In a wide-ranging speech to academics and students, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today drew attention to the importance of getting the Middle East peace process back on track and appealed to all parties with influence to inject new life into negotiations.
“The cost of the continued stalemate and ongoing illegal settlements continues to rise with each passing day – and each missed opportunity,” Mr. Ban said at Yale University in New Haven, in the US state of Connecticut, where he delivered a speech for the institution’s Annual George Herbert Walker, Jr. Lecture in International Studies.
“A two-state solution remains the only viable option to end this conflict and the occupation that has endured for almost half a century,” he added in his talk, entitled ‘Shaping Solutions for a World in Transition.’
The Israelis and the Palestinians have yet to resume direct negotiations since talks stalled in September 2010, after Israel refused to extend its freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory. Negotiators from both sides began preparatory talks at the start of January in Amman, under the facilitation of Jordanian authorities, with a view to a resumption of direct talks.
“As I have warned repeatedly, without strong leadership by the parties and the international community, the two-state solution, and the commendable institution-building achievements of the Palestinian Authority, are in jeopardy,” Mr. Ban said.
“I once again appeal to all those with influence: the Middle East peace process is on life support. Do not pull the plug. Breathe new life and hope now. The region and the world cannot wait,” he added.
On the issue of Palestinian status at the United Nations, the Secretary-General pointed to the UN Charter, noting that “such matters are solely in the hands of Member States.”
Addressing the General Assembly’s high-level debate in late September, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, announced that he would seek non-Member State status for Palestine this year. A bid for full UN membership failed last year.
Referring to developments in Syria, the Secretary-General stressed that there is no military solution to the ongoing crisis there, adding that its Government and the opposition forces there must engage in dialogue if they want to achieve any progress.
“I have repeatedly warned the Government and the opposition that there is no military solution,” the UN chief said. “Syria needs a clean break from the past, but the transition they need can be achieved through negotiation and dialogue.”
Syria has been wracked by violence, with at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 20 months ago. The violence has spawned more than 380,000 refugees, while more than 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates.
“Each day in Syria brings new reports of appalling violations of human rights and tragic suffering,” Mr. Ban said. “The United Nations is rushing medicine and food to Syrians inside of the country and to the hundreds of thousands who have fled to Syria’s neighbours.”
The top UN official emphasized that the situation in Syria is a reminder of how much is at stake in the region if the international community does not act in a coordinated manner, and if leaders do not heed the demands of their people for empowerment, openness and dignity.
“The risks to the wider region are clear. Already, we are seeing spillover effects, inflamed tensions, and outbreaks of violence in Syria’s neighbours,” he said.
In his remarks, Mr. Ban also took the opportunity – his first in public – to congratulate President Barack Obama on his recent re-election. On 6 November, President Obama won enough Electoral College votes – 332 compared to his challenger’s 206 – to secure a second four-year term.
“I look forward to strengthening the US-UN partnership even more in the years ahead,” he said. “We share many goals, including ending the violence in Syria and getting the Middle East peace process back on track.”
Other topics covered in Secretary-General Ban’s speech included the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which recently left a trail of death and destruction in the Caribbean and the eastern US coastline, and climate change, the latter for which he said he was “very encouraged to hear President Obama speak about the dangers of a warming planet in his remarks on election night.”
He noted that world leaders have agreed to forge a legally binding agreement on the issue by 2015, “and we must hold them to that commitment.”
“The science is clear; we should waste no more time on that debate. I have seen with my own eyes, from the Arctic to Antarctica, from the Andes to Asia, the melting glaciers, the encroaching deserts, the gathering impacts in urban and rural areas alike,” he said. “But instead of seeing this as a prohibitively costly burden, let us look at the opportunities – the immense opportunities of building a job-rich green economy.”
He added, “Let us think big. Let us think together. Everything I have seen as Secretary-General convinces me that no country will be able to address its national problems unless it engages internationally. And we will not address global problems unless each country plays its part.”