Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 26, 2021
Thank you, Mr. President. Let me at the outset join others in taking a moment to wish Foreign Minister Jerandi, who was supposed to join us on screen today, a swift, full recovery from COVID-19.
I also want to take a moment to welcome the new UN Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace. It is a complicated file you have taken over, Tor, but your broad experience – not only on the Middle East Peace issues, but on the wider region – means that you have a depth of understanding that the United States hopes will help bring about a peaceful and sustainable resolution of the conflict. And I know we’ve expressed our thanks before, but I’d like to take just one more moment to express the gratitude and appreciation of the U.S. government for the work and professionalism of Nikolay Mladenov, Tor’s predecessor.
Mr. President, as this is the first time that the United States is addressing the Security Council on this issue since President Biden was inaugurated, and in light of some of the comments that have been made earlier by colleagues and our briefers, I thought it useful to share with you some of the contours of the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under President Biden.
Under the new administration, the policy of the United States will be to support a mutually agreed two-state solution, one in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state. This vision, as I know we have just heard, though under serious stress, remains the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state, while upholding the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspirations for a state of their own and to live with dignity and security. Peace cannot be imposed on either the Israelis or the Palestinians.
U.S. diplomatic engagement will begin from the premise that sustainable progress must be based on active consultation with both sides and that ultimate success requires the active consent of both sides.
Unfortunately, as I think we’ve heard, the respective leaderships are far apart on final-status issues, Israeli and Palestinian politics are fraught, and trust between the two sides is at a nadir. However, these realities do not relieve Member States of the responsibility of trying to preserve the viability of a two-state solution. Nor should they distract from the imperative of improving conditions on the ground, particularly the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
In this vein, the United States will urge Israel’s government and the Palestinian Authority to avoid unilateral steps that make a two-state solution more difficult, such as annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism. We hope it will be possible to start working to slowly build confidence on both sides to create an environment in which we might once again be able to help advance a solution.
In order to advance these objectives, the Biden Administration will restore credible U.S. engagement with Palestinians as well as Israelis. This will involve renewing U.S. relations with the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian people, relations which have atrophied over the last four years. President Biden has been clear in his intent to restore U.S. assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people and to take steps to re-open diplomatic missions that were closed by the last U.S. administration. We do not view these steps as a favor to the Palestinian leadership. U.S. assistance benefits millions of ordinary Palestinians and helps to preserve a stable environment that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis.
At the same time, I must be clear, the U.S. will maintain its steadfast support for Israel. Under the Biden Administration, the United States will continue its longstanding policy of opposing one-sided resolutions and other actions in international bodies that unfairly single out Israel. The United States will also work to promote Israel’s standing and participation in United Nations bodies and other international organizations. We hope to be able to cooperate with Member States on these issues.
On one final note, I also want to make clear that the Biden Administration welcomes the recent normalization agreements between Israel and UN Member States in the Arab world, as well as Muslim-majority countries. I was very pleased to hear those agreements praised by others speaking before me. I think that reflects everyone’s understanding that peaceful cooperation between Member States in the Middle East is an important contribution to regional stability.
The United States will continue to urge other countries to normalize relations with Israel, and we will look for other opportunities to expand cooperation between erstwhile adversaries. Yet, we recognize that Arab-Israeli normalization is not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians may not be the major fault line in the Middle East, but its resolution nevertheless would significantly benefit the region as a whole. It is the hope of the United States that normalization can proceed in a way that unlocks new possibilities to advance a two-state solution.
In closing, let me add a comment on mention of the Quartet by previous speakers: the United States looks forward to working with Israel, the Palestinians, Security Council Members, the Quartet, and the new UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East over the next several years.
Thank you, Mr. President.