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Israeli-Palestinian mistrust must be overcome, Annan says

Israeli-Palestinian mistrust must be overcome, Annan says

The United Nations devoted twin meetings to the Israeli-Palestinian issue today with Secretary-General Kofi Annan warning that the situation is “more dangerous than it has been for a very long time” and admonishing the international community to shoulder its responsibility to help promote a negotiated two-State solution.

“Mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians has reached new heights,” he told a UN Asian meeting in support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in a message delivered by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane.

“The Gaza Strip has become a cauldron of deepening poverty and frustration, despite the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlements last year. In the West Bank, too, the situation is dire. Palestinians are deeply dismayed at settlement activity, with thousands of Israelis still living in territories occupied in 1967 and more than 1,000 more added every month,” he said.

“Israelis, for their part, continue to live in fear of terrorism, having seen inadequate Palestinian efforts to halt rocket attacks into southern Israel. And they are alarmed that, despite President [Mahmoud] Abbas’ clear and unambiguous stand in favour of a negotiated two-state solution, the PA [Palestinian Authority Hamas] Government remains at best, ambivalent about a two-State solution and, at worst, refuses to renounce violence and rejects the basic tenets of the approach.”

He noted the impact on the Palestinians of the barrier that Israel is building through their land in the West Bank, in breach of an Advisory Opinion of from the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ), as well as over 500 checkpoints controlling their movement, factors that increase their suffering, despair – and determination to resist.

The barrier, which Israel says it is building to keep out terrorists, was the subject of the second meeting at UN Headquarters in New York at the resumed Tenth Emergency Special Session on Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The session established a UN Register of Damage to assess all harm caused by construction of the barrier in the occupied Palestinian Territory, noting that the ICJ found Israel obliged to return land, orchards, olive groves and other immovable property seized as well as to compensate for damage suffered.

The resolution, adopted by 162 votes in favour to seven against, with seven abstentions, asks the Secretary-General to nominate candidates for the three-member Board of the Register’s office, to be set up within six months in Vienna and calls on the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority and relevant institutions to cooperate with it.

Opening the session, Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed al-Khalifa said the Arab-Israeli conflict represented a growing danger threatening international peace and security.

“This conflict places before the world, historical responsibilities that will determine not only the future of peace in the region, but also the entire world,” she said. “Under these circumstances, we must not turn a blind eye to the deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions that plague the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.”

She said it was imperative to accelerate steps for a solution, such as that proposed by the so-called Quartet – UN, European Union (EU), Russia and the United States – calling for the establishment of two States living side by side in security and peace, a goal that was originally set for the end of last year.

Sheikha Haya stressed the need for building confidence between the two sides and “ridding oneself of fear, for it is fear that drives both sides to acts of violence and counter-violence.” It was a point Mr. Annan also highlighted in his message to the Kuala Lumpur meeting.

“Most Israelis genuinely believe in peace with the Palestinians, perhaps not quite as the Palestinians envision it, but genuine nevertheless,” he said. “Most Palestinians do not seek the destruction of Israel, only the end of occupation and their own State, perhaps in a slightly larger territory than Israelis would wish to concede, but a limited territory nevertheless.

“Our challenge is to convince the people on each side that these majorities exist on the other side, while showing that the spoilers and rejectionists are a distinct minority. I believe that the fundamental aspirations of both peoples can be reconciled,” he added, noting that the recent Gaza ceasefire and the tentative feelers to explore dialogue anew are “the first signs of light in what, for months, has been a dark landscape.”

He also emphasized the need for the UN to be balanced. “Too often, the work of parts of the United Nations system is too easily dismissed as being reflexively biased against Israel, which in turn limits its ability to help the tragically suffering Palestinian people on the ground. It hurts both Palestinians and Israelis if the United Nations is perceived as too one-sided to be allowed a significant role in the Middle East peace process,” he said.

Palestine's Permanent Observer Riyad Mansour told the Assembly that the barrier, Israel's network of checkpoints and the profusion of settlements across the region were helping to undermine and destroy the continuity and integrity of the Palestinian Territory.

But Israel's Ambassador Dan Gillerman said the barrier was in direct response to Palestinian acts of terror, and he called the Register of Damage unnecessary because Israel already offered a mechanism for Palestinians to seek compensation.