United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged leaders meeting at the Summit of the League of Arab States to re-affirm their commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative, which he called one of the pillars of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, while stressing that the world must build on the “new stirrings of potential” to resolve the long-running conflict in the Middle East.
Mr. Ban used his address to the opening of the summit, taking place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to underline the need for renewed efforts by Arab nations to resolve the region’s other crises, from Somalia and Sudan’s Darfur region to Lebanon and Iraq.
In his speech, the Secretary-General said he saw positive signs in the formation of a Palestinian National Unity Government and the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.
He added that the Arab Peace Initiative, a plan adopted during the Beirut Arab Summit in March 2002, “suggests a new way forward for the region” after decades of division over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The initiative, based on the principle of land for peace, calls for Israel to withdraw from all Arab lands occupied since 1967, recognize an independent Palestinian State and provide a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees. In return Arab countries would recognize Israel, end their conflict and normalize relations.
Although peace between Israelis and Palestinians would not be “a regional panacea,” Mr. Ban said, “it would go a long way toward promoting political moderation and pluralism. Solving this conflict is a moral and strategic necessity.”
While in Riyadh, Mr. Ban attended a mini-summit on the humanitarian and political situation in strife-torn Somalia, which was chaired by Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud and included senior officials from the UN, the League of Arab States, the African Union (AU), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the European Union (EU) and the Kenyan Government.
He stressed in his speech to the League of Arab States that there can be no military solution to the fighting in the impoverished Horn of Africa nation, adding that “an inclusive political process” offers the only path to lasting stability.
Mr. Ban called on Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government to reach out to the country’s main political and social forces as part of that inclusive process.
The Secretary-General has also conducted a series of bilateral meetings in Riyadh, including a meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to discuss the situation in Darfur, where the UN and the AU want to deploy a hybrid peacekeeping force to stop the fighting that has killed more than 200,000 people since 2003.
“The people of Darfur have waited too long, and suffered so much,” Mr. Ban said in his speech to the League of Arab States, saying grave human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law continue to be committed by all sides.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is scheduled to chair a mini-summit meeting tonight on Darfur that will also include Mr. Ban and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa.
Last night Mr. Ban spoke with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and they discussed Iraq, the deteriorating situation in Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Darfur.
Noting that he will travel to Lebanon after his visit to Riyadh, Mr. Ban said he was concerned that although the cessation of hostilities has been holding, the country continues to experience “internal political turmoil.”
The Secretary-General also held bilateral meetings with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, Mauritania’s President Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall and Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, as well as Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, the President of the United Arab Emirates, and AU Chairman Alpha Oumar Konaré.
General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa also addressed the summit in Riyadh today, calling for the international community to support the Arab Peace Initiative, which “provides the necessary basis for a just, comprehensive and permanent solution that is consistent with international resolutions.”
Sheikha Haya, who became the first Arab Muslim woman to address a Summit of the League of Arab States, then held bilateral meetings with numerous leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.