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Asia and Middle East
The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
On 20 August, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernández-Taranco, reported to the Council at an open briefing on the situation in the Middle East. The briefing was followed by consultations of the whole.
The Assistant Secretary-General said that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have a positive impact on regional stability and that that aim had become more critical in recent weeks against the backdrop of troubling developments elsewhere in the region. Efforts led by the United States Secretary of State in recent months had culminated in a series of preparatory meetings between the negotiators in Washington, D.C., on 29 and 30 July, which had been followed by a first formal round of talks in Jerusalem on 14 August and subsequent talks in the region. Quartet envoys intended to meet soon to discuss next steps. Against that background, the Secretary-General had travelled to the region — to Jordan, Palestine and Israel — on 15 and 16 August to lend his personal support to the leaders on both sides. On that occasion, the Secretary-General had said that he was heartened by the bold decision of President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu to embark on direct dialogue, which remained the single most credible path to a solution and the only way through which Palestinians could realize their rightful aspirations to an independent and viable Palestinian State, and Israelis could meet their legitimate security needs. In order for those negotiations to have a chance at success, they must be meaningful, with a clear political horizon, and yield early dividends in the immediate period ahead. Both sides needed to sustain an environment conducive to the advancement of the peace process. There must be visible improvements in the situation on the ground and the parties must refrain from actions that could risk undermining prospects during the negotiations.
The Secretary-General had welcomed the Israeli Cabinet’s decision to release prisoners incarcerated prior to the Oslo Accords, but said that he remained deeply troubled by Israel’s continuing settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, reiterating that the position of the United Nations that settlements were against international law remained firm. In conclusion, he said that the time had come to translate the collective call for action into a shared sense of urgency, as leaders on both sides must realize that they had an opening that they could not afford to lose. The Secretary-General and the United Nations, together with the Quartet, would continue to provide all possible support to their efforts.
In the ensuing consultations of the whole, the Council members hailed the resumption of negotiations between the parties. In view of the great challenges that still stood in the way of a definitive solution, some members acknowledged that they viewed the recent progress with cautious optimism, while others called for an outcome that would surprise the sceptics. The Council members agreed that the negotiations must be accompanied by confidence-building measures to create an environment conducive to dialogue. Thus, while some members welcomed the release of 26 “pre-Oslo” Palestinian prisoners, several expressed concern about Israel’s uninterrupted settlement activity.