Text of speech to UN Security Council, by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, October 22:
Winston Churchill, one of the architects of this institution, is remembered for his speeches that rallied a nation in the dark hours of World War II. His words inspired a generation when he told the British people, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty [so] men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
And indeed it was their finest hour. They stood tall knowing that if they didn’t stand up for human life and human dignity, their very survival would be at stake. It was a lesson for the ages – and today they are remembered as a beacon of light during some of the darkest days the world had ever known.
With much of the Middle East in turmoil, the world is once again being called upon to defend liberty, democracy and human rights. History will look back and judge which nations stepped forward with conviction, with conscience and with courage.
This morning, I would like to speak about these three qualities – beginning with conviction. As the political landscape of the Middle East evolves, the international community must demonstrate resolve.
Last month, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, took center stage at the General Assembly. He arrived in New York armed with a charm offensive – waving to excited fans with one hand, while waving off skeptics with the other.
Since his election, Rouhani has tried to reinforce the image that he is a quote-unquote moderate. He was published in an American newspaper, appeared on network television, and even started using social media. I have news for President Rouhani – embracing Twitter doesn’t make you a reformer, but embracing human rights certainly would.
The Iranian regime is notorious for violating women’s rights; targeting religious and ethnic minorities; and, denying fundamental freedoms to its citizens. Rouhani is like the Emperor with new clothes – cloaking himself as a moderate when Iranian radicalism remains clear to the naked eye.
Unlike his predecessor, whose hateful rhetoric about wiping Israel off the map made him easy to dismiss, the new Iranian president has a strategy codenamed SLY (S-L-Y). Smile. Lie. Yield minor concessions.
Rouhani has perfected the art of saying one thing and doing another. But you don’t have to believe me. You can read about it in his 2011 memoir describing his time as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. In his own words, here is what he said: “While we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in Isfahan… By creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.”
While Rouhani provides diplomatic cover, Iran is marching towards a bomb. Since the June election, Iran has installed thousands of new centrifuges and just last month, the new president declared that Iran will not give up “one iota” of its nuclear rights.
Make no mistake – the Iranian program is not for peaceful purposes. Seventeen different countries peacefully produce nuclear energy without uranium enrichment or plutonium production. And yet, Iran insists that their enrichment infrastructure and technology is their “right.”
It’s not their right, in fact it’s wrong. When negotiating with Iran, the international community must – as Prime Minister Netanyahu said – distrust, dismantle and verify.
Everyone, including Israel, wants to find a diplomatic solution. But one has to wonder, why Israel along with a minority of countries are the only ones standing on the frontline warning the world that an Iran with nuclear weapons does not threaten Israel alone. It threatens the entire region, from Saudi Arabia through the Gulf States to Morocco.
Their voices are harder to hear, but if you tune into the right frequency, you will discover that they are frightened. They know that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, it will threaten their lives and lives throughout the region.
It won’t just alter the balance of power in the Middle East – the repercussions will be felt in Europe, the United States and across the globe. The world has stood at this crossroads before. On the eve of World War II, Churchill warned of the impending danger when he said: “They should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged… This is only the beginning of the reckoning… [unless] we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”
Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past and leave a minority to stand alone against a common enemy. The danger is real, but this isn’t the first time that Israel’s warnings have been brushed aside.
When we warned the world about Assad’s chemical arsenal, we were told, “Don’t worry, he won’t use chemical weapons because it’s not rational.” Today the entire world knows that the dictator in Damascus used chemical weapons against his own citizens.
And the only reason that Assad has agreed to give up these weapons is the very real threat of an American military strike. You don’t need a PhD in physics to know that pressure works.
The Iranian economy is crumbling under the weight of crippling sanctions. And this pressure is getting results. And yet some states have suggested easing the sanctions.
This suggestion reminds me of a boxer who is clinging to the ropes in the final round. Give him a moment to rest and he will turn around and attack you with more vigor. We must keep up the pressure until Iran agrees to play by the rules.
Let me be clear – any sort of partial deal will be completely ineffective in containing the Iranian threat. Any diplomatic resolution must ensure that Iran has no centrifuges, no enriched uranium, and no plutonium track. If Iran doesn’t agree, then the sanctions must not be eased; they should be increased.
Now is the time to demonstrate conviction. We cannot allow the world’s most dangerous weapons to reach the hands of the world’s most dangerous actors. The Security Council showed its resolve when it adopted a series of resolutions against Iran. Having come so far and worked so hard – now is not the time to give in. Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.
The second quality I want to speak about is conscience. We have all seen the horrific images that emerged from Syria. Men and women sprawled on the floor convulsing. Young children foaming at the nose and mouth and then lying motionless.
No one with a conscience can stand by as the people of Syria continue to be massacred – whether by chemical weapons or the routine brutality of the Assad regime. The cynics in this hall will accuse Israel of shedding crocodile tears. The Jewish people and the State of Israel know all too well how evil can prevail when people shut their eyes and turn their backs.
To the Syrian people I want to say here and now – I know that our two nations have a long history of conflict and that we are separated by politics and religion. But we are eternally linked by our common humanity. We are horrified by the pain and suffering that you have endured. As we speak our hand is extended to your people. And we will continue to offer humanitarian assistance to all those who need it regardless of race, religion or gender.
It’s hard for most of us to conceive that anyone, much less a government, would use chemical weapons against its own innocent civilians. Is it logical? Is it rational? Not at all. Many in this hall said that countries would never use weapons of mass destruction. Surprise, surprise – it turns out you can’t apply rational thinking to irrational players.
How many in this hall believed that when Bashar al-Assad became President, he would be the new hope for Western-Arab relations? After all, here was a young London-trained ophthalmologist, with a beautiful wife, who drank high tea and ate scones at the Ritz. Turns out the eye doctor, is just another spin doctor and his murderous rampage has Syria spinning out of control.
We applaud the steps that have been taken by the international community so far, but the removal and destruction of Syria’s weapons must remain a priority.
The international community must ensure that the process is properly monitored, verified and completed while abiding by the agreed timelines. It must also ensure that no entity takes advantage of the process to advance its capacities and knowledge of chemical weapons.
Let me be absolutely clear: we cannot trust that a regime that lies in bed with Iran and Hezbollah, isn’t lying when it commits itself to eliminating its deadly arsenal.
Together, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah form the “trio of terror.” This trio is intent on acquiring the ABCs of terrorism – Atomic, Biological, and Chemical weapons – so it can more effectively murder innocent men, women and children.
The clock is ticking and time is running out. Our conscience tell us that the sooner Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons is destroyed, the sooner we will safeguard the people of Syria and bring greater stability to the Middle East.
The problems plaguing the Middle East are centuries old and – contrary to what some in this chamber believe – cannot be solved overnight. How many in this hall thought that the so-called Arab Spring would bring about democracy?
I’m reminded of the lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s song “Democracy” – “It’s coming from the feel that this ain’t exactly real, or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.”
Leonard Cohen could have written this song to describe the Middle East today. The promise of democracy in the Middle East ain’t exactly real and it ain’t exactly there. The region continues to be defined by bloodshed, repression, and instability.
This brings me to the third quality I want to speak about – courage.
We all want to see peace in the Middle East. Israel welcomes the resumption of negotiations. Israel desires peace and is committed to serous and meaningful negotiations with a positive outcome. Israelis envision the day when we can live free from divisions, hatred, and violence. But making peace requires courage. It requires leaders courageous enough to embrace partnership and promote tolerance.
On the very same day that CNN beamed images of Abbas talking about peace at the UN, official Palestinian television delivered a very different message. The PA and Fatah held ceremonies to honor terrorists responsible for the murder and maiming of innocent Israelis. At a memorial held in Ramallah, a Fatah official read a speech on behalf of Abbas praising terrorist Abu Sukkar who killed 15 Israelis and wounded more than 60. This murderer was described as: “the most noble among the noble.”
At another event on the same day, a member of Abbas’s Fatah’s Central Committee glorified terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, who hijacked a bus and killed 37 civilians, 12 of whom were children. This attack was described as “the glorious deeds of [a] hero.”
Examples of incitement are all too easy to find in Palestinian society. Their results can be found in the death of Gal Kobi, who was shot in the neck by a Palestinian terrorist last month. They can be found in the death of Tomer Hazan, who was kidnapped and murdered by a Palestinian acquaintance. They can be found in the death of Seraiah Ofer, who was brutally beaten to death outside his home by Palestinian men wielding metal bars and axes
As horrific as these crimes are, President Abbas only found his voice to condemn these attacks to a Jewish audience in New York City – while speaking in English. We have yet to hear President Abbas condemn these attacks in his native Arabic speaking to his own people.
The time has come for the Palestinian leadership to clearly and unequivocally condemn violence and terrorism. The time has come to stop poisoning the minds of Palestinian children. The time has come to start teaching tolerance, mutual respect, and coexistence. After all, the next peace agreement depends on the next generation wanting peace.
For years, member states have been listening to debates on the Middle East. In all this time, have you ever heard the Palestinian delegate say anything constructive about Israel? No. We only hear demonization and delegitimization. It’s time to stop the blame game. The UN library will have to open a new fiction section for the countless letters sent to the Security Council by the Palestinian delegate distorting the truth.
We need to speak truthfully about the problems plaguing the Middle East. It seems that the states that are so heavy on the criticism of Israel are also light on the facts. Allow me to dispel a number of myths.
Myth number one. Some nations seem to believe that a great injustice was done to the Palestinian people when the UN voted to partition then British-Mandate Palestine into two states. In fact, in 1947, Resolution 181 which divided the British Mandate over Palestine, speaks of the creation of a Jewish State no fewer than 25 times. The resolution declared that: “independent Arab and Jewish States shall come into existence.”
The Jews welcomed the plan and joyously declared a new state in their ancient homeland. But the Arabs rejected the plan and – joined by the armies of five Arab nations – launched a war of annihilation against the newly born Jewish state.
Sixty-five years later you still don’t hear the Palestinians talk about two states for two peoples. Sure, Palestinian leaders call for an independent Palestinian state, but they insist that the Palestinian people return to the Jewish state. This is a euphemism for the destruction of the State of Israel and a major hurdle to peace.
Myth number two. Some in this room are convinced that the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the settlements. In fact, from the time Israel gained its independence in 1948 until 1967, the West Bank was in Jordanian hands and Gaza was in Egyptian hands. Throughout this time, there was not a single settlement. Yet the Palestinians still sought our destruction. And where were the Arab states? They did not lift a finger to create a Palestinian state and instead they also sought our destruction.
Today, just 2% of the Israeli population lives in settlements, but they are blamed for 100% of the problems. I have said it before and I will say it again, the settlements aren’t the major hurdle to peace; the real obstacle to peace is the Palestinians quest for the so-called right of return.
Myth number three. The Palestinian delegation has sent letters to this Council accusing Israel of denying people freedom of worship. The only denying taking place is the denial of facts on the ground.
One of the first acts Israel undertook after reuniting Jerusalem in 1967 was to abolish discriminatory laws and safeguard access to religious sites for people of all faiths. This was in contrast to pre-1967 when everyone but Jews could access Jerusalem. Since Israel introduced religious freedoms in 1967, people of all faiths have been able to visit the holy sites of Jerusalem.
In contrast, the Palestinian leadership breeds incitement and stirs up violence on the Temple Mount. They even went so far as to accuse Israel of altering the nature of Jerusalem. In fact, it is the Palestinians who are altering the nature of Jerusalem. They are destroying artifacts and distorting history in an effort to erase all traces of an ancient Jewish presence. The world’s silence in response to these crimes has been deafening. Ever since King David laid the cornerstone for his palace 3,000 years ago, Jerusalem has served and will continue to serve as the eternal capital of the Jewish people.
Instead of accusing Israel of restricting freedom of movement, the Palestinians should be concerned with holding free elections. Let me remind you that Abbas’s term expired in 2009 and since then he has been extending his term without elections.
Where are all the concerned voices from the defenders of democracy? Did any member state in this chamber raise his voice about cancelled elections? I’m sure many countries would enjoy the chance to cancel or postpone elections when the polling doesn’t look good. Let me remind you all of an important truth – in a real democracy, one election doesn’t earn you the right to rule forever.
Myth number four. Israel has been accused of creating a humanitarian crisis in Gaza by restricting the free movement of goods. In fact, every month, trucks carrying hundreds of thousands of tons of goods – including food, medical equipment and construction materials – pass from Israel into the Gaza strip.
In his past reports, the Secretariat has criticized Israel for restricting the entry of construction materials. How many of you have asked us to allow cement into Gaza so the Palestinians can build houses? And yet, when we do, in exchange for our goods and goodwill, Israel is repaid with tunnels of terror.
Just over a week ago, the IDF discovered a two kilometer tunnel originating in Gaza and ending just outside an Israeli community – not far from homes, kindergartens and playgrounds. The tunnel was built by Hamas using 500 tons of cement that had been earmarked for construction. I’ll repeat that again – 500 tons of cement. To understand how much that is, the Statue of Liberty weighs 225 tons. Just imagine how many schools, hospitals and homes could have been built.
In taking responsibility for building the tunnel, a Hamas spokesman said, “”This tunnel was made by the hand of the fighters of al-Qassam and they will not sleep in their efforts to hit the occupation and kidnap soldiers.”
Instead of building houses, Hamas is building smuggling tunnels. And instead of building schools, they are building terror networks. This is the reality that Israel has to live with every day. Instead of using construction materials to build a better future for the Palestinian people, the leadership in Gaza is committed to destroying the State of Israel. It may just be my hearing, but I have yet to hear the countries that demand Israel allow more cement into Gaza condemn these crimes.
Myth number five. Some countries around this table believe that international forces should be on the border to guarantee a future peace agreement. That’s interesting. Because history has shown that Israel can’t rely on others to ensure its security.
While we support the work of UN forces on our borders, history has shown that Israel cannot rely on the international community to ensure its own security. This was the case with UNEF One in the Sinai desert and with EUBAM in Gaza.
The recent involvement of certain UN bodies has hardly been helpful. In his remarks earlier, the Secretariat spoke about an incident last month in Kfar MaHul. The report neglects to note that following a review by Israel’s Supreme Court, the buildings in question were determined to be illegally constructed.
In light of this important fact, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – also known as OCHA – needs reminding that its role is the coordination of humanitarian aid not aiding in the obstruction of justice. OCHA systematically abuses and disregards Israel’s authority on the ground. It seems the only thing the Office of Coordination is not doing, is coordinating with Israel.
It’s time to stop pointing fingers and it’s time to stop laying blame at Israel’s doorstep.
Israel remains committed to two states for two peoples. We are ready to make an historic compromise to realize the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state living side-by-side with the Jewish state of Israel. Israelis and Palestinians will have to work together to create new and lasting solutions to old problems. This will only be possible if our work is built on a foundation of truth, mutual recognition, and security.
A great convulsion is shaking the Middle East from the Straits of Hormuz to the Straits of Gibraltar. The tremors have shattered states and toppled governments – and the ground is still shifting. The region stands at a crossroads and it is not yet clear if freedom and moderateness will triumph over tyranny and fundamentalism.
Let this be the moment in history when all peoples seek understanding instead of accusations; when nations strive for harmony instead of dissonance; and when our family of nations shows the conviction, conscience, and courage to make peace possible.
Thank you, Mr. President.