Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he is very concerned at the lack of progress towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians, voicing his hope that this year will see greater efforts to bring an end to the conflict.
Israel’s refusal in late September to extend a 10-month freeze on settlement activity in occupied Palestinian territory prompted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw from direct talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which had only resumed a few weeks earlier after a two-year hiatus.
The US, which championed the resumed talks, has now reverted to indirect shuttle diplomacy between the two sides.
“We need to move beyond the current stalemate and return the parties to meaningful negotiations aimed at resolving all permanent status issues and achieving a historic agreement,” Mr. Ban said in remarks at the opening of the 2011 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, held at UN Headquarters.
He noted that the target dates supported by the diplomatic Quartet – comprising the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States – for reaching an Israeli-Palestinian framework agreement on permanent status, and for completion of the Palestinian Authority’s two-year state-building programmes, are just eight months away.
“We can’t afford to lose any further time,” Mr. Ban stated, adding that he looked forward to fruitful discussions with his Quartet counterparts in Munich on 5 February, as well as with the Arab League.
Turning to the situation in and around Gaza, he stated that the recent escalation of rocket attacks by Palestinians and Israeli air strikes “have the potential to spiral out of control.”
He added that the civilian population in Gaza, where some 1.5 million Palestinians live under a blockade imposed by Israel over three years ago, deserves better living conditions. “Israeli measures to ease the closure go in the right direction,” he said, “but much more needs to be done to enable full-scale reconstruction and recovery.”
The Secretary-General also called for further efforts towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation, as well as for the release of Israeli Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit who remains in detention. In addition, he called for the release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel, noting that this would serve as a “significant” confidence-building measure.
The Committee was set up in 1975 by the General Assembly to enable the Palestinians to exercise their rights to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty and to return to their homes and property from which they were displaced.