May 18, 2021

Statement by the Permanent Representative of Cyprus Ambassador Sotos Zackheos at the Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the Situation in the Middle East

My delegation aligns itself with the statement of the French delegation on behalf of the European Union. I would have wished that in this year’s discussion of the ‘Situation in the Middle East’ we would have been hailing the positive developments of the peace process. A peace process that would have set the stage for the final solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, that would have opened a new chapter in the long and tormented history of our region.

Instead, and despite the gallant efforts of Prime Minister Barak, President Arafat and other international and regional leaders, the forces of extremism have managed to scuttle the drive towards peace, leading to the current, simply unacceptable, situation with the spiraling of violence and the tragic loss of life.

Speaker after speaker in this debate has expressed the concern of the international community over the current situation and has urged for an end to violence. Cyprus joins her voice with them. The resurgence of violence in the Middle East is particularly disturbing. Time and again Cyprus expressed the position that the Palestinian issue constitutes the core of the Middle East conflict and without its just settlement the international community could not hope to reach a comprehensive and lasting solution to the Middle East problem. We reiterate our support for a just and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).

The current situation has aptly demonstrated the explosive consequences of the long delay in the solution of the Palestinian Problem, a solution that would have put an end to the grave situation of the Palestinian People and would have ensured the fulfillment of their legitimate rights, including their right to statehood.

While strongly condemning any and all forms of terrorism, including the bombings aimed against civilians in Israel, we at the same time, urge Israel to desist from actions whose thrust is the collective punishment of the Palestinian population and which are certain to widen the chasm between the two sides. Action brings reaction and with it further blows to the prospects of peace. We fully subscribe to the position of the European Union concerning the negative impact of the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories. The deterioration of the economic situation of the Palestinian population will breed more violence and frustration that stems from the lack of tangible benefits from the Peace Process. We urge Israel to withdraw its forces to the positions they held on 28 September and to avoid disproportionate response to violence. At the same time we urge the Palestinian Authority to exert every effort in order to control outbursts of violence. Only in this way will this destructive cycle of hatred subside.

A lesson drawn by the present escalation of violence is that, unless peace efforts and initiatives are based on international law, the achievement of peace will remain on very shaky foundations. Solutions to problems must be perceived as fair and accepted as such by the populations concerned, otherwise the sense of resentment and opposition will sweep away agreements reached on the basis of ephemeral considerations. Another lesson is that tensions in the Palestinian territories ultimately have adverse consequences and carry the potential of escalation throughout the region.

We call on both parties to exercise the maximum degree of self-restraint so as to start building on the efforts for the creation of an atmosphere conducive to the resumption of negotiations. This is not the time for mutual recriminations; this is a time of mutual action in support of the Peace Process. This is the time for full respect of the commitments undertaken in Charm el-Sheikh and in Gaza on 2 November 2000. The international community gives its full backing to these efforts. The will of the international community for an end to violence and a just and comprehensive solution of the Middle East Problem is an undeniable fact. The principles that should guide the approach to the problem are also well known. They include, sanctity of life, particularly of children, respect for religious sites and full adherence to international law, international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention and the speedy implementation of UN resolutions.

Cyprus strongly supports the efforts of the international community and the Secretary General of the United Nations for the full implementation of UN resolutions, including Security Council resolution 1322.

On a more positive note, Cyprus welcomed the implementation of resolution 425 with the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, earlier this year.

We also hope that an improvement of the climate in the region will allow the resumption of the negotiations between Israel and Syria. Consistent with our long-held policy, we reiterate our support for the withdrawal of Israel from the Golan Heights so as to achieve a comprehensive solution to the Middle East Problem that would lead to the establishment of a durable peace in the region. A necessary component of peace should be security for all the states in the region. Peace should also usher a new era of regional economic cooperation and the pursuit of other measures that will benefit the region as a whole and will reduce the level of number and kind of weapons which threaten to engulf the region in major disasters.

In conclusion, Mr. President, I would like to express my hope that the numerous difficulties that exist, however daunting, will not deter the drive towards peace. As President Clerides said ‘Our region has paid a dreadful price through the many wars it has already experienced, there is no need for history to repeat itself’. We support all international initiatives and efforts aiming at preventing the conflict from escalating further and for bringing peace and stability to our region. Cyprus has already conveyed to the parties its readiness to host any meeting or offer any other assistance that they deem appropriate. We join the international community in expressing our hope that efforts will be redoubled for the survival and ultimate successful outcome of the peace process upon which millions of people, both in the region and throughout the world, have placed their hopes.