23/06/2004
Press Release
SC/8131



Security Council                                           

4995th Meeting (AM)                                         


TO CHOOSE PEACE IN MIDDLE EAST WAS TO TAKE ‘DIFFICULT, LESS TRAVELED ROAD’,


BUT ALTERNATIVE IS LONG DESCENT INTO VIOLENCE, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD


Kieran Prendergast, Briefing Council, Says Road Map Stalled,

Events of Past Month Demonstrate How Desperately Political Solution Needed


To choose peace in the Middle East was to take the difficult, less travelled road, but the alternative was a continued long, slow, inevitable descent into a landscape full of violence, hatred and bloodshed, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, told the Security Council this morning.


Those who were waiting for guarantees in order to start moving towards peace would wait for a long time, he said in the regular monthly briefing on the Middle East.  Bad as the situation was, it could still get worse.  Yet, peace and reconciliation were not beyond reach, and everyone knew the basis, parameters and contours of that peace.  What remained elusive was the parties’ readiness to take the difficult, but necessary, decisions.


He said that implementation of the “Road Map” had stalled.  Indeed, it had never truly started.  But the plan remained a solid map that included both the road and the destination.  It had been stalled so far, but with the international backing it enjoyed, it could easily be revived if both sides took the political decision to do so.  Repeated calls for bold and courageous action to make implementation possible went unheeded and the stalemate continued.


Suggesting that the proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank could help to break the stalemate, he said the position of the Quartet and the international community was well known -- there must be a full and complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a transfer of authority and control to the Palestinians, if withdrawal was to be recognized as an end to the Israeli occupation of Gaza.


To be part of the implementation of the Road Map, the withdrawal also had to be accompanied by similar steps in the West Bank, he continued.  Those actions would not be a substitute for Israel’s compliance with other obligations under the Road Map, such as dismantling all settlements activity.  Nor would they exempt Israel from compliance with its obligations as an occupying Power in accordance with international humanitarian law.


He said the Palestinian Authority also had a major role to play in the success of the withdrawal.  The Authority must establish a security zone in the vacated areas and work to make the withdrawal from Gaza an opportunity and a source of optimism for the Palestinian people.  Revitalizing, reorganizing and reforming the Authority was not only a Quartet request, it was demanded by the Palestinian people, as expressed by their elected representatives and civil society activists.


The events of the last months demonstrated, yet again, how desperately the people of the Middle East needed a political solution to their long conflict, he concluded.  Israeli military operations in the occupied Palestinian territory could not provide the real security that would come from a negotiated settlement.  At the same time, the Palestinian Authority must act on its obligations under the Road Map.  Force would achieve neither a viable and independent PalestinianState, nor a secure and recognized Israel.


The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. and was adjourned at 10:46 a.m.


Summary of Briefing


KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that since the Secretariat’s last briefing to the Council, the situation in the Middle East had remained tense.  On the ground, the conflict continued to claim lives, economic conditions worsened, hope for a better future was low, suffering continued –- all of which contributed to a climate of despair and extremism.


Bad as that was, the situation could get still worse, he said.  At the same time, peace and reconciliation were not beyond reach.  The basis, parameters and contours of peace were known to all.  The international community stood ready to assist the parties, if they showed the necessary will.  What remained elusive was the readiness of the parties themselves to take the difficult, but necessary decisions.


He said that since the last monthly briefing, 39 Palestinians and two Israelis had been killed; 309 Palestinians and 32 Israelis had been wounded.  That brought the total number of casualties since the start of the current crisis in September 2000 to 3,437 Palestinians and 942 Israelis killed, with 33,776 Palestinians and 6,008 Israelis wounded.


The last briefing took place on 21 May, amid grave concerns over the Israeli incursion into Rafah in the Gaza Strip, which lasted until 24 May, he recalled.  It was only after the briefing that a full picture had emerged of the impact that “Operation Rainbow” had had on the ground.  According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 167 buildings –- housing 379 families or 2,066 people -- were destroyed or damaged beyond repair by Israeli forces, in what had been one of the most destructive operations in the Gaza Strip since September 2000.  Since that date, a total of 1,476 structures had been destroyed in Rafah town and refugee camp, affecting almost 15,000 people.


He said that, in the course of “Operation Rainbow”, 53 Palestinians had been killed.  The operation uncovered three tunnels used to smuggle weapons.  On 2 and 3 June, Israeli forces with tanks and bulldozers again entered Rafah town and camp, demolishing several more buildings.


During the reporting period, closure continued throughout the West Bank, he went on.  The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) conducted a number of search and arrest operations following security warnings.  Curfews had been imposed repeatedly in most West Bank Palestinian towns and villages.  Bethlehem had been declared a closed military zone for almost a week.


He said that extrajudicial killings continued through the reporting period:  on 23 May, three Palestinians were killed and four injured when an Israeli helicopter fired a missile at a Palestinian car in Nablus.  On 30 May, an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at a motorcycle in the Zeitoun suburb of GazaCity, killing a senior Hamas leader, his assistant and a third Palestinian, as well as wounding 10 bystanders.


Repeating the Secretary-General’s call on the Government of Israel to cease the illegal practice of extrajudicial killings, he said that, in light of the toll of Palestinian deaths and injuries, and the large-scale property destruction resulting from Israeli military operations, it was also necessary to remind the Israeli authorities of their responsibilities under international humanitarian law, as the occupying Power, to protect Palestinian civilians and their property.


Palestinian violence had also continued, he said.  On 22 May, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed himself and injured one IDF soldier, as well as four Palestinians at the Hamra checkpoint in the West Bank.  On 28 May, an IDF officer was killed in the Balta refugee camp during an Israeli operation there.  On 29 May, a Palestinian stabbed and injured an Israeli civilian in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Ten mortars were fired on Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.


Also during the reporting period, there had been a disturbing increase in attacks against and harassment of United Nations staff and property, he noted.  In Jenin refugee camp, during an IDF incursion on the early morning of 20 May, the head of UNRWA’s Jenin Camp Reconstruction Project had been bound, blindfolded and interrogated by Israeli soldiers for three hours.  There had also been troubling incidents of violence near United Nations-run schools.  In one incident, on 23 May, IDF troops fired on stone-throwers and entered an UNRWA school in Fawwar camp in the West Bank; four pupils were injured.  On 2 June, two 10-year-old Palestinian pupils were injured in their classroom in an UNRWA school in Rafah when they were hit by a bullet.  The same day, IDF troops opened fire near a second UNRWA school in the area, causing panic among the students.  The UNRWA had lodged official protests with the Israeli authorities concerning those incidents.


On 9 June, also in Jenin, armed Palestinians entered UNRWA’s offices and opened fire, he said, adding that luckily there had been no injuries.  The armed men were camp residents dissatisfied with the donor-funded project to reconstruct demolished homes.  The UNRWA had protested to the Palestinian Authority over the threats to its staff.  That disturbing incident highlighted the obligation of the Authority to implement security reform.


He said that construction of the Israeli barrier continued at a rapid pace in and around Jerusalem.  On 8 June, IDF troops bulldozed a car park belonging to Al-QudsUniversity in Abu Dis.  On 13 June, the IDF began preparations for the construction of the barrier to the east of the settlement of Ariel.  Repeated protests against the far-reaching consequences of such an intrusion deep inside the West Bank had gone unheeded.   Confiscation of Palestinian land for the construction of the Israeli barrier and for other purposes had also continued.


Also during the reporting period, he said that increasing numbers of Palestinians and international peace activists had demonstrated against the construction of the barrier, and in some instances Israeli troops had fired tear gas and plastic coated bullets at the demonstrators, injuring dozens.  In Zawiya, in the northern West Bank, clashes had been going on intermittently since 9 June, in the context of Israeli land-levelling operations there.


He said he was pleased to report the success of the inter-governmental conference in Geneva on the subject of “Meeting the Humanitarian Needs of the Palestinian Refugees in the Near East:  Building Partnerships in Support of UNWRA”, hosted by the Government of Switzerland.  With effective follow-up, the conference should help place UNRWA on a stronger political and financial footing.


Reliance on the use of force and violence strengthened extremism on both sides and made it more difficult to return to the negotiating table so as to achieve the compromises necessary for peace, he said.  The Quartet’s “Road Map”, despite the failure to move ahead with its implementation, remained the only solution that could truly achieve the national aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis.  The Road Map set out specific practical measures leading to an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and to the emergence of a viable independent and sovereign PalestinianState, while ensuring that Israelis would live in peace and security.


True, he said, implementation of the Road Map had stalled.  Indeed, it never truly started.  But, the plan remained a solid map that included both the road and the destination.  It had been stalled so far, but with the international backing it enjoyed, it could easily be revived if both sides took the political decision to do so.  Both parties had been called on repeatedly to take the steps needed to make its implementation possible.  Those calls for bold and courageous action had been unheeded.  The stalemate continued.


He said that the proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank could help to break the stalemate.  On 7 June, the Israeli Government adopted a plan related to that initiative.  Under that plan, disengagement would proceed in four stages and would involve the evacuation of all settlements and military installations in the Gaza Strip, as well as the dismantling of four settlements in the northern West Bank, by the end of 2005.


He said that, first, the Gaza settlements of Morag, Netzarim and Kfar Darom would be evacuated; next, the West Bank settlements of Kadim, Ganim, Sa-Nur and Homesh; then, the remaining Gush Katif settlements would be evacuated; and finally, the northern Gaza settlements of Nissanti, Elei Sinai and Dugit would be dismantled.  Another vote by the Israeli cabinet would be necessary before the actual implementation of the plan began.


Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala had stated that the Palestinian Authority welcomed the disengagement plan -– so long as it was implemented as a part of the Road Map.  However, if the withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank was to become a new beginning in the peace process, both sides would have to play a part.  Although the initiative was unilateral, its successful application required the cooperation of all parties.


The position of the Quartet and the international community was well known, he said.  There must be a full and complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a transfer of authority and control to the Palestinians, if withdrawal was to be recognized as an end to the Israeli occupation of Gaza.  To be part of the implementation of the Road Map, the withdrawal also had to be accompanied by similar steps in the West Bank.  Those actions would not be a substitute for Israel’s compliance with other obligations under the Road Map, such as the dismantlement of all settlements activities.  Nor would they exempt Israel from compliance with its obligations as an occupying Power in accordance with the provisions of international humanitarian law.


He said the Palestinian Authority, too, had a major role to play in the success of the withdrawal.  The Authority must establish a security zone in the vacated areas and work to make the withdrawal from Gaza an opportunity and a source of optimism for the Palestinian people.  Revitalizing, reorganizing and reforming the Authority was not only a Quartet request, it was demanded by the Palestinian people, as expressed by their elected representatives and civil society activists.  Among the most urgent tasks was the strengthening of Palestinian institutions and the promotion of the rule of law.  That included the genuine empowerment of the Prime Minister and his cabinet and the unification of the Palestinian security forces into three components under the authority of an empowered Interior Minister.


The involvement of the international community would be crucial to an effective handover in the Gaza Strip, he emphasized.  Significant donor support could make the difference between hope and despair among Palestinians in Gaza and close international involvement in both the political and security aspects could also make the difference between success and failure.  Egypt and Jordan could assist that process, both countries having so far displayed welcome and commendable leadership.  The Egyptian initiative in training Palestinian Authority security forces could greatly improve the chances of the withdrawal being a success and Jordan’s Interior Minister had stated his country’s readiness to offer similar support in the West Bank.  The Quartet envoys were meeting in Taba tomorrow to discuss the action plan related to the proposed withdrawal.


Turning to the situation in southern Lebanon, he said a number of serious breaches had occurred in the past month, which could further destabilize the situation.  While the parties had explicitly stated that they did not wish to see deterioration along the Blue Line, recent events indicated that their further efforts were required to halt violations leading to that outcome.


He cited the firing of three rockets by an unidentified group from the Lebanese side towards Israel, as well as Israeli bombings of sites inside Lebanon.  Despite calls by the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon for restraint on both sides, the deterioration continued.  While no fatalities had been reported as a result of any of those actions, their escalatory nature was obvious and showed how isolated events risked creating a chain reaction leading the parties straight into conflict.  It was in the interest of stability in the region that all parties abstain from action that could lead them down that dangerous and uncertain road.


The situation between Israel and Syria had not changed since the last monthly briefing, he said.  It was unfortunate that no progress had been made on that track since the resumption of negotiations between the two countries could greatly improve the political and security environment in the region and contribute to bringing hope back to its people.  That goal -- modest, attainable and in the interest of both parties -- remained elusive.


He said the events of the last months demonstrated yet again how desperately the people of the Middle East needed a political solution to their long conflict.  Israeli military operations in the occupied Palestinian territory could not provide the real security that would come from a negotiated settlement.  At the same time, the Palestinian Authority must act on its obligations under the Road Map.  Force would achieve neither a viable and independent PalestinianState nor a secure and recognized Israel.  There would be no peace unless the parties, the region and the wider international community were ready to play their parts.  Those who were waiting for guarantees in order to start moving would wait for a long time.  To choose peace was to take the difficult, less travelled road, but the alternative was a continued long, slow, inevitable descent into a landscape full of violence, hatred and bloodshed.


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