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Department of Public Information (DPI)
18 May 2010
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
‘POWERFUL ELEMENTS' WILL TRY TO DELAY PROGRESS OF NEW ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN
PROXIMITY TALKS, SPECIAL COORDINATOR TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL
‘We Do Not Have Luxury of Time’, He Says,
Praising Political Courage of Leaders, Warning of Distrust on Both Sides
Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks had officially commenced under United States mediation, but they faced “powerful elements who will seek to derail progress”, Robert Serry, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, told the Security Council today.
Delivering his monthly briefing to the Council, Mr. Serry said progress on core issues could not be allowed to stagnate, noting that leaders on both sides had displayed political courage in entering negotiations. That courage would now be tested at the negotiating table, initially in proximity format, with a view to transitioning to direct talks as soon as possible. “But let us realize that we do not have the luxury of time,” he cautioned.
Warning also of distrust and scepticism among the people on both sides, and of the political challenges faced by their leaders, he said that, with the start of the proximity talks, it was vital that positive actions were taken on the ground to build confidence in both Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Both parties had made specific commitments — some of them confidential — and received certain assurances, he said, emphasizing that those commitments must be respected, as must obligations under the Road Map and international law.
He said United States Special Envoy George Mitchell was currently in the region for a second round of proximity talks, and members of the Middle East Quartet remained in close touch. While the issues were complex and sensitive, the goal of those efforts was clear: the resolution of all core issues; an end to the 1967 occupation; and two States living side by side in peace and security.
Taking up the situation in the Gaza Strip, he said the Secretary-General had repeatedly called for a different and more positive strategy, and the United Nations sought to be a catalyst for such an approach within the framework of Council resolution 1860 (2009). In the meantime, militants had fired 12 rockets towards Israel, causing no injuries, while the Israel Defense Forces had conducted 19 incursions and eight air strikes, killing three and injuring nine. Seven Palestinians had been killed and 13 injured in tunnel incidents, he added.
He said that, despite continuing calls for Palestinian unity on the basis of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) principles, Hamas continued to refuse unity proposals under Egyptian mediation. He called for the release of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, held in captivity for 47 months. The resolution of that matter, alongside the release of a significant number of Palestinian prisoners, would be in the overwhelming interest of both Israel and the people of Gaza, he said.
Above all, he underlined the scale of the unmet needs of Gaza’s civilian population after nearly three years of closure, and the heavy damage caused by Operation Cast Lead, and urged an end to the Israeli blockade. Although the Government of Israel continued its existing policy, he welcomed its initial steps to ease the impact of the closure, including implementation of the package agreed between Israel and the Secretary-General in March, and a modest increase of truckloads allowed to enter Gaza. However, that could only be the beginning, he stressed.
With the aquifer underlying Gaza collapsing, major water and sanitation interventions could not wait, he warned, noting also that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) needed to build 100 schools in Gaza. There were also key construction needs in the health sector and the Gaza power plant needed major servicing. Moreover, a significant increase in both the quantity and range of commercial traffic through legitimate crossing was required to restore market conditions, he said, pointing out that the current flourishing illegitimate tunnel trade permitted smugglers and militants to control commerce, while international agencies and local contractors all too often stood idle due to the closure. Restoring functioning market conditions was the way to meet needs, lower prices, combat smuggling and empower legitimate business activity, he emphasized.
Recalling that Egypt had opened the Rafah crossing for six days on 13 May, to allow movement on humanitarian grounds and continue its important efforts to combat weapons smuggling, he said that only underlined the importance of goods being able to enter Gaza through legitimate crossing points. He condemned the extrajudicial execution by Hamas of five Palestinian prisoners, three of them carried out today, calling on the governing party not to carry out any further executions. Hamas had also demolished some 20 homes in Rafah two days ago, allegedly for having been built illegally.
Turning to East Jerusalem, he said no further demolition of Palestinian homes had been carried out and no new settlements had been approved during the reporting period. Although the Government had said there would be no construction in the Ramat Schlomo settlement for two years, it continued to state an intention to build settlements in Jerusalem. Indeed, there was ongoing settlement activity, such as the start of work on 14 units in the Ras el-Amud neighbourhood, he pointed out, adding that marches and other provocations by Israelis had also caused tensions. As for the rest of the West Bank, no new approval had been given for the construction of settler units and the Israeli Government was taking steps to address violations, he said, calling on Israel to extend its policy of restraint beyond September, and expand it to cover all settlement activity. Action should also be taken to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, he added.
Security cooperation continued between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, but there had been a rise in settler violence in which two mosques had been vandalized, he said. A Palestinian boy had been shot dead after a stone-throwing incident, he added, calling for a full investigation of the incident and for greater efforts to combat violence by settler extremists. There had also been an increase in Israeli military incursions in which 286 Palestinians had been arrested, 96 injured and one militant killed. Weekly demonstrations against the barrier had seen Israeli forces react with live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas, he said, expressing concern about recent amendments to military orders that authorized the deportation of infiltrators from countries hostile to Israel.
Noting that Palestinian security forces had seized hundreds of kilograms of explosives, ammunition and weapons from Hamas arms caches, arresting some 35 individuals, he called on the Palestinian Authority to intensify its security efforts. He called for increased international support for the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA — both facing large funding shortfalls — and for the second Palestinian Investment Conference on 2 and 3 June, which would help stimulate the private sector.
Turning to Lebanon, he said the situation remained largely stable, but alleged transfers of sophisticated weaponry to Hizbullah across the Syrian border had created tensions. Within Lebanon, a national defence strategy was under discussion in the form of the National Dialogue, and the first two rounds of municipal elections had successfully taken place in a calm atmosphere, he said, adding that the next two rounds were scheduled for 23 May and 30 May.
He went on to say that international support was needed to cover a shortfall in funding for the reconstruction of the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. As for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), political demonstrations had been held in its area of operations, and Israel continued its air violations of the Blue Line, he added.
Noting that there was stability in the occupied Syrian Golan, as well as settlement activity, he emphasized the importance of seeking a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace encompassing both the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks. Efforts to restart regional negotiations must continue, he added, noting recent indirect efforts by Israeli and Syrian leaders to convey messages of peace.
The meeting began at 10:13 a.m. and ended at 10:35 a.m.
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