Efforts to promote direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are nearing a turning point, a senior United Nations official said today, underlining that success hinges on continued regional and international support.
Since May, seven round of proximity, or indirect, talks have been held between the two sides to identify areas of mutual areas, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco told the Security Council.
Currently, the parties are holding internal discussions on whether to enter direct talks.
“We urge them to be forthcoming in their deliberations and are hopeful that both sides will seize the opportunity and engage in a path of decisive progress towards a sustainable, mutually-acceptable two-State solution, within a realistic timeframe,” the UN official said.
He voiced appreciation for the United States’ mediation, especially the “tireless” efforts of United States Senator George Mitchell, who held talks separately last week with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr. Fernandez-Taranco also noted the involvement of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who continues to be in contact with Mr. Mitchell and has spoken directly to Palestinian, Israeli and Arab leaders to encourage progress in the peace process.
He welcomed last month’s decision by the foreign ministers of the Arab League to give its backing, in principle, to Mr. Abbas to enter into direct negotiations when he deems it appropriate.
“For these negotiations to succeed, it is crucial to maintain an enabling climate on the ground,” Mr. Fernandez-Taranco stressed, calling on the parties to adhere to their commitments under the Roadmap, the internationally-approved plan for a two-State solution to the Middle East conflict, and international law.
On West Bank settlement construction, he called for the continuation of the partial moratorium set to expire on 26 September.
“Let me recall that under the Roadmap, Israel is obligated to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, and dismantle outposts erected since March 2001,” he said.
On the occasion of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, Israel has removed three obstacles to movement in the West Bank, extended the hours of operation at some checkpoints and slightly eased access to Jerusalem for Friday prayers on the Temple mount.
But the number of obstacles to movement in the West Ban continues to number more than 500, and Mr. Fernandez-Taranco urged the expansion of easings on movement and access.
The UN is also concerned about the rise in demolition or dismantlement of Palestinian-owned structures in Area C which have uprooted or affected more than 200 people, especially in Al-Farisiye in the North Jordan Valley, where two families – evicted from their homes earlier this year – currently face demolition of the shelter provided by the Palestinian Authority with international support.
Following the announcement by Israel in late June that it would ease the blockade against Gaza, and the volume and variety of supplies entering Gaza has continued to increase, up nearly 30 per cent from the last reporting period.
“While these are positive developments, imports into Gaza still remain far below the weekly average of truckloads before the closure was instituted in 2007,” the senior official pointed out. “The current extent of easing cannot meet the crucial longer-term construction and rehabilitation needs of Gazans, and resuscitate the legitimate economy.”
Although Israel recently approved 11 UN construction projects in Gaza, a move welcomed by the world body, he voiced concern over bottlenecks in carrying out these projects.
Mr. Fernandez-Taranco expressed concern over the $84 million deficit that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) faces, which could soon force it to close schools and clinics in Gaza.
“I call on the international community to help UNRWA fulfil its important mission in health, education and social services in Gaza and elsewhere in the region,” he stressed.
UNRWA assists, protects and advocates for some 4.7 million registered refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, and is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states.
In his briefing to the Council today, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco expressed his disappointment in the lack of progress made in intra-Palestinian reconciliation effort mediated by Egypt, despite mediation visits to Gaza by prominent and independent Palestinian figures.
“We urge Palestinian factions to work together to overcome Palestinian internal divisions,” he said, taking note of a positive development last week in which some prisoners were released in Gaza as a humanitarian gesture for the start of Ramadan, in parallel with a release of prisoners in the West Bank.
The official told the Council of the announcement by Mr. Ban earlier this month of the launch of the Panel of Inquiry on the Gaza flotilla incident of 31 May, which he called and “unprecedented development.”
The body, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said, will “examine and identify the facts, circumstances, and the context of the flotilla incident, as well as recommend ways of avoiding future incidents… it is not designed to determine individual criminal responsibility.”
The Panel – chaired by the former prime ministers of New Zealand and Colombia, Geoffrey Palmer and Alvaro Uribe, and also comprising Joseph Ciechanover of Israel and Özdem Sanberk of Turkey – met last week and will strive to produce an interim report for the Secretary-General on 15 September.
On Lebanon, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco noted that significant political and security developments took place during the reporting period, including a joint meeting in Beirut hosted by Lebanese President Michel Sleiman with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia and President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria. Also visiting the country was Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar, who toured villages in the country’s south.
“These visits, which signalled a strong commitment by Lebanon’s Arab neighbours to the maintenance of calm in the country, took place against a background of increased tension generated by speculation, rumours and allegations regarding potential indictments by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” he said.
The Tribunal is an independent body that was set up in The Hague in the Netherlands, following a probe by an independent international commission after an earlier UN mission found that Lebanon’s own inquiry into the massive car bombing in February 2005 was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the attack.