The civil war in Syria is a catastrophe with no end in sight. The situation for the millions of civilians in Syria and in the neighbouring countries continues to deteriorate, and has reached unbelievable dimensions. The country is being reduced to rubble, and the Syrian state is gradually collapsing. Cities and neighbourhoods are being destroyed under constant fire from missiles and heavy artillery on an appalling scale. There seems to be no end to the suffering of the civilian population. We are witnessing brutal suppression and indiscriminate killings. The conflict is spilling across borders and threatening regional stability.
The paralysis of the UN Security Council makes the situation worse. As a result, the dynamic of the conflict is becoming entrenched in a logic of violence. Norway urges the Council to take a clear and unanimous stand against the continuing and gross violations of international humanitarian law. The international community must, as an absolute minimum, stand up for basic principles of International Humanitarian Law, even if divided over how to achieve a political solution.
We urge all countries to stop the flow of weapons into Syria. A political solution to the conflict is the only way to save the Syrian people from further suffering, for which the regime bears primary responsibility. Therefore, our message to Assad is this: Start transferring executive power with a view to enabling a meaningful political transition towards a pluralistic and representative Syria. Our message to the opposition groups is this: Contribute to a meaningful political dialogue and negotiate within the framework of the Geneva communiqué. And our message to the Security Council members is that you must find a way to promote a political transition based on the Geneva communiqué. We must give our full support to the work of Joint Special Representative Brahimi.
Norway is committed to a democratic, pluralistic and unified post-Assad Syria. We support the efforts by the opposition groups to organise themselves on a more inclusive and representative basis. In the current situation Norway regards the Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. We are assisting the Coalition in building up capacities to provide practical help on the ground and to train people for a future pluralistic and democratic Syria. The litmus test is whether we succeed in making the situation better for all Syrian people, ensuring that the rights of all minority groups are protected. So whether you are man or woman, Alawite, Druze, Kurd, Sunni, Shia or Christian, you should be guaranteed a role in shaping the future of Syria.
We are facing a humanitarian crisis of colossal proportions. The Syrian Government has shown a flagrant disregard for the humanitarian consequences of its indiscriminate warfare. The opposition groups are also guilty of serious disrespect for fundamental humanitarian principles regarding the protection of humanitarian personnel and installations. We therefore call on the Syrian Government as well as the opposition groups to respect international humanitarian law, to respect fundamental human rights, and to desist from the despicable practice of gender-based violence. Those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes must be held accountable. Since March 2011, Norway has provided USD 75 million in humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees and to those who are suffering inside Syria.
As regards the Middle East peace process, we are encouraged by the recent visit of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts to reengage the parties. We fully support the call for them to return to the negotiating table immediately.
On 19 March, Norway chaired the spring meeting of the donor support group for Palestine, the AHLC, in Brussels. Twenty years have passed since the AHLC was set up to help build the foundations for a Palestinian state and develop its institutions. To fully succeed, this state-building exercise needs to be accompanied by meaningful steps towards the two-state solution. If this vision is lost, the willingness of donors to contribute will diminish.
The financial situation is serious. Palestinian revenues are insufficient for a balanced budget while donor contributions have declined in recent years. Last year PA deficit reached USD 1.4 billion, with donor contributions covering only USD 826 million. At the meeting in Brussels, the donors promised that they would continue to provide funds, and contributions may reach USD 1 billion for 2013. This could cover most of the Palestinian budget deficit this year, but will not resolve the longer-term challenges.
To enable the PA to operate on a more sustainable basis, the following steps are necessary: first, regular and predictable transfers of taxes and customs revenues collected by Israel to the Palestinian Authority; second, major improvements in movement and access in the West Bank; third, an improved trade regime for Palestinian exports to Israel and third countries; fourth, improved access for Palestinians to natural resources in Area C; fifth, normalisation of the situation in Gaza; and sixth, continued reform of the Palestinian Authority and reduced budget spending.
More and more donors are questioning the sustainability of the current approach. They are asking whether we are not in fact financing a permanent occupation given that there are no substantial improvements in these areas or signs of a rapid resumption of negotiations. The recent resignation of Prime Minister Fayyad reflects the increasing frustration of the Palestinians. I salute Dr Fayyad for his steadfast work over many years on building up a sustainable Palestinian economy and laying a solid foundation for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The parties need to recommit themselves to achieving a two-state solution. The Israeli occupation and Israeli settlement activities remain the main problem and must stop. Rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza must also stop. Donors need to see meaningful progress before the next AHLC meeting in September, which should be convened at political level. We need to address the tough questions regarding the continued relevance of our efforts and strategies as donors.
I appeal to the donors to continue to provide funding for the Palestinian Authority during this difficult transition.