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Middle East: Ban calls for promotion of trust alongside proximity talks

Sheep drinking from water troughs in the desert. The green trees of the Israeli settlement of Karmel are in the background.
Sheep drinking from water troughs in the desert. The green trees of the Israeli settlement of Karmel are in the background.

Middle East: Ban calls for promotion of trust alongside proximity talks

The proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians earlier this month must be accompanied by steps to foster mutual trust and more positive conditions on the ground, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored today.

“The parties must avoid provocations or breaches of the Roadmap or international law, which will only create new crises of confidence,” Mr. Ban told the start of the United Nations International Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process under way in Istanbul, Turkey.

Israel, he said, must exercise particular restraint in East Jerusalem, ending demolitions, evictions and settlement expansion there. For its part, the Palestinian Authority must continue fulfilling its commitments to build institutions and promote security.

In a message delivered by Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, the Secretary-General said that in Gaza, all parties should work towards ending closure and preventing illicit weapons smuggling, among other measures.

He called for an end to the closure, voicing concern that it “creates unacceptable suffering, hurts forces of moderation and empowers extremists.”

Also addressing the start of the two-day Istanbul gathering being held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the head of the group’s delegation, Zahir Tanin, also welcomed the start of indirect talks.

He voiced hope that they will lead to tangible results, including the unobstructed movement of people and goods in the West Bank, the end of the Gaza blockade and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Holding back from unilateral actions and from incitement which could jeopardize ongoing efforts would be among the steps needed to set the stage for direct talks, he said.

“Unfortunately, the initial signs are far from encouraging,” with top Israeli officials signalling their intention to continue with illegal settlement activity, Mr. Tanin noted. “These acts undermine the very basis of a negotiated settlement and destroy the credibility of the political process.”

He stressed that “the sovereign State of Palestine, free from foreign occupation, is still just a vision. The sense of frustration is palpable among Palestinians and in the region in general both with the open-ended Israeli occupation and the open-ended peace process, which has proceeded by fits and starts, in bouts of inconclusive negotiations, raising expectations then failing to meet them.”

Mr. Tanin pointed out that Palestinians’ patience with the peace process and with the two-State solution is wearing thin.

By many measures, Palestinians, he said, are worse off today then they were when the peace process kicked off some two decades ago.

The official added that two-thirds of Gazans under the age of 30 have never set foot outside Gaza, where the “unacceptable” blockade has left the people in the area to erect houses out of mud to replace those destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, the three-week Israeli military offensive starting at the end of 2008 that had the stated aim of ending rocket attacks by militants operating in the area.

Humanitarian agencies issued a UN-backed call on the Israeli Government today for full access into and out of Gaza for materials and exports needed to jump-start the area’s agriculture and fishing sectors.

In a press statement, they also appealed for Palestinians’ access to farmland and fishing areas to be lifted. The enforcement of these restrictions suffocates the agriculture sector and put the lives of farmers and fishers at risk. “The fact that this coastal population now imports fish from Israel and through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border speaks to the absurdity of the situation.”

Since the start of Israel’s blockade on Gaza in June 2007, the formal economy has collapsed, with more than 60 per cent of households now food insecure.

In a related development, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, joined the chorus of UN voices condemning Sunday’s vandalizing by intruders of the summer games facility in Gaza operated by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

A group of about 30 armed and masked men set fire to the facility, which was under construction near the beach in Gaza City. It was designed to be one of about 35 facilities for a summer games programme being run by the agency.

“The children of Gaza are already surviving through the harsh realities of a post-conflict environment and exposure to violence,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said. “The games provide a reprieve from the acute tensions of daily life and offer them a safe place to be children again.”

In an earlier statement, Mr. Ban called the attack “an attempt to intimidate and harm the most defenceless in Gaza,” calling on the de facto authorities to ensure the safety of the UN’s operations and to allow UNRWA to carry out its work.