SPECIAL COORDINATOR FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL, URGES CONTINUED SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY

28 February 2006
SC/8652

SPECIAL COORDINATOR FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL, URGES CONTINUED SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY

28/02/2006
Security Council
SC/8652
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5381st Meeting (AM)

Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace briefs Security Council,

Urges continued support for Palestinian authority

 

Says Authority Building Block for Palestinian State , Cutting Assistance

Prior to Formation of Government Could Be Seen as Punishment for Democratic Vote

The collapse or sacrifice of the Palestinian Authority could end all hopes of achieving a Palestinian State in a reasonable time frame, Alvaro de Soto, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, said in a briefing to the Security Council this morning.

Describing a functioning Authority as an essential building block for a Palestinian State, he said it was not something that could be turned on and off like a light switch.  It was through the Authority that basic social and economic services, as well as salaries, were provided.  If those salaries were not paid, the humanitarian, economic, institutional, political, and security consequences could be severe.

Reminding the Council of the need to stabilize the Palestinian Authority’s finances, he said it faced a budget deficit of at least $260 million over the expected lifespan of the caretaker Government, mainly because of Israel’s decision to withhold tax and customs revenue transfers of up to $130 million –- money which belonged to Palestinians.  He welcomed the European Union’s decision, announced yesterday, to provide $143 million in emergency assistance, and cautioned that cutting off assistance prior to the formation of a new Palestinian Government might be interpreted as punishment of the Palestinian people for the way in which they had voted on 25 January.

He noted that a democratically elected Government was in the process of being formed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, that would be led by the Hamas list of Change and Reform, an organization still formally committed to Israel’s destruction, and which had a condemnable record of terrorism against that country.  Israel’s Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made clear the Government’s view that, in the face of the Hamas majority in the Palestinian parliament, the Palestinian Authority was effectively turning into a “terrorist Authority”, and that Israel would not hold contacts with an Authority led partly or completely by Hamas.

Israel was entering the final month of a parliamentary election campaign where the future policy vis-à-vis the Occupied Palestinian Territory was a central issue, he said.  Since taking over as leader following the illness of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Mr. Olmert had spoken both of entering into final status negotiations with the Palestinians should a Palestinian Government accept the principles laid down by the Quartet, and of the possibility, if that did not happen, of unilaterally setting Israel’s permanent borders in ways that would keep all of Jerusalem, as well as the large West Bank settlement blocs in Israel, and the Jordan Valley under Israeli control.

Emphasizing the vital need for a credible political horizon for resolving the conflict, he said peace could not be imposed unilaterally and it could not be achieved durably outside the regional framework of the Middle East peace process.  Certain regional countries had in recent weeks engaged in efforts to bring the Arab Peace Initiative back onto the agenda.  Indeed, the Quartet had signalled its determination to consult closely with the key regional actors, as well as its own continued commitment to the “Road Map” and its underlying principles -– including non-violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and respect for previous agreements.

Taking up security issues, he said that at least 32 Palestinians and one Israeli had been killed, and at least 130 Palestinians and 25 Israelis injured by violence during the reporting period.  Violence instigated by Palestinians had included almost daily rocket fire against Israeli targets in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip, an attack on an Israeli military post at Erez, stabbings of Israeli civilians, the kidnapping of foreigners (including an Egyptian diplomat, who was later released), and violent protests related to the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.  The Israeli Government had also reported having foiled several suicide bombings by Palestinians.  Israel had conducted targeted killings of alleged militants, as well as other security operations, the most extensive of which had occurred in Nablus beginning on 19 February and resulting in a number of Palestinian deaths.

Regarding closures, barrier construction and settlement activity, he said that since August, Israel had increased by about 25 per cent the number of physical obstacles to Palestinian movement within the West Bank, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and there were now 471 such obstacles.  The Karni crossing, opened following the November Agreement on Movement and Access, had been closed since 22 February.  It had also been closed between 15 January and 5 February, with unavoidable consequences for the Palestinian economy.

During the reporting period, he said, the chief Palestinian negotiator had called attention to the details of a number of new Israeli measures in the Jordan Valley, which prevented almost all Palestinian non-residents who did not work in the area from accessing that part of the West Bank.  In February, Israel had carried out the evacuation of the Amona settlement outpost despite violent resistance by Israeli settlers.  Israel had also announced further barrier construction in the Gush Etzion area, and also that it would construct a road protection fence in the southern West Bank near the original route of the barrier.  On 30 January, the Quartet had reiterated its concern regarding the route of the barrier, on which the International Court of Justice had issued a clear advisory opinion.

Turning to Lebanon, he said there had been several important developments since the last briefing to the Council.  On 14 February, hundreds of thousands of people had converged on Martyrs’ Square in Beirut on the first anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.  Three days later, the Government of Lebanon had announced that a Lebanese national dialogue would take place.  That important process constituted a framework within which Lebanese political groups would discuss issues of national concern, such as the continuing investigation by the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission, particularly the court of an international character to try those responsible for the assassination; the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559 (2004); and Lebanese relations with Syria.  Consultations were under way in preparation for that dialogue, which was scheduled to begin on 2 March.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 10:30 a.m.

Briefing Summary

ALVARO DE SOTO, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, said that, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, a democratically elected Government was in the process of being formed that would be led by the Hamas list of Change and Reform, an organization still formally committed to the destruction of Israel, and which had a condemnable record of terrorism against Israel.  Israel, which was entering the final month of a Knesset election campaign where the future policy vis-à-vis the Occupied Palestinian Territory was a central issue, had already halted the transfer of customs and Value Added Tax payments to the Palestinian Authority and tightened the closure regime in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  And in Lebanon, a national dialogue was scheduled to begin shortly to discuss issues of national concern, including the continuing investigation by the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission, the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, and Lebanon’s relations with Syria.

Mr. De Soto said, “This is an unscripted moment, particularly in Israel-Palestine.”  It fell to the parties to make the choices that would largely determine their future.  But, the international community also had an important role to play in helping the parties to make wise choices, and in ensuring that it kept sight of the overall goal of achieving a two-State solution by peaceful means.  In that respect, members of the Council would recall that, when the Secretariat last briefed them, the Quartet had met in London in the aftermath of the Palestinian legislative elections.  On that occasion, the Quartet had congratulated the Palestinian people on an electoral process that was free, fair and secure, and had stressed its conviction that all members of a new Palestinian Government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map.  The Security Council subsequently took the same position.

The Quartet, mindful of the needs of the Palestinians, called for immediate measures to stabilize the finances of the caretaker Government, while indicating that it was inevitable that future assistance to any new Government would be reviewed by donors against that Government’s commitment to the principles he had just mentioned, he said.  The Quartet’s policy remained unchanged and the outgoing Palestinian Government was still in place pending the formation of a new one.

Noting that the new Palestinian Legislative Council had been sworn in on 18 February, he said that, in President Abbas’ speech to parliament he had summarized the programme on which he, himself, was elected a little over a year ago, and which he expected to be the programme of the incoming Government.  He reminded the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and members of a future Government of “‘the need to respect all signed agreements’”.  He also appealed to the international community not to punish the Palestinian electorate for its democratic choice as expressed at the ballot box.

On 21 February, President Abbas asked Ismail Haniye of Hamas to form a Government, he said.  Mr. Haniye had three weeks to complete the task, but that period could be extended by another two weeks.  The leaders of the Hamas and Fatah blocs had begun consultations on the programme of a new Government, with a view to Fatah joining it.  Khaled Meshal, a Hamas leader based in Syria, had been visiting several countries in and outside the region.

On 19 February, he said, the Israeli cabinet met to consider its response to the new situation created, in the view of the Government, by the swearing-in of the new Palestinian Legislative Council.  Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made clear the Government of Israel’s view that, in the face of Hamas’ majority in the Palestinian parliament, the Palestinian Authority was effectively turning into a “terrorist Authority”.  Israel, he added, would not hold contacts with an Authority led partly or completely by Hamas.

The Government of Israel decided that it would immediately withhold the payment of Value Added Tax and Customs revenue to the Palestinian Authority, which was due monthly pursuant to agreement in the framework of the Oslo Accords, Mr. De Soto noted.  The Government also put a stop to the transfer by the international community of equipment for the Palestinian security forces.  Additional measures would be taken, as yet unspecified.

Noting that Israel was entering the final month of a Knesset election campaign, he said that, since taking over as leader with the illness of Prime Minister Sharon, the Acting Prime Minister had spoken both of entering into final status negotiations with the Palestinians should a Palestinian Government accept the principles laid down by the Quartet, and of the possibility, if that did not happen, of setting Israel’s permanent borders unilaterally, in ways that would keep all of Jerusalem and the large West Bank settlement blocs in Israel, and the Jordan Valley under Israeli control.

Turning to issues of security, he said that, in the reporting period, at least 32 Palestinians and one Israeli were killed by violence, while at least 130 Palestinians and 25 Israelis were injured.  Violence instigated by Palestinians included almost daily rocket fire against Israeli targets in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip, an attack on an Israeli military post at Erez, stabbings of Israeli civilians, the kidnapping of foreigners (including an Egyptian diplomat, who was later released), and violent protests related to the publication in the West of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.  The Israeli Government had also reported having foiled several suicide bombings by Palestinians.

He said that Israel had conducted a series of targeted killings of alleged militants and other security operations.  The most extensive military operation had been conducted in Nablus beginning 19 February, and had resulted in a number of Palestinian deaths.  The Secretary-General had made public statements concerning rocket attacks against Israel, targeted killings of Palestinians, and the escalation of Israeli military operations in Nablus and Gaza.

Regarding closures, barrier construction and settlement activity, he said that since August, Israel had increased by about 25 per cent the number of physical obstacles to Palestinian movement within the West Bank, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and there were now 471 such obstacles.  The Karni crossing, opened following the November Agreement on Movement and Access, had been closed since 22 February.  It had also been closed between 15 January and 5 February, with unavoidable consequences for the Palestinian economy.  During the reporting period, the chief Palestinian negotiator had called attention to the details of a number of new Israeli measures in the Jordan Valley, which prevented almost all Palestinian non-residents who did not work in the area from accessing that part of the West Bank.

In February, Israel had carried out the evacuation of the Amona settlement outpost despite violent resistance by Israeli settlers, he said.  Israel had announced further barrier construction in the Gush Etzion area, and also that it would construct a road protection fence in the southern West Bank near the original route of the barrier.  On 30 January, the Quartet had reiterated its concern regarding the route of the barrier, on which the International Court of Justice had issued a clear advisory opinion.

Turning to Lebanon, he said there had been several important developments since the last briefing to the Council.  On 14 February, hundreds of thousands of people had converged on Martyrs’ Square in Beirut on the first anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.  Three days later, the Government of Lebanon had announced that a Lebanese national dialogue would take place.  That important process constituted a framework within which Lebanese political groups would discuss issues of national concern, such as the continuing investigation by the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission, particularly the court of an international character to try those responsible for the assassination; the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559 (2004); and Lebanese relations with Syria.  Consultations were under way in preparation for that dialogue, which was scheduled to begin on 2 March.

Noting that the past month had witnessed one shooting incident and a subsequent exchange of fire across the Blue Line, he said that on 1 February, the Israel Defense Forces had shot a Lebanese shepherd in the Shab’a Farms area.  In response to that shooting, on 3 February, Hizbollah had fired two rockets in the direction of an Israel Defense Forces position in the area in which the shepherd’s body had been found.  The Israel Defense Forces had responded with artillery, small-arms fire and two air strikes.  Hizbollah had responded with small-arms fire and 15 Katyusha rockets.  Three artillery rounds fired from unknown locations had impacted approximately 200 metres east of a United Nations position near Kafr Shuba.  Israeli air violations of the Blue Line had continued, albeit less frequently, during the past month.  According to Lebanese military and media reports, Israeli jets had violated Lebanese airspace on 14 February during the first anniversary of Hariri’s assassination, although they had not been observed by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  The United Nations reiterated its call on the Israeli authorities to halt those breaches of Lebanese sovereignty and fully respect the Blue Line.

He concluded by noting that President Abbas had recalled in his speech to the Palestinian Legislative Council that the Palestinians had made fundamental choices 13 years ago to which they remained committed.  Hamas had clearly undergone an evolution of sorts with respect to its earlier rejection of those commitments, including overall respect for a ceasefire and participating in elections which it had earlier rejected.  But it was too early to say whether that evolution was irreversible, and whether they would continue in the right direction.  The choices Hamas would make would be the single most important variable that would shape the future of the conflict, and it would take time for clarity to emerge.

Reminding the Council of the need, stressed by the Quartet, to stabilize the finances of the Palestinian Authority during the caretaker period, he said that the Authority faced a budget deficit of at least $260 million over the expected lifespan of the caretaker Government, mainly because of Israel’s decision to withhold tax and customs revenue transfers of up to $130 million –- money which belonged to the Palestinians.  The European Union’s decision, announced yesterday, to provide $143 million in emergency assistance was welcome.  The formation of a new Government and its programme were awaited in order to assess its commitment to the principles articulated by the Quartet and to make determinations regarding future assistance in that light.  There was a danger that cutting off assistance prior to that date might be interpreted by Palestinians and the Arab world as punishment of the Palestinian people for the way in which they had voted on 25 January.

It was very difficult, in the Palestinian context, to make a neat distinction between humanitarian and emergency aid and basic service provision, he emphasized.  The Palestinian Authority was not something that could be turned on and off like a light switch.  It was through the Authority that basic social and economic services, as well as salaries, were provided.  If those salaries were not paid, the humanitarian, economic, institutional, political, and security consequences could be severe.  And if the Authority -– essentially a creature of the Oslo process –- was allowed to collapse or was sacrificed, with it may go hopes of achieving a Palestinian State in a reasonable time frame, for a functioning Authority was an essential building block of a Palestinian State.

In conclusion, he said that a credible political horizon for resolving the conflict was vital.  Peace could not be imposed unilaterally and it could not be achieved durably outside the regional framework of the Middle East peace process.  There had been an engagement by certain regional countries in recent weeks, as well as efforts to bring back onto the agenda the Arab Peace Initiative, which was a building block of the Road Map and a vital part of the agreements to which continued adherence by the Palestinians was expected.  Indeed, the Quartet had signalled its determination to consult closely with the key regional actors.  The Quartet’s own continued commitment to the Road Map and its underlying principles -– including non-violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and respect for previous agreements -– must be stressed.  It was very much to be hoped that a new Palestinian Government, fully cognizant of the responsibilities now thrust on its shoulders, would commit to those principles, not because of the appearance of pressure from outside, but because the Palestinian people had a right to expect that their new Government would address their aspirations for peace and statehood.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.