Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on the Middle East

Jason D. Greenblatt
Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations
New York City
July 23, 2019


Good Morning, I am pleased to be back here with you today. I would like to update you on the Trump Administration’s peace efforts. I know that this institution has shown a deep interest in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I also know that many of you are frustrated by the fact that we have not yet shared the details of the vision we have crafted. We understand that. We hope that when the right time does come, that frustration will dissipate — as will the frustration that we all have about the lack of any progress toward resolution of this conflict and the lack of progress to improve lives and the security challenges that plague Israel and much of the region. We hope that frustration will be replaced by a mutual understanding that our vision provides a unique opportunity to help the two parties and their neighbors achieve what has been elusive for too long — a comprehensive peace agreement.

We know that the Palestinians have seen promises made by some and not kept. But President Trump and his Administration desire to make the lives of everyone involved better. That means Palestinians in Gaza, Jerusalem, and what many call the West Bank — and that means Israelis in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and what many call Judea and Samaria.

I want to express my gratitude to the Kingdom of Bahrain for graciously co-hosting the very successful Peace to Prosperity workshop with us last month. In Manama, more than 300 government, private sector, and civil society leaders came together to demonstrate international commitment to improve the lives of the Palestinians. Government leaders, CEOs, and economists at the workshop agreed that the economic vision is detailed and ambitious, but achievable and potentially transformative with the right environment created by an agreed-upon peace agreement and proper governance structures. Our economic vision, which has now been downloaded from the internet over one million times, contains a detailed portfolio of projects and capacity-building programs that have the potential to unleash exciting, sustainable, private sector growth for Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, and Lebanese.

We have been clear and honest about the fact that this economic vision can only be achieved if there is a resolution to the political conflict between the parties. This is not an economic peace. There will be no economic prosperity without a political solution. But no political solution will succeed without a well-developed economic plan.

President Trump has not yet decided when we will release the political portion of the plan, and we hope to make that decision soon. In the meantime, I want to ask for your help to create conditions by which we can all have a serious conversation. Among the many obstacles we face is the constant drumbeat of tired rhetoric that is designed to prevent progress and to bypass direct negotiations. It is time to retire that rhetoric. Peace will require honesty and a willingness to consider new ideas, as well as courage and hard compromises. This is a time for us to speak to each other candidly, not in stale slogans and talking points.

Let me get a little specific here.

This conflict will not end on the basis of an “international consensus” about who is right and who is wrong, about who should give up X and who should give up Y. International consensus might work from time to time, when you can actually achieve an international consensus. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, international consensus has not been achieved. Those who continue to call for international consensus on this conflict are doing nothing to encourage the parties to sit down at the negotiating table and make the hard compromises necessary for peace. In fact, they are doing the opposite — allowing people to hide behind words that mean nothing.

International consensus is too often nothing more than a mask for inaction.

Let us not forget that day when the United Nations could not even find a way to build an international consensus behind the fact that Hamas is a terrorist organization that relentlessly attacks Israelis by incendiary balloons, missiles, attack tunnels and other means, sometimes while hiding in residential neighborhoods filled with Palestinian families.

Hamas, which ghoulishly holds Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul as bargaining chips. Hamas, which imprisons Israeli civilians, Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.

Hamas, a brutal terrorist organization that causes nothing but misery and suffering for Palestinians and Israelis, an organization that continues to vow to destroy Israel. This failure is profoundly shameful. If we could not even find an international consensus regarding Hamas, is an international consensus really going to end this conflict?

And how is it that we can’t find an international consensus that the Palestinian Authority rewarding terrorism and the murder of Israelis using public funds, some donated by countries in this very room, is abhorrent and must be stopped.

International consensus is not international law. So let’s stop kidding ourselves. If a so-called international consensus had been able to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would have done so decades ago. It didn’t.
This conflict is also not going to be resolved by reference to “international law” when such law is inconclusive. We have all heard cogent arguments claiming international law says one thing or another about this or that aspect of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Some of those arguments are persuasive, at least to certain audiences. But none of them are conclusive. We will not get to the bottom of whose interpretation of “international law” is correct on this conflict. There is no judge, jury, or court in the world that the parties involved have agreed to give jurisdiction in order to decide whose interpretations are correct.

International law with respect to this conflict is a tricky subject that could be discussed and argued for years without ever reaching a conclusion. So we can spend years and years arguing what the law is and whether it is enforceable, and prolong the ongoing suffering. Or we could acknowledge the futility of that approach.

This conflict will not be resolved by constantly referencing the hundreds of UN resolutions on the issue. The constant reference to these heavily negotiated, purposely ambiguously worded resolutions is nothing more than a cloak to avoid substantive debate about the realities on the ground and the complexity of the conflict.

The interpretation of one of the most often cited resolutions — Resolution 242 — has been hotly debated over the past half-century. That debate has not brought us closer to a lasting and comprehensive peace.

That debate has not even bridged the gap between those who construe Resolution 242 to call for the so-called “right of return” and compensation for displaced Palestinians, and the fact that the world covers its eyes to the fate of the roughly equal number of Jews who were expelled or forced to flee their homes in Arab countries in connection with Israel’s War of Independence.

Resolution 242 and others may have been drafted and voted upon in a genuine attempt to bring an end to the suffering that all involved in this conflict had endured. But we must acknowledge they have not succeeded. A comprehensive and lasting peace will not be created by fiat of international law or by these heavily wordsmithed, unclear resolutions.
The same holds true for the status of Jerusalem. There is no international consensus about
Jerusalem. And, no international consensus or interpretation of international law will persuade the United States or Israel that a city in which Jews have lived and worshipped for nearly 3,000 years and has been the capital of the Jewish State for 70 years, is not — today and forever — the capital of Israel.

Jerusalem is a city of three world faiths. The rights of all who wish to worship at the holy sites in the city of Jerusalem must be protected.

It is true that the PLO and the Palestinian Authority continue to assert that East Jerusalem must be a capital for the Palestinians. But let’s remember: an aspiration is not a right. Please do not read into that statement anything about the content of the political portion of the plan. I am making a statement of fact. Aspirations belong at the negotiating table. And only direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians can resolve the issue of Jerusalem, if it can be resolved. It will not be resolved in this chamber, in this institution, or in any other capital around the world.

That does not mean that the Palestinians can’t aspire to have a capital in East Jerusalem, with creative solutions that attempt to respect all three religions that cherish this incredible city. But if there is to be such a solution, only the parties themselves, through direct negotiations, can work this out.

Many participants in this conversation continue to re-litigate the events of 1967, when Israel heroically acted to defend itself against a threat of its very existence.

Many would rather rail against the supposed evils of what they routinely call an “illegal occupation” than engage constructively on the disputes that characterize the conflict today. That’s not a productive dialogue.
The dispute over the territory is a question that can only be resolved in the context of direct negotiations between the parties. And I am focused on how to get those parties back to that table.

I hope I have your support in that. Those who have weaponized the term “occupation” in order to criticize Israel are doing nothing to promote a resolution to this conflict. In fact, they are heavily undermining the chances for peace and the improvement of the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.

Both Israel and the Palestinians have asserted a claim to certain land. This is an unresolved dispute and it will only be through direct negotiations between the parties that we have a chance of resolving that dispute and achieving a comprehensive peace. Let us not lose sight of the fact that Israel has already conceded at least 88 percent of the territory captured by Israel in the defensive war it had no choice but to fight in 1967.

We call on the leadership of the PLO and the PA to put aside blanket rejections of a plan they have not even seen, and to show a willingness to engage in a good-faith manner, a meaningful dialogue with Israel. And we call upon each of the UN Security Council members, and each country which truly wishes to help the Israelis and Palestinians achieve a comprehensive peace agreement, to encourage them back to the table.

The vision for peace that we plan to present will not be ambiguous, unlike many resolutions that have passed in this chamber. It will provide sufficient detail so that people can see what compromises will be necessary to achieve a realistic, lasting, comprehensive solution to this conflict — the conflict that has robbed so much potential from Palestinians, Israelis and the region as a whole.

I ask all of you to reserve judgment until we publish, and you read, the 60 or so pages that detail what peace could look like. Achieving that vision will require difficult compromises by both parties, if they are willing to make such compromises. But we believe both sides will gain far more than they give.

We all want this conflict resolved. We all want to help those who continue to bear the unendurable weight of this conflict — whether they are Palestinians, Israelis, or their many friends and neighbors in the region.

So let’s start by acknowledging that there are no short cuts and that fictions of international consensus, international legitimacy, arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law, and aspirations expressed as rights won’t achieve peace.

A solution cannot be forced on the parties. Unilateral steps in international and multilateral fora will do nothing to solve this conflict. Let’s be honest with ourselves, and the parties, and the region, that the only way ahead is direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

And let us also not lose sight of the deep division that exists among Palestinians themselves – between Fatah and Hamas. A serious issue that must be resolved to make progress. Let’s start a new, realistic discussion. We need to look to the future, rather than dwelling on the past.

Let’s build real foundations of peace and work to truly transform lives by speaking the truth — directly to one another, across the table.

Thank you.