Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East (via VTC)

Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 26, 2021


Thank you, Madam President. Thank you, Special Coordinator Wennesland, for your briefing. We heard two challenging and powerful reports from our civil society briefers on the impact of this conflict on youth, and how youth can work toward its resolution. As the Special Coordinator said, there will not be a resolution without the involvement of young people like Malak and Oren, so it was important to hear from them today, so I am grateful, Madam President, that you’ve given us the chance to do that. Thank you.

As I said the last time we met on the Palestinian question in the Middle East, the United States remains committed to working towards a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous future for the people of the Middle East. For both Israelis and Palestinians, this means focusing our efforts on advancing their freedom, security, and prosperity in tangible ways in the immediate term. This is the best way of advancing towards a negotiated two-state solution in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state.

Our diplomatic engagement is based on active consultation with both Israelis and Palestinians. Since the Biden Administration took office last month, U.S. engagement with senior Palestinian Authority officials has resumed, opening up some important channels of communication. At the same time, we continue our very close consultations with the Israeli government, including through last week’s phone call between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

As we work to address the critical needs of both Israelis and Palestinians, we note the humanitarian crisis in the region is complicated by COVID-19, and I listen closely to the Special Coordinator’s words about how vaccinations are being handled. We encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to work together on the facilitation of COVID-19 vaccines. COVID-19 is a health and security threat to us all, and we must all work together so people are vaccinated, no matter where they live.

We must also recognize the unsustainable disparity in economic development between two groups of people inextricably bound together and living in close proximity. Israel ranks as one of the top economies in the world with a gross domestic product per capita on par with France and Japan – while the West Bank and Gaza continue to face severe economic instability and poverty, with the people of Gaza facing one of the highest unemployment rates on Earth. This is not a talent gap; it is a structural issue that should be diagnosed and addressed. And we have no choice but to do so if we are to preserve and advance the two-state solution.

As such, and as we noted last month, the United States intends to resume U.S. assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people. This is to assist Palestinians in real need and to bring stability and security to both Israelis and Palestinians.

There has been a long history of bipartisan consensus in the United States on the value of U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, and we intend to provide assistance that will benefit all Palestinians, including refugees. We intend to do this not as a favor, but because it is in U.S. interests. The funding ultimately supports Israel’s security as well.

We look forward to resuming these important programs consistent with requirements under U.S. law. Related to this, we must see an end to Palestinian payments that are linked to those who have committed acts of terrorism. At the same time, repeated terrorist attacks on Israel from Gaza must cease. And violence and incitement to violence by all parties must end.

I want to be clear. Our efforts to reengage the Palestinian people and leadership do not detract in any way from our commitment to Israel. We continue to be dismayed by the sheer number of one-sided UN resolutions that single out Israel while the United Nations and other international organizations ignore a full range of destabilizing actions by other countries in the region and across the globe. The United States remains committed to Israel’s standing and participation – free from unfair bias and attacks – in UN bodies and other international organizations.

The Human Rights Council is an example of an international body that places a disproportionate focus on Israel. The United States continues to strongly oppose the Human Rights Council’s one-sided and biased approach against Israel through Agenda Item 7, the HRC’s only standing country-specific agenda item. Defending Israel from being unfairly singled out in the Human Rights Council will be a key element of our reengagement with that body.

Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court also issued a decision claiming territorial jurisdiction in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, while expressly recognizing the serious legal and factual questions that surround its ability to do so. Such actions against Israel at the ICC increase tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. The only realistic path to end the conflict is through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and we will continue to urge other countries to join our efforts to support meaningful engagement between the two sides.

Thank you.