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Friday, October 31, 2014

U.S. AMBASSADOR PRESSMAN'S REMARKS TO UN ON SITUATION IN JERUSALEM

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 
Remarks by Ambassador David Pressman, U. S . Alternate Representative to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, at a Security Council Open Debate on the Middle East, October 29, 2014
Ambassador David Pressman
Alternate Representative to the UN for Special Political Affairs 
New York, NY
October 29, 2014
AS DELIVERED

Thank you, Madam President, and thank you, Under-Secretary-General Feltman for your briefing.

We are deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem, especially over the last two weeks. We are living in a time of tremendous turmoil in the Middle East. It is a time that requires brave leadership. A time that requires hard choices – choices that advance peace; choices that advance stability; choices that advance security.

This is a time that calls for responsible decisions by leaders and people of both sides, as well as the international community, to advance the goals of security and peace.

The current situation is only made more difficult by actions that pollute the atmosphere for peace and further undermine trust on both sides. We continue to urge all to refrain from actions, including settlement activity and unhelpful rhetoric by either side, that will only further escalate tensions.

The deterioration of the situation in Jerusalem, at a time when so many are eager for signs of progress towards peace, is deeply troubling.

It’s hard to imagine sites more sensitive than those in Jerusalem and, today, we are very concerned by recent tensions surrounding the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif. It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historical status quo on the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif – in word and in practice.

That’s why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent statements expressing his commitment to maintain the status quo there and not to make any changes at the site are so important. We welcome the Prime Minister’s comments.

The continued commitment by Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians to preserve the historic status quo at the holy site is critical. Any decisions or actions to change it would be both provocative and dangerous. We urge the leaders of all three parties to exercise decisive leadership and work cooperatively together to lower tensions and discourage violence, alleviate restrictions on Muslim worshipers, and reinvigorate long-standing coordination mechanisms and relationships that have served over the decades to preserve the historic status quo as it pertains to religious observance and access to the site. These arrangements are essential for maintaining calm at this important and holy site.

Israel’s recently announced plans to advance a project to construct more than 1,000 housing units in East Jerusalem are deeply concerning. Beyond these recent developments, we have also seen reports that Israeli authorities met today and discussed the approval of dozens of projects aimed to expand settlement infrastructure in the West Bank – including water projects, electricity grid expansion, and road construction – along with so-called “legalization” of outposts the Israeli government itself considers illegal. The United States is deeply concerned by these developments. We urge all parties to refrain from provocative actions, including settlement activity by Israeli authorities. Settlement activity will only further escalate tensions at a time that is already tense enough.

The United States views settlement activity as illegitimate. And we have made unambiguously clear our opposition to unilateral steps that may prejudge the future of Jerusalem, just as we have made clear our opposition to any unilateral attempts to make end-runs around the hard work of negotiations.

Against this backdrop, the cycle of violence continues. The unconscionable attack at the Jerusalem tram stop last week that killed a young baby who was a United States citizen is unconscionable. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We express our deepest condolences to the family of the child who was killed and the second victim, who succumbed to her wounds. We also express our sympathies to those injured in the attack and hope for their full recovery.

The United States also expresses its deepest condolences to the family of the 14 year-old American citizen who was killed by Israeli Defense Forces during the clashes in Silwad on October 24th. We have called on the Israeli authorities to conduct an expeditious and transparent investigation into this incident and we expect them to do so.

In this especially fraught environment, it is critical that all parties restore calm and that hard choices are made to de-escalate tensions and re-engage in the hard work of negotiations. Unilateral actions and short-cuts are no substitute for the difficult work that peace will require.

Our goal must be to lay the groundwork for a negotiated agreement that will lead to two states living side-by-side in peace and security. As we have said before, the two-state solution is the only viable way forward and negotiations are the means by which this conflict will ultimately be resolved. If the parties are willing and committed to go down this path – in both words and in deeds – then we stand ready to support them every step of the way.

Thank you, Madam President.