The United Nations political affairs chief today voiced concern over the continuing deadlock in peace talks aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and urged both parities to make bold and decisive steps to end the stalemate and to avoid violence and provocative actions that could undermine political efforts.
“Both parties should be concerned that the political track is falling behind the significant progress being made by the Palestinian Authority in its state-building agenda,” said B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, in a briefing to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East.
“The international community is rightly concerned at the protracted stalemate in the peace process. We stress the importance of supporting and empowering the leadership of [Palestinian) President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad, and of bringing the parties back to the table,” he said.
“Far-reaching rather than incremental steps should be taken by Israel to lead to progress on the ground, by rolling back measures of occupation to match the Palestinian Authority’s achievements,” he added.
Mr. Pascoe pointed out that in its report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) meeting in Brussels on 13 April, the UN made clear its assessment that in the six areas where it is most engaged with the Palestinian Authority, governmental functions are now sufficient for a viable government of a State. In parallel, Israeli measures to facilitate movement have also supported economic activity and access to basic services, he added.
But he voiced concern that the Palestinian Authority has not able to extend its State-building work to Gaza due to the ongoing Palestinian political divide.
He said that the latest reporting period saw the highest level of violence in Gaza and Israel since Operation Cast Lead took place more than two years ago.
Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, fired 111 mortar shells and 155 rockets while Israel conducted six incursions and 57 air strikes into Gaza since the last briefing to the Security Council. One Israeli child was killed and two civilians were injured by Palestinian rocket fire. Some 19 Palestinian militants and 15 civilians were killed, while 17 militants and 60 civilians were injured, as a result of Israeli military actions.
“We are alarmed at actions of Hamas to escalate violence, endangering civilians on both sides and risking a deeper confrontation with Israel,” said Mr. Pascoe. “The Secretary-General strongly condemns rocket fire from Gaza and calls for it to end. He also reiterates his calls for maximum restraint by Israel. All parties must fully respect international humanitarian law. In the interest of the civilian populations on both sides, we call on the parties to uphold and solidify the prevailing fragile calm,” he said.
He said the diplomatic grouping known as the Quartet – which comprises the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States – continues to work with the Israelis and Palestinians to maximize prospects for resuming direct negotiations on a two State solution. The Quartet held follow-up meetings with both the parties on 5 April, but it was decided that more time is needed for consultations before scheduling the next one, he said.
On Lebanon, almost three months after the nomination by President Michel Sleiman of Najib Mikati as Prime Minister, a government has still not been formed. Both Mr. Sleiman and Mr. Mikati have decided to give additional time to the government formation process, Mr. Pascoe said.
He reported that there have been some minor security incidents in Lebanon, but the overall situation in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) area of operations remained generally quiet and stable. Israeli air violations, however, continued almost on a daily basis.
Addressing the Council, Israel’s Ambassador Meron Reuben said that lasting peace required the building of a culture of understanding and tolerance that is based on the recognition of the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to exist. “Israel’s commitment to recognize a future Palestinian State must be met with an equal acknowledgement that Israel is the Jewish State for the Jewish people,” he said.
In his statement to the Council, Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer of Palestine, said Palestinians remained committed to the achievement of peace through political means, despite the stalemate in the process. He urged the Council and the international community in general to “redouble their efforts at this critical time to uphold the principles for which the United Nations stands in order to bring an end to this conflict and allow the Palestine to take its rightful place among the community of nations.”
Lebanon’s Permanent Representative Nawaf Salam pointed out that people across the Middle East are now voicing their aspirations for peace, dignity and better life. “However, let us keep in mind that the greatest source of frustration in our region remains the non-solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Mr. Salam.
“A lasting peace in our part of the world needs to be comprehensive and just peace. It will also require that Israel withdraw fully from the occupied Syrian Golan to the line of 4 June 1967, and from the remaining occupied parts of southern Lebanon,” he added.
In total, more than 40 countries are expected to address the Council’s during today’s day-long debate.