Declaring that there are better grounds for optimism than at any time in the recent past for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on international donors to reduce the gap between the hopes raised by last month’s re-launching of peace efforts and the dire situation in the Palestinian territory.
“I repeat my call on donors to invest now, to invest generously, and to remain steadfast in their financial commitment over the next 36 months,” Mr. Ban told a Donors’ Meeting in Paris to Support the Palestinian Authority, pledging that the UN would do its share following last month’s Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, United States.
“As with Annapolis, so here in Paris, success depends not on what we say today, but on what we do tomorrow. Our support on the ground, no less than our political engagement, is vital to create an independent, viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with Israel,” he said.
Mr. Ban called on both Israel and the Palestinians to take the necessary measures to enable Palestinian economic growth, urging Israel to ease closures that cripple the economy in the territory and the Palestinian Authority to continue to enhance security. “Increased freedom of movement in a context of improved security is vital to build a platform for peace,” he stressed.
He noted that over the past seven years, the social and economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territory had declined dramatically, with poverty and unemployment increasing at an alarming rate.
“I have made no secret of my concern for the 1.4 million people of Gaza who today are living under the most abhorrent conditions. With few exceptions, all manner of legitimate trade with Gaza has come to a standstill, with devastating effects on the economy and on family livelihoods. Access to essential services and utilities, like health, water and energy, is becoming more uncertain each day,” he said.
“Palestinian society has become more deeply divided, while the security of many Israelis has been directly threatened. We have the opportunity today to take the initial steps that can reverse these troubling trends. And indeed, today I am convinced we have better grounds for optimism than at any time in the recent past.”
Israeli and Palestinian leaders have re-started bilateral discussions, showing “courage and resolve in maintaining this dialogue in the face of extraordinary difficulties on the ground,” and they have now set out to try to negotiate a peace treaty in 2008, he noted.
Meanwhile Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad has prepared a programme for the next three years with investment and reform priorities, ambitious but achievable targets, and the steps that Palestinians, Israelis and the international community should take together to create the basis for a functioning state and economy.
“Indeed, we must move quickly now, because the process can succeed only if we overcome the gap between our diplomatic efforts and the situation on the ground,” Mr. Ban said, addressing both morning and afternoon sessions of the conference.
“The international community must do its utmost to support the Palestinian Authority as it strives to tackle the immense challenges ahead. In these tasks, the entire United Nations system is ready to cooperate closely with the Palestinian Authority, and will continue to support the Palestinian people in their efforts to move forward.”
While in Paris, Mr. Ban also attended a meeting of principals of the so-called diplomatic Quartet – the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States – in which the group expressed concern over the announcement of new housing tenders by Israel for Har Homa/Jabal abu Ghneim in the area of Jerusalem occupied by Israel since 1967.
The meeting, also attended by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, top European officials and former British Prime Minister and current Quartet representative Tony Blair, condemned the continued rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and called for an immediate cessation of such attacks.
In a statement the Quartet, which is advocating the so-called Roadmap two-state solution endorsed at Annapolis with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, called on all sides to refrain from steps that undermine confidence, and underscored the importance of avoiding any actions that could prejudice the outcome of permanent status negotiations.
“The Quartet called on both parties to make progress on their Phase One Roadmap obligations, including an Israeli freeze on settlements, removal of unauthorized outposts, and opening of East Jerusalem institutions, and Palestinian steps to end violence, terrorism, and incitement,” the statement added.
The group reaffirmed the importance of Palestinian economic growth, expressed strong support for Mr. Fayyad’s programme, welcomed the generous support of the international community at the donors’ conference, and urged donors to maximize their contributions.