UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief warned Israel on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 's rejection of a two-state solution will indefinitely prolong a conflict that is threatening global peace and emboldening extremists everywhere.
In his toughest language yet on the Israeli-Hamas war, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council that "the right of the Palestinian people to build their own fully independent state must be recognized by all, and a refusal to accept the two-state solution by any party must be firmly rejected."
The alternative of a one-state solution "with such a large number of Palestinians inside without any real sense of freedom, rights and dignity … will be inconceivable," he said.
Guterres also warned that the risks of regional escalation of the conflict "are now becoming a reality," pointing to Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan. He urged all parties "to step back from the brink and to consider the horrendous costs" of a wider war.
Netanyahu's rejection of a Palestinian state in any postwar scenario opened a wide rift with Israel's closest ally, the United States, which says the war must lead to negotiations for a two-state solution where Israel and the Palestinians can live side-by-side in peace. That goal is supported by countries around the world, as ministers and ambassadors reiterated Tuesday.
Uzra Zeya, the State Department's under secretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights, told the council, "A key component of U.S. diplomacy is to pursue a pathway both to a Palestinian state and normalization and integration between Israel and other regional states."
"The goal is a future where Gaza is never again used as a platform for terror, and a future where Palestinians have a state of their own," she said, reiterating the Biden administration's call on Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov countered that American diplomacy "oscillates between vetoing resolutions about the ceasefire and at the same time calling for a reduction in the intensity of hostilities in Gaza."
"Without a doubt this serves as carte blanche for the ongoing collective punishment of Palestinians," Lavrov told the council.
Secretary-general Guterres repeated his longstanding call for a humanitarian cease-fire — an appeal with overwhelming global support.
But Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan again rejected a cease-fire, saying Hamas, which carried out a brutal attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, is committed to attacking again and destroying Israel, and a halt to fighting will only allow the militants "to regroup and rearm."
He urged the Security Council to "eliminate the root" of the conflict, which he said was Iran.
Erdan strongly criticized the presence of Iran's foreign minister at the council meeting, saying the country provides weapons to Hamas, to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon and Houthi militants in Yemen, "and soon these acts will be carried out under a nuclear umbrella" and "Iran's terror will reach all of you."
Iran has long denied seeking nuclear weapons and insists its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes. But the U.N. nuclear watchdog has warned that Iran has enough enriched uranium for nuclear bombs if it chose to build them.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian didn't mention its nuclear program, but he warned Israel that it would not destroy Hamas, its stated goal.
"The killing of civilians in Gaza and the West Bank cannot continue on to the so-called total destruction of Hamas, because that time will never come," he said. "Stopping the genocide in Gaza is the main key to security in the region."
'Savage bombing campaign'
Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, said Israel is carrying out "the most savage bombing campaign" since World War II, which is leading to famine and the massive displacement of civilians. "This is an assault of atrocities," which has destroyed countless innocent lives, he said.
The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gazasays more than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, which has caused widespread destruction, displaced an estimated 85 percent of Gaza's 2.3 million people, and left one-quarter facing starvation.
Israel began its military campaign in response to the Oct. 7 attacks in which militants from the enclave killed around 1,200 people in Israel and took about 250 hostages.