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UNITED
NATIONS
A S

        General Assembly
        Security Council
Distr.
GENERAL
A/62/344
S/2007/553

20 September 2007

Original: English

General Assembly
Sixty-second session
Items 17 and 18 of the provisional agenda*
The situation in the Middle East
Question of Palestine
Security Council
Sixty-second year


Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine



Report of the Secretary-General


Summary
The present report is submitted in accordance with General Assembly resolution 61/25 of 1 December 2006. It contains replies received from the President of the Security Council and the concerned parties to the notes verbales sent by the Secretary-General pursuant to the request contained in paragraph 18 of the resolution. The report also contains the observations of the Secretary-General on the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on international efforts to move the peace process forward with a view to achieving a peaceful solution. The report covers the period from September 2006 through September 2007.

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*A/62/150.




I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 61/25 of 1 December 2006.

2. On 1 August 2007, pursuant to the request contained in paragraph 18 of the above-mentioned resolution, I addressed the following letter to the President of the Security Council:


3. On 10 September 2007, the following reply was received from the Security Council:
4. In a note verbale dated 8 June 2007 to the parties concerned, I sought the positions of the Governments of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization, regarding any steps taken by them to implement the relevant provisions of the resolution. As at 1 September 2007, the following replies had been received:

“Note verbale dated 24 August 2007 from the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General


“Note verbale dated 19 July 2007 from the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General


II. Observations

5. During the reporting period, political turmoil, violence and the creation of facts on the ground further undermined efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine. However, in a positive development, bilateral dialogue between the Israeli Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization resumed, in a context of renewed regional and international engagement, to help realize the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security.

6. The reporting period was marked by intense rivalry between Palestinians loyal to Fatah and to Hamas in Gaza, with efforts to bridge differences undermined by episodes of heavy violence. In February 2007, following a year of isolation of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority Government, an agreement to form a national unity Government which respected the signed agreements of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was reached under the auspices of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. President Abbas subsequently tasked Prime Minister Hanniyeh to form a national unity Government.

7. The Quartet, which had stated in January 2006 that it was inevitable that assistance to any Palestinian Government would be reviewed by donors against the commitment of that Government to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, encouraged progress in the direction of these principles. Some donors engaged the new Government, but most maintained a “wait and see” approach.

8. Regrettably, the agreement did not lead to significant alterations in the behaviour of security elements and militias. Heavy intra-Palestinian fighting resumed in May 2007. On 15 June, Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, in fighting that shocked many by its brutality. President Abbas declared a state of emergency, dismissed Prime Minister Hanniyeh, and appointed Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister of an emergency Government.

9. Hamas refused to accept the appointment of the new Government and continued to assume control over the Gaza Strip. As the Palestinian Legislative Council failed repeatedly to convene to confirm or dismiss the emergency Government, owing to boycotts by either Hamas or Fatah, Prime Minister Fayyad was reappointed by President Abbas on 13 July to lead a caretaker Government. I believe that the Palestinian Authority remains the only legitimate authority, and that Gaza and the West Bank continue to form one single Palestinian territory. Without the de facto reintegration of Gaza under the Palestinian Authority, efforts to revitalize the peace process will be difficult to sustain.

10. In Israel, the Government faced difficulties throughout the reporting period due to political scandals and investigations into the conduct of the July 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. Prime Minister Olmert broadened his coalition in October 2006 by including the party Israel Our Home, which favours transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel. In June 2007, the Labour Party, a partner in the governmental coalition, elected Ehud Barak as its leader. On 13 June, Shimon Peres was elected by the Knesset as Israel’s ninth president.

11. Violence between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as among Palestinians, continued into the seventh year since the collapse of the Oslo process. Altogether, 11 Israelis and 1,053 Palestinians lost their lives in the reporting period. I deplore the heavy internecine violence in Gaza, which has brought about a major increase in the number of Palestinians killed and injured by fellow Palestinians. I condemn acts of terrorism, including a suicide bombing in Eilat and Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, which have continued during the reporting period, causing civilian casualties and damage in Israel, and have also targeted crossings into the Strip. I also deplore the continuation of Israeli military operations into the Gaza Strip, which lead to civilian casualties. While fully acknowledging the right to self-defence of Israel, I recall that this right must be exercised in accordance with international law, that civilians must be protected, and that an appropriate mechanism of accountability must be in place. In this regard, I note with concern the continuation of the practice of extrajudicial killings of alleged Palestinian militants, which has often resulted in the deaths of innocent bystanders.

12. On 4 July, I was relieved when Alan Johnston, a British journalist who had been kidnapped by Palestinian militants in Gaza nearly four months before, was released. However, it is a matter of regret that Israeli Corporal Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian militants in June 2006, has not been released. I am grateful to the Government of Egypt for its efforts to secure his release and that of a number of the more than 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel. I am also concerned by the continuing detention by Israel of nearly a third of all Palestinian legislators, and I call for their release.

13. The wide-ranging military operation initiated by the Israel Defence Forces in the Gaza Strip after the capture of Corporal Shalit continued until a ceasefire was reached in November 2006. This operation was marked by a deplorable incident on 8 November, when at least 18 Palestinians, nine of whom were children, were killed in their homes by Israeli fire in Beit Hanoun. The General Assembly, at its tenth emergency session, requested the Secretary-General to establish a fact-finding mission on the attack. In a letter to the President of the General Assembly dated 21 December, my predecessor informed her that the Israeli Government had not indicated that it would extend the necessary cooperation to the mission, and he regretted that he had been unable to dispatch the mission.

14. Israeli excavations surrounding a new link between the Mughrabi Gate to the Haram as-Sharif/Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem led to incidents of civil disorder and tension both on the ground and regionally.

15. The continued Israeli creation of facts on the ground has also undermined the search for a peaceful settlement. The Government of Israel has continued to fail to meet its obligation under the road map calling for a comprehensive settlement freeze and the dismantling of outposts. I wish to emphasize that a halt to settlement expansion is a necessity for the creation of a contiguous and viable Palestinian State, and for the credibility of the process not to be undermined. During the reporting period, settlement development and construction has continued, with major construction taking place, and the number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased by 5.5 per cent. Furthermore, none of the more than 100 outposts in the West Bank have been removed.

16. I continue to note with concern the route of the wall, particularly as it results in the confiscation of Palestinian land and cuts off the movement of people and goods, in contravention of Israel’s legal obligations as set forth in the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of 9 July 2004. In accordance with the provisions of General Assembly resolution ES-10/17, I have continued efforts to establish the United Nations Register of Damage Caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. On 10 May 2007, I appointed three international experts as members of the Board of the Register of Damage. The Secretariat is also in the process of completing the recruitment of qualified staff and the establishment of the Office of the Register of Damage at the United Nations Office at Vienna. As detailed by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the route of the barrier and the nature of the closure regime in the West Bank are intimately related to the existence and continued expansion of settlements, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

17. It remains a source of great concern that the Agreement on Movement and Access of November 2005 has not been implemented. Exports from Gaza have totalled only a fraction of the agreed targets. Even before the more severe closure of Gaza crossings following the Hamas takeover, many factories had closed and farmers were unable to export crops. No progress has been reported on bus or truck convoys between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, nor on plans to rebuild the Gaza seaport and airport. The number of the internal closures imposed by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank increased from approximately 400 at the time of the Agreement on Movement and Access, to 532 in August 2007, severely impeding normal economic activity.

18. During the reporting period, the European Commission, in agreement with the Quartet, renewed and expanded the mandate of the temporary international mechanism. Total assistance to Palestinians in 2006, excluding funds channelled by donors not following the Quartet principles, reached approximately $1.2 billion, representing an increase of 10 per cent over 2005. Approximately €510 million, including a total European Union cont ribution of €485 million, was made available between June 2006 and August 2007 to the temporary international mechanism, thus helping the health and education sectors to continue to function, albeit with major disruptions. Humanitarian assistance also increased dramatically. In spite of this substantial effort, the deterioration of the situation made it clear that the temporary international mechanism could not be a substitute for the Palestinian Authority.

19. Consequently, the period before June 2007 was marked by an unprecedented fiscal crisis for the Palestinian Authority. As a result of the suspension of most direct international assistance and the withholding by Israel of the clearance revenue it collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, it faced a deficit of about 30 per cent of gross national product. This fiscal crisis in turn contributed to a serious decline in the delivery of public services. Most public schools in the West Bank remained closed for a prolonged period of time; public health facilities offered only limited services; and non-payment of the security services did not contribute to their effective functioning.

20. The takeover of Gaza by Hamas led to the absence of Palestinian Authority forces at the crossings, leaving the crossings mostly inoperable. I expressed my concern about the humanitarian and economic impact of this situation, and I reiterate my call on all parties to work constructively to operate the crossings. While humanitarian assistance is entering Gaza, it cannot suffice to stop the economic decline that results from the virtual inability to import raw materials essential for the production of industrial goods and construction, and export agricultural products and commercial goods. It is estimated that 90 per cent of Gaza’s industrial capacity has been suspended and more than 70,000 workers have been laid off since June. Eighty per cent of the population in Gaza relies on food assistance from the United Nations.

21. The decision of the international community to re-engage with the Palestinian Authority during the summer of 2007, and the transfer by the Israeli Government of Palestinian tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority helped to ameliorate the latter’s fiscal situation. As a result, Prime Minister Fayyad was able to pay full salaries to 160,000 Palestinian Authority employees for the first time in 15 months. In spite of this progress, the fiscal situation of the Palestinian Authority remains precarious, as its fiscal framework for 2007 shows a deficit for current operations of close to $1.6 billion.

22. I welcome the renewal of international diplomatic efforts in the reporting period to help the parties resume dialogue and overcome the many obstacles to peace. United States President Bush renewed his commitment to a two-State solution in a speech on 16 July 2007, and announced the intention of the United States to convene an international meeting in the autumn. This initiative built on the efforts of United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from the start of 2007 to facilitate regular meetings between Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert. The leaders have met on several occasions during the reporting period for substantive discussions.

23. I encourage the leaders to find genuine and substantive understandings on permanent status issues for the international meeting, together with an agenda on further steps, both diplomatic and on the ground. Such steps would build on those already taken, such as the transfer of withheld Palestinian tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, the release of 256 Palestinian prisoners, and the agreement not to arrest 173 wanted persons. The additional steps must, inter alia, bring an end to settlement expansion and remove outposts, improve Palestinian Authority security performance, enhance security cooperation, ease the severe restrictions on freedom of Palestinian movement, and create new economic opportunities for Palestinians.

24. In helping to advance this agenda, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was appointed as Quartet representative on 27 June, will have a vital role to play. He has taken up with admirable commitment his new functions to support Palestinian institutional reform and economic rejuvenation. The United Nations is committed to providing the necessary support to ensure the success of his mission.

25. I welcome the efforts of the League of Arab States and several Arab countries to advance regional efforts for peace. On 28 March in Riyadh, the League of Arab States reaffirmed the Arab Peace Initiative. A follow-up ministerial committee established working groups to engage international partners and Israel and create greater public awareness of the potential of the initiative, and in July the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Egypt and Jordan travelled to Israel to engage the Government of Israel. I note also that the Syrian Arab Republic has continued to state its commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative.

26. I further welcome Norway’s proposal to reactivate the ad hoc liaison committee, which has not met since December 2005. The next meeting, to be held in New York on 24 September 2007, will be an opportunity to discuss management of assistance to the Palestinians, financial support to the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian institutional reform, in consultation with the Quartet representative. It will be a stepping stone towards a donor pledging conference planned for December. In this context, the Palestinian Authority is expected to publish a three-year medium-term expenditure framework by November 2007. I hope that this strategy will take into account the needs of all Palestinians, in the West Bank and in Gaza.

27. The United Nations has remained engaged at a political level. The Secretariat has provided monthly briefings to the Security Council on developments in the Middle East, as well as whenever the situation on the ground has demanded that the Council be kept urgently apprised. I travelled three times to the region since becoming Secretary-General. I also attended four meetings of the Quartet, which has been re-energized, and I will host a meeting of the Quartet in New York on 23 September 2007. Members of the follow-up committee of the League of Arab States on the Arab Peace Initiative will also meet with the Quartet. I am confident that this round of consultations will be helpful in shaping the context for the international meeting this autumn and the intimately related work of Mr. Blair.

28. I take this opportunity to deplore any threat or violence exerted against United Nations staff and humanitarian workers operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in general. I am particularly concerned at the fact that Palestinian and international United Nations staff members have faced increasingly arbitrary treatment by Israeli authorities, and I am looking forward to improvements in this regard in the context of ongoing discussions with the Government of Israel. I am also concerned by Palestinian violence targeting United Nations personnel, as has occurred inside or in the immediate vicinity of United Nations installations, and elsewhere in Gaza. Two national staff members of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) were killed and others were injured while serving the Palestinian people. I pay tribute to their memory.

29. In this difficult and challenging context, I want to praise the courage and dedication of the United Nations personnel serving in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In particular, I am grateful to the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, his staff and the security personnel, who remained at their posts throughout the height of the fighting in June 2007. I also wish to express my deep appreciation to Alvaro de Soto and Michael Williams, the previous and outgoing United Nations Special Coordinators for the Middle East Peace Process and my successive Personal Representatives to the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, and the staff of their Office, as well as to the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Karen Koning AbuZayd, the staff of the Agency and all other United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, who continue to provide indispensable and remarkable service under demanding and sometimes dangerous circumstances.

30. At this juncture, I am encouraged by the renewed and substantive dialogue between the parties and the reaffirmed commitment of the international community, including regional partners, on the political and assistance aspects of the peace process. I am also reassured by the repeated polls that show that a majority of people on both sides support the realization of the two-State solution in a non-violent manner. However, I remain deeply conscious of the challenges, particularly in the light of the continued Israeli settlement policy, the de facto division of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the challenge of improving Palestinian Authority security performance and rejuvenating its economy, and the potential for those who oppose progress in the peace process to try to derail it through violence. I stress that it is vital that Hamas cease any effort to establish separate rule in Gaza and that Palestinians find peaceful means to overcome their internal differences and unite towards peace under the Palestinian Authority.

31. As Secretary-General, I will continue to ensure that the United Nations works towards the creation of an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace with a secure Israel, within the framework of a comprehensive regional settlement, consistent with Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002) and 1515 (2003), and in accordance with the road map, the Arab Peace Initiative and the principle of land for peace.


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