A senior United Nations Middle East envoy today said the region was experiencing "peace-building in reverse," citing the rising death toll and new studies on the economic conditions facing Palestinians.
"We have come to a potential turning point in the current crisis," Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the press in Ramallah and Jerusalem. "We recently marked the 1,000th death of this intifada, and today, the UN is releasing new reports that show the Palestinian economic conditions are reaching critical levels."
Mr. Roed-Larsen cited new studies showing that by the end of September, 35 per cent of Palestinians were out of work, with that figure rising to 50 per cent in Gaza. Poverty rates were expected to climb by 40 per cent by the end of the year - more than double the rate prior to the onset of the current crisis. These factors combined to leave almost half of the Palestinian population living on less than $2 per day.
The envoy also said recent events had given rise to a "glimmer of hope," noting that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat "gave an historic speech five days ago and has since begun a serious effort to control the violence."
Mr. Roed-Larsen said the region's future depended on actions by both parties as well as the international community. He called on the Palestinian Authority to continue and deepen its efforts to control violence, stressing that this would take "a 100 per cent effort."
The envoy also pointed out that Israel should "show the utmost restraint and act to create a conducive environment for progress." He reiterated demands outlined in a joint statement - released in October by the UN, the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation - which called on Israel to take a number of measures, including halting extrajudicial killings, restraining its defence forces, easing closures and implementing the recommendations contained in the report of the Mitchell Committee. "Other measures, such as repayment of VAT arrears, would also help to ease the economic crisis," he said.
Mr. Roed-Larsen called on the international community to fully support the parties and to help "address the urgent needs of the Palestinian population and rebuild the shattered Palestinian economy."