The Fifth Extraordinary OIC Summit on Palestine and Al-Quds Al-Sharif

Arsalan Suleman
Acting U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation 
Jakarta, Indonesia
March 7, 2016

Your Excellency OIC Secretary General Iyad Amin Madani, Your Excellency President Joko Widodo, Honorable Presidents, Ministers, and Heads of Delegation, Ladies and Gentlemen, Assalamualaikum.

On behalf of the United States government, I would like to thank the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for its ongoing engagement on the critical shared challenge we face of securing a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We would also like to extend our appreciation to the Indonesian government for its hosting of this summit, as well as its longstanding support for broader international efforts to address the issue. Indonesia has been a leader in facilitating people-to-people Track II diplomacy, for example by organizing an interfaith delegation to the region in 2012 that examined many of the key issues. Efforts like these aimed at dispelling myths and building trust are essential to addressing the broader challenge of achieving a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Although we sit here in Jakarta separated from Jerusalem by over 5,000 miles, the ongoing instability and violence seen in the cradle of the Abrahamic faiths resonates here and throughout the world. As a people we have become increasingly connected to others around the planet, and we collectively grieve when we see families shattered by persistent violence and terrorism, the daily indignities of occupation, and the uncertain future into which this generation of Israeli and Palestinian youth are being born. Furthermore, we all have a stake in a peaceful resolution to this conflict, which too often can be manipulated by extremists to serve their own ends.

Across administrations, the United States has been and remains committed to moving the parties away from the cycle of violence and retribution, working tirelessly to overcome distrust, facilitating good faith negotiations, and ultimately achieving a sustainable peace. Our policy remains focused on the vision of an independent and viable Palestinian state where Palestinians can live with freedom, dignity, and in peace with their neighbors in a secure and democratic Israel. U.S. development assistance to the Palestinian people is a key part of the enduring U.S. commitment to achieving a negotiated two-state solution. Continuing this assistance contributes to building a more democratic, stable, prosperous, and secure Palestinian society – a goal that is in the interest not only of the Palestinians, but of Israel and the United States as well. And we have been absolutely clear, as stated by the President’s Chief of Staff Denis McDonough last year, that “An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state.” The only way this can be achieved is through a negotiated solution that creates two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security. This imperative has never been as pressing as it is at this moment, when we see a lack of progress toward a two-state solution leading to a lack of hope. As Secretary Kerry emphasized in December, “the Israeli and Palestinian people deserve better…unless significant efforts are made to change the dynamic…it will only bring more violence, more heartbreak, and more despair.” We are strongly encouraging both sides to take immediate steps to reverse the many disturbing trends we have seen of late, some of which I would like to outline for you today.

First, the violence must stop. We all have watched over the past year and a half as waves of horrific attacks against civilians have washed across Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The United States has unequivocally condemned acts of terrorism, and called on both sides to take steps to reduce tensions and end the violence. Nobody should ever be subjected to attacks as they go about their daily lives, and there is no justification for acts of terrorism now or ever. Furthermore, in absence of direct negotiations between the parties, the ongoing violence and increased tensions pose a grave threat to the viability of a two-solution. Secretary Kerry continues to stress to the Palestinian Authority leadership the importance of combatting incitement and opposing violence in all forms, and has urged Israeli leaders to bring those responsible for terrorism against Palestinian civilians to justice. The January 2016 indictments brought by the Israeli government against individuals suspected of involvement in the Duma arson attack represent a positive step, but more must be done to ensure those responsible for settler attacks against Palestinians are held accountable.

Both sides must exercise restraint and take affirmative steps to reduce tensions. Israeli and Palestinian civil society, as well as voices from across the region, including governments, the media, civil society groups, and religious leaders, must similarly denounce the violence and do all in their power to bring the current wave of bloodshed to an end. We encourage the OIC member states to similarly condemn with equal vigor all violence against innocent Palestinians and Israelis.

We also share the OIC’s deep concern about the situation at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and have been pleased to see that tensions at the site have diminished in recent months. It is obviously an important site to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. We welcome Israel and Jordan’s commitment to maintaining the status quo at the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and strongly support efforts to ensure that that status quo is maintained.

Second, the growth of settlements in the West Bank is undermining efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution that would result in a viable, independent Palestinian state. To be clear: settlements can never be an excuse for violence. And as we have said consistently, the United States strongly opposes boycotts directed against the State of Israel. But U.S. policy on settlements remains clear and consistent – we oppose all settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 as illegitimate. Steps aimed at advancing Israeli settlements, including changing the designation of state land, issuing building tenders, and constructing new units in the settlements – are fundamentally incompatible with a two-state solution and raise legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions. Similarly, we are concerned by the demolitions and evictions that have been undertaken by Israeli authorities in several locations throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These actions reflect an ongoing trend of demolition, displacement, and land confiscation that continues to undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.

Third, we see the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority contemplated by the Oslo Accords being reversed, with some 70 percent of Area C having been unilaterally designated as Israeli state land, or as being within the boundaries of Israeli regional settlement councils. The increasing restrictions on Palestinian development in Area C, which comprises 60 percent of the West Bank, undermine the viability of the Palestinian state.

Lastly, we are extremely concerned by the humanitarian crisis the people of Gaza continue to face; the needs are stark and demand immediate international attention. The unemployment rate in Gaza stands at 42 percent, the highest rate in the world. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has launched a $403 million appeal to meet these needs, engendered by the protracted, and at times acute, conflict that affects refugees’ daily lives. This includes emergency food and medical aid. For our part, the United States has provided $43.3 million in response to the current UNRWA appeal. We have also fulfilled 100% of the $414 million pledge we made at the 2014 Cairo conference, which included both recovery projects in Gaza as well as development projects in the West Bank. In addition, the United States provided additional funding for Gaza reconstruction beyond this pledged amount, including $20 million to UNRWA for the reconstruction of totally destroyed refugee shelters. We urge OIC member states to join us in contributing generously to UNRWA’s efforts to meet these urgent humanitarian needs.

The United States remains actively engaged on this critical issue and continues to urge both sides to demonstrate through policies and actions their genuine commitment to a two-state solution. As recently as February 12, the Quartet expressed serious concern over the continued acts of violence against civilians, ongoing settlement activity, and the high rate of demolitions of Palestinian structures -- all actions that imperil the viability of a two-state solution. The Quartet made clear that the status quo is not sustainable and called for significant steps on the ground, particularly in Area C, consistent with the transition contemplated by prior agreements. To be clear: the United States remains fully committed to Israel’s security, and these steps can be advanced while respecting Israel’s legitimate security needs. In fact, strengthening the Palestinian economy will enhance security for Israelis and Palestinians alike and help stabilize the situation. The Quartet has been actively engaged in the past year in consultations with key stakeholders, through visits by the Quartet Envoys to Cairo, Amman, Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Ramallah. In support of efforts to advance a lasting settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Quartet Principals announced last month that the Quartet will prepare a report on the situation on the ground, including recommendations that can help inform international discussions on the best way to advance the two-state solution.

It is critical that members of the international community, including the OIC, continue to encourage the parties to restore calm and take steps that would create an atmosphere conducive to a return to negotiations. The Arab Peace Initiative continues to provide an important vision of true peace between Israel and the Arab world, and greater security for all. We recognize Secretary General Madani’s efforts to encourage tourism to Jerusalem and the West Bank. The United States has prioritized the creation of economic opportunity for the Palestinian people, and welcomes efforts to grow the Palestinian economy in tourism and other sectors.

To conclude, the United States reiterates its appreciation for the OIC’s interest in this issue; we look forward to continuing to consult with the OIC regarding our shared interest in achieving a peaceful, negotiated solution to this conflict. Although the task before us is daunting, we must not be deterred in our shared work to create a more peaceful and prosperous future for the Israeli and Palestinian people.