As we gather in this chamber, an alarm bell is ringing. Never has it been so clear that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon.
UN Security Council convenes on the situation in the Middle East (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)
As this is the first time that I have addressed the Security Council in the New Year, let me congratulate the five new Council members on their election. I wish each of you the best of luck in navigating the sometimes stormy debates of this hall.
As we gather in this chamber, an alarm bell is ringing. Never has it been so clear that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon. This is the single greatest threat to the security of the entire world.
Now is the time to act. Tomorrow is too late. The stakes are too high. The price of inaction is too great.
The latest IAEA reports prove beyond any doubt that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, which is advancing rapidly. Iran recently announced that it will enrich uranium to a 20 percent-level at its nuclear facility in Qom. There is no plausible civilian justification for this action. It blatantly violates numerous resolutions of this Council - and will bring Iran significantly closer to producing weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium.
Each and every member of the United Nations - and particularly this Council - should lie awake at night thinking about what would happen if the regime in Tehran gets ahold of the most dangerous weapon on earth.
Only the pressure of a united international community can stop Iran from continuing its march toward nuclear weapons. The political and economic price that Iran will pay must be clear. Israel commends the recent steps taken by the U.S, the EU, and others in this regard. Although these are important steps, we all must judge them based on their results. It is time for the rest of the international community - and this Council - to join these efforts.
We come together today after a year of turmoil in the Middle East. Great challenges stand on the horizon. People are demanding dignity and seeking liberty after generations of oppression. Extremism threatens fragile societies. Human rights continue to be trampled. Unrest has shaken the foundation of the political order from the straits of Gibraltar to the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea.
And what issue has this Council deemed the most pressing in its monthly debate on the Middle East? Surprise, surprise... the status of municipal building applications in the West Bank.
Israeli settlements have been discussed in this chamber time and again - but the time that this Council dedicates to candid debate about the basic challenges facing the Middle East remains scarce. In the last two monthly briefings by the Secretariat, barely a square inch of Jerusalem or the West Bank was left unexamined. Yet, entire Middle Eastern countries where people are being killed, repressed and tortured daily continue to go without mention.
This is logic turned on its head.
Let me be clear: resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is important on its own merits - so that Israelis and Palestinians alike can lead peaceful, secure and prosperous lives. But the misallocation of the Security Council's time, energy and resources erodes its credibility.
How many times have members of this Council - and many others - repeated this statement: the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is the central conflict in the Middle East. If you solve that conflict, you solve all the other conflicts in the region.
Today one would ridicule that statement. It is obvious that Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, and many other conflicts in the Middle East have nothing to do with Israel. The constant repetition of the statement does not make it true.
And how many times have members of this Council - and many others - repeated: settlements are the primary obstacle to peace. The repetition of the statement also does not make it true.
The primary obstacle to peace is not settlements. The primary obstacle to peace is the so-called "claim of return." Let me repeat that: the major hurdle to peace is the Palestinian's insistence on the so-called "claim of return".
You will never hear Palestinian leaders say "two states for two peoples". If you ever hear them say "two states for two peoples", please phone my office immediately. Call me "collect" in the event of such an unprecedented occurrence.
You won't hear them say "two states for two peoples" because today the Palestinian leadership is calling for an independent Palestinian state, but insists that its people return to the Jewish state. This would mean the destruction of Israel.
The idea that Israel will be flooded with millions of Palestinians will never be accepted. The international community knows it. The Palestinian leadership knows it. But the Palestinian people aren't hearing it. In a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion last November, 90% of Palestinians said that they would not give up the "claim of return." This gap between their perception and reality is - and will remain - the major obstacle to peace.
Since the Palestinian leadership refuses to tell the Palestinian people the truth, the international community has the responsibility to tell them the truth. You have a responsibility to stand up and say that the so-called "claim of return" is a non-starter.
Yet, many around this table who never miss an opportunity to tell Israel what it has to do for peace - mumble, stutter and conveniently lose their voices when it comes time to tell the Palestinian people about the basic compromises they will have to make for peace.
The Palestinians' refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state goes hand-in-hand with a culture of incitement in mosques, schools and media. Day after day, children are taught to pursue violence - and to hate, vilify, and dehumanize Israelis and Jews.
Let me be clear. I am not only talking about Hamas in Gaza - but also about the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, where you can't turn a corner without seeing terrorists and terrorism glorified.
This month - on January 9th - Palestinian Authority television broadcast the proceedings of an event celebrating Fatah's 47th anniversary. It featured a sermon by the PA's most senior religious leader - Mufti Muhammad Hussein - who presented the killing of Jews as a sacred goal for all Muslims.
His comments were deeply disturbing. But what was even more disturbing is that no one from the Palestinian Leadership stood up and condemned his comments, denounced his actions or dissociated themselves from his message. Their silence speaks volumes.
The path to peace is clear. The international community must tell the Palestinians unequivocally that unilateralism is a dead-end - and that direct negotiations are the only way forward. Recent talks in Amman are a positive step in this regard - and I would like to take this opportunity to thank King Abdullah for helping to facilitate these meetings.
Now Israelis and Palestinians must take the next step toward peace together. It's time to stop negotiating about negotiating. It's time to stop meeting about meeting. It's time to stop talking about talking.
Yet, instead taking steps toward peace with Israel, President Abbas continues to flirt with the dangers of unity with Hamas. The Quartet has long applied three principles that Hamas must adopt to become a legitimate actor in the peace process. It must renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by prior Palestinian agreements.
The bar could not be set any lower. Yet, at no point has Hamas satisfied these conditions - or indicated any intention to do so. It says no to negotiation. It says no to recognition of Israel. And it continues to carry out violence against Israel, day after day.
Any who suggest that Hamas is a partner for peace should take a trip to the Gaza Strip. The area remains a launching ground for constant rocket attacks targeting Israeli cities and civilians. Last year, some 700 rockets were fired into Israel. That's an average of almost two rockets fired every single day.
Let me state clearly what I have said in numerous letters to the Security Council and in previous debates: the situation in Gaza is very serious. One spark could ignite a dangerous escalation. The Security Council has an obligation to act boldly and immediately. Yet, this Council still has not found the time or the will to utter a single syllable of condemnation against these attacks. The silence is deafening.
No people should be expected to live under such terror. No government should be expected to stand idle in the face of such violence.
Later this month, the Secretary-General will visit Israel - and see the threats we face with his own eyes. Let's hope that his trip brings a bit of new perspective to this organization about the real obstacles to peace and security - and the real issues of extremism, terrorism and incitement in our region.
The challenges facing the Middle East are growing every day. They stand clearly before this Council. They threaten all of us. And it is on your shoulders to confront them with courage and with leadership. Tired rhetoric and misplaced focus has too often characterized this debate. It will no longer suffice. As Iran inches closer to a nuclear weapon, as extremists spread terrorism and hate, as the enemies of peace test the resolve of the international community, silence is not an option.
Confronting these fundamental threats will not be easy. It will require struggle and sacrifice. As Winston Churchill once said, "We must be united, we must be undaunted, we must be inflexible." At this critical moment, for the sake of our children and our common future, the world has no other choice.