New UN political chief sees potential for progress in Middle East peace efforts
Recent agreements can potentially pave the way for progress in Middle East peace efforts after a year in which hopes seemed to be steadily diminishing, the top United Nations political official told the Security Council today, cautioning that success will require action by the parties.
In his first address to the Council since taking office, Under-Secretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe said the recent agreement reached in the Saudi Arabian city, Mecca, on a Palestinian national unity Government and the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue “hold out the potential, if not yet the promise” that the trend may have finally changed.
“Much will depend now on how agreements are implemented on the ground,” he said, noting that the diplomatic Quartet – of which the UN is a member – has taken a “wait and see” approach and calling on the international community to engage on the issue “with both firmness and flexibility.”
Mr. Pascoe said the intra-Palestinian ceasefire reached in Mecca has already calmed the situation in the occupied Palestinian Territory, despite a few isolated clashes.
He added that Prime Minister-designate Ismael Hannieh has been consulting all factions and President Mahmoud Abbas on the formation of the new government and is likely to finalize an agreement before next Wednesday, the due date.
“We must hope that the new government will take positions and actions that demonstrate, as was agreed in Mecca, respect for the signed agreements of the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization], which renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, and impose crucial obligations on the PA [Palestinian Authority].”
Mr. Pascoe stressed that there remain several strong obstacles to progress, noting the continued tension and violence that has led to the deaths of 23 Palestinians and one Israeli over the past month during clashes.
He expressed concern over the repeated firing of rockets into Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza and commended Israeli restraint “in the face of these provocations, which are both unjustified and in breach of the agreed ceasefire.”
Observing that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched a large military operation in Nablus last month that uncovered several sites used for preparing explosives, Mr. Pascoe said the operation placed tens of thousands of Palestinians under curfew for several days, “causing major disruption to civilian life and humanitarian operations.”
“The continued creation of facts on the ground” by Israel, such as the ongoing construction of the barrier, “parts of which extend deep into the West Bank,” and settlement activity have also not helped, he said.
“The Israeli Government has yet to freeze this activity or to begin to dismantle the more than 100 settlement outposts in the West Bank, despite its clear obligations to do so under the Road Map” an outline peace plan which envisages two States – Israel and Palestine – living side by side within secure and internationally recognized borders.
Mr. Pascoe said the agreement on movement and access in and out of the occupied Palestinian Territory has still not been implemented in full and UN workers face increasing restrictions on their movement, placing humanitarian operations in jeopardy.
The Under-Secretary-General also emphasized that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remains strongly committed to finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and will attend the Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 28 March, as part of his efforts to seek peace.