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Thank you, Madame President.

At the outset, I would like to extend my condolences to the people of Turkey following yesterday’s tragic earthquake.

Let me begin by reminding the Council that the name of today’s debate is the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, and not vice versa. This morning, I would like to take the unusual step of actually focusing on the situation in the Middle East. Let me assure the Council that I will give proper attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict later. However, let us first look at the facts.

The Middle East is in turmoil. Thousands of innocents have been gunned down in the street. People are calling for their freedom and demanding their rights. Yet, month after month, the Council deals disproportionately with one — and only one — conflict in the region. I do not claim that the Council is not dealing with the situation of specific countries in the Middle East. It does. However, I think that it is time to start connecting the dots so that we can face the bigger picture.

For generations, the Arab world has failed miserably to address the needs of its own people. The United Nations Development Programme has sponsored five — five— Arab Human Development Reports since 2002. Year after year, the Arab researchers who write the reports often offer a glimpse into the real world of the Middle East. Young people struggle without access to jobs and education. Women are denied basic rights. Free expression is repressed. Minorities are persecuted. Elections are a sham.

With their world in flames, Arab leaders continue to blame Israel and the West for all their problems. For years, it has been the only explanation that they have been able to offer to their own people. From time to time, they spice up the story. When a shark attacked a tourist in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh recently, the local Egyptian Governor suggested that Mossad was using sharks to harm Egyptian tourism. Everything wrong in the Middle East, according to many Arab leaders, is simply Israel’s fault. If it is not Mossad, it is the Central Intelligence Agency, MI6 or some other foreign force.

Today, the people of the Middle East demand real answers for their plight. We have seen their brave stands in public squares. We have heard their cries. We have witnessed the deadly response to such calls for freedom. In Hama, Dara and Latakia, the Syrian regime slaughters its citizens in a desperate bid to hold onto power. Some members of the Council remain blind to Al-Assad’s brutality. In Libya, the reign of Muammar Al-Qadhafi is over after more than 40 years of repression and many months of bloodshed. The Libyan despot’s violent end illustrated what Churchill once described as the signal disadvantage of a dictator. What he does to others may often be done back to him. That truth haunts the minds of many leaders in our region. Al-Qadhafi’s fate rings an alarm bell for them.

In Iran, an Ayatollah regime represses its own people, as it helps other tyrants to butcher theirs. Last week, United Nations Special Rapporteur Shaheed briefed the General Assembly, offering a chilling picture of what daily life in Iran looks like. His report highlighted

“a pattern of systemic violations of … fundamental human rights … includ[ing] multifarious deficits in relation to the administration of justice … practices that amount to torture … the imposition of the death penalty in the absence of proper judicial safeguards … the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, and the erosion of civil and political rights.”

Iran remains the world’s central banker, chief trainer and primary sponsor of terror. Recent events have shown that its State-directed terrorist activities extend from the Persian Gulf to the Washington Beltway, with targets that range from innocent protesters to foreign soldiers to official diplomatic representatives. That is the way the regime behaves today. One can only imagine what it would do with nuclear capabilities — with the dangerous combination of extremist ideology, advanced missile technology and nuclear weapons.

The reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency make clear that Iran continues to march towards the goal of a nuclear bomb in defiance of the international community. We all cannot allow it to place the entire world under the spectre of nuclear terrorism. The world must stop Iran before it is too late.

The Middle East is trembling. Its future is uncertain. Two roads stand before us. There is a future offered by Iranian and Syrian leaders of more extremism, greater violence and continued hate. Their vision will not liberate human beings. It will enslave them. It does not build. It destroys. There is another road — a path of progress, reform and moderation.

The choice before us is clear. It has never been more critical to make the right choice for the future of the Middle East and all its inhabitants. It is time for the Council to stop ignoring the destructive forces that seek to keep the Middle East in the past, so that we can seize the promise of a brighter future.

Make no mistake. It is important for Israel and the Palestinians to resolve our long-standing conflict. It is important on its own merits, so that Israelis and Palestinians alike can lead peaceful, secure and prosperous lives. But it will not produce a sudden outbreak of stability, harmony and democratization from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. Seriously addressing the underlying problems of the Middle East will be essential to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The road to peace can only be built on a foundation of mutual recognition and a dialogue. A month ago, President Abbas stood in this building and said,

“I come before the General Assembly today from the Holy Land, the land of Palestine, the land of divine messages, ascension of the Prophet Muhammad and the birthplace of Jesus Christ.”

He denied 4,000 years of Jewish history. It was not a small omission. It was not an oversight. The Palestinian leadership’s attempts to erase the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel is not new. Others in the Arab world have offered a different message. In 1995, for example, King Hussein went to the United States and said,

“For our part, we shall continue to work for the new dawn when all the children of Abraham and their descendants are living together in the birthplace of their three great monotheistic religions.”

Let me repeat that King Hussein said three monotheistic religions, not one or two. Those who seek peace do not negate the narrative of the other side. On the contrary, they recognize its existence and choose to sit down and negotiate peace in good faith. That is what President Sadat did; it is what King Hussein did. The ancient Jewish bond with the land of Israel is unbreakable. This is our homeland. The United Nations recognized Israel as a Jewish State 64 years ago. It is time for the Palestinians and more than 20 Muslim countries around the globe to do the same.

Let there be no doubt, and I repeat, Israel wants peace with a future Palestinian State. In word and in deed, my Government has demonstrated time and again that we seek two States for two peoples living side by side in peace. I repeat: two States for two peoples. We do not hear that from the Palestinians or any Arab leaders. If anyone should hear the phrase “two States for two peoples,” they should call me, on a 911 number if necessary, day or night.

It is no coincidence that Prime Minister Netanyahu stood here last month and issued a clear call to President Abbas. Today let me reiterate that call to the Palestinians. Sit down with Israel. Leave your preconditions behind. Start negotiations now. The international community has called on the Palestinians to go back to negotiations. Israel has accepted the principles outlined by the Quartet to restart negotiations immediately without preconditions. We are waiting for the Palestinians to do the same thing.

The Palestinians suggest that settlements are the core cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is an interesting assertion, considering the fact that the conflict raged for nearly half a century before a single settlement sprang up in the West Bank. From 1948 until 1967, the West Bank was part of Jordan. Gaza was part of Egypt. The Arab world did not lift a finger to create a Palestinian State, and it sought Israel’s alienation when not a single settlement stood anywhere in the West Bank or Gaza. The issue of settlements will be worked out over the course of negotiations. But the primary obstacle to peace is not settlements. That is just a pretext for the Palestinians to avoid negotiations. The primary obstacle to peace is the Arab world’s refusal to acknowledge the Jewish people’s ancient connection to the land of Israel, and the Palestinians’ insistence on the so-called right of return.

Today the Palestinian leadership is calling for an independent Palestinian State, but insists that its own people return to the Jewish State. That is a proposition that no one who believes in the right of Israel to exist could accept, because the only equation in political science with mathematical certainty is that the so-called right of return equals the destruction of the State of Israel. The idea that Israel will be flooded with millions of Palestinians is a non-starter. The international community and the Palestinian leadership know it, but the Palestinian people do not hear it. This gap between perception and reality is a major obstacle to peace. The so-called right of return is the major hurdle to achieving peace. Since the Palestinian leadership refuses to tell the Palestinian people the truth, the international community and the people around this table have a responsibility to tell the Palestinian people about the basic compromises that they will have to make.

The many issues that remain outstanding can and will be resolved only through direct negotiations between the parties. Israel’s peace with Egypt was negotiated, not imposed. Peace with Jordan was negotiated, not imposed. An Israeli-Palestinian peace must be negotiated; it cannot be imposed. Palestinian unilateral action at the United Nations is no path to real statehood; it is a march of folly. Today the Palestinians are far from meeting the basic criteria for statehood, including the test of effective control. The President of the Palestinian Authority has zero authority in the Gaza Strip. Before flying 9,000 kilometres to New York to seek United Nations membership, President Abbas should have driven 50 kilometres to Gaza, which he has been unable to visit since 2007. In the same breath that they claim that the State will be peace-loving, Palestinian leaders speak of unity with Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization. Hamas and a love of peace? There is no greater contradiction in terms.

This month, on a fund-raising excursion of terrorism with his Iranian patrons, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh stood in front of an audience in Tehran and said that “the correct strategy to liberate our country and Jerusalem is violent resistance”. Under Hamas rule, Gaza remains a launching ground for constant rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians that are fuelled by a continuous flow of weapons from Iran and elsewhere. Israel has a right to defend itself. As the Palmer report made clear, the naval blockade is a legitimate security measure for preventing weapons from entering the Gaza sea.

When it is not attacking Israelis, Hamas is oppressing its own people. In Gaza, civil society is non-existent. Political opponents are tortured, women are subjugated and children are used as suicide bombers and human shields. Textbooks and television glorify martyrdom and demonize the Jews. Incitement against Israelis also continues in the West Bank, among the official institutions of the Palestinian Authority, which names its public squares after suicide bombers.

The unresolved questions about the future of a Palestinian State cannot be simply swept under the carpet. They go to the core of resolving our conflict. They have to be addressed. Let me be clear: for Israel, the question is not whether we can accept a Palestinian State; we can. The question is what the character of the Palestinian State that emerges alongside us will be — whether it will live in peace.

Palestinian unilateral action in the United Nations breaches the Oslo Accords, the Interim Arrangements, the Paris Protocol and other bilateral agreements that form the basis of 40 spheres of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, all of which could be jeopardized by unilateral action at the United Nations. This unilateral initiative will raise expectations that cannot be met. It is a recipe for instability and, potentially, violence. Members of the international community should be clear about the responsibility: you vote for it, you own it. All those who vote for unilateral action and recognition will be responsible for its consequences. At this critical juncture, the Palestinians’ true friends will encourage them to put aside the false idol of unilateralism and get back to the hard work of direct negotiations.

Speaking of friends, the many so-called Arab champions of the Palestinians’ cause have a responsibility to play a constructive role. Constructive support from the Arab world is vital for building the civic and economic structures necessary for real Palestinian statehood and peace. Instead of simply adding to the cause of State-bashing, the Palestinians’ true supporters will help advance State-building. Arab donors provided just 20 per cent of international funds for the Palestinian Authority’s regular budget last year. Let me put this in perspective: last year Arab donations to the regular Authority budget accounted for a little more than half of what Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal spent on his newest personal luxury jet. People in Washington, London and Paris are struggling with an economic downturn, but still providing the bulk of support for Palestinian institutions, while Arab States, saturated in petrodollars, do not even give the Palestinians crumbs from the table.

In the Jewish tradition we are taught that whosoever saves a single life saves an entire universe. This sacred principle forms the backbone of Israel’s democracy. It drives our Government’s policy. We witnessed a clear reflection of those values last week. All of Israel welcomed home our kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit, after he had spent more than five years in Hamas captivity. It was a moment of great joy, but it came with tremendous costs. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Secretary-General personally, and the people around him. Some of the countries represented here today played an important role in Gilad Shalit’s release. For us, the supreme value of a single human life justified releasing more than 1,000 terrorists and criminals covered in the blood of innocents. The values inherent in such an act shine bright in our region. Many took note. On Twitter, one Syrian blogger, Soori Madsoos, wrote:

“Their Government is prepared to pay the ultimate price for one citizen, while our Government kills us like we were animals, and our Arab neighbours say that it is an internal matter.”

Time and again, Israel has shown that it is ready and able to make bold and courageous decisions to preserve life, to uphold human dignity and to pursue peace.

Sustainable peace must be negotiated, must be nurtured and must be anchored in security. It must take root in homes, schools and media in order to teach tolerance and understanding and thus grow within hearts and minds. It must be built on the foundation of a younger generation that understands the compromises necessary for peace. A brighter future for the Middle East must be forged from within, when we are open and honest about the challenges before us, and resolute in our determination to meet them together.

H.E. Mr. Ron Prosor,
Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations
Monday, 24 October 2011, 10.15 a.m. New York

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