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Palestinian ambassador to the U.N.: Israel is carrying out a war against civilians

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the rising civilian death toll prompted another emergency session for the United Nations Security Council yesterday, but it ended with little action. It has yet to agree on a legally binding resolution on this crisis. The U.N. General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly for a non-binding resolution that called for a humanitarian truce. The U.S., Israel, along with 12 other countries, voted no on that resolution.

Meanwhile, inside the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, the health system is collapsing. More than 2.3 million civilians are trapped under Israeli bombardment and struggling to find clean water and food. The Palestinian ambassador to the U.N. accused the council of failing to carry out its, quote, "duty to maintain international peace and security." Riyad Mansour joins us now. Good morning and thank you for being on the program.

RIYAD MANSOUR: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So, Ambassador, yesterday we heard Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reject calls for a cease-fire, saying that Israel's goal is to eliminate Hamas and this is a time for war. You've called for an immediate truce to stop the bloodshed. But in this moment, would it matter what the U.N. does after what we heard yesterday from the prime minister of Israel?

MANSOUR: I think the U.N. should matter because the U.N. was created after World War II to save future generations the scourge of war. This is a massive war against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. And it is the duty of everyone, especially the United Nations and specifically the Security Council, to do everything that they can to have a cease-fire, including humanitarian cease-fire, and to allow for humanitarian help to the 2.3 million civilians.

It doesn't make sense to continue killing thousands of Palestinians, including so far 3,500 children.

FADEL: Now, Russia and the U.S. have traded accusations, blaming each other for a lack of a binding resolution from the Security Council on the crisis. The U.S. wants language that names Hamas and makes clear that Israel has the right to defend itself. What do you make of the Security Council's inability to pass a resolution on this crisis right now?

MANSOUR: We tried our best at the Security Council to bring the tragic situation of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip to the General Assembly. And we put before the General Assembly a humanitarian resolution based on three elements. One, immediate cease-fire - let's save lives. Two, send, you know, food and humanitarian assistance. And three, fight against the crime against humanity of forced transfer of 2.3 million Palestinian civilians to push them out of the Gaza Strip into the Sinai. And our resolution received an overwhelming vote in favor of that humanitarian resolution. When there is a crime of killing civilians, the first thing that you have to do is stop the killing. And then you deal with other political issues later.

FADEL: What do you want to see from the U.S.? And also, are you also calling for the release of the hostages?

MANSOUR: Well, what we want to see from the United States, to apply pressure on Israel to stop this madness and to save lives. With regard to the release of, you know, hostages and captives and prisoners, the Arab foreign ministers called for that in their statement during the first few days of this, you know, war. As we speak, there are negotiations in which there are serious, you know, efforts to see, you know, the whole issue of prisoners being dealt with.

FADEL: In the wake of this war, we heard President Biden say this weekend that things cannot go back to status quo, to the way things were before October 7, after this crisis. He said, quote, "in our view, it has to be a two-state solution." Is the Biden administration engaging with Palestinian leaders on peace and a future state?

MANSOUR: There is global consensus on the two-state solution. This extreme Israeli government is destroying the two-state solution before our eyes by building more settlements, expanding settlements, demolishing homes, expelling people. And I hear my colleagues in the Security Council, including the United States, that they are for the two-state solution, but they do not do anything of a practical nature to stop the Israeli occupying authority from continuing to destroy the two-state solution.

Let us begin a political process that would put an end to the occupation that took place in 1967 and to allow for the implementation of the two-state solution. The border of the two states will be the 4 of June of 1967. And East Jerusalem will be our capital, and West Jerusalem their capital. And we can live in peace and harmony as two states living next to each other. We are in favor of that. The other side are against the two-state solution.

FADEL: Did the Biden administration have any real interaction with the Palestinian leadership on this question pre-October 7?

MANSOUR: We have contact and, you know, consultation and talks between us and the Biden administration.

FADEL: Has that increased in recent days as he's publicly made statements like these?

MANSOUR: Secretary of State Blinken was at the United Nations last week, and we had a meeting in which very, you know, frank talks and discussions took place. And we can build on that not only with the secretary of state, but also with other American officials.

FADEL: How has the war - the Hamas attack, Israel's response - affected the prospects of peace and a future state?

MANSOUR: I think if all of us want to learn one lesson from this tragic war, it's that we need justice for the Palestinian people as quickly as possible. We need to implement the two-state solution. We need the end of the occupation, and we need to live and let live. We need to have the two people living in two independent states as good neighbors. We have agreement on that in the international community. We need to do it. We need the political will to do it.

FADEL: Now, as you mentioned, there is alarm from international rights group, the head of the U.N., about what they call collective punishment and a disproportionate response from Israel for the attack by Hamas on October 7. We saw horrific images of that attack that left 1,400 people dead in Israel, that saw Hamas take more than 200 hostages. Now we're seeing these horrific images of civilians being killed in Gaza, thousands of people, most of them women and children, according to Palestinian health officials, families being wiped out. When you look at this crisis, do you blame Hamas at all for this ferocious response from Israel that has killed so many civilians in Gaza?

MANSOUR: You see, as the secretary-general said in the Security Council correctly, events of the 7 of October did not come from a vacuum. There is an accumulation for the denial of the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination. And this persistence in denial by the Israeli occupying authorities is leading to these explosions every few years, wars every few years. Peace requires courageous leaders and people that will be committed, you know, to accomplish that objective. And we need to put an end to this war and begin in the business of peace.

FADEL: Riyad Mansour is the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador, thank you for your time.

MANSOUR: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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