Middle East peace process needs changes on the ground to succeed – UN envoy

26 February 2008

The Annapolis peace process deserves continued support but it will only be sustained if there are real changes on the ground, particularly in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, the senior United Nations envoy on the Middle East told the Security Council today.

Robert H. Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told a Council meeting that “ordinary people understandably have little confidence that the political process is delivering,” whether they live in the occupied Palestinian territory or in southern Israel.

“In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the imposing presence of the barrier, the expanding settlements, the unremoved outposts, the system of closure and constant military incursions have grave implications for the human rights, economic life and social fabric of the entire population,” he said.

“In Gaza, the deprivations of basic human dignity are even more acute, and the sense of abandonment and frustration is palpable.”

Mr. Serry added that “in southern Israel, communities who believed Israel’s disengagement from Gaza would bring security face daily rocket attacks, while Israelis generally continue to believe that they must primarily rely on Israeli security measures for their safety.”

The Special Coordinator stressed that he was especially alarmed by the number of incidents on both sides of the conflict where children were being killed or injured.

He urged all parties to abide by international law and to cooperate closely with the members of the international diplomatic Quartet – the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States – as well as regional countries and members of the Security Council to implement the Road Map.

“The goal must be an end to the occupation that began in 1967 and the coexistence in peace and security of the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, a comprehensive regional peace, in fulfilment of resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, and the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Also addressing the Council meeting, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said his recent visit to the region showed him that conditions for the inhabitants of Gaza, which has recently faced tight Israeli restrictions along its borders, were “grim and miserable, and far from ‘normal’.”

“Eight months of severe restrictions on the movement of goods and people entering and leaving the territory, following the Hamas takeover in June 2007, have taken a heavy economic and social toll, coming on top of years of difficulty and economic decline,” Mr. Holmes said.

Describing the consequences as “increasingly severe and visible,” the Emergency Relief Coordinator added that the closures have brought most industry and agriculture to collapse, raised unemployment and poverty to new heights and led to the deterioration of basic infrastructure.

During his visit to Sderot, the southern Israeli town that is the main target of Qassam rocket attacks from Palestinian militants in Gaza, Mr. Holmes witnessed “the physical and psychological damage to the population… from this constant barrage.”

He urged Hamas to act immediately to stop the rocket, saying their continued firing was unjustified, clearly constituted terrorism, and must be halted unconditionally.

“However, I also made clear publicly and privately my view that, whatever the provocation and illegality of the rockets, the effective Israeli isolation of Gaza is not justified, given Israel’s continuing obligations to the people of Gaza. It amounts to collective punishment and is contrary to international humanitarian law.”

 

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Permanent political accord only way to end Middle East conflict – Ban Ki-moon

Only a permanent political settlement ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory and giving Palestinians their independence “can fundamentally alter the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people and bring lasting security for Israel,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.