Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Security Council Open Debate on
The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question
New York, 28 October 2019
The Holy See wishes to thank South Africa for convening this Open Debate on the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question.
The latest briefings on Yemen that this Council heard just over a week ago (17 October) informed that the humanitarian situation remains dire. Children are starving; access to clean water is scarce; the economy continues to struggle severely; those who cannot flee the front lines of war remain cut off from basic supplies and humanitarian workers are impeded to operate in some areas. The UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs would describe September as the deadliest month this year, with an average of thirteen people being killed each day. Although the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen spoke of signs of hope, he also added that these were “fragile and in need of diligent care and attention”. In spite of some small positive steps, a nation-wide ceasefire that this Council has repeatedly called for is essential if the intolerable suffering of the Yemeni people is ever to come to an end. Coherence and honesty demand that this call for a ceasefire must be concretely accompanied with a stop to the flow of arms in the region. Indeed, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis plays out where weapons and ammunition freely circulate.
At the end of last month, glimmers of hope began to shine over the eight-year long conflict in Syria with the announcement of the long-awaited formation of the Constitutional Committee, scheduled to convene in Geneva on October 30. This is an important step to rebuild trust and confidence among Syrians, in view of a Syrian-owned Constitution, and between the Syrian Authorities and the international community. However, the recent events in the North-East of the country are cause for great concern. On October 13, Pope Francis renewed his appeal “with regard to the fate of the populations in the North-East of the country,” who are “forced to abandon their homes due to military actions.” He renewed his appeal to all the actors involved as well as to the international community, “to commit yourselves, with sincerity, with honesty and with transparency on the path of dialogue to seek effective solutions.” It is important that safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian assistance be given to the thousands of people who have been forced to flee since earlier this month, many of whom are children, assuring the full respect of their fundamental human rights, the preservation of their ethnic identity and avoiding the creation of new sources of tensions and injustice.
Moving specifically now to the Palestinian Question, we are approaching the three-year anniversary of Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016), and there is indeed cause for great concern as the situation on the ground worsens. As the Special-Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process noted in his September 20 briefing in this chamber, “Settlements have expanded, demolitions have accelerated, violence and incitement have continued, achieving intra-Palestinian unity seems an ever-more distant prospect, and credible negotiations have yet to be launched”, all of which impacts on the prospects of durable peace and the two-State solution. Harmful rhetoric, threats, terrorism and violence, including at times disproportionate use of force on the part of the security forces, exacerbate the strained situation even further. Palestinians are divided, making resumption of dialogue an absolute priority, while Israel’s failure to form a government is also cause for concern.
While everything must be done to ensure that the Holy Sites are protected in line with International Law and the Status Quo regarding the city of Jerusalem, so that people of all religions can visit and worship without fear, it is of deep concern that native Christian communities feel constrained to abandon these lands, the very cradle of their faith, in search of peace and security for themselves and for their children. However, their presence and witness in these places is of fundamental importance. More should be done to ensure their protection, not only for their survival but also for them, like all citizens living in Israel and Palestine, to realize their full potential and integral human development.
Some have affirmed that this Council’s credibility is being “eroded” precisely because of the failure to implement fully its own Resolutions regarding the Palestinian Question. It is high time that decisions taken and mechanisms already in place are used effectively to realize the objective of a Palestinian State, living in peace and security alongside the State of Israel, within secure and internationally recognized borders.
In conclusion, as we consider the tragic conflicts that continue to burden the lands and peoples of the Middle East, it becomes all the more pressing that all those concerned observe the limitations imposed by international humanitarian law. It is indeed “essential to protect the life and dignity of the victims of armed conflict and to ensure the protection of defenseless peoples and civil structures, especially hospitals, schools, places of worship, refugee camps.”
I thank you, Mr. President.
 Pope Francis, Sunday Angelus, 13 October 2019.
 Pope Francis, Sunday Angelus, 11 August 2019.