By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 (Reuters) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday said it was “unacceptable” for Israel’s government to reject a two-state solution to its conflict with the Palestinians, warning that the move would “embolden extremists everywhere.”
At a high-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the Middle East, Guterres said: “Israel’s occupation must end.”
The 15-member council has long endorsed a vision of two states living side by side within secure and recognized borders. Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, all territory captured by Israel in 1967.
With war raging in Gaza between Israel and Hamas militants, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that Israel needs security control over all land west of the Jordan River – which covers the Palestinian territories – adding: “It clashes with the principle of sovereignty but what can you do.”
On Oct. 7 Hamas fighters launched an attack in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed and some 253 people taken hostage. Israel retaliated by bombarding Hamas-ruled Gaza from the air and launching a ground offensive. More than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health officials.
“The entire population of Gaza is enduring destruction at a scale and speed without parallel in recent history,” Guterres told the Security Council. “Nothing can justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki singled out Netanyahu in his Security Council address, accusing him of being “driven by a single goal – his own political survival at the expense of the survival of millions of Palestinians under Israel’s illegal occupation and peace and security for all.”
ISRAEL FOCUS ON IRAN
Al-Maliki said it was time for “the admission of the State of Palestine to the U.N.” Such a move requires the 15-member council – where Israel’s ally, the United States, holds a veto – to make a recommendation to the 193-member General Assembly.
“Israel should no longer entertain the illusion that there is somehow a third path whereby it can choose continued occupation and colonialism and apartheid and somehow still achieve regional peace and security,” Al-Maliki said.
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan said that if Hamas turned over those responsible for the Oct. 7 attacks and released all hostages then “this war would be over immediately.” He also said Hamas could not remain in power in Gaza.
But Erdan focused much of his statement in the Security Council on Iran, slamming the presence of Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.
“How absurd is it that the foreign minister of the number one state sponsor of terrorism, that aspires to destabilize the Middle East, is here,” Erdan said. “Can you imagine Hitler’s foreign minister participating in a serious discussion on how to defend the Jews during the Holocaust?”
Iran backs Hamas militants in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. The Gaza war has sparked clashes between Israel and Hezbollah militants along the Lebanese border, attacks by Iran-linked groups on U.S. targets in Iraq and Syria, and Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.
“Stopping the genocide in Gaza is the main key to the restoration of security to the region,” Amirabdollahian told the council. “The killing of civilians in Gaza and the West Bank cannot continue until the so-called ‘total destruction of Hamas’ because that time will never come.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Susan Heavey and Deepa Babington)