BREAKDOWN IN MIDDLE EAST CALM AVERTED DESPITE SERIOUS INCIDENTS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

17 June 2005
SC/8417

BREAKDOWN IN MIDDLE EAST CALM AVERTED DESPITE SERIOUS INCIDENTS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

17/06/2005
Press ReleaseSC/8417

Security Council

5206th Meeting (AM)

BREAKDOWN IN MIDDLE EAST CALM AVERTED DESPITE SERIOUS INCIDENTS,

SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

 

Under-Secretary-General Cites Determination by Israelis, Palestinians to Avoid

Conflict but Expresses Concern over Palestinian Factions’ Statements on Ceasefire

Despite the serious nature of various incidents, a prolonged breakdown of the calm prevailing in the Middle East over the past four months had been averted, Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council this morning in his briefing on the situation in the region, including the Palestinian question.

While there was evidence of a serious effort on the Palestinian side to maintain the calm and, on the Israeli side, of determination not to overreact to isolated incidents, he said he was concerned by the statements of Palestinian factions that they might see themselves as no longer bound by their earlier pledge to maintain a ceasefire.  On the other hand, there had been a resumption during the reporting period of the Israeli practice of targeting from the air Palestinian militants engaged in suspicious activity.  Both sides were reminded of the need to take special care to protect innocent civilians, in accordance with international and humanitarian law.

He expressed the hope that despite recent statements by Palestinian officials suggesting otherwise, the Palestinian Authority would not waver in its commitment to law and order and to end all violence and institute calm, as it was obliged to do under the “Road Map” and the Sharm el-Sheikh Understandings.  The Authority was expected to exert greater efforts to impose its authority on all Palestinian groups, including the militants, to ensure the endurance of the current ceasefire, and to guarantee an end to all violence.

At the same time, Israel could and should do more to strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s ability to carry out its responsibilities, he said.  Frequent and direct security coordination, in addition to the implementation of confidence-building measures, would assist President Mahmoud Abbas in his efforts to establish control and exert the effective monopoly on the use of force that was a chief characteristic of State and proto-State authorities.  The Palestinian Authority must act to fulfil its obligations to end violence and terror, but full support was needed from Israel and the international community.

Like the Palestinian Authority, Israel had Road Map obligations to meet, he noted.  One of its primary obligations, and an important confidence-building measure, was the requirement to halt all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001.  It was a matter of concern that Israel was not living up to its obligations in that respect.  In that connection, the publication on 2 June of tenders for the construction of 22 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim was regrettable.  Israel’s ongoing construction of the Barrier also remained a source of deep concern.  Its route encroached on Palestinian land and interests, and threatened to prejudge unilaterally eventual bilateral negotiations between the parties.

Noting that both sides had domestic concerns and demands to address, he said militants on both sides remained strong and exerted much influence politically.  But that could not distract attention from the parties’ responsibilities to one another.  On the contrary:  failure to build mutual trust now would only compound the already existing difficulties, including renewed violence and the low level of mutual trust, which continued to work against progress.  The recent marked increase in diplomatic activity had continued over the past month and the international community had used those visits to convey a consistent message to both Palestinians and Israelis -- one of commitment to the vision and framework articulated in the Road Map and endorsed by the Council resolution 1515 (2003).

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, he recalled the brutal car-bomb murder on 2 June of the prominent Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir, noting that the Secretary-General had condemned the killing and had called on the Lebanese Government to bring the perpetrators and instigators to justice and to ensure the continuation of press freedom, as well as an end to impunity.

He noted also that the parliamentary electoral process in Lebanon would be completed this coming Sunday, constituting a major opportunity for the Lebanese people to shape their own future, strengthen political institutions and restore full sovereignty.  To ensure their successful conclusion, all parties were called upon to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty and cease any actions that could be destabilizing.

Since early May, he said, United Nations electoral experts from the Electoral Assistance Division had provided technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities for the current parliamentary elections, as well as support to ensure coordination among international electoral observers.  Their assessment was that, from a technical perspective, the elections had been well-conducted.

Over the past month, he said, there had been one significant incident involving an exchange of fire across the Blue Line.  Also, Israeli warplanes had continued to violate the Blue Line and Lebanese airspace, though such violations appeared to have been less frequent.  The danger of escalation remained very real so long as violations of the Blue Line continued, and the parties were reminded that all hostile acts must stop and that one violation could not justify another.

The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. and ended at 10:40 a.m.

Briefing by Under-Secretary-General

KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, reported that the Israelis and Palestinians were, slowly and not without difficulty, meeting to coordinate implementation of Israel’s initiative to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank.  Confidence-building measures were also being discussed and in the next few days, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Mahmoud Abbas would meet to discuss the situation.  But there were other trends, including renewed violence and the low level of mutual trust, which continued to work against progress.  Militants on both sides remained strong and exerted much influence politically.

He said that the recent marked increase in diplomatic activity had continued over the past month and both Israeli and Palestinian leaders had met with senior United States policymakers.  On 25 May, the Palestinian and United States Presidents had held their first meeting since the election of President Abbas last January and a range of other representatives of the international community had already visited, or would soon visit the region, including United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and others.  Alvaro de Soto, the new United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, had taken up his post and was expected to brief the Council next month on his first impressions.  The international community had used those visits to convey a consistent message to both Palestinians and Israelis.  It was one of commitment to the vision and framework articulated in the “Road Map”, endorsed by the Council in resolution 1515 (2003).

To assist in the pressing immediate goal of withdrawal, he said, the Quartet’s Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement, James Wolfensohn, had arrived in the region on 7 June and had begun his work with the parties and other actors.  He continued to develop a Rapid Action Programme aimed at bringing about immediate and tangible economic change for the better to Palestinians not just in Gaza but throughout the OccupiedPalestinianTerritory.  He was working energetically to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to coordinate Israel’s withdrawal and handover of the relevant areas.  He had stated the conviction that security for Israelis and economic development for Palestinians went hand in hand, and that both were required to ensure the successful implementation of Israel’s withdrawal plan.

There had been some progress on the implementation of the Sharm-el-Sheikh Understandings between the two parties in February, he said.  On 29 May, the Israeli cabinet had approved the release of an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners pursuant to the Understandings, and on 2 June, 398 prisoners had been released.  There were reports that the Israeli Government intended to hand over to Palestinian security control the West Bank cities of Qalqilyah, Bethlehem and Ramallah prior to Israel’s withdrawal.  Such actions and developments were to be encouraged and slow, steady movement seemed to be under way.  However, it was hoped that the parties would use the meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas to overcome the difficulties that had arisen, so as to accelerate the positive momentum and achieve the full implementation of outstanding commitments.

He noted that in Israel, opponents of disengagements still voiced their opposition to Israel’s prospective withdrawal and resorted to protests, demonstrations, and, in some cases, sabotage and civil obedience.  On 9 June, the Israeli High Court had turned down a legal challenge directed against the disengagement initiative.

The Palestinian Authority still faced a number of serious internal challenges, which had deepened partly as a result of the Authority’s efforts to institute comprehensive security reform, he continued.  In a protest against the decision to restructure the security forces on 2 June hundreds of Palestinian Military Intelligence Forces had gone on a rampage in the Gaza Strip, blocking main roads and storming public buildings, including the Palestinian Legislative Council.  A number of shooting incidents had occurred and, on 3 June, the Director-General of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and his brother had been killed by gunmen near Nablus.  Reruns of some municipal elections in Gaza had been delayed on 31 May amid high tension between Palestinian factions and the declaration by Hamas of its intention to boycott the poll and its result.

Those developments were deeply disturbing, he said, adding that the Palestinian Authority needed all possible support to confront such challenges.  Its Ministry of the Interior had put together a planning team comprising representatives from the military and civilian police, civil defence, intelligence and national security, which, in conjunction with a team of international experts, was preparing for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank.

Against the backdrop of increased internal challenges and disorder, he said violence between Palestinians and Israelis had continued over the past month to pose a serious threat to the safety and security of both peoples, as well as to the viability of the overall process of moving forward.  Of particular concern was the serious escalation in rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli targets, starting on 18 May with a two-day barrage of Qassam rockets, mortar shells and anti-tank rockets launched at various Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.  Most recently, on 7 and 8 June, another two-day volley of Qassams and mortars had been launched at Gaza Strip settlements, as well as the Israeli city of Sderot, killing two Palestinians and one Chinese citizen -- all of whom had been working in the Gush Katif settlement block in southern Gaza –- and wounding five Palestinian labourers.

He said there had been a resumption during the reporting period of the Israeli practice of targeting from the air Palestinian militants engaged in suspicious activity.  He reminded both sides of the need to take special care to protect innocent civilians, in accordance with international and humanitarian law.

To date, despite the serious nature of those various incidents, a prolonged breakdown of the calm of the past four months had been averted, he said.  There was evidence of a serious effort on the Palestinian side to maintain the calm and, on the Israeli side, of determination not to overreact to isolated incidents.  He was concerned, however, by the statements of Palestinian factions that they might see themselves as no longer bound by their earlier pledge to maintain a ceasefire.

He expected the Palestinian Authority to exert greater efforts to impose its authority on all Palestinian groups, including the militants, to establish law and order, to ensure the endurance of the current ceasefire, and to guarantee an end to all violence.  It was his hope that the Palestinian Authority, despite recent statements by Palestinian officials suggesting otherwise, would not waver in its commitment to end all violence and institute calm, as well as law and order, as it was obliged to do under the Road Map and the Sharm el-Sheikh Understandings.

At the same time, he continued, Israel could and should do more to strengthen the ability of the Palestinian Authority to carry out its responsibilities.  Frequent and direct security coordination, in addition to the implementation of confidence-building measures, would assist President Abbas in his efforts to establish control and exert the effective monopoly on the use of force that was a chief characteristic of State and proto-State authorities.  The Palestinian Authority must act to fulfil its obligations to end violence and terror, but full support was needed from Israel and the international community.

Like the Palestinian Authority, Israel had Road Map obligations to meet, he noted.  One of its primary obligations, and an important confidence-building measure, was the requirement to halt all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001.  He repeated his concern at the fact that Israel was not living up to its obligations in that respect.  In that connection, he took note with regret of the publication on 2 June of tenders for the construction of 22 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim.

As with continued settlement activity, Israel’s ongoing construction of the Barrier remained a source of deep concern, he said.  The route it followed encroached on Palestinian land and interests, and threatened to prejudge unilaterally eventual bilateral negotiations between the parties.  In that connection, he said that the Secretary-General was now in the process of administrative and budgetary preparations to establish the Register of Damage, as he outlined in his letter of 17 January to the General Assembly President.  He hoped to report further on the establishment of that Register in the coming weeks.

Both sides had domestic concerns and demands to address, he said.  But that could not distract attention from the parties’ responsibilities to one another.  On the contrary:  failure to build mutual trust now would only compound the already existing difficulties.  Therefore, he was relieved to note press reports that demolition orders issued for 88 houses in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan would not be carried out.

Democracy, he said, was a key ingredient of a strong and legitimate Palestinian Authority.  On 17 May, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) had passed a new election law, enlarging the body to 132 members and envisaging their election according to a 2:1 ratio from districts and from national lists.  However, on 3 June, Palestinian President Abbas issued a decree postponing sine die the legislative elections earlier set for 17 July and referring to the necessity for a new electoral law that would introduce at least 50 per cent proportioned representation.  It was still intended to hold the elections before the end of this year.  The United Nations and others continued to assist the Central Elections Commission to prepare for what it was hoped would be a free and fair process.

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, he recalled that, on 2 June, the prominent Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir had been brutally murdered by a car bomb.  The Secretary-General had condemned the act, and called on the Lebanese Government to bring to justice the perpetrators and the instigators of that terrible crime and to ensure the continuation of press freedom and an end to impunity.

Over the past month, he said, there had been one significant incident involving an exchange of fire across the Blue Line.  Also, Israeli warplanes had continued to violate the Blue Line and Lebanese airspace, though such violations appeared to have been less frequent.  “At this very delicate period, not just in Lebanon, but also in the wider region, it is imperative that all concerned exercise the utmost restraint and maintain calm along the Blue Line.”  The danger of escalation remained very real so long as violations of the Blue Line continued.  He reminded all parties that all hostile acts must stop and that one violation could not justify another.

In the past month, he noted, the United Nations had continued its assistance to Lebanon.  Detlev Mehlis, head of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission, had arrived in Beirut on 26 May.  He had immediately begun discussions with the Lebanese authorities regarding the operations of the Commission and had concluded with them this week a memorandum of understanding.  Since his arrival, Mr. Mehlis and his team had been reviewing the materials and evidence collected by other investigations and inquiries.  Yesterday, the Secretary-General had written to the Security Council informing it that the Commission was fully operational as of today.

Since early May, United Nations electoral experts from the Electoral Assistance Division had provided technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities for the current parliamentary elections, as well as support to ensure coordination among international electoral observers.  Their assessment was that, from a technical perspective, the elections had been well-conducted.

This coming Sunday, he said, the parliamentary electoral process in Lebanon would be completed.  It was a major achievement for Lebanon to have held elections on time.  As the Secretary-General had pointed out, those elections constituted a major opportunity for the Lebanese people to shape their own future, to strengthen political institutions and to restore their full sovereignty.  Therefore, to ensure their successful conclusion, he called on all parties to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty and cease any actions that could be destabilizing.

The summer of 2005, he observed, would mark an important crossroads.  He hoped that the road that led towards peace and security for all would be chosen, rather than the one that led back into despair, confrontation and conflict.  For that to happen, the parties needed, as a first step, to intensify their efforts to ensure that Israeli withdrawal was implemented successfully and peacefully.  Cooperation in that effort would be of value not only in and of itself, but could also help to build confidence between the parties so that they could tackle the issues that faced them in the broader process of negotiations that must follow.

Building mutual confidence, he added, was crucial if the parties were to walk together the path that was laid out for them in the Road Map, which remained the most broadly accepted peace plan.  The objective must remain an end to the occupation that had begun in 1967, as well as the realization of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive regional peace in the Middle East.

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For information media. Not an official record.