Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message to the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, delivered by Maxwell Gaylard, Deputy United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in Vienna, 7 March:
It is my pleasure to greet all the participants in this international meeting on the Question of Palestine, held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
The theme of your meeting, “The urgency of addressing the plight of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention facilities”, is very important to the effort to reach a just and lasting peace.
When I visited the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel a year ago, I expressed my concerns about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli detention facilities, and publicly urged Israel to release prisoners as called for by the Palestinian Authority. Such a release would serve as a significant confidence-building measure. The United Nations will continue to raise this issue with the Israeli leadership.
We also continue to follow closely the well-being of those in detention, including approximately 200 minors and 200 individuals held in administrative detention without trial. It is Israel’s responsibility to comply fully with its obligations as an occupying Power under international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. The International Committee of the Red Cross plays an important role in this regard as well.
I also note with concern that elected Palestinian representatives have been detained by Israel, and that even after their release, three from East Jerusalem are under threat of forcible transfer and are residing at the Red Cross premises, while another has been deported to Ramallah. The United Nations opposes measures of forcible transfer and remains engaged on this issue, which has broader implications for the human rights of Palestinian East Jerusalemites.
Let me also reiterate the calls of the United Nations for humanitarian access to be granted to Israeli Staff Sergeant Gilat Shalit in accordance with international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, and for his release.
Momentous changes are sweeping the region, and it is deeply frustrating that efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace remain at an impasse.
Settlements are among the main impediments. They are illegal and contrary to the Road Map, and it remains Israel’s obligation to freeze settlement activity.
The Middle East Quartet, when it met last month in Munich, reaffirmed its commitment to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace that ends the 1967 occupation and resolves all permanent-status issues. The Quartet is currently engaged with the parties on how to bring about resumed negotiations.
The Palestinian Authority continues to make progress in institution-building and the delivery of public services, which leaves it well positioned for the establishment of a State at any point in the near future. Israelis should be comforted by the emergence of a reliable partner and neighbour committed to Israel’s right to live in peace and security, opposed to violence and terrorism, and able to deliver on the ground.
I welcome the recent package of confidence-building measures announced last month by Israel and urge its speedy implementation. But this is not a substitute for a political agreement.
The international community, including the Quartet, must therefore intensify its efforts to help the parties overcome the current obstacles and achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace, based on relevant Security Council resolutions, land for peace, the Madrid principles, agreements between the parties, the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.
In that spirit, please accept my best wishes for a successful meeting.