14 February 2008
Secretary-General
SG/SM/11418
GA/PAL/1073

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

SECRETARY-GENERAL, IN MESSAGE TO PALESTINIAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE, SAYS IMPROVING


SITUATION ON GROUND URGENT, BUT EVENTS THIS YEAR HAVE HINDERED PROGRESS


Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message, as delivered by Vijay Nambiar, Chef de Cabinet, to the opening of the 2008 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in New York today:


Allow me to first send my congratulations to the Chairman and other distinguished members of the Bureau on your unanimous re-election to the leadership of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.


You are opening this year’s session at a time when recent positive developments on the diplomatic front provide some hope that a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East can finally be reached.  At the same time, the escalation of violence at the start of the year reminds us of the fragility of the situation on the ground.


The United Nations remains committed to the establishment of a sovereign and independent State of Palestine and a just and agreed solution to the refugee problem, to allow all Palestinians to live in peace, dignity and security.


We actively support the process that started at Annapolis in November 2007.  The conference, attended by some 50 Governments, including key members of the Arab League, together with international organizations, marked a new beginning for the Middle East peace process.  The involvement of Arab States, under the banner of the Arab Peace Initiative, is crucial for the advancement of regional peace.


It is heartening that President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert have begun regular discussions on the major issues.  Meetings between their negotiating teams have also begun.  The Quartet agreed to meet regularly to review progress and provide support for the parties’ efforts.


It is also reassuring that, last December, the Paris donors’ conference reinforced broad international support for the renewed peace process.  Eighty-seven Governments and international institutions attended the conference, pledging well over $7 billion in assistance to the Palestinian Authority.  They also welcomed the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan presented by Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad.


Success in bringing about improvements on the ground is urgently needed to bolster the political process.  That is why Quartet Representative Tony Blair has embarked on the task of securing implementation of projects to support Palestinian economic revitalization -- a crucial requirement for building a strong foundation for a future Palestinian State.


But a number of events this year have hindered the progress.  Israeli military operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel and settlement expansion, especially in and around East Jerusalem, have all had a negative effect on the renewed political process.


I have repeatedly condemned the firing by Palestinian groups of rockets at civilians.  I have also made repeated calls against disproportionate action and for maximum restraint on the part of Israel in its military operations.  It is the responsibility of all parties to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law and not to harm civilians.


The decision by Israel to introduce a full closure of the Gaza Strip has cut off an already destitute population of Gaza from vitally needed supplies.  The recent breach of the border between Gaza and Egypt showed the degree of desperation among ordinary Gazans, as thousands crossed into Egypt in search of food and basic daily necessities.  I remind Israel of its obligations towards the civilian population of Gaza under international law, including the laws of occupation, which continue to apply to the extent of Israel’s control over the territory and its population.


I support the Palestinian Authority’s proposal to operate the Gaza crossings.  We also have to help restore the unity of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank within the legitimate framework of the Palestinian Authority.  This is critical for a viable peace agreement.


While a solution to the conflict must be worked out between the parties themselves, it is important for the international community to remain engaged and focused on its pledge to assist them in their quest for peace.


The United Nations, with some 20 agencies on the ground, will continue to fulfil its responsibility to assist and protect all persons affected by the conflict.  I call on donors to follow through on their substantial commitments made in Paris.


My Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Special Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority, Robert Serry, is working closely with the United Nations country team.  They are developing programmes aimed at improving the dire living conditions of the Palestinian people.


For my part, I will continue to support the efforts of President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, encouraging them to make tangible progress on all permanent status issues.   I will work with my Quartet colleagues and regional partners to promote the implementation of the Road Map and to achieve peace and security for the State of Palestine and the State of Israel, in fulfilment of [Security Council] resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative.


I extend my gratitude to all of you for the important work of this Committee, and reiterate my full support for the mandate you are here to serve.


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