Ongoing developments in the Middle East have increased the urgency of resolving the stalemate in the Arab-Israeli peace process, the United Nations political chief said today, while also noting that the prospects of regional peace were fading.
“We are concerned that we have not yet seen the progress required for sustained negotiations that could lead to successful outcomes,” the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, told the Security Council during its regular monthly meeting on the Middle East.
“While prospects for peace seem to grow dimmer, we – as the United Nations – continue to hope that leaders on both sides will recognize and seize the historic opportunity that is now before them to start seriously working toward the goal of reaching a peace agreement that meets the legitimate aspirations and fulfils the rights of the people on both sides,” Mr. Feltman stated.
In the briefing, his first on the situation in the Middle East since his appointment, Mr. Feltman addressed a range of ongoing problems – from the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) fiscal crisis to sustained Israeli settlement construction – which he said continued to impede the positive evolution of the peace process.
“We continue to be concerned by the ongoing policy of demolitions and forced evictions implemented by the Israeli authorities in Area C and East Jerusalem,” he stated, adding that he was also concerned by the continuous restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on humanitarian assistance provided to those Palestinians affected by the demolitions of their homes.
Mr. Feltman similarly indicated that the lack of unity among Palestinian factions in the West Bank and Gaza was also adversely impacting the Palestinian population – the West Bank is run by the faction known as Fatah, while Gaza is run by the Hamas movement. There have reportedly been efforts to unite the two, but with little success so far.
In particular, Mr. Feltman cited an incident in July 2012 when Gazan applications for outside medical treatment were not processed due to a dispute between Gazan authorities and their PA counterparts in the West Bank.
On a positive note, however, the UN official pointed out that Israeli and PA representatives had been meeting to resolve the latter’s ongoing financial difficulties by enhancing the PA’s revenue capture through the reduction of illegal trade and tax evasion.
“These are welcome steps that follow others reported previously, and we encourage continued positive gestures,” Mr. Feltman said, while also mentioning that UN reconstruction work in the Gaza Strip was having a positive, though short-term, effect on employment there.
Nevertheless, the Under-Secretary-General emphasized that the primary path forward to resolving the continuing regional impasse remained the two-state solution.
“It is clear that the two-state solution remains the best available and most realistic option for the Israelis and Palestinians. It is the view of the United Nations that there is a responsibility not only on the parties themselves but on all Member Sates to consider their action and their language in light of that goal,” Mr. Feltman noted, adding that all Member States should ask themselves the “simple question as to whether a certain course of action brings the Israelis and Palestinians closer to a two-state solution or makes that goal even harder to achieve in practice.”
Turning his focus to other events in the region, Mr. Feltman voiced concern about the potential spill-over of the Syrian conflict into neighbouring Lebanon, where sectarian tensions have been increasing in recent months.
“As the crisis in Syria continues to deteriorate, the situation in Lebanon has become more precarious and the need for continued international support to the Government and the Lebanese Armed Forces increasingly important,” he told the Council.
“Tensions over domestic and security concerns remain high throughout the country and are easily exacerbated by developments in Syria,” he added.
In one related incident, on 21 August, clashes erupted between Sunni and Alawite communities in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli resulting in at least six deaths and tens of injuries.