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‘Provocative’ settlement construction in Jerusalem undermines trust – Ban

Israeli settlement near Jerusalem.
Xavier Malafosse
Israeli settlement near Jerusalem.

‘Provocative’ settlement construction in Jerusalem undermines trust – Ban

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today reiterated his call for an end to the building of settlements in Jerusalem, stressing that the construction damages trust and stokes unrest in the region.

“Settlement construction should stop, as should measures which discriminate against Palestinian residents of the city and the ability of Palestinians to access the city,” Mr. Ban said at the start of the United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, which is focusing on the question of Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem remains a permanent status issue and a way should be found for the city to emerge as the capital of both Israel and a future State of Palestine, with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all.”

He added that settlement activity also continues in the rest of the West Bank, in contravention of international law and Israel’s obligations under the Roadmap, the internationally approved plan for a two-State solution to the Middle East conflict.

In the address, which was delivered by Bader al-Dafa, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the Secretary-General also noted that the recent deadly crisis involving an aid flotilla intercepted by Israel indicates how untenable the Gaza blockade is, and he urged that humanitarian aid be allowed to reach the area.

The 31 May incident, in which Israel raided a six-ship convoy carrying humanitarian goods and activists as it was travelling through international waters on its way to Gaza, resulted in the deaths of nine civilians and the wounding of at least 30 others.

At today’s meeting, held in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, Mr. Ban welcomed Israel’s recent steps towards a new policy on Gaza and the blockade, but added that “full and swift implementation is crucial…

“The goal must be an end to the blockade so that humanitarian assistance, commercial goods and persons can flow through functioning land crossings.”

The UN has repeatedly spoken out against the closure of Gaza and raised concern over the insufficient flow of materials into the area to meet the basic needs of its estimated 1.5 million Palestinian residents and to spur reconstruction.

The Secretary-General’s message also called on Hamas “to show political responsibility by enforcing an extended ceasefire,” among other moves.

The continued captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit “serves no Palestinian interest,” he said, again calling for his release.

The two-day Rabat gathering, Mr. Ban said, “occurs at a time of tension and uncertainty in the region.”

Although the Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks mediated by the United States continue, they are complicated by developments on the ground, the Secretary-General stressed.

“It is essential that all parties refrain from provocations and seize the opportunity presented by the talks.”

The proximity talks must swiftly lead to direct negotiations on all permanent status issues, he said.

“All of us are called upon to lend our support towards the realization of the two-State solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital, in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions and international law, supported by the Arab Peace Initiative,” Mr. Ban underlined.

Also addressing the start of the Rabat gathering, which is 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, welcomed the start of indirect talks.

He noted that the issue of Jerusalem is highly sensitive, but stressed that “leaving it unresolved would undermine ultimate success in the negotiations to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace or a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

The committee’s position, Mr. Tanin said, is that there can be no durable peace if East Jerusalem is not made the capital of a future Palestinian State.

“A negotiated agreement on the status of Jerusalem should include internationally guaranteed provisions aimed at ensuring the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to the holy places by the Palestinian people and peoples of all religions and all nationalities.”