The situation on the ground in the Middle East is volatile and “calculated risks” are necessary to achieve peace, the top United Nations political official told the Security Council today, ahead of a series of high-level meetings to be held this weekend.
On Sunday, 23 September, the Middle East Quartet – the diplomatic grouping that comprises the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States – will meet in New York, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will state his concerns for the welfare of Gaza’s Palestinian population to his colleagues.
An “iftar” will be held afterwards with several Arab League members, which provides “an opportunity for the Quartet to convey its determination to work closely with its Arab Partners in an effort to realize the potential of the Arab Peace Initiative and to advance the cause of a comprehensive regional peace,” B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said.
“These meetings will only be as useful as the agreements and steps of implementation they help bring about, and the changes on the ground they help to catalyze,” he said, noting that much is at stake in the coming months.
“There will be difficult and unpopular choices ahead. Calculated risks are required for peace,” he added. “The risks of inaction or timidity are incomparably greater than the risks of action.”
The Under-Secretary-General told the Council that the search for peace in the Middle East has reached a crucial juncture. “A new push for peace is being made, and holds genuine promise. However the situation on the ground remains of deep concern,” he said.
Briefing the 15-member body on the latest events in the region, he voiced his worries at reports of increasing human rights abuses in Gaza – including the violent dispersal of demonstrations and the illegal detention of other Palestinians – perpetrated by paramilitary Hamas forces.
Mr. Pascoe also cited the continued closure of Gaza as another source of concern. The Karni and Rafah crossings have been sealed since Hamas took over in June, and although relief supplies are reaching the population, “this has caused severe personal and economic hardship,” he said.
UN and World Bank programmes worth $200 million are at a standstill in Gaza, while one third of students have kicked off the school year without textbooks. In addition, food inflows are decreasing, and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said that only 60 per cent of food needs are being met by current imports.
“The continued division of the occupied Palestinian territory is a matter of deep political, security and socio-economic concern,” the Under-Secretary-General said. “Obviously, the longer it continues, the harder it will be to overcome.”
He also noted that no actions have been taken to remove obstacles to freedom of movement in the West Bank, and that the construction of settlements is continuing on both sides of the barrier in the majority of settlements.
Regarding Lebanon, Mr. Pascoe said that political tensions remain high in the lead-up to presidential elections, which must be held in accordance with the timeframe and procedures laid out in the Lebanese Constitution.
“This requires an open and genuine dialogue among the parties with a view to electing a President who enjoys the broadest support of the Lebanese people,” he told the Council, adding that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been in contact with the country’s leaders to encourage them to endeavour to agree on a President.