Daunting challenges remain in the search for lasting peace in the Middle East, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, calling for the prompt resumption of political talks and the swift delivery of concrete results.
“Permanent status issues, including Jerusalem, borders, refugees, security, settlements and water will be resolved only through negotiations,” Mr. Ban said in a message to the UN-backed International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which kicked off today in Qawra, Malta.
While Israel’s efforts and willingness to resume talks are welcome, he said, returning to negotiations is hampered by developments on the ground, including continued settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territory.
“At this crucial juncture, Israel should refrain from taking steps which have the potential to prejudge negotiations and create tensions,” especially in East Jerusalem, where settlements are expanding and Palestinians are being evicted, the Secretary-General’s message – read out by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco – stressed.
Mr. Ban also welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s reform efforts to set up the economic, social and institutional basis of statehood, but it must also meet its other obligations under the Roadmap in full, “including an end to incitement against Israel.”
That plan, endorsed by the so-called Quartet, comprising the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States, is for a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He noted that the “protracted suffering” by Gazans is a source of great concern, calling the continued blockade in the area “unacceptable and counter-productive” for obstructing United Nations and others’ efforts to spur civilian reconstruction.
By the same token, the Secretary-General also condemned renewed rocket fire from Gaza, “which indiscriminately targets Israeli civilians.”
The UN, he said, will continue to “try to bring relief to Gazans, to promote dialogue and to rally international support for a strategy that can deliver calm for Gazans and Israelis alike.”
Political will by both sides, along with “creative support” by third parties, is essential to clinch a lasting peace in the region, Mr. Ban stressed.
“Confidence begets confidence; stability begets stability; security begets security; peace begets peace,” he said. “Let us, together, help the parties to resolve their decades-old conflict and forge a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”
The two-day gathering in Qawra, held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM), will focus on the theme, “The urgency of addressing the permanent status issues – Borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, water.”
Last month, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco warned the Security Council that a climate of mistrust between Israel and Palestinians over settlement expansion, forced evictions, military incursions, rocket fire and the closure of border crossings remains at the heart of the stalled peace process in the Middle East.
“We remain deeply concerned at the current stalemate,” he said during an open debate on the Middle East. “If we cannot move forward decisively towards a final status agreement, we risk sliding backwards, with potentially profound and negative implications.”