at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Middle East
December 18, 2018
Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. Mladenov, for your
When I first came to the United Nations two years ago, I
was taken back a bit by this monthly meeting. The fact that the UN would
consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not striking. It is, after all, a
matter of international peace and security. What was striking was the frequency
of the discussion and the one-sidedness of it.
Members of the Security Council have heard me say this many
times. The problems of the Middle East are numerous, and yet we spend vastly
disproportionate amount of time on just one of them. And the UN has shown itself
to be hopelessly biased, as we witnessed again just two weeks ago when the
General Assembly failed to condemn Hamasís terrorist activity against Israel.
Over the past two years, I have attempted to provide more
value in this monthly meeting by using my time to speak about other pressing
problems in the Middle East. I have spoken about Iranís illegal weapons
transfers and destabilizing support for terrorism throughout the region. I have
spoken about the barbarism of the Assad regime in Syria. I have spoken about
Hamasís illegal and diabolical use of human shields. I have spoken about
Hezbollah jeopardizing the safety of the Lebanese people and its violations of
Israeli sovereignty which have come to light even more clearly in the last
month. I have spoken about Iraq and Yemen, about refugees and humanitarian
I have done this for two reasons. Iíve done it to
illustrate that most of the regionís problems have absolutely nothing to do
with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And Iíve done it to encourage the UN to
move away from its obsession with Israel. This UN obsession has been entirely
unproductive. Itís actually worse than that. The UNís obsession with this
issue has been counterproductive. It has sent a loud and false message to the
Palestinians that they just might be able to achieve their goals by relying on
the UN, rather than through direct negotiations. And it has sent a loud and
accurate message to the Israelis that they can never trust the UN. This biased
obsession is not the path to peace. It is the path to an endless stalemate.
Today is my last time addressing this monthly session as
the United States Ambassador. Because it is, Iím going to deviate from my
practice of the last two years. Today, I will directly address the
Israel-Palestinian issue. Given my record, some may mistakenly conclude that I
am unsympathetic to the Palestinian people. Nothing could be further from the
truth. Hereís how I see it.
Israel is a thriving, strong, prosperous country. It has
always wanted peace with its neighbors. It has clearly demonstrated its
willingness to make big sacrifices for peace, including giving up large areas of
land. But Israel will not make a peace agreement at just any price, and it
shouldnít. No UN resolutions, anti-Semitic boycotts, or terrorist threats will
ever change that. Throughout its existence, and even today, Israel has been
surrounded by threats to its security. It would be foolish for it to make a deal
that weakened its security. And yet, even in the face of constant threats,
Israel has become one of the leading nations in the world. Israel wants a peace
agreement, but it doesnít need one.
And then there are the Palestinian people. Like the
Israelis, they are a deservedly proud people. They too do not need to accept a
peace agreement at any price. But the condition of the Palestinian people is
very different. Economic opportunity, health care, even electricity are all
scarce in the Palestinian territories. Terrorists rule much of the territory,
undermining the safety of all civilians. The Palestinian people are suffering
terribly while their leadership clings to 50-year-old demands that have only
become less and less realistic. What awaits the Palestinian people with a peace
agreement are the prospects of a massive improvement in the quality of their
lives and far greater control over their political future.
It is time we faced a hard truth: both sides would benefit
greatly from a peace agreement, but the Palestinians would benefit more, and the
Israelis would risk more.
It is with this backdrop in mind that the Trump
Administration has crafted its plan for peace between Israel and the
Palestinians. I donít expect anyone to comment on a peace proposal they have
not read. But I have read it. And I will share some thoughts on it now.
Unlike previous attempts at addressing this conflict, this
plan is not just a few pages, containing unspecific and unimaginative
guidelines. It is much longer. It contains much more thoughtful detail. It
brings new elements to the discussion, taking advantage of the new world of
technology that we live in. It recognizes the realities on the ground in the
Middle East have changed Ė and changed in very powerful and important ways. It
embraces the reality that things can be done today that were previously
unthinkable. This plan will be different from all previous ones. The critical
question is whether the response will be any different.
There are things in the plan that every party will like,
and there are things in the plan that every party will not like. That is
certainly true for the Israelis and the Palestinians, but it is also true for
every country in the world that has taken an interest in this subject. Every
country or party will therefore have an important choice to make. They can focus
on the parts of the plan they dislike. For irresponsible parties, that would be
the easiest thing to do. Just reject the plan because it does not satisfy all of
your demands. Then we would return back to the failed status quo of the last 50
years with no prospects for change. Israel would continue to grow and prosper.
The Palestinian people would continue to suffer. And innocent people on both
sides would continue to be killed.
The other choice is to focus on the parts of the plan that
you do like and encourage negotiations to move forward. And I assure you there
is a lot for both sides to like.
Ultimately, as always, the final decisions can only be made
by the parties themselves. Israelis and Palestinians will decide their own
futures. They will decide what sacrifices they are willing to make. And they
will need leaders with real vision to do it.
But my friends at the United Nations Ė in particular my
Arab and European brothers and sisters Ė will also play a very important part.
You will face the same choice. The choice between a hopeful future that sheds
the tired, old, and unrealistic demands of the past or a darker future that
sticks with the proven failed talking points of the past. The world will be
watching. More importantly, the Palestinians and the Israelis will be watching.
Their response will be effected by your response.
To my Arab friends, I have heard privately from many of
you. Youíve said that you know a solution is urgently needed. But your
governments have not been willing to talk to your constituencies about what is
realistic or to the Palestinian leadership about the harm theyíre doing to
their very own people. By taking the easy way, you are really saying that the
Palestinian people are not a priority for you. Because if they were, you would
all be in a room helping bring both sides to the table.
As for the American people, we have demonstrated time and
again our commitment to peace in the Middle East. We will continue to offer our
hand in friendship to the Palestinian people, whom we have financially supported
by far more than any other country has done. The Palestinians have everything to
gain by engaging in peace negotiations. But whatever it is that others decide,
the world must know that America will remain steadfast in our support of Israel,
its people, and its security. That is an unshakeable bond between our two
peoples. And it is that bond Ė more than anything else Ė that makes peace
My hope is that as soon as Ė I am soon to be an outside
observer who has invested so much time on this issue Ė that we will not still
be having the same conversation, the same old speeches, in years to come.