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

Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet
Acting Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 23, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you Mr. Mladenov for your briefing, and I want to welcome you back to the virtual home the Council has been working in these last few weeks now. Especially in these uncertain times, we appreciate the way you and your team continue to work to address this conflict fairly, and that is so important.

From so many of this Council’s discussions already, we have seen that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting life all over the world. It is not a respecter of persons or borders. But while our attention is rightly focused on the immediate task of stopping the spread of the virus, we cannot allow our immediate goals to entirely overshadow the long-term goal of achieving peace in the Middle East – the focus of today’s briefing. In light of that long-term goal, I want to focus my remarks today on just one point, which is this: In a time of crisis, true leadership is the willingness to make the difficult but right choices for the people you serve – the choices that are neither easy nor in keeping with business as usual, but that lift up those who most need our help. With that point in mind, I want to look at some of the choices we have seen recently that demonstrate true leadership.

Israel is suffering from over 13,000 cases of coronavirus, and we understand that there are more than 300 cases in the West Bank and 15 in Gaza. Because of its limited medical infrastructure and fragile economy, Gaza is especially vulnerable to this virus. Fighting the pandemic must remain the focal point of regional authorities. But even as authorities fight the pandemic, what has been striking is the way in which they are exhibiting true leadership – leadership that puts aside politics and makes bold decisions for the well-being of Israeli and Palestinian people.

We have been heartened to see signs of goodwill, humanity, and unity between Israelis and Palestinians, many of which have been highlighted this morning. Israel has trained four teams of Palestinian healthcare workers on the COVID-19 response, and Israeli and Palestinian leaders have established a joint virtual COVID-19 control room to enhance coordination and communication. Moreover, Israel is currently testing COVID-19 treatments, which have had promising early results. We commend each of these efforts. In many of the Council’s meetings on this topic, there have been united calls for greater dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, as we believe it is the only way to achieve true and lasting progress. In the midst of this crisis, we are seeing evidence that bears out our belief.

The United States is committed to helping leaders make choices that save human lives and honor human dignity. As a part of our own broader contributions to fighting the pandemic around the world, we recently announced $5 million in aid to the Palestinian hospitals and households to meet immediate needs combating COVID-19. We will continue to assess how U.S. assistance can most effectively and efficiently use the resources of our taxpayers. But I want to be clear that we are committed to making the right choices – choices that save lives and honor human dignity, everywhere. In light of recent steps taken to form a national emergency government, know that Israel can count on our unwavering support as we, side by side, face today’s challenges. As Ambassador Craft has said on many occasions, Israel has no better friend than the United States.

The COVID-19 crisis has been painful, but it has already provided an important kind of clarity about which of our priorities really matter. At the end of the day, the tired conversations we repeat, the political battles we continue to fight, they all pale in comparison to our responsibility to save lives. Once this crisis passes, the United States hopes our view does not lose this clarity. The incentives for peace and progress between Israelis and Palestinians are stronger than ever. The task now before this Council is to help the parties choose true leadership over politics as usual, and to work together to ensure that the prospect of peace remains within reach.

Thank you, Mr. President.