Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 31, 2024
Thank you, Madam President. Good morning to all and thank you to Under-Secretary-General Griffiths for your briefing.
There’s no doubt that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire. Yesterday, Senior Coordinator Kaag outlined steps the UN proposes to take to accelerate and expand the delivery of aid at scale. I was pleased that the Council endorsed and united behind her plan, because her success is the UN’s success in Gaza.
The question before us today is: What more can be done to facilitate her work to help expedite safe, unhindered, and expanded humanitarian access, as called for in Resolutions 2712 and 2720?
Some members have argued that the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice are a reason to change course. But in many ways, the Court’s measures reaffirm the framework that we put in place with Resolutions 2712 and 2720. The Court’s provisional measures order is consistent with the United States’ view that Israel has the right to take action in accordance with international humanitarian law to ensure the terrorist attacks of October 7 cannot be repeated.
Of course, how Israel defends itself matters. Echoing Resolutions 2712 and 2720, the Court emphasized that all parties to the conflict are bound by international humanitarian law. It also echoed the United States’ repeated calls for Israel to take all possible steps to minimize harm to civilians and humanitarian workers, to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance, and to address dehumanizing rhetoric.
In our conversations with Israel’s leaders, the United States has been clear – as has this Council – about the urgent need to increase the flow of food, water, and medicine, so that it reaches all those civilians in Gaza who desperately need it.
But Colleagues, while we all agree more must be done – and though we are all broken by the extraordinary loss of civilian lives – we must be honest about what the Court did not order. Specifically, it has not ordered an immediate ceasefire. It has not made any finding at this preliminary phase of the proceedings that Israel committed genocide or otherwise violated the Genocide Convention.
And indeed, the United States continues to believe that such allegations are unfounded. And that rather than try and will a ceasefire into existence when the conditions to sustain it unfortunately don’t exist, we must instead work towards a durable solution to this conflict through the hard work of on the ground, relentless diplomacy.
Diplomacy like the kind the United States has pursued since day one of this conflict. It was through the hard work of diplomacy that we opened the gates of Rafah to the first trucks carrying assistance. It was through the hard work of diplomacy that the parties reached an agreement to release more than 100 hostages and surge aid into Gaza through an extended pause in November. And it was through the hard work of diplomacy that we will create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities, as we called for in Resolution 2720.
Colleagues, a sustainable cessation will reunite the hostages with their loved ones, and it will allow critical humanitarian assistance to reach Palestinians in need. The United States has been working tirelessly with Qatar, Egypt, and other regional partners to reach an agreement that would see the hostages come home – hostages this Council has repeatedly urged Hamas and other groups to release and who the Court agrees should be freed immediately and unconditionally.
The proposal on the table is strong and it is compelling. It envisions a much longer humanitarian pause than we saw in November. And it would allow for us to get the hostages out, and more lifesaving food, water, and medicine into Gaza. These are extremely sensitive negotiations, so I will not go into all the details here. But I think we can all agree that this would change the situation on the ground. It would move the parties one step closer to the sustainable cessation of hostilities that we all desire.
Colleagues, Hamas set this conflict in motion on October 7, when it carried out the deadliest attack against Jews since the Holocaust. It now has a choice to make. It can continue to dig tunnels, to plan for its next attack, to use civilians and civilian infrastructure as human shields. Or Hamas can lay down its weapons and accept the proposal on the table to release every hostage. We all have an obligation to ensure that that any action this Council takes in the coming days increases pressure on Hamas to make the right decision.
Of course, for this proposal to successfully change the dynamics for the better, the UN must be situated to dramatically expand the provision of assistance. The disturbing – and according to the Secretary-General, credible – allegations that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel have shaken confidence in UNRWA at a moment that calls for scaled-up humanitarian assistance.
The United States appreciates the seriousness with which the Secretary-General has approached these allegations. Terminating the employment contracts of the involved personnel was a crucial first step. And we know the Secretary-General has pledged to pursue further accountability, including a “comprehensive and independent” review of UNRWA. This investigation needs to be swift, thorough, and credible.
Colleagues, the United States has long been the leading donor of UNRWA. We know that this agency provides lifesaving services under incredibly challenging circumstances in Gaza, and it contributes to regional stability and security through its work in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
For this reason – and for the sake of the millions of Palestinian civilians who depend on UNRWA’s services – it is vital that the UN take quick and decisive action to hold accountable anyone guilty of heinous actions, and to strengthen oversight of UNRWA’s operations and begin to restore donor confidence.
The United States’ decision to temporarily pause our funding for UNRWA was made independently from other donors. Let me be clear: It was not a punitive measure, but it is a wake-up call. We need to see fundamental changes at UNRWA to prevent this from happening again.
Colleagues, the last months have been nothing short of devastating. But I hope this moment, in which the international community has united behind Special Coordinator Kaag, can be galvanizing. We have much more diplomacy ahead of us, but the path to begin deescalating this conflict, to begin laying the foundation for a durable peace is clear. That is what Israelis and Palestinians deserve: a two-state solution in which both live side by side with equal measures of peace, security, and dignity. And let us all commit to making that vision a reality.
Thank you, Madam President.