderly people, Muslim, Jews, Christians, people of all nationalities and faiths, including at least 35 UN staff members.  That’s why it’s imperative that we work to protect all civilians in this conflict, to prevent more deaths atop the many that have already occurred.

The value we place on civilian life is the driving force behind our efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza.  I, as others have, had the occasion to meet with families of those missing and suspected to be in the hands of Hamas on my recent trip.  Several, as you know, are in this room with us today.  None of us – none of us – can imagine the nightmare they’re living, something no family should have to endure.  Their loved ones must be released immediately, unconditionally, and every member of this council – indeed, every member of this body – should insist on that, insist on that, insist on that.

We’re grateful to Qatar, to Egypt, to the ICRC, for helping secure the release of four of Hamas’ hostages.  But at least 200 more – and again, from many of our nations – are still in the grip of Hamas.  So again, I implore every member here:  Use your voice, use your influence, use your leverage to secure their unconditional and immediate release.

Third, we’re all determined to prevent this conflict from spreading.  This goes to the principal responsibility of the Security Council – maintaining international peace and security.  A broader conflict would be devastating, not only for Palestinians and Israelis, but for people across the region and, indeed, around the world.  To that end, we call on all member states to send a firm united message to any state or non-state actor that is considering opening another front in this conflict against Israel or who may target Israel’s partners, including the United States:  Don’t.  Don’t throw fuel on the fire.

Members of this council and permanent members in particular have a special responsibility to prevent this conflict from spreading.  I look forward to continuing to work with my counterpart from the People’s Republic of China to do precisely that when he visits Washington later this week.

Now it is no secret to anyone in this room or on this council that, for years, Iran has supported Hamas, Hizballah, the Houthis, and other groups that continue to carry out attacks on Israel.  Iranian leaders have routinely threatened to wipe Israel off the map.  In recent weeks, Iran’s proxies have repeatedly attacked U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, whose mission is to prevent ISIS from renewing its rampage.

So let me say this before this council and let me say what we have consistently said to Iranian officials through other channels:  The United States does not seek conflict with Iran.  We do not want this war to widen.

But if Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake:  We will defend our people, we will defend our security – swiftly and decisively.

To all of the members of this council:  If you, like the United States, want to prevent this conflict from spreading, tell Iran, tell its proxies – in public, in private, through every means – do not open another front against Israel in this conflict; do not attack Israel’s partners.

And we urge members to go a step further:  Make clear that if Iran or its proxies widen this conflict and put more civilians at risk, you – you – will hold them accountable.  Act as if the security and stability of the entire region and beyond is on the line, because it is.

Fourth and finally, even as we address this immediate crisis, we all agree that we must redouble our collective efforts to build an enduring political solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  The only road to lasting peace and security in the region, the only way to break out of this horrific cycle of violence, is through two states for two peoples.

As President Biden has underscored from day one, Palestinians deserve equal measures of security, of freedom, of justice, of opportunity, of dignity.  And Palestinians have a right to self-determination and a status of their own.

Now, we have no illusions about how hard it will be to achieve a two-state solution.  But as President Biden has said, we cannot give up on peace.  Indeed, it’s precisely in the darkest moments, like this one, that we have to fight the hardest to preserve an alternative path, to show people making it real, improving their lives in tangible ways is possible – indeed, it’s necessary.

We have heard many countries express support in recent weeks for a durable political solution. Our message today is this:  Help us build that solution.  Help us prevent the spread of war that will make two states and broader peace and security in the region even harder to achieve.

Members of this council:  We stand at a crossroads.  Two paths lie before us.  The difference between them could not be more stark.

One is the path offered by Hamas.  We know where it leads: death, destruction, suffering, darkness.

The other is the path toward greater peace, greater stability, greater opportunity, greater normalization and integration – a path toward people across the region being able to live, to work, to worship, to learn side by side, a path toward Palestinians realizing their legitimate right to self-determination and a state of their own.

Nothing would be a greater victory for Hamas than allowing its brutality to send us down its path of terrorism and nihilism.  We must not let it.  Hamas does not get to choose for us.

The United States stands ready to work with anyone who’s ready to forge a more peaceful and secure future for the region – a future its people yearn for and so deserve.  Thank you, Mr. President.

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