With another release by Israel of Palestinian prisoners set for later this month, the top United Nations envoy for the Middle East urged both sides to refrain from any actions which could undermine the prospects for progress in what has been an important year for the peace process.
In his final Security Council briefing in 2013, Special Coordinator Robert Serry noted the efforts being made in the renewed direct talks, and said that there was hope that this effort would lead – next year – to decisive and irreversible progress towards a comprehensive settlement with Israel and Palestine living side by side “in peace, security and mutual recognition of each other's legitimate rights.”
“If both parties, with continued effective support by the international community, take the bold steps needed to see through what they have started this year, we will reach in 2014 a moment of truth regarding a two-State solution,” Mr. Serry told the 15-member Council.
His briefing comes ahead of an expected 29 December release of Palestinian prisoners from Israel, the third in recent weeks. He urged both sides to reform from steps that would increase mistrust and undermine the prospects for progress in the critical period ahead “when bolder decisions are required to bridge the gaps towards a final status agreement.”
The Special Coordinator also warned that continued settlement activity – illegal under international law – could not be reconciled with the goal of the two-state solution. That included demolition of unlicensed Palestinian structures, some 74 of which have been razed this last week displacing nearly 100 people.
He also voiced concern about recurrent violence and incitement, particularly the deadly shooting of a 14-year-old after allegedly throwing stones at Israeli forces.
“We urge the Israeli authorities for a timely conclusion of their inquiry into the circumstances of this fatal incident, and to act with maximum restraint and avoid the use of excessive force,” Mr. Serry said.
Turning to the situation in Gaza, he noted that the UN was actively engaged in helping some 10,000 people displaced by heavy flooding. Israel had provided four water pumps for Gaza and expanded operations at Kerem Shalom, and the UN hoped that the Rafah crossing would resume normal operations as soon as possible, he said.
Meanwhile, with a $10 million donation from Qatar for the purchase of fuel, the Gaza Power Plant resumed operations a yesterday. “This is an important, but by no means sufficient development to start addressing Gaza's structural energy problem.”
The Special Coordinator also noted Israel's decision to resume the transfer of construction materials for UN projects in Gaza, under an agreed mechanism.
On Syria, Mr. Kerry noted that amid continued focus on chemical weapons, the vast majority of killings and destruction continues to be carried out by conventional weapons. “The warring parties continue to disregard their legal and moral responsibilities to protect the civilian population.”
He called on Syrian parties to immediately “work towards the cessation of violence, humanitarian access, release of detainees and return of refugees and internally displaced people to their homes,” adding that the UN is now working “very hard” to prepare for the Geneva II conference to find a political solution to the stalemate that has so far more killed more than 100,000 people and driven 8 million from their homes.