The recent escalation of violence underscores the urgent need to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track, a top United Nations official told the Security Council today, stressing that the status quo is unsustainable.
Today’s meeting of the Council takes place nearly one week after the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreement of 21 November, which brought an end to the recent cycle of violence in Gaza and Israel. It also comes ahead of Thursday’s vote in the General Assembly, where the Palestinians are expected to table a resolution seeking the status of non-member observer State.
Robert Serry, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Council that these two developments “underscore the status quo is unsustainable and that it is all the more vital to identify a way ahead to urgently put the peace process back on track.”
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.
On the ceasefire, the envoy said that Egypt and the parties have commenced on intensive discussions following up on last week’s agreement, while the calm has largely held on the ground. “It is now paramount that parties respect the calm and allow time for other elements of the understanding to be worked out,” he stated. “Yet we know this will not be easy.
“It is painful that despite consistent warnings we had yet another major escalation four years after ‘Operation Cast Lead’,” Mr. Serry said, referring to the three-week military offensive Israel launched at the end of 2008 in a bid to halt repeated rocket attacks from Gaza.
“The devastating round of violence is a stark reminder that the status quo is unsustainable. There will be no progress if Israel’s legitimate security concerns are not addressed. At the same time, it will give Palestinians a strong additional stake in a durable calm if it leads to a lifting of the closure on Gaza.”
Mr. Serry visited Gaza on Sunday and witnessed the destruction that resulted from the hostilities. On the same day, he also visited Rishon Letzion, a suburb of Tel Aviv where large parts of an apartment building were destroyed by a rocket from Gaza.
Eight days of violence left an estimated 158 Palestinians dead, including 103 civilians, and approximately 1,269 injured, he reported. Six Israelis – four civilians and two soldiers – were reported killed by Palestinian rocket fire and 224 Israelis were injured, the vast majority civilians, he added. The bomb attack on a bus in Tel Aviv injured 23 people, three severely.
Turning to the expected action in the General Assembly on Thursday, Mr. Serry said the passion this potential move has generated is indicative of how far apart the parties remain.
“The Secretary-General has said on numerous occasions that the Palestinians should have an independent and viable State of their own living side by side with the State of Israel in peace and security.
“A Palestinian State is long overdue and is key to addressing the legitimate aspirations of both peoples and paramount to the stability of the region,” he added. “The Secretary-General hopes all concerned look at the consequences of any decision they make responsibly.”
The situation in Gaza, said Mr. Serry, came very close to the brink of a crisis that could have engulfed the region.
“We should take this as a wake-up call that we are all challenged to work together to restore prospects for a durable regional peace. The region is headed for an unpredictable future with multiple sources of uncertainty. What is certain though is that the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be ignored in shaping this future constructively.
“I remain convinced that a solution of the Palestinian-Israeli issue, in the form of a negotiated two-State solution, is the best contribution we can make at this time to regional stability.”