29 August 2007
Security Council
SC/9108

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5736th Meeting (AM & PM)


UNITED NATIONS MIDDLE EAST ENVOY TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL RECENT TALKS,


RENEWED DIPLOMACY, PROMPT GUARDED OPTIMISM ABOUT PEACE PROSPECTS


Says New Effort Must Be Carefully Monitored, Supported,

More Than 30 Member States Address Council in Ensuing Debate


With substantive talks under way between Israeli and Palestinian leaders on security and political matters, and international momentum building to reignite the peace process, United Nations Middle East envoy Michael Williams today told the Security Council that he was “guardedly optimistic” about prospects for peace in the long-troubled region.


But Mr. Williams, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, acknowledged that he was conscious of the challenges ahead, and called on both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to turn their attention to tackling core issues, such as a final status agreement.  In the meantime, broader diplomatic efforts should be stepped up to keep the renewed peace process from faltering ahead of an international conference set to be held in Washington this November.


Mr. Williams, who just returned from a visit to the region, said that, after talks held yesterday –- the two leaders are expected to meet again on 10 September ahead of a mission to the region by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- both sides had reported “substantive discussions and exchanges of ideas” on permanent status issues and confidence-building steps. 


There also appeared to be a welcome common desire to reach an agreement or understanding that could be presented to the November international meeting initiated by United States President George W. Bush.  He also said that the anticipated engagement of former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair as the Representative of the diplomatic Quartet, which comprises the United Nations, the European Union, Russian Federation and the United States, was having a positive effect.


But, for growing expectations to be met, he said that the talks would need to shift gear to achieve concrete agreements on permanent status issues and steps of implementation.  “Given the sensitivity of the issues, shortness of time and the amount of work to be done, this will not be easy.  But with political will, and supporting action on the ground”, it was his assessment that it could be achieved.


Meanwhile, Israel needed to ease restrictions on movement in the West Bank and end incursions there, while the Palestinian Authority needed to deploy “credible security personnel” on the streets of West Bank cities.   Israel should start to curb continuing settlement activity in the West Bank that he said “undermines hopes for a contiguous Palestinian State”.


Turning to the internal Palestinian divide and the situation in strife-torn Gaza, he expressed deep concern about the political, institutional and socio-economic consequences of the continuing Gaza/West Bank split.  President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad had confirmed to him that they remained committed to integrating Gaza under the legitimate authority of the Palestinian Authority, and he welcomed that clear position.


In the period ahead, the diplomatic process will need to be carefully monitored and supported, and must be buttressed by urgent and meaningful steps on the ground, “if the many factors that could derail efforts are to be overcome”, said Mr. Williams in his final address to the Council before taking up his post as the United Kingdom’s newly appointed representative on the Middle East.  “We cannot afford a new failure in the efforts to revive the Arab-Israeli peace process,” Mr. Williams said.  “There is hope now which has been absent for almost seven years.  A setback at this stage could have serious consequences.”


Among the more than 30 delegations touching on various aspects of the complex situation, the Observer for Palestine said that Israel’s unlawful policies continued to cause severe hardships for the Palestinian civilian population.  The occupying forces carried out raids using excessive, indiscriminate and lethal force against defenseless Palestinians, while Israel continued its unlawful colonizing campaign, including by measures that amounted to collective punishment of the Palestinian people.  “Not only are such actions not conducive to peace negotiations”, he stressed; they were “in total contradiction to the spirit of peacemaking”.


Good faith must be demonstrated and confidence-building measures must be implemented, he declared.  Political will and determination were also needed to push the process and allow the Palestinian State to be born as rapidly as possible, since the occupation had now been imposed for more than 40 years and too much damage had already been done. 


The upcoming Washington conference could be held under the auspices of the United Nations to allow for the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive solution based on the tenets of international legitimacy.  That would also pave the way for the participation of countries desiring to contribute concretely towards the future of the Palestinian State and who could monitor the upholding of the peace treaty that could be signed as the final outcome of the conference.


Israel’s representative expressed sadness in witnessing once again the dichotomy of the positive events on the ground and the repetitive Palestinian narrative.  “Yes there are problems on the ground on both sides, but is our duty to build on the positive and promote hope rather than rely on doom and recrimination,” he said, calling on the Palestinian side not to be “held hostage to yesterday”.


Noting the recent positive developments, he said that earlier in the week the Israeli Foreign Minister had met with Prime Minister Fayyad and had discussed enhanced economic and civilian cooperation.  They had also agreed to hold direct talks between the heads of Israeli and Palestinian local authorities and representatives of organizations to advance cooperation projects.   Israel had also taken additional steps to bolster the Palestinian Authority, among others, by releasing tax funds, freeing over 250 Palestinian prisoners, and granting amnesty to those that renounced violence and terror.


“As you see, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are actively speaking, engaging with one another and working together,” he said.  At the same time, he stressed that it was not enough for moderates to merely shun extremism and shut out their darkness.  “We must also usher in light, and do so through the choices we make and the courses we chart.”  He noted that the international community had made its choice on who to engage, and the Palestinians and Lebanese were making choices as well.  Choosing the right option meant choosing a peaceful alternative –- the alternative of peace -– which was more hopeful, more secure and more dignified for all.


Portugal’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that current diplomatic initiatives and dialogue presented a window of opportunity that should not be missed.  The Union strongly encouraged the parties to continue their bilateral dialogue.  Further to the engagement of the parties, the continued support of the international community was crucial to advance the peace process.  The Union was firmly committed to playing an active role, notably in the framework of the Quartet, in the search for a comprehensive settlement in conformity with the relevant Council resolutions and on the basis of the Road Map.  He also stressed the importance of renewing the Quartet dialogue with the parties and representative of the Arab League.  The Arab peace initiative was a major element aimed at advancing regional peace.


Also speaking were representatives of the United States, Indonesia, Qatar, China, Ghana, Slovakia, South Africa, France, Peru, Italy, Panama, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Belgium, Congo, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen (on behalf of the Arab Group), Norway, Jordan, Cuba (on behalf of Non-Aligned Movement), Brazil, Viet Nam, Bangladesh, Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), Japan, Algeria, Iran, and Malaysia.


The meeting began at 10:14 a.m. and suspended at 1:40 pm.  The Council resumed its work at 3:40 p.m. and wrapped up at 5:10 p.m.


Background


The Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine.


Briefing by Special Coordinator


Having just completed his last visit to the region, MICHAEL C. WILLIAMS, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, said that he had returned “guardedly optimistic”, but was nevertheless conscious of the challenges ahead.  The substantive dialogue developing between Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and the reform efforts of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, had created growing expectations.  The anticipated engagement of Quartet Representative Tony Blair, more active regional diplomacy, and preparations for a series of high profile international gatherings, above all the November meeting called by United States President George Bush, reinforced their efforts. 


“In the period ahead, the diplomatic process will need to be carefully monitored and supported, and must be buttressed by urgent and meaningful steps on the ground, if the many factors that could derail efforts are to be overcome,” he said.  Turning specifically to the bilateral process under way between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert -– who had just met again yesterday for three hours following their meeting in Jericho earlier this month, marking the first visit of an Israeli leader to a Palestinian town in seven years -– he said the talks between the two were expected to continue.  The next anticipated meeting was set for 10 September, ahead of the mission of United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region.


He said that both sides had reported substantive discussions and exchanges of ideas on permanent status issues, as well as confidence-building steps.  There also appeared to be a welcome common desire to reach an agreement or understanding that could be presented to the November international meeting.  Inevitably, differences of emphasis had been noticeable regarding the precise content and scope of what needed to be achieved.  “For expectations to be met, I believe that the talks will need to shift gear to achieve concrete agreements on permanent status issues and steps of implementation,” he said, adding that, given the sensitivity of the issues, shortness of time and the amount of work to be done, that would not be easy.  But with political will and supporting action on the ground, it was his assessment that it could be achieved. 


On the current challenges in the West bank, he said that the Palestinian Authority had begun implementing reforms, as well as a serious security programme.  The Palestinian Authority Government had initiated measures to remove redundant employees and end superfluous hiring at ministries.  It was also preparing an emergency plan for immediate public expenditures, while initiating wide-ranging consultations for the production of a Medium Term Expenditure Framework for 2008-2010.  On security, Israel’s agreement not to pursue a number of wanted militants, provided they turned in their weapons and reported to Palestinian Authority offices, had provided an important first example of security cooperation.  He went on to commend the work of the Palestinian Authority security forces in Jenin, who had recently rescued an Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) soldier from a mob after he had mistakenly entered the city.


It was incumbent on the parties to respect the agreements reached and to move towards further cooperation that saw an early end to Israeli incursions and the deployment of credible Palestinian Authority security personnel on the streets of cities such as Nablus.  Further prisoner releases would also build on the important and positive first step already taken by Prime Minister Olmert in that direction.  He said that the easing of closures was also an urgent requirement.  While Israel had legitimate security concerns, the 532 obstacles in the West Bank continued to restrict the movement of Palestinians and prevent normal economic activity.  In the context of genuine security cooperation and political empowerment, it was vital for Israel to ease West Bank closures, he said, adding that he was also concerned by reports from United Nations agencies on increasing difficulties for staff access.


Turning to the internal Palestinian divide and the situation in Gaza, he expressed his ongoing deep concern about the political, institutional and socio-economic consequences of the continuing Gaza/West Bank split.  President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad had confirmed to him that they remained committed to reintegrating Gaza under the legitimate authority of the Palestinian Authority, and he welcomed that clear position.  For its part, Hamas continued to call for dialogue.  However, in the absence of steps that indicated Hamas’s acceptance of President Abbas’s 15 June dismissal of Ismail Hannieh as Prime Minister, or its readiness to reverse its actions of recent months, progress remained elusive.  While Hamas had brought some order to the streets of Gaza, its actions were taking place outside the framework of the rule of law and the institutions of the Palestinian Authority, generating concern regarding respect for human rights and the future development of the Strip, he said, adding that Hamas still continued to assert its military control over the Strip, including through the establishment of new security bodies, and that there had been reports of clashes with other political factions.


He went on to note that the Palestinian Authority was paying public sector salaries in Gaza and, due to the Palestinian Authority, Israeli and international cooperation, food and medical supplies were entering through two border crossings.  Yesterday, for the first time, potatoes were exported through Kerem Shalom.  But, such support measures were not enough to prevent a worrying socio-economic deterioration in Gaza.  The shortage of some essential commodities, unstable prices, the accumulation of garbage on the streets due to a municipal strike and, above all, the mass closure of industry were sources of acute concern.  The main commercial crossing at Karni had been closed for more than two months, ever since the Hamas takeover led to the removal of trained Palestinian Authority security personnel on the Palestinian side.  Among other things, that had led to the shuttering of some 85 per cent of manufacturing businesses and a halt to 95 per cent of private construction.  Some 70,000 workers had lost their jobs, he said, calling for the cooperation of all parties to work to reopen Karni.


He said that Israeli-Palestinian violence had continued this month, claiming the lives of 51 Palestinians, injuring 145 others and injuring 13 Israelis.  A further 18 Palestinians had been killed and 88 injured in internal violence.  He drew the Council’s attention to the specific aspects of the violence, including recent attacks in which 83 rockets and 89 mortars were launched by Palestinian militants, including Hamas, from Gaza into Israel, Palestinian casualties of Israel Defense Forces operations in the West Bank and Gaza, and the lawless actions of Israeli settlers, who had injured eight Palestinians, including a United Nations staff member, in violent incidents last month. 


After briefly reviewing regional and international efforts to promote the peace process, including building momentum on the Arab peace initiative and the expected arrival of Mr. Blair’s team to Jerusalem on 4 September, he turned to the situation in Lebanon and the political deadlock that had gripped that country since last November.  International initiatives to facilitate Lebanese dialogue and to address the causes behind the stalemate also continued, but there had been little tangible shift in the positions of the parties.  Attention was now turning to upcoming presidential elections, he said, and the Secretary-General hoped that the Lebanese people found their way to consensus on that critical issue.  The Secretary-General supported the clear desire of the Lebanese people to hold presidential elections as stipulated in their Constitution, an outcome that would help achieve a breakthrough in the country’s political impasse.


He went on to say that, in southern Lebanon, despite a welcome reduction in the number of mine and unexploded ordnance-related incidents over recent months, tragedies continued, including, among others, the killing of a non-governmental organization staff member while he was clearing a cluster-bomb site just last week.  While the United Nations continued its demining activities on the ground, the provision of the necessary cluster munitions strike data would greatly facilitate the rate of clearance operations and more quickly reduce the present threat to civilians.


Wrapping up, he said that the international community could not afford a new failure in the effort to revive the Arab-Israeli peace process.  There was a hope now which had not been seen for almost seven years.  “A setback at this stage could have serious consequences,” he said.  Nor could the international community allow progress in Lebanon in the past year to be stalled by political deadlock or opponents of Lebanese sovereignty and unity.  In both arenas, the international community’s engagement must be robust and purposeful in order to advance the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions.


Statements


ALEJANDRO WOLFF ( United States) said that, on 16 July, President George Bush had called for an international meeting on the Middle East.  The meeting on a two-State solution would aim to support negotiations between the parties and end the conflict.  The Government of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad could be a partner in the efforts to advance the peace process.  The international community must work with the Palestinian Authority to develop a solid foundation for the future Palestinian State.  United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Prime Minister Fayyad had recently signed an $80-million assistance package to reform and professionalize the Palestinian police forces.  The ability to provide security for the population was a core responsibility of any functioning Government.  The assistance package would help improve the Palestinian Authority’s capacity to deliver security and fight terrorism and ultimately meet the security needs of Palestinians and Israelis alike.  The security assistance package was in addition to some $190 million in assistance provided this year.  In this connection, he encouraged others to step with additional support at this critical time.


He also called on all Palestinians to reject terror, and the Palestinian Authority to ensure security and confiscate illegal weapons.  His delegation was concerned over the continued occupation of Gaza by Hamas and its provision of safe haven to fellow terrorist organizations operating in Gaza.  He also condemned rocket attacks against civilians in Israel.  He welcomed the meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas and supported direct dialogue between the parties.  Bilateral dialogue was the key to realizing the two-State vision, and his Government would continue working with the parties and international community towards that end.  The United States looked forward to the ad hoc liaison meeting in New York and the Quartet recommendations on the economic and institutional agenda.


On Lebanon, he welcomed last week’s unanimous decision by the Council to extend the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) mandate for another year.  The United States was committed to a sovereign, democratic and prosperous Lebanon and called for full implementation of all relevant resolutions of the Security Council.  While commending UNIFIL’s work, he expressed deep concern about continued arms smuggling across the Syria/Lebanon border and called for the implementation of resolution 1701, in that regard.  He also decried continued failure of militias to disarm.  Applauding the peaceful elections that had taken place this month, he looked forward to similarly free and fair presidential elections next month.


ADIYATWIDI ADIWOSO ASMADY ( Indonesia) said a series of Quartet meetings had paved the way for bringing forth a solution, but to move forward the actors needed to engage in a meaningful political process that would bring forth a consensus by the parties.  The resumption of bilateral meetings between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert was also encouraging, but the meetings would only be meaningful if Israel had a genuine commitment to the discussion and resolution of the four core issues, namely, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian State, and the dismantlement of settlements in the West Bank.  Regional arrangements could serve as a strong complement to the activities of the United Nations itself and should be encouraged.  The Arab peace initiative deserved support.


Sustainable peace in Palestine could be achieved only when the Palestinians were united, she continued.  Therefore, a dialogue between Hamas and Fatah was critical to moving forward.  Support for Palestine by the international community should not broaden the political and de facto division among Palestinians, but rather should promote unity.  Any efforts to aid one faction at the expense of others would only create more difficulties.  The people of Gaza should not be punished for the Hamas takeover.  They were part of one Palestinian nation aspiring for one democratic and peaceful State.  The international community’s engagement must not be ruled by the black-and-white notion of “good Fatah” versus “bad Hamas” -- which could enlarge the existing rift -- but by the principles of equality, justice, peace and unity.   Indonesia remained deeply concerned over the growing humanitarian situation in Gaza and it should not be allowed to continue to deteriorate.  Indonesia also strongly deplored continued incursions by the Israeli occupying forces into Palestinian towns and neighbourhoods.


On Lebanon, she said that unity was a key aspect.   Indonesia supported the initiative of France in hosting a Lebanese dialogue and its follow-up.  A blend of sincerity on the part of the international community to help Lebanon and a strong commitment by all factions in the country to dialogue were essential to the achievement of peace, stability and unity in the country.   Israel’s invasion a year ago had brought about not only physical damage and civilian casualties, but also a menace to the security and stability in the southern part of Lebanon and beyond.  UNIFIL was the vanguard of resolution 1701, and only that mission must have the capacity to deter and respond to challenges to the implementation of 1701, including the daily violations of Lebanese airspace by the Israel Defense Forces.


MUTLAQ MAJID Al-QAHTANI ( Qatar) said the months-long excavations and demolition along the western wall of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound were an attempt by the Israeli Government to change the legal status, demographic composition and landmarks of the occupied city of Jerusalem.  As such, those measures and actions were illegal and void, as had been repeatedly stressed.  Further, the latest disagreements between brethren in Palestine were unfortunate and it could be said with confidence that they would not continue.  It was worthwhile to stress that achieving Palestinian national accord was in everybody’s interest and it was unacceptable for the Israeli Government to exploit events in Gaza.


In light of the deadlock in the peace process, despite some limited progress, the involvement of international actors was indispensable for moving the peace process forward, he said.  The planned September meeting of the Quartet was a useful decision and the appointment of the new envoy should be a step towards revitalizing the group’s role.  It was also hoped that the peace conference initiative would yield concrete results and not meet the fate of previous initiatives.  Finally, in Lebanon, Israel must cease its continuous violations of the Lebanese airspace and it must cooperate in implementing relevant resolutions.  At the same time, all Lebanese must unite in the face of threats to Lebanon’s stability and security, while all Lebanese political forces must return to the table of national dialogue.


LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said that, over the past month, the situation in the Middle East had undergone encouraging developments, including the release of prisoners and the return of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority.  He welcomed the ongoing talks between the leaders on both sides and looked forward to a genuine continuation of those historic meetings to help jump start talks on a settlement of the conflict.  At the same time, the overall situation in the region sill caused some concern.  The ongoing violence, closures and factional and political discord needed to be addressed, in order to achieve security and stability for all.


China had always believed that the establishment of an independent Palestinian State that lived side by side with Israel in peace was the only way to achieve a sustainable solution.  If history was any guide, the achievement of peace called for arduous effort by all sides and would be a long process.  The international community should shoulder its responsibility to promote talks between the two sides and help move the peace process forward.  The diplomatic Quartet should also work to reignite contact between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.  He added that China was also aware that resolving the Israeli-Lebanon issue was crucial to Middle Eastern stability.  China was also closely following Lebanese internal issues and hoped that the people of that country would soon embark on a political process that would lead to a secure and sound future.


LESLIE CHRISTIAN ( Ghana) welcomed the meeting between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas in Jerusalem the previous day and said he hoped it would contribute to a restoration of trust that could move the peace process forward.  Also welcome was the renewed engagement and activities of the Quartet.  The recently relaunched Arab peace initiative was also a step in the right direction.


In Lebanon, where his country was a troop contributor to the United Nations Mission, he said a new strategic environment had been created in southern Lebanon and he urged the parties to remain committed to the tripartite mechanisms.  The troubling situation in the north, however, where the siege at the Palestinian refugee camp had lasted for more than three months, was a cause for serious concern.  He called on Fatah al-Islam militias to recognize the sovereignty of the Lebanese Government and to give up their arms.  Further, the various political parties should reconvene parliament in preparation for presidential elections.  Finally, for the Middle East in general, it was hoped that the regional conferences to be convened by the Quartet and the United States sponsored international conferences would contribute towards lasting peace.


PETER BURIAN ((Slovakia) said he welcomed the key developments in the Israeli-Palestinian situation, including initiatives of the Quartet, the appointment of Tony Blair as representative, the call for an international meeting and political dialogue between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas.  The ongoing dialogue between the Arab League and Israel would also, hopefully, bring concrete positive results, along with other multilateral efforts and diplomatic initiatives, such as a July visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories by Slovakia’s Foreign Minister.  In addition to continuing the ongoing political processes, it was of utmost importance to not forget the critical humanitarian situation beginning with Gaza.  That population must never be abandoned and it was imperative to find a way to open border crossings and allow humanitarian and commercial flow.


Reviewing the situation in Lebanon and citing the forthcoming presidential elections as a key moment in the stabilization of the political situation, he called for the Government and its relevant authorities to take full control over the entire territory of the country.  He said the Lebanese Government and Armed Forces should have the sole monopoly on the use of force in the interests of everybody’s security and Lebanon’s stability.  Further, foreign interference must stop and further destabilization must not be allowed.  Assassinations and all acts of terror must stop.  Resolution 1701 must be respected and fully implemented.  The arms embargo must be respected and militias disarmed.  And finally, normalization of relations between Lebanon and its neighbours would contribute significantly to stabilizing the region and fighting extremist forces.


DUMISANI KUMALO ( South Africa) said that recent encouraging developments had yet to translate into progress on the ground in Palestine.  On a daily basis, Palestinians in the occupied territories continued to face an Israeli policy that violated the basic principles of international humanitarian and human rights law.  Those actions undermined positive movements towards peace.  In particular, the situation in Gaza deserved special attention.  The economy there was reaching rock bottom, its infrastructure was crippled, power and water supplies remained low and unreliable.  In an attempt to reconcile the hopeful signs and the continuing tragic situation on the ground, the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations had written to the Secretary-General and President of the Council on 26 July that “these opportunities must be seized and built upon and the illegal actions of Israel, which move us all in the opposite direction, must be rejected”.


The international community bore the responsibility for ensuring that political progress in Palestine was coupled with a change for the better in the lives of ordinary Palestinians, he continued.  The Council, with its Charter-mandated responsibility for international peace and security, could not afford to ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people.  Inaction on the part of the Security Council would always be misunderstood as condoning the suffering on the ground.  The way forward to peace must include the establishment of an independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel, with both States enjoying secure and internationally recognized borders.  The international community could not allow that vision to fade.


JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX ( France) said that, even though some sources of hope were apparent, much remained to be done to reignite the Middle East peace process.  One major challenge was to ensure support for the strengthening of the Palestinian Authority.  Talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were welcome, but needed to be deepened.  It was also necessary to act quickly to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, including stepping up efforts to reopen the Karni crossing point and restart business on the ground.  The Palestinian Authority must exercise its authority throughout the territory and must, at the same time, mercilessly combat terrorism. 


He said that an authentic push for the establishment of a Palestinian State must be launched.  The holding of an international conference on the Middle East peace process in the fall was a positive omen, in that regard.  The upcoming meeting of the Quartet would be another important step to press for a two-State solution.  He added that, if progress was made towards a solution at any one of those meetings, the international community, especially the Security Council, must be prepared to express its support to ensure that any concrete decisions and arrangements could be fully implemented.


LUIS ENRIQUE CHÁVEZ ( Peru) said that the situation between the Palestinians continued to victimize the Palestinian population itself.  The economic activity in the Occupied Territories was in dire condition, and it was important to avoid the risk of total collapse there.  The international community must ensure humanitarian aid and continue its efforts to raise the standard of living of the Palestinian people.  The Israeli authorities, without compromising security, must ensure the flow of people and goods.  The other central task was to ensure effective administration in the Occupied Territories, on the whole.


Welcoming the appointment of Tony Blair, he expressed hope that his leadership would strengthen Palestinian institutions in key areas.   Israel should also take steps on the ground, particularly by suspending construction of new settlements and dismantling the separation wall, which was contrary to the spirit and commitments of peace.  On the diplomatic front, he encouraged the continuation of the positive dialogue between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, particularly on the eve of the proposed conference on the Middle East.  That initiative must involve all the actors.  It was also necessary to bear in mind that the question of the occupation of the Syrian Golan remained pending.


Regarding Lebanon, he expressed concern about the continued political crisis and the armed groups acting outside the authority of the State.  It was necessary to resume the national dialogue and reaffirm the authority of the State throughout the territory of the country.  He welcomed the extension of the mandate of UNIFIL and condemned the armed groups that had attacked peacekeepers.  He also called for full respect of the Blue Line and expressed hope that the recommendations of the Independent Border Assessment Team would be soon implemented.


ALDO MANTOVANI ( Italy) welcomed the intensification of direct talks between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas and said that President Bush’s initiative to convene an international conference in November represented a clear signal of United States commitment to fostering a final settlement in the framework of the efforts under way at the multilateral level.  The conference opened up an unprecedented possibility for linking direct progress between the parties to the need for regional stability described in the Arab League’s peace initiative.  On the inter-Palestinian side, the international community should lend its efforts to fostering national reconciliation as soon as the conditions allowed it.  “We should aim to support President Abbas, so as to enhance his role as a credible and legitimate interlocutor with Israel,” he said.  The President of the Palestinian Authority needed to be in a position to offer Palestinian public opinion visible results, especially in terms of improving the conditions of everyday life.


He did not believe in any proposal that envisioned a solution between two peoples and three States, he continued.  The Palestinian people must remain unified.  It was important to ensure that emergency relief supplies reached those in need.  To seize the window of opportunity created by the renewed dialogue of the parties, it was now time to be ambitious.  It was important to promote mutual trust between the parties with measures aimed, on one hand, at improving the overall conditions of the Palestinian people and, on the other, at establishing the prospect of an independent Palestinian State on sound institutional, economic and security foundations.  However, being ambitious required courage from both parties to start to address, at least in general terms, the core issues of the final status:  Jerusalem; the territorial borders; and refugees, mindful of the significant progress made on all three, though not yet final, at Camp David and Taba.   Italy strongly supported a more resolute action of the Quartet to revive the diplomatic process and offer a definitive solution to the conflict, in compliance with Council resolutions and the Road Map.


Turning to Lebanon, he said it was imperative for the international community to maintain its support for the Government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.  Among the problems that needed to be solved in Lebanon, probably the most crucial was the election of the President, which he hoped could take place on schedule.  While it was true that the Lebanese political forces should make every effort to resume talks and overcome the impasse, it was also indispensable that all the countries of the region, particularly Syria, help to promote a political solution to the Lebanese crisis.  It was also essential that the question of the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbollah be addressed quickly.  The failure to find a solution to the Shebaa Farms question was also a cause for concern.


ALFREDO SUESCUM ( Panama) said that his delegation welcomed the positive movements in the Middle East peace process, but recognized that the overall situation remained challenging.   Panama was very concerned by the stance of some members of the international community, which, as described by Mr. Williams, sought to derail the Arab-Israeli peace process.  Panama called on the international community to support the Palestinian Authority, and would likewise call on all Palestinian factions to jump start internal political dialogue towards reconciliation.  For its part, Israel should ease closures and ensure the flow of humanitarian and other essential goods and supplies, a move that would forestall economic collapse in the Gaza Strip.  On Lebanon, he said that the international community should support the Lebanese people in their efforts to move beyond the political impasse that had bogged down the country for more than a year.


KONSTANTIN K. DOLGOV ( Russian Federation) said the situation in the Middle East continued to remain complex and contradictory.  While there had been some encouraging developments, particularly the absence of large scale violence in recent weeks, there was still a need to press for accelerated movement on crucial issues, such as status.  For that, the Russian Federation looked to the diplomatic Quartet to help move the process forward.  It was also clear that all Palestinian political factions must come together for the benefit of all the Palestinian people and the promotion of peace and stability in the region.   Israel must cease its construction of the wall in the West Bank and ease closures and blockades.  The Russian Federation hoped that the upcoming ministerial level meeting of the Quartet could lead to relaunching the Middle East peace process on all tracks.  Further, he was seriously concerned about the political impasse in Lebanon, and called on all parties to ensure the upcoming elections were carried out in a manner that set the country on a path to internal stability.


JOHN SAWERS ( United Kingdom) said that it was clear from today’s interventions that there was much common ground.  Other reasons for cautious optimism included continued dialogue between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, which he hoped would include meaningful discussion of permanent status issues; a new focus, in the appointment of Tony Blair, for the Quartet’s and the international community’s efforts to reinvigorate the peace process; intensifying international efforts, including proposals for a donor conference and international meeting on the Middle East; and discussions on the Arab peace initiative.


Those developments provided a clear agenda for progress, which should not be allowed to be derailed by events, he said.  However, huge challenges should not be underestimated. One of the most urgent priorities was to alleviate the humanitarian suffering in Gaza.  It was necessary to continue showing a strong political will and practical support for President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad’s Government.  Welcoming the transfer by Israel of $160 million of Palestinian revenues, he said it was important that those transfers continue.  He also looked to Israel to take further steps to improve the daily lives of the Palestinian people.


He added that parliamentary elections to select a new President next month would be an important milestone on the path to restoring stability in Lebanon.  The United Kingdom welcomed the efforts of international partners, in particular France and the Arab League, to secure a way through the current political impasse.  Also welcome was the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate for another year.  There was a wider need for concerted action to fully implement resolution 1701, and action to put an end to arms smuggling across the Syria/Lebanon border would be particularly important.  It would require robust follow-up to the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team’s mission.  That work should take place in tandem with efforts to reduce Israeli overflights and work towards the resolution of the Shebaa Farms dispute.  The United Kingdom looked forward to the 90-day progress report on the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  It remained determined to support the efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of Rafiq Hariri and others.


JOHAN VERBEKE ( Belgium) welcomed recent direct contacts between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, which constituted a major step forward.  They must be encouraged to continue on that course.  The Quartet’s renewed vitality had been reflected in the appointment of Mr. Blair, whose first report was expected in September.  Regional initiatives, including the Arab peace initiative, were also important.  The international meeting on the Middle East provided an opportunity that must not be missed.  The parties should engage in specific action to improve the situation of the Palestinian population, and it was of critical importance to open the passage at Karni to avoid the total collapse of the economy in the Gaza Strip.


On Lebanon, he said that all the political forces in the country must participate in the search for a solution of the current political impasse.  While welcoming all the parties’ statements that they were ready to organize presidential elections, his delegation was waiting for words to be translated into deeds that would ensure that those elections took place on time.  He lauded the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate last week, which had demonstrated the international community’s political will.  Also, while stressing the need to ensure the security of personnel, he said that recent attacks targeting the peacekeepers had not shaken the determination of the international community to continue on its course.


Council President PASCAL GAYAMA (Republic of Congo), speaking in his national capacity, said that a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict could not be found through arms and must be supported by the international community.  Such a solution must also be based on the relevant resolutions of the Security Council.  He condemned the violence on all sides and called on the international community to step up its support to Palestinian institutions to stave off dire humanitarian consequences in Gaza and elsewhere in the region.


He welcomed the upcoming meeting of the diplomatic Quartet and the international meeting called by United States President Bush as opportunities for the international community to help the protagonists in the conflict as negotiations moved forward.  He called, in the meantime, on all parties to avoid any unilateral measures that would undermine confidence.  As for the situation in Lebanon, he urged support for all efforts to keep Lebanon from sinking farther into political disarray.  He welcomed the efforts of the friends of Lebanon in that regard, as well as the Council’s recent extension of the mandate of UNIFIL.


RIYAD MANSOUR, Observer of Palestine, said it was his duty as the representative of the Palestinian people in front of the world community to refer to the situation on the ground, regardless of how depressing, negative, frustrating and repetitive were the facts.  Israel’s unlawful policies and violations of international law continued to cause severe hardships for the Palestinian civilian population.  The cessation of those practices was a prerequisite for making peace.


It was regrettable, he said, that in the months since he’d last addressed the Council in April, Israel had continued to commit violations and grave breaches of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  The occupying forces continued to carry out raids using excessive, indiscriminate and lethal force against defenseless Palestinians, while Israel continued its unlawful colonizing campaign, including by measures that amounted to collective punishment of the Palestinian people and thereby violated international humanitarian law.  “Not only are such actions not conducive to peace negotiations”, he stressed, they were “in total contradiction to the spirit of peacemaking”.  They must end.  Good faith must be demonstrated and confidence-building measures must be implemented.


On the Palestinian side of the on-ground situation, he continued, the June events in Gaza were a source of great pain and were alien to the democratic, pluralistic and humane Palestinian tradition.  The coup d’etat carried out by outlawed militias was a serious matter that threatened a unity already undermined by occupation.  The situation must be restituted so as to allow for the maintenance of the unity of people and land.  As President Abbas had reaffirmed, the goal was to create one Palestinian State.  Neither the Palestinian land nor people would ever be divided and the suffering Palestinians in Gaza were among the high priorities on the Palestinian agenda.


And yet, even with all those difficulties, he asserted, there was at this time an opportunity to move forward through the convening of an international conference a few months from now to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The basis of such a conference was already well-established.  It consisted of the relevant Security Council resolutions, the Arab peace initiative, the Quartet Road Map and the principle of exchanging land for peace.


What was needed now, he added, was the political will and determination to push the process and allow the Palestinian State to be born as rapidly as possible, since the occupation had now been imposed for more than 40 years and too much damage had already been done.  All concerned parties and supporters of the two-State solution and a peaceful Middle East should participate.  The conference could be transformed to be under the auspices of the United Nations to allow for the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive solution based on the tenets of international legitimacy.  That would also pave the way for the participation of countries desiring to contribute concretely towards the future of the Palestinian State and who could monitor the upholding of the peace treaty that could be signed as the final outcome of the conference.


He said President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert were preparing for the conference by being energetically engaged in good faith.  While it was too early to draw conclusions, there were other positive signals in addition to the United States proposal for holding the conference in the first place.  Those included the meeting of the Arab Foreign Ministers, including the Arab League mission to Israel to formally present the Arab peace initiative.  Others were the recent visit to the region by the United States Secretary of State, President Abbas’s recent meeting in Moscow with Russia’s President and the important Lisbon Quartet meeting in which the Quartet’s Special Envoy had been appointed.


All those signals and activities could just build the necessary momentum to surmount the current obstacles being faced by all, he concluded.  It could move forward all involved onto the path of peace by producing the serious understandings and agreements that could lead to the long-awaited negotiations on final status issues on borders, Jerusalem and refugees, the essential components that had to be resolved before the Palestinian State could be born and peace in the region finally achieved.


DAN GILLERMAN (Israel), noting the recent positive developments on the Israeli-Palestinian front, which he underscored had occurred against a backdrop and in spite of continuing danger posed by Hamas and Hizbollah, backed by their “evil patrons” in Damascus and Tehran, said that just yesterday Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas had met to discuss the development of Palestinian institutions and mutual issues concerning Israel and Palestinians living side by side.  At least two more meetings would be held in the coming months to promote and advance the bilateral track.


He said that earlier in the week, the Israeli Foreign Minister had met with Prime Minister Fayyad and had discussed enhanced economic and civilian cooperation.  They had also agreed to hold direct talks between the heads of Israeli and Palestinian local authorities and representatives of organizations to advance cooperation projects.   Israel had also taken additional steps to bolster the Palestinian Authority, among others, by releasing tax funds, freeing over 250 Palestinian prisoners, and granting amnesty to those that renounced violence and terror.


“As you see, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are actively speaking, engaging with one another and working together.  This is due to the many crucial choices made by the Palestinians,” he said, noting, for example, the action taken by the Palestinian security forces this past Monday morning in Jenin –- when they rendered assistance to an Israel Defense Forces officer who mistakenly entered the city -– which demonstrated the strengthening of the Palestinian Government in its efforts to combat terrorism, and its commitment to working with Israel to enhance security.


Here, he expressed sadness in witnessing once again the dichotomy of the positive events on the ground and the repetitive Palestinian narrative.  “Yes there were problems on the ground on both sides, but is our duty to build on the positive and promote hope rather than rely on doom and recrimination,” he said, calling on the Palestinian side not to be “held hostage to yesterday”.


Continuing, he said that, while there had been progress, unfortunately, the right choices were not being made by everyone.  “While the moderates have chosen an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, the extremists have chosen violence and instability, threatening both Israeli and Palestinian security.”  In “Hamastan” –- the Gaza Strip -– Israel had seen the opposite of the positive choices made in the West Bank.  In Gaza, Hamas was hurriedly constructing positions and fortifications, building tunnels for fighting and smuggling explosives, anti-tank weapons and more sophisticated rockets.  Among other things, he noted that, since 1 August, Hamas had smuggled more than 13 tons of explosives and 150 RPG’s into Gaza.


He said that two days ago, Corporal Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas on 25 June last year celebrated his twenty-first birthday –- but not at home with his family.  He had celebrated that event, as he had last year, in captivity and alone, still held captive by Hamas.  He went on to say that, in spite of the volatile security situations in Gaza, Israel continued to respond to the humanitarian situation there.  Since 19 June, more than 60,000 tons of humanitarian aid had been transferred from Israel into Gaza.  He stressed overall that, in Gaza, Hamas was not just choosing extremism over moderation, it wished to forcefully convert the world to its hateful, violent and venomous ideology and to instil terror and fear in the hearts of those who did not share its worldview.


On the situation in Lebanon, he said that the Council’s adoption of resolution 1773 last week had been an important step in maintaining regional security.   Israel expressed its appreciation to the troop contributing countries, the UNIFIL command, the strategic cell in New York and the troops on the ground.  Though it had been over a year since the Council’s adoption of resolution 1701 (2006), the situation in Lebanon remained “precarious and unsettling”.  He urged the Council, in that regard, to pay vigilant attention to the continued detention of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers kidnapped by Hizbollah last July, the presence of armed Hizbollah elements south of the Litani River and the transfer of weapons from Iran and Syria to Hizbollah in Lebanon -– a blatant violation of the arms embargo.  He also called on the Council to see to it that the actions of Iran and Syria, “State sponsors of terror” in Lebanon that were rearming Hizbollah in defiance of resolution 1701, no longer threatened the well-being and security of the region.


Here he drew attention to an earlier statement by the representative of Indonesia, in which that representative had made references “ Israel’s invasion of Lebanon”.  Ignorance was not always bliss and rewriting history was an affront to the work of the Security Council, he said.  Though a year had passed since the events of last summer, the passage of time could not alter the true cause for conflict.  He noted that Indonesia had voted just last week for Council resolution 1773 that had called for the release of the soldiers kidnapped by Hizbollah last July.  Indonesia’s hypocrisy -- voting for the resolution last week and then ignoring the text today –- had been alarming.  Membership in the Security Council should carry with it more responsibility.


Concluding, he said that it was not enough for moderates to merely shun extremism and shut out their darkness.  “We must also usher in light, and do so through the choices we make and the courses we chart.”  He noted that the international community had made its choice on who to engage, and the Palestinians and Lebanese were making choices as well.  Choosing the right option meant choosing a peaceful alternative –- the alternative of peace –- which was more hopeful, more secure and more dignified for all.


NAWAF SALAM ( Lebanon) said that this year’s Arab Summit in Riyadh had not only renewed the Arab commitment to its peace strategy, but also reinvigorated it through the formation of a follow-up committee entrusted with engaging all concerned parties.  Regrettably, that offer had not been met in Israel by a partner capable of truly rising to the challenge of peace.  Hence, the international community should play a greater role and not let that opportunity for peace be missed.  While welcoming the proposal by President Bush to hold an international meeting on the Middle East, he emphasized that any unwarranted conditionality might jeopardize the desired outcome of the effort.


Turning to Lebanon, he said that, through the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate, the international community had reiterated its strong commitment to “the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized borders and under the sole and exclusive authority of its Government”.  It also reaffirmed its attachment to the full implementation of resolution 1701.  His Government remained entirely committed to the implementation of that text, as well, but he wanted to draw the Council’s attention to some highly alarming facts, in that regard.


While his Government welcomed the appointment of a facilitator on the matter of the abducted Israeli soldiers, Israel continued to refuse to solve the longstanding issue of the Lebanese detainees.  That country also continued its violation of Lebanese airspace in a blatant violation of 1701.  Continued Israeli occupation of the Shebaa Farms also constituted a violation of relevant resolutions.  While praising the progress achieved by the senior cartographer appointed to determine the territorial definition of the Farms, a political process must also start, based on Lebanon’s proposal to put the area under the interim jurisdiction of the United Nations.


Another issue concerned the Israeli unexploded cluster bombs, he said.  By the end of June, more than 233 Lebanese civilians had fallen victim to those munitions.  While Israel’s decision to drop those bombs, in the first place, already constituted a violation of international humanitarian law, its persistent refusal to give the United Nations the maps indicating where the bombs had been dropped was an additional violation.  His Government was determined to clear Lebanon of Israel’s cluster bombs and would not spare any effort to reach an international ban on cluster bombs.  That pledge was not the only good news from Lebanon.  His Government and its army were also determined to put an end to the terrorist group Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared camp.  He hoped that, with the aid of the international community, the reconstruction of the camp and the return of its inhabitants would not take long.


In conclusion, he said that elections had taken place on 5 August in Beirut and Matn districts to replace two assassinated members of parliament.  Despite the fierce political campaign that had accompanied those elections and the tight race between the candidates, the process had gone smoothly, without a single serious act of violence reported.  The elections represented the democratic answer to the terrorist killings, and the fact that the opposition candidate had won one of the two contested seats was the latest witness to the vitality of Lebanon’s democracy.  He hoped that the upcoming presidential election would bear additional witness to that.


BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said that the Council was still addressing the Israeli occupation of Arab lands largely because, for decades, the Security Council, for reasons well known, had failed to effectively address the matter.  Over the years, Israel’s occupation had transformed from a military occupation into a violent colonial occupation that stretched across countries in the Middle East region.  The Security Council, the General Assembly and other organs of the United Nations had called on Israel to end its occupation of Arab lands, including the Syrian Golan.  Israel, however, had carried out its heinous, illegal and violent activities -- its expansionist policies continued unabated.  Moreover, Israel was carrying out its plan in full view of many of those who championed freedom and respect for human rights in other parts of the world.   Israel must abide by international law.


He went on to say that Palestinian factions must address their differences through direct dialogue that addressed the needs and the desires of all Palestinian people.  At the same time, Israel’s continued manoeuvres and incursions were only making matters worse in the Occupied Territory.   Israel continued its attempts to market its “questionable, suspicious and illegal” moves as something other than an expansion of its settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as the Syrian Golan.  Israel was proving again that it was pursuing a policy of fait accompli that ran counter to the Charter of the United Nations.   Israel was also running roughshod over all Arab calls for peace.


The international community must call on Israel to comply with its international obligations, he continued.  The Syrian people would not be humiliated or deterred.   Israel must abide by resolutions and return to its 1967 borders in the region.  He said that Syria had chosen comprehensive and just peace as its option, which meant the return of all Arab lands and the creation of a Palestinian State.  The continued occupation ran counter to that vision.  He said that the cost of peace was a hundred times less costly than the cost of aggression and occupation.


Commenting on the statement just made by Israel’s representative, he said that the State terror pursued by Israel had been internationally documented and included changing landmarks in Arab lands, building a racist wall on Palestinian lands and expanding its settlements, to name a few.  The Israeli representative could not hide the truth behind his unfounded claims.  The facts had been corroborated by UNIFIL, United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  Indeed, Israeli acts of terror had harmed international workers and had stood in the path of numerous attempts by the Organization to find a settlement.  “Peace is actions and not words,” he said, and the Council had been repeatedly forced to listen to the hackneyed words of Israel’s representative.


ABDULLAH ALSAIDI (Yemen), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the issue before the Council was one of the most important agenda items and had been so for over five decades.  Since the Council had discussed the situation in the Middle East last month, there had been an escalation of acts of violence by the Israeli occupation.   Israel had continued its irresponsible actions, including excavations in the Mosque of Al-Aqsa.  In that connection, he called on the Security Council to assume its responsibility and intervene immediately to make Israel respect resolutions of international legality and stop the actions that undermined the religious and cultural integrity of East Jerusalem.  Israel’s actions were in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and The Hague agreement of 1964.  Relevant resolutions emphasized that all actions to alter the legal status and demographic structure of occupied Jerusalem were null and void.  Continued economic blockade and construction of the racist separation wall also violated international law.   Israel continued to establish and expand settlements in flagrant violation of international law and relevant resolutions.


All those actions had serious consequences for the stability of the region and the world and undermined the efforts to relaunch the peace process, he continued.  A lasting solution would only take place if the illegal unilateral actions of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were halted.  Palestinian people needed to regain their legitimate rights and finally see an independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.   Israel should also fully withdraw from the occupied Syrian Golan and other occupied territories, including the Shebaa Farms in Lebanon.


In connection with the situation in Lebanon, he urged the Council to make Israel halt its daily violations of the airspace and territorial integrity of that country.   Israel should also give to the United Nations the maps of cluster bombs dropped on the territory of Lebanon, which represented a threat to the lives of civilians.  It was also time for Israel to release Lebanese prisoners, whom it had held for a long time.  The Council must resume its responsibility and make Israel stop its illegal activities and respond to the Arab peace initiatives.


JOAO SALGUEIRO ( Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that current diplomatic initiatives and dialogue presented a window of opportunity that should not be missed.  The Union strongly encouraged the parties to continue their bilateral dialogue.  Further to the engagement of the parties, the continued support of the international community was crucial to advance the peace process.  The Union was firmly committed to play an active role, notably in the framework of the Quartet, in the search for a comprehensive settlement in conformity with the relevant Council resolutions and on the basis of the Road Map.  That commitment had been renewed at the Quartet meeting in Lisbon in July, with the participation for the first time of Tony Blair as Quartet representative.  The Quartet would play an active role in the preparation of the international meeting proposed by President Bush.  The Union also stressed the importance of renewing the Quartet dialogue with the parties and representative of the Arab League.  The Arab peace initiative was a major element aimed at advancing regional peace.  He looked forward to a fruitful next meeting of the Quartet.


The perspectives opened in the political and diplomatic spheres needed to be matched by substantive progress on the ground, he continued.  Concerned by the serious events in Gaza, the Union reiterated its full support for President Abbas and the Government under Prime Minister Fayyad.  Reconciliation and national unity behind the programme of peace articulated by President Abbas were the only way to achieve Palestinian national goals by peaceful, lawful and democratic means.  The Union opposed any division of the Palestinian territories and confirmed its readiness to engage with all Palestinian parties whose policy and actions reflected the Quartet principles.  The Union continued to provide emergency and humanitarian assistance to the population of Gaza and urged all parties to work towards the opening of the crossings in and out of Gaza for humanitarian and commercial flows.


Stopping all acts of violence and terror was of the utmost importance, he stressed, reiterating the call for the release of the abducted Israeli soldier, as well as the Palestinian legislators detained in Israel.  Following recent meetings between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, he welcomed, as a first step, the partial transfer by Israel of withheld Palestinian revenues and reiterated the call for the release of remaining and future funds.  He also commended the initial release of prisoners and urged further steps to meet the commitments made at the meetings, including removal of barriers and checkpoints in the West Bank.  Such moves would support progress on the political track and create confidence to advance the peace process.  Settlement activities in and around East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, as well as the construction of the barrier on Palestinian land, were against international law and were of particular concern.  “We will not recognize changes to pre-1967 borders other than those agreed by the parties,” he said.  The Union had resumed direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority and was committed to helping build the institutions and economy of the future Palestinian State.


On Lebanon, he renewed a call for full and speedy implementation of resolution 1701 and other relevant texts and called on Syria and other countries in the region to refrain from destabilizing the country.  He welcomed the extension of the mandate of UNIFIL and strongly condemned all acts of violence against UNIFIL, in particular the one that had claimed the lives of six peacekeepers in June.  The Union remained deeply concerned with ongoing violence in Lebanon, in particular at Nahr al Bahred.  He urged all political forces to search for a solution to the political deadlock, through dialogue and in full respect for the democratic institutions in the country.  In that context, he also welcomed all the constructive initiatives and mediation efforts by the international community. 


JOHAN L. LOVALD ( Norway) said that his country had supported President Abbas in his efforts to bolster democracy, stability and peace in the Palestinian Territory.  The new Government led by Prime Minister Fayyad had enabled the resumption of political dialogue with Israel and normal relations with the international donor community.   Norway welcomed the willingness of Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to broach difficult and substantial issues and urged both leaders to demonstrate leadership and courage, in order to bring lasting peace to their peoples.  The international community must support their efforts, as well as Prime Minister Fayyad’s efforts to normalize the situation on the ground and improve living conditions for ordinary Palestinians.


In the long term, peace could not be achieved through isolating a major popular movement, he continued.  Palestinian national reconciliation was essential to achieving political stability and healing divisions.  Regardless of how such efforts developed, all legitimate structures under President Abbas should be re-established and strengthened, and all parallel and illegitimate structures dissolved.  The Fayyad Government faced serious challenges, particularly in the security sector.   Norway condemned the rocket attacks on Israel, which must be halted.  The Palestinian economy had been crippled by years of conflict and the Israeli regime of checkpoints and closures.  Isolation and destitution in the Gaza Strip would only provide a fertile breeding ground for more extremism.  He welcomed Israel’s decision to transfer withheld Palestinian revenues and urged it to continue such transfers on a regular basis.  It was also essential that Israel ease restrictions on the movement of persons and goods.  Effective measures should be taken to halt settlement expansion.


He also advocated broad engagement by the countries in the region and supported the determination of the Arab League to revitalize its peace initiative.   Norway also welcomed the announcement by the President of the United States of an international meeting in support of the two-State solution.  A strong commitment by the United States was crucial for further progress.  The international community should foster positive developments on the ground.  As the Chair of the donor forum -– the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee -– Norway had invited its members to meet at the ministerial level at the United Nations in New York on 24 September.  The main purpose of the meeting was to set the stage for a broad-based international pledging conference in December.  The meeting would also provide an opportunity for close cooperation between the Quartet and the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee.  Three major international meetings were planned in the coming months to discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict.  There was a chance for progress.  Spoilers should not be permitted to get the upper hand again and diminish the chance of stability and peace in the Middle East.


MOHAMMED AL-ALLAF ( Jordan) said that the many upcoming meetings aimed at relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would give the international community an excellent opportunity to intensify efforts to ensure peace and stability in the wider region.  With those conferences fast approaching, all stakeholders should recognize their political and moral responsibility to help relaunch the peace process.  They should also recognize that the Arab peace initiative was a comprehensive and broadly acknowledged statement on the path to a final settlement of the conflict.  He welcomed the United States’ intent to convene such a meeting and looked forward to its successful holding and conclusion.   Jordan also looked forward to greater involvement of the diplomatic Quartet in the effort to achieve peace, particularly in light of renewed talks between the two sides.


He went on to express optimism about the dialogue under way between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert and called on the wider international community to support those talks.   Jordan was, nevertheless, concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territory, particularly in the Gaza Strip.  The international community must step up to its responsibility and help alleviate that situation.  On the eve of the international meeting, Jordan would call on the parties to press ahead with confidence-building measures.  He called upon the Israeli Government to lift closures, and release Palestinian prisoners and funds.


ILEANA NUNEZ MORDOCHE (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), said that her delegation had been monitoring the recent developments and continuing deterioration of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and expressed grave concern about the dire security, humanitarian, socio-economic and political situation prevailing in the area, including East Jerusalem, and the consequent increase in the suffering and hardship of the Palestinian people.  The Non-Aligned Movement condemned the prolonged military occupation of the Territory and expressed grave concern over the recent distressing developments in the region.


For four decades Israel had carried out deliberate and unlawful policies and practices and today continued to impose a humiliating and discriminatory network of checkpoints throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, imposing closures, sealing off the Gaza Strip and launching intense military incursions into Palestinian population centres.  The Movement condemned all such illegal actions by Israel and called for their immediate cessation.  Furthermore, the Movement believed that those illegal actions, including ongoing military attacks, had seriously undermined the functions of the Palestinian Authority and had undoubtedly contributed to the growing polarization of Palestinian society.  It also condemned criminal actions carried out in Gaza and called for urgent efforts to help avoid the complete disintegration of the foundations of a future sovereign, viable and independent Palestinian State, as well as rehabilitate and develop Palestinian institutions.


He went on to call on all the leaders of all Palestinian factions to unite in support of President Abbas and his Government, as well as all democratically-elected Palestinian officials.  Those factions should work to resolve their differences through peaceful means.  Turning to Lebanon, he said that, while the Non-Aligned Movement was satisfied with the Lebanese Government’s steps to implement Council resolution 1701 (2006), it remained deeply concerned by ongoing Israeli air and land violations of the Blue Line.  He called strongly on Israel to immediately refrain from such acts and any violation of Lebanese sovereignty.  He also called for prompt settlement of the Shebaa Farms issue, thus ensuring the respect for Lebanese territorial integrity stipulated by resolution 1701.


The Non-Aligned Movement also called on Israel to provide the exact location of some 1.2 million cluster bomblets launched by Israel during its aggression against Lebanon last summer, as well as to provide maps of the mines planted during its occupation of Lebanon.  On the Syrian Golan, he said that the Non-Aligned Movement would demand that Israel abide by the relevant Security Council resolutions and withdraw completely from that area to the borders of June 1967.


MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI ( Brazil) said that the excellent relations that her country maintained with both Israel and the Palestinians had moved it to encourage a peaceful solution, both through multilateral and bilateral means.  Alleviating the suffering of the civilian population was not only humane, but also an essential step for a successful rekindling of the peace process.  In that context, the reopening of the passage at Karni and other access points to the Palestinian Territories was essential to improving the living conditions in Gaza.  The unimpeded connections to other countries and resumption of international assistance were also necessary for the Palestinian Authority to provide services, including water, food and medicine, to the population in distress.


Continuing, she welcomed recent positive developments, saying that the high-level political talks between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas showed commitment and constituted a positive sign towards the resumption of the peace process.  He encouraged both parties to revitalize the cooperative mechanisms and reinforce confidence-building measures through projects to improve economic and social conditions in the Occupied Territories.  Such measures as the release of Palestinian prisoners and the Israeli soldier held in Gaza, and interruption of settlement construction could further foster the appropriate atmosphere.  Promoting development of the Palestinian Territories was essential to the efforts to establish a peaceful solution.  Israel should take measures to remove roadblocks and checkpoints, allowing people freedom of movement.  Another important step would be the granting of visas for Palestinian workers to find jobs in Israel.  The resolution of the conflict hinged on the respect for the legitimately constituted authorities and abstention from all acts of violence.


The conflicts in the Middle East transcended the Israel-Palestinian situation.  The creation of positive momentum in one area could generate a virtuous cycle, leading to favourable results in others.   Brazil encouraged the creation of a Group of Friends of Peace in the Middle East, integrated by countries from different regions, which might join those already directly involved in the peace process.  In line with the proposal advanced by President Lula in his address to the General Assembly last year, she welcomed President Bush’s initiative to hold an international conference on the Middle East, under the auspices of the United Nations.  Such a conference could certainly benefit from the involvement of countries outside the region, including developing countries.   Brazil also supported the Government of Prime Minister Siniora of Lebanon and reiterated the right of the Lebanese people to its sovereignty and self-determination, free from any foreign influence in deciding its own future.


HOANG CHI TRUNG ( Viet Nam) said that his Government shared the view that the Middle East conflict, along with the core issue of the question of Palestine, could only be resolved through peaceful negotiations, with a view to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting solution on the basis of the legitimate interests of all the parties concerned.  In order to reach such a solution, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to establish a Palestinian State in their homeland within the boundary that existed before June 1967, must be fully respected.   Viet Nam also supported all regional and international efforts to help push the peace process forward and would urge the parties to make concerted efforts to revive the Quartet-backed Road Map.


As far as Palestinian internal affairs, Viet Nam respected the choices the Palestinian people had made and earnestly hoped that Palestinian factions would make the effort to settle their differences through peaceful negotiations and continue to work with the international community to promote the wider Middle East peace process.  Finally, he expressed concern about the recent escalation of violence in the region and urged all concerned parties to exercise restraint and to support peaceful negotiations.


ISMAT JAHAN ( Bangladesh) said that, despite the setbacks, her delegation was encouraged by some glimmers of hope, including the resumption, even though on a modest scale, of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.  She urged the international community, particularly the developed countries, to come forward with economic development projects to resuscitate the war-ravaged Palestinian economy.  Her delegation reiterated its full support for the legitimate and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to a sovereign and independent State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, existing alongside Israel in peace, security and harmony.  For a just and sustainable peace to take root, Israel must withdraw its forces from all the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, and meet all its obligations under the Geneva Conventions, relevant resolutions and other peace initiatives, including the Road Map.  She urged all parties concerned to return to talks and negotiate a breakthrough in the peace process.


She added that, although there had long been a broad consensus within the international community to resolve the Middle East crisis, peace in the region remained elusive.  “Did we then lack in our genuine will and determination to translate our words into actions?” she asked.  “Or did we fail to stand up to our collective commitments?  Either way it has been a failure on our part, an affront to human dignity and conscience.”  She urged the international community to sieze every opportunity to bring the peace process back on track, expressing hope that today’s deliberations would contribute to the long-cherished goal of just and lasting peace in the Middle East.


FARUKH AMIL (Pakistan), speaking in his capacity as Chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference Group in New York, said that 7 June had marked 40 years of occupation by Israel of Arab lands, a situation that had gone on far too long and served only to cause agony and anguish.  The visible and often brutal suppression of the Palestinian people was also the principle root cause of the rise of extremism across the Muslim world.  That political reality –- however unpalatable –- could no longer be ignored.  It was not only the United Nations, but the entire international community that should denounce Israel’s continued violation of the fundamental principles of the Charter.


He said that, while there had been recent developments in the region, including the meetings between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and the agreement by the diplomatic Quartet to meet again in September as part of the effort to provide support for the parties in their bilateral discussions and negotiations to push the peace process forward, the continued violence by Israel, as well as inter-Palestinian divisions, had left the already weary Palestinian people uneasy and unsure of the future.  Addressing those recent developments in a concrete manner would be the international community’s most pressing task in the weeks and months ahead, towards the realization of a comprehensive solution to many of the challenges facing the Middle East.


“Whatever one’s political perspective, it is clear that there can be no military solution to the issue of the Middle East, and peace can only be attained by a complete and unconditional Israeli withdrawal from all Arab lands,” he said, stressing that, in the present atmosphere of “quiet tension” in the region, it would be the challenge of the United Nations to keep up efforts to reach a just and fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Indeed, the United Nations should play a more active role in promoting a durable and comprehensive solution.  The most urgent task was to halt the violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  While efforts to secure the release of the captured Israeli soldiers were ongoing, Israel must also release the remaining Palestinian prisoners, do more to support the Palestinian Authority and end the economic blockade.


Simultaneous efforts should be made to promote inter-Palestinian reconciliation, he said, noting that an essential step to surmount differences was for the situation that existed on the ground in Gaza today be restituted to that which existed prior to the events of June 2007.  On the broader peace process, the Organization of the Islamic Conference strongly urged the resumption of peace talks, without prejudice to the positions of either side.  Those talks should lead to the early agreement to resume implementation of the agreed peace plan and the Road Map.


YUKIO TAKASU ( Japan) said that his country had recently announced its decision to provide a new package of assistance valued at over $20 million, consisting of $11.2 million in direct financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority and $9.3 million in food aid, medicine and other humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian Territories.  It would consider further assistance to the Palestinian Authority for a self-sustainable Palestinian economy.  In that connection, he also elaborated on Japan’s “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity”, a development plan aimed at contributing to the creation of a viable Palestinian economy by establishing an agro-industrial park in the West Bank and facilitating the transportation of goods from the West Bank to mainly the Gulf States, through Jordan.


While there were encouraging developments in the region, much remained to be done, he said.  The subjects to be taken up included:  security; problems of settlements and the barrier in the West Bank; easing movement and access; continuing the transfer of Palestinian revenues; and releasing the Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas, as well as Palestinian prisoners in Israel.  It was also essential to restore unity to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.   Japan strongly urged both Israeli and Palestinian sides to redouble their efforts towards those ends.  In view of the series of important international gatherings scheduled this year, Japan would continue to play a proactive role in advancing the peace process in cooperation with its international partners, taking full stock of parallel good offices, including those of relevant Arab countries to advance the Arab peace initiative.


Japan supported the efforts of the Lebanese Government to achieve stability in the country, he said.  The permanent ceasefire and long-term solution there required the international community to tackle such tasks as the arms embargo, disarming and disbanding all remaining militias and delineation of borders.  He was deeply concerned that two Israeli soldiers had not been returned and that no proof of life had even been provided.  A comprehensive peace that included both the Lebanese and Syrian tracks was the only way to achieve permanent peace in the region.  Japan expected Syria to play an active role in the realization of regional peace and stability.


YOUCEF YOUSFI ( Algeria) said that it was clear that peace and stability had not taken hold in the “tormented and torn” Middle East.  There was a correlation between Israel’s occupation of Arab lands and rising tension throughout the Middle East.  At the same time, the reactivation last month of the Arab peace initiative had been cause for some optimism.   Algeria stood beside the brotherly Palestinian people in their search for self-determination.  That search was under constant threat by Israel’s actions, which seemed to be aimed at blocking the road to peace at every path.  He added that the Washington-led international initiative to reignite the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be more credible if it involved all the parties concerned and included a call on Israel by the international community to end the occupation.   Algeria called on Israel to leave behind its intransigence and to embark on serious negotiations with its Arab neighbours.


MANSOUR SADEGHI ( Iran) said that it was high time for the international community to urgently weigh in to counter the Israeli regime’s inhumane policies and practices in imposing humanitarian disaster on the defenceless Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere in the Palestinian Territories.  It was indeed unfortunate that, while the Israeli regime had grown more brazen at every turn in its war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Security Council, because of unqualified support rendered to the Israeli regime by the United States, had remained unable to take any meaningful action to counter those atrocities.  It was undisputable that nuclear weapons in the hands of a regime marked with a long catalogue of crimes such as State terrorism, aggression and occupation, presented a real threat to the region and international peace and security, and thus required urgent and decisive action by the Council.  That regime should face a united front and must be kept under continuous pressure to halt its terrorism and nuclear programme and place all its nuclear facilities under international monitoring.


The Israeli regime had persisted in its aggressive policies towards Lebanon and the occupied Syrian Golan, too, he continued.  A year had passed since it had attacked Lebanon, where, according to the United Nations special rapporteurs, “serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law have been committed by Israel”.  The said regime, in yet another showcase of its contempt for the Security Council resolutions, was now adamantly violating resolution 1701, on a daily basis, including through violations of Lebanese airspace.  Examples of Israeli crimes and atrocities attested to the fact that the regime had based its policies and practices on occupation, aggression and bloodshed, and its mischievous calls and expression of readiness for peace with the Palestinians were but an ill-intended smokescreen to buy time and create division among the Palestinians and the countries in the region.  The Palestinian people, backed by the international community, in particular the Muslim and Arab world, would continue to be resolute in their efforts towards the attainment of their inalienable rights.  In that context, the Palestinian factions should put the national aspirations of the Palestinian people ahead of their political differences, and join hands to end occupation and restore their nation’s denied and inalienable rights.


And finally, he said that he wanted to put on record that his delegation rejected the baseless allegations against his country by the representative of the Israeli regime.  Those were but preposterous and tired practices to distract the international community’s attention from the criminal policies and abhorrent atrocities of the Israeli regime in Palestine and elsewhere in the region.  It was evident that the regime posed the most real, serious and urgent threat to the world and the region today and should be urgently countered by the international community.


ZAINOL RAHIM ZAINUDDIN (Malaysia) said that, in June last year, the international community had marked 40 years of occupation by Israel on the Palestinian Territories –- that was too long.  Unfortunately, the solution was elusive.  The situation in the Occupied Territories had deteriorated so much that their major parts had literally descended into darkness.  He supported the efforts that sought to seek a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question, including the Arab peace initiative, the Quartet meeting in September and the convening of an international conference in November this year.  He also encouraged inter-Palestinian national reconciliation.


The Palestine question remained the single most powerful factor dividing the East and West and lay at the roots of much of the conflict and instability in the Middle East, he continued, including international terrorism.  The Council was duty-bound to take the necessary measures to address the issue.  It had adopted important resolutions, which should serve as a logical starting point for the restoration of Palestinian rights.  It was also only right and fitting for the Council to assume the responsibility for compelling Israel to respect international law and conventions and put an end to Israel’s occupation and illegitimate practices.  The Council must ensure that Israel ceased its practices of settlement expansion in the West Bank, the construction of the barrier wall and maintaining a wide network of roadblocks and checkpoints.   Israel must withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the pre-1967 borders.


Responding to comments that had been made during the debate, DANIEL CARMON ( Israel) said that, while he would not respond to the “aggressive anti-Israel rhetoric” contained in statements, not surprisingly, by the representatives of Iran and Syria, he would speak to one substantive issue.  He said that the representative of Lebanon had said that Israel had made no attempt to ‘solve the longstanding issue of Lebanese detainees’.  Those detainees were not innocent bystanders languishing in Israeli prisons –- they were “murdering terrorists with blood on their hands” who had taken part in terrorist acts against Israel for years.  If those criminals had remained free, they would undoubtedly have continued to maim and murder Israelis.  He also noted that resolution 1701 did not equate the status of those detainees with that of the Israeli soldiers that had been kidnapped by Hizbollah last July.  The Lebanese terrorists detained by Israel were being held in accordance with international humanitarian norms, including being visited by international observers.  That was not the case for the Israeli soldiers that were being detained.   Israel had not even received proof of life of those two men.


Also responding to earlier comments, the representative of Mr. JA’AFARI ( Syria) said that, while he regretted taking the floor, Israel’s statement had left him with no other option but to reply.  The Israeli policy of occupation and aggression under way since the inception of the United Nations had been the focus of ongoing and increasing attention and energy by the international community.  Dozens of international organizations and groups had for years examined and documented Israel’s barbaric and brutal actions.   Israel had also introduced nuclear weapons to the region and refused all calls to create a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region.  Indeed there was only one form of terrorism in the region and that was the State terror carried out by Israel.  No matter how hard Israel tried, it could not hide or obscure the fact that the international community had ruled countless times against its barbaric and illegal occupation.


RACHMAT BUDIMAN ( Indonesia) responded to the statement by Israel this morning, saying that the war last summer in southern Lebanon had brought agony to both parties.  Yet, human casualties among Lebanese -- many of them civilians -– and physical damages caused by a series of Israeli offensives during the war had been incomparably appalling.  The current security and stability in southern Lebanon had been made possible by the decisive response of the Security Council through the adoption of resolution 1701, which, among other things, had strengthened the existing UNIFIL.   Indonesia underlined the importance of compliance by all parties to resolution 1701 in its entirety.  He also stressed the urgent need to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Lebanon.


In closing comments, Mr. WILLIAMS said he was grateful for the positive statements about his work on 1701 and then as Special Coordinator on the Middle East.  Regarding resolution 1701, he commended the commitment of the Governments of Israel and Lebanon, saying that both had worked extremely hard to avoid a renewal of hostilities along their common border.  It was due to that that UNIFIL had been able to operate there.


He said that, before he had left Israel during his last visit, his last conversation had been with the wife of one of the two abducted soldiers, whose abduction had been the cause of the war last year.  With deep regret, he had to say that more than 13 months after the abduction, it was impossible to establish even proof of life, let alone release and repatriation of the soldiers.  He urged the States that had relations with Hizbollah to convince it to meet basic humanitarian standards that proof of life should always be presented.


His sadness to be leaving the United Nations was diminished by the fact that there were signs of hope that delegations from all corners of the world had alluded to today.  Those included the appointment of Tony Blair, the meeting called by the United States, the Arab peace initiative and, perhaps above all, the dialogue between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, the most recent yesterday.  All that gave hope that, with good will and political courage, the international community might be able to move forward on the Israeli-Palestinian track and towards a just and comprehensive peace in the region.


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For information media • not an official record