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Statement on the Middle East by Israel�s Ambassador to the UN, Prof. Gabriela Shalev, at the Security Council: �Lasting Peace Can Only be Forged with Mutual Respect & Recognition"

Israel�s Ambassador to the United Nations, Prof. Gabriela Shalev. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Mr. President.

I would like to acknowledge the presence of Under-Secretary-General Pascoe and thank him for his informative briefing.

Mr. President, Members of the Security Council,

Our region is passing through an important juncture that may determine the future of the Middle East for some time to come.  There is much reason for optimism, but also cause for concern.  In the Middle East, moderates are working toward peace.  These are the true partners in building a secure future for the region.  In contrast, there are also extremists who use every opportunity to sabotage progress made, and seek to destroy goodwill, hopes and aspirations on all sides.  Among these are the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist organizations, led, supported, harboured, financed and trained by their Iranian and Syrian patrons.  Many would agree.  Iran continues its threats to wipe Israel off the map, and its development of nuclear capabilities should sound alarms across the globe.  Iran is indeed the real danger for our region, for the world, for the future.

Let me state, dear colleagues, in no uncertain terms, that Israel is committed to the peace process.  However, the peace process must be based, amongst others, on the three clear principles set by the Quartet and the international community: recognition of the State of Israel, renunciation of terrorism and violence, and adherence to previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.  Any future Palestinian Government must, therefore, abide by the same basic conditions, which are fundamental to any relationship between peoples.  Lasting peace can only be forged on solid foundations of mutual respect and recognition between leaders, peoples and societies.

Mr. President,

On the positive side, relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority continue to advance in real terms and in a number of areas.  Over $1.76 billion in aid was distributed in the West Bank in 2008, an increase of 74% over the previous year, showing an increase in international confidence in the management of the Palestinian economy.  Also in 2008, overall domestic production increased by 5% and trade with Israel increased by over a third.  Israel recently removed a number of roadblocks in the West Bank.  Among these, one particular roadblock that was removed just recently remains open in spite of the ruthless murder by terrorists, nine days ago, of two Israeli police officers.  A few days ago, an extremely dangerous car bomb was found and diffused in Haifa, preventing catastrophic consequences and the loss of many lives.  It is quite evident that this car was smuggled from the West Bank, probably through one of the recently removed roadblocks.  Meanwhile, the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority have increased their security cooperation, in an effort to improve the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians.  These developments, and others, are proof that confidence-building steps, taken by those who cherish a genuine desire for progress, can bring the parties closer to their common goal.

Mr. President,

In contrast, the situation in Gaza remains problematic.  Since 18 January, over 100 rockets and mortars have been launched into Israel from Gaza, including a Kassam rocket that landed near the coastal city of Asheklon just yesterday.  As we have stated before, Israel will not tolerate a return to the status quo ante, with continued terrorist attacks jeopardizing civilians throughout the southern part of my country.  Israel's obligation was, is, and will continue to be safeguarding the security of its citizens.

Unfortunately, some actors in the region continue to give direct support to Hamas in Gaza, by various attempts and through various venues, providing it with offensive capabilities.  The use of tunnels under Gaza's southern border is ongoing.  The danger remains.  While we are encouraged by the willingness of members of the international community to tackle the smuggling of capabilities phenomenon, as witnessed at the recent London conference, tangible measures must immediately be taken against smuggling, as only concrete action will help to stabilize the region.

Corporal Gilad Shalit continues to be held hostage by terrorists.  This is a dire humanitarian problem.  We just marked, four days ago, the 1000th day since his unlawful, criminal detention in June 2006.  During this time, all access to him has been denied.  Defying all standards of decency, Hamas has been attempting to cruelly manipulate the hearts and minds of the Israeli people, raising the price of his release during negotiations.  Hamas is attempting to cynically exploit Israel's sensitivity for human life and the high moral values demonstrated throughout the years by the Government of Israel and its people.

It is worth remembering that in the operation that ended in January, the true targets of Israeli actions were Hamas terrorists, not the citizens of Gaza.  Ordinary Gazans were used as human shields by these terrorists, who deliberately staged attacks from, and hid in, heavily populated civilian areas.  In spite of these difficulties, the fact is that, due to the strict care and efforts of the IDF, the majority of casualties were armed.

In spite of the ongoing attacks from Gaza, and despite Israel's commitment to its crucial security needs, we are not indifferent to the humanitarian situation of Gaza's population.  More than 139,000 tons of humanitarian supplies and 13.5 million litres of fuel for Gaza's power station have been delivered into the Gaza Strip since 18 January.  In this respect, however, let me state clearly Israel's position: expanded activity at the crossings will be discussed upon the release of Gilad Shalit.

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, Mr. President, while we recognize the work of UNIFIL and the LAF in southern Lebanon, more needs to be done to ensure the continued stability of the area.  Israel recently has witnessed the most serious violations of Resolution 1701 since it was adopted.  Rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel wounding civilians.  During the past several months UNIFIL and the LAF have discovered a number of other rockets, preventing them from also being launched against my country.  These developments should be cause for great concern to States that desire regional tranquillity.

For years, Mr. President, Israel has been alerting this Council to Hezbollah's ongoing military build-up in southern Lebanon.  This terrorist organization, backed and supported by Iran and Syria, continues to increase its presence and strength in the area, using private homes and other civilian property for its activities.

Israel joins the international community in its call for robust action against arms smuggling along the Syrian-Lebanese border, in accordance with the recommendations of the Secretary-General's LIBAT II report.

Mr. President,

This is a time of great flux in the Middle East.  Radicals are competing with moderates for domination.  There is no better time than today for the international community to show its support for moderate voices and to assert its resolute opposition to terrorists and those who support them.  We ask Member States to add their vocal and tangible support in the quest for a durable peace in the Middle East.

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