Upon his return from an emergency visit to the crisis-torn Middle East where he reported having “long and detailed” discussions with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said “there is still time to step back from the brink,” despite anger and polarization in the region.
“All agreed on the urgent need to reduce tensions and avoid actions that would further fuel the violence,” Mr. Ban toldreporters at UN Headquarters in New York.
“I was profoundly troubled by what I saw and I heard. People on both sides shared heart-breaking stories of violence against their loved ones,” he continued, while strongly condemning all acts of terror and violence and offering condolences to the families of those who have been killed or injured.
Mr. Ban further noted that the tensions around the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount have the potential to add a religious dimension to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that could be exploited by extremists on both sides, with potentially dangerous regional implications.
“I welcome the assurance of Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo on the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount, which many Muslims believe is under threat,” he declared, expressing his appreciation of the efforts of King Abdullah of Jordan, in accordance with Jordan’s special role as custodian of the holy sites.
Mr. Ban added that “the level of incitement is utterly unacceptable,” and that it is critical for all parties “to avoid provocative rhetoric and actions that can further inflame passions in an already overheated environment.”
In addition, the Secretary-General stressed that it is equally critical that Israel exercise maximum restraint and make sure that security measures are properly calibrated, “so that they do not breed the very frustrations and anxieties which perpetuate violence.”
“One killing or house demolition creates a whole family of angry people,” Mr. Bam insisted. “One neighbourhood closure creates a community of despair. One funeral can spread rage among thousands. Force should be a last resort, not a first resort.”
But security measures alone, he added, will not end the violence. “Only by [restoring] a political horizon can we hope to overcome today’s despair and focus on achieving long-term peace.”
Mr. Ban also urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “to harness the energy and passion of the people, particularly young people, towards a peaceful direction – to realize their aspirations of peace and [make] stability a reality, rather than resorting to violent means.”
“This is at heart a political conflict that will require a serious negotiation process by two partners willing to make the necessary compromises to reach the long-desired goal of a two-state solution,” he said.
Meanwhile, the UN chief highlighted that the Middle East Quartet remains committed to working with all relevant parties – on the ground, regionally and internationally – to create the conditions for a return to “meaningful bilateral negotiations.”
He thanked the members of the Quartet for their efforts – including Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and European officials, as well as the Arab leaders who are taking part in a meeting today in Vienna, Austria.
Following his briefing to reporters, Mr. Ban said he would be joining their discussions by video conference to discuss “the alarming escalation of violence in Israel, Palestine and particularly in Jerusalem.” He also noted that his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, would be there to represent him in person.
Furthermore, he indicated that UN envoys plan to visit Israel and Palestine in the near future “to explore significant steps that each side can take to restore confidence and move towards an end to occupation and the establishment of a viable, sustainable Palestinian state, living in peace with Israel.”