Middle East: senior UN official briefs Security Council on Israeli-Palestinian talks, other developments

Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco (second left) briefs the Security Council. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

20 August 2013 – Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met today for a second round of direct talks in the Middle East, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council, pledging the Organization’s support for this “small but important opening for peace” which also could have a positive impact on regional stability.

“We have now reached a decisive point. The test will be for both sides to go the distance and not disappoint their people,” Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, told the 15-member Council.

“The Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] and the United Nations, including with the Quartet, will continue to bring all possible support to their efforts,” he stressed.

Mr. Ban visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority on 15 and 16 August to show his support for the restart of direct negotiations. He has stressed his full support for direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and voiced the hope that this year will be a decisive one for peace in the Middle East.

Today’s second round of formal talks is taking place in the West Bank city of Jericho, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said. He added that the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process intends to “meet soon” to discuss next steps and reiterated its 30 July statement welcoming the resumption of discussions and shared commitment to helping the parties achieve a negotiated two-State solution within the agreed timeframe.

Mr. Fernandez-Taranco noted that Israeli authorities had implemented a number of measures aimed at easting access for Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank to East Jerusalem during Ramadan.

“Though limited, such measures represent important steps forward at this crucial moment in the political process,” he said, noting that Mr. Ban was encouraged by indications from the Israeli authorities of additional planned measures to further ease restrictions on Palestinian movement and access, whether of people or goods.

He added that Mr. Ban remained deeply troubled by Israel’s containing settlement activity in the West Bank, following a recent announcement that some 2,000 housing units have been approved.

“The position of the United Nations on settlements being against international law remains firm,” said Mr. Fernandez-Taranco. “Settlement activity deepens mistrust, undermines efforts to advance peace and will ultimately render a two-state solution impossible.”

He also stressed the importance of Gaza in the resumed peace process and reiterated the UN’s calls on the Hamas de facto authorities to not hamper efforts to achieve a two-state solution.

Turning to Syria, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco stressed that Mr. Ban’s position remains unchanged, “There is no military solution to this conflict.”

Technical preparations for an international conference on Syria led by Russia and the United States “are almost complete”, the senior UN official said. “We continue to do our best to endeavour that the Geneva Conference takes place as soon as possible.”

He called on the international community to remain committed to this process and to contribute to its success, “in word and in action.”

He added that in the absence of a political solution, humanitarian needs are growing “by the minute, and outpacing our efforts to respond.”

Mr. Fernandez-Taranco also noted that Mr. Ban remains gravely concerned about reports of alleged use of chemical weapons in the country, even as a UN technical team is conducting its activity in Syria.

The Assistant Secretary-General also noted that the situation in the Golan remains volatile with intense shelling and heavy clashes between Syrian armed forces and armed members of the opposition.

The Syrian crisis continues to affect Lebanon’s stability, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco told the Council, especially in the border areas which have recently been struck by rocket fire.

As for the ongoing volatile situation in Egypt, he said the latest incident in the Sinai Peninsula yesterday had brought alarming news of an ambush on two minibuses, which killed 25 Egyptian police officers. The Secretary-General condemned the ambush and the United Nations hopes that that the perpetrators will be swiftly identified and brought to justice.

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