MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL 'DEADLY CRISES CONTINUES IN GAZA', URGENT TO HELP RESTART DIALOGUE BETWEEN ISRAELIS, PALESTINIANS

19 October 2006
SC/8855

MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL 'DEADLY CRISES CONTINUES IN GAZA', URGENT TO HELP RESTART DIALOGUE BETWEEN ISRAELIS, PALESTINIANS

19 October 2006
Security Council
SC/8855
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5552nd Meeting (AM)

MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL ‘DEADLY CRISES CONTINUES IN GAZA’,

URGENT TO HELP RESTART DIALOGUE BETWEEN ISRAELIS, PALESTINIANS

Alvaro de Soto, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council today that “a deadly crisis continues in Gaza”, and it was urgent to help restart dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and reconcile Palestinian parties, as he briefed on the situation in the Middle East.

“The virtual siege of Gaza is having a devastating effect on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, stifling hope and fomenting despair, while the continued dangerous launching of rockets at Israeli population centres such as Sderot is a source of deep distress for ordinary Israelis,” he said.

He said the combination of near total closure of the Gaza strip, non-payment of public sector salaries, absence of basic law and order, declining service delivery, continued military strikes by air and land and the lack of any apparent political horizon was a truly explosive one.

To avoid further deterioration, he offered the United Nations full support in trying to develop meaningful dialogue between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas.

Regarding the Palestinian political crisis, he said there was no simple quick fix.  A National Unity Government was the only way to stem the slide into anarchy and, as it required international support, its platform must reflect the principles of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet (consisting of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation).

He said the international community should also expect all members of the Israeli Government, along with their acts of legislation, to reflect their commitment to such a goal, particularly regarding settlements and the barrier.

The international community’s long-term goal was, of course, not only peace between Israel and Palestine, but also peace between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon, through just and lasting solutions, he added.  The Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by the Council of Arab States in Beirut in 2002, represented a crucial piece of that regional puzzle.

In addition, he said signs of willingness by Israel to open discussions with the Government of Lebanon and by the Syrian President to talk to Israel -- tentative as these were -- should be considered in that light.  He hoped that “opportunities for adversaries talking to resolve differences would not remain unexplored”.

Following Mr. de Soto’s presentation, Council members agreed on the urgency of stemming the suffering in Gaza through resumption of negotiations towards the implementation of the Quartet’s “Road Map”.  Peace could not be achieved through suicide bombings, or by separation walls or unilateral attempts to prejudge the final status issue, China’s representative said, calling on action from the international community to help the parties move towards a common goal.

“The once land of peace flowing with milk and honey had become one flowing with blood and tears,” he said, stressing it was the Council’s historic responsibility to help bring about a durable solution.

The Observer of Palestine said that such a peace would not be possible through unilateral action, claiming Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza had merely increased suffering there by turning it into a huge prison encircled by Israeli forces that continued their illegal practices, destroyed infrastructure and killed hundreds of Palestinians, many of whom were women and children.

He said the Palestinian Authority rejected any unilateral modification of the situation in the West Bank as well, because the true goal of such moves was to annex more territory.  Instead, President Abbas had made appeals to resume negotiations on the basis of international agreements.

However, Israel’s representative said that the escalation of violence in Gaza showed that the President of the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas Government were not one and the same.  As the violence continued, the world was beginning to recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the consequence, not the cause, of an ideology of intolerance and hatred.  He maintained that the Palestinian people faced a critical decision, one that could reverse their situation, a situation they chose and for which they were responsible.

Joining the debate, the representatives of Syria, Iran and Cuba (speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), called on the Security Council to put an end to what they called its decades-long failure to act to compel Israel to abide by Security Council resolutions.

On behalf of the European Union, the representative of Finland called for an end to violence and for restraint from all sides in Gaza.  She reiterated the Union’s call for the immediate and unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldier, as well as for the immediate release of Palestinian ministers and legislators in Israeli custody, to ease tensions and provide a much needed step on the path to peace.

Other Council members speaking today were Qatar, United Kingdom, Denmark, Congo, United States, Peru, France, Russian Federation, Ghana, United Republic of Tanzania, Slovakia, Greece, Argentina and Japan.

The meeting, which opened at 10:25 a.m., adjourned at 2:01 p.m.

Background

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

Briefing by Special Coordinator

ALVARO DE SOTO, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, said that a deadly crisis continued in Gaza, where Israeli operations had killed 295 Palestinians, including 66 children.  Neither those intensive operations nor continuing diplomatic efforts had led to the release of the Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, whose capture on 25 June had intensified the crisis, or to the cessation of indiscriminate rocket attacks, which had injured 20 Israelis.  Israeli sources claimed weapons smuggling into Gaza had increased, and for that reason, the country’s Defense Forces had launched further operations.

He said Egyptian officials were leading diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, for which he had conveyed the United Nations full support.  Unfortunately, Palestinian society was teetering between national unity one day and civil conflict the next.  In contacts with both the presidency and the Government, he continued to urge them and the movements of which they were members to make new efforts to overcome their differences.

With Palestinian security forces, medical workers and others on strike, Palestinians and United Nations agencies had had to resort to their own resources to fill the gaps, he said.  He welcomed the European Commission’s efforts to mitigate the worst effects of the crisis by renewing the Temporary International Mechanism, as agreed by the Quartet last month, but it could not be sustained, nor substitute, for the Palestinian Authority.

He said Israel’s continued withholding of over half a billion dollars of Palestinian tax and customs revenues was the biggest single direct cause of the Palestinian financial crisis, leading the Quartet to invite the parties to consider channelling the funds through the Temporary International Mechanism.  Another way to restore hope to Palestinians would be the implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access, by decoupling economic access for civilians from the broader political impasse.

In the West Bank, obstacles to movement had also arisen, settlement activity continued and access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory by Palestinians of the diaspora had also been tightened, he said.  Plans to withdraw settlements from parts of the West Bank were on hold.

In Lebanon, he said the fragile balance between crisis and opportunity was also apparent, where implementation of Council resolutions had generated momentum, but the country’s heavy political tensions remained a constant source of concern.  Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had called for talks between Israel and Lebanon, but Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had said his country would be the last to sign a peace treaty with Israel.  Regarding to the situation between Syria and Israel, Mr. Olmert had said the Golan Heights would remain a permanent part of his State as long as he was Prime Minister.

Further, the United Nations Special Coordinator said Palestinian militant rocket fire should cease in Gaza, as should Israeli military operations there.  “The virtual siege of Gaza is having a devastating effect on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, stifling hope and fomenting despair, which the continued dangerous launching of rockets at Israeli population centres such as Sderot is a source of deep distress for ordinary Israelis,” he said.

He said the combination of near total closure of the Gaza Strip, non-payment of public sector salaries, absence of basic law and order, declining service delivery, continued military strikes by air and land, and the lack of any apparent political horizon was a truly explosive one.  To avoid further deterioration, he offered the United Nations full support for meaningful dialogue between Prime Minister Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas.

In regard to the Palestinian political crisis, he said there was no simple quick fix.  National unity was the only way to stem the slide into anarchy, and it required international support.  That was why its platform must reflect Quartet principles, including a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.  The international community should also expect all members of the Israeli Government and its acts of legislation to reflect their commitment to such a goal, particularly concerning settlements and the barrier.

He said the international community’s long-term goal was, of course, not only peace between Israel and Palestine, but also peace between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon, through just and lasting solutions.  The Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by the Council of Arab States in Beirut in 2002, represented a crucial piece of the regional puzzle.

In addition, signs of willingness by Israel to open discussions with the Government of Lebanon, and by the Syrian President to talk to Israel -- tentative as those were -- should be considered in that light.  He hoped that opportunities for adversaries talking to resolve differences would not remain unexplored.

Statements

JAMAL NASSER AL-BADER ( Qatar) said that, while a comprehensive and permanent settlement was accessible, it could only take effect through dialogue.  Qatar had been in the forefront of those calling for an open meeting to review the peace process.  It behoved the Council to continue giving momentum to the peace process.  The international community and the Quartet should take tangible steps to push anew the stagnant Middle East peace process in all tracks, in accordance with previously reached accords, Council resolutions, the Middle East “Road Map” and the mandates of the peace process.

He stressed that any unilateral settlement of the conflict would not constitute a permanent settlement.  Repressive practices and illegal policies, such as the expansion of settlements and the separation wall, were hampering the peace efforts and aggravating the humanitarian crisis.  The Security Council had repeatedly called for the establishment of a viable Palestinian State, living side by side with Israel.  Hence, the Council and the international community should exert more strenuous efforts to resume the peace process, in accordance with relevant Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace, based on the existence of two States, Palestine and Israel.

While urging concerned parties to shoulder their responsibility and return to negotiations, Qatar invited the Israeli Government to consider the peace process and pull out to the 4 June 1967 line, as the main reason for the conflict was Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territory.

EMYR JONES PARRY ( United Kingdom) said his country was profoundly concerned by the situation in Gaza, including the recent intra-Palestinian violence and Israeli military action, which had resulted in Palestinian fatalities, both in Gaza and the West Bank.  He was also concerned about the continuing rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets.  At the heart of the problem was the need for Palestinians to refrain from violence and restore calm.  It was easy to be despondent at the lack of progress, and the political prospects were gloomy.  Yet, the Council’s meeting in September had shown a determination to see progress on the peace process and a consensus on the way forward.  It was necessary to build on the spirit in the Chamber in September, including looking forward to action points agreed to by the Quartet and to essentially revitalize its work.

He said he saw two basic conditions for progress, namely the immediate release of Corporal Shalit, and progress on the political track, which required a valid partner with whom the Council could work.  President Abbas was that partner for peace, and an early meeting between him and Prime Minister Olmert was a vital first step.  President Abbas faced tough choices in the days ahead.  Hamas had the responsibility for the failure to establish a National Unity Government.  As long as Hamas refused to accept a two-State solution, to recognize Israel and renounce violence, the international community had to channel assistance through the Temporary International Mechanism.  Bilaterally, the United Kingdom was working on plans to improve security, among other things

The conflict between Hizbollah and Israel had been brought to an end on 14 August, after the Council had adopted resolution 1701 (2006), he said.  More than two months had passed since the fighting had ended.  The situation in Lebanon had improved considerably, and reconstruction efforts were under way.  The United Kingdom remained committed to the full implementation of resolution 1701, and it would continue to work with the United Nations to ensure that Prime Minister Siniora had full support in efforts to maintain Lebanon’s sovereignty.  He was concerned, however, by the role Syria and Iran played in financing and arming groups in Lebanon, and he called on them to end their interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs, in accordance with Council resolutions.  Both those countries could play a constructive role in furthering the aims of peace in the Middle East.  While they supported extremism, however, they would put peace in the Middle East further out of reach.  He called on all countries to provide firm support to Lebanon’s Government in meeting the challenges ahead.  Remarkable progress had been made on the ground in recent weeks.  Despite difficulties, there were signs of progress.  The Council would have to keep the faith -- faith in recognizing the need to address the issue, make progress and continue to work for a comprehensive peace.

ELLEN MARGRETHE LØJ ( Denmark) said the challenge for the parties to the conflict, as well as for the international community, was to ensure that they embarked on a process leading towards lasting peace.  The framework was already in place through the Arab Peace Initiative, the performance-based Road Map, as well as relevant Council resolutions, all based on the principle of “land for peace”.  She welcomed the Quartet’s intentions to reinforce its activities, and was hopeful that it would soon succeed in that endeavour.  It was now up to the parties to avail themselves of that window of opportunity.  Her delegation had continuously stressed the need for an early resumption of dialogue between the two parties, with a view to relaunching negotiations on the basis of the Road Map.

Expressing support for President Abbas, she encouraged his efforts to promote national unity and form a Government with a political platform reflecting the Quartet’s principles.  Such a Government was essential for the international community to have a viable Palestinian partner in the efforts to support the relaunching of the peace process, as well as in the efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Palestinian institutions.  The internal strife between Palestinian factions only hampered such efforts and was not serving the interest of the Palestinian people.  She, therefore, called on all factions to bring an end to their internal strife.  She also encouraged regional partners to do their utmost to support efforts to restart the peace process.

The humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remained of serious concern, she said.  There was an urgent need to foster positive economic developments.  Also urgent was the full implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access.  The release of Palestinian tax and customs revenues, currently withheld by Israel, must be released.  The revenues could be channelled through the Temporary International Mechanism, which had proved its capacity to target aide directly to the Palestinian people.  To succeed, however, such steps must be accompanied by the release of the captured Israeli solider.  The Palestinian ministers and legislators in Israeli custody must also be freed immediately, and there must be an end to violence; Palestinian factions must immediately stop their attacks, just as all Israeli military activities in the Palestinian Territory must cease.

Concluding, she underlined the importance of making the best use of the current opportunity to restart the peace process.  The parties must take the lead.  The neighbours, including Syria, must constructively play along and the international community must do what it could to provide the necessary incentives.

BASILE IKOUEBE ( Congo) said it was absolutely necessary to pursue direct negotiations between the antagonists in the Middle East crisis, which, as it continued, only caused more extremism.  In addition, Israeli reprisals and the worsening humanitarian situation in the Occupied Territory created continuing tragedies, while the firing of Qassam rockets was also great concern.

The Security Council, he said, had an important role to play in bringing about the resumption of negotiations.  National unity among Palestinians was particularly important for that purpose, as was restraint on Israel’s part and the restitution of financial resources to Palestinians.  In Lebanon, all Security Council resolutions should be implemented.  He reaffirmed the need for a just and lasting solution for the crisis in the Middle East, through the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.

WILLIAM J. BRENCICK ( United States) said the Road Map and its principles remained the only route to a lasting peace, and he pledged support for the parties to make progress down that road.  Progress, however, required a peace partner on the Palestinian side, and he reiterated his country’s commitment to renew aid to a Palestinian Government committed to peace.  Conditions had deteriorated in the Territory largely because of the irresponsible stewardship by Hamas.

To alleviate the humanitarian situation, meanwhile, he said the United States had already provided $485 million dollars in assistance.  Regarding Lebanon, his country would work with all parties to further implement resolution 1701.  He called for the release of the Israeli captives held there, also calling on the international community to enforce the embargo on illicit arms shipments to the country.

JORGE VOTO-BERNALES ( Peru) said today’s report was of great concern.  The recent war in Lebanon had shown the risk of the conflict’s escalation.  The internal crisis and the governability of the Occupied Palestinian Territory was an alarming situation.  The effect of the continuing disagreement between the presidency and the Government on the financial and humanitarian crisis was now evident.  A lack of cohesion made it difficult to establish public order.  He, meanwhile, thanked President Abbas for his efforts to form a Government that would enable the Palestinian Authority to act coherently.  He had noted the Quartet’s decision of 20 September to intensify its efforts and work closely with regional contacts and parties to the conflict.

He stressed the need to create a dynamism that would encourage the parties to pursue efforts to resolve the conflict, based on a two-State solution.  As time went on, the occupation of the Palestinian Territory continued as a fait accompli on the ground, and acts against Israel were destroying the only platform on which to build a lasting solution.  With regard to Lebanon, he said the parties must continue to support the cessation of hostilities on the southern border, particularly in the areas of controversy.  It was also necessary to pay attention to the establishment of normal diplomatic relations between Lebanon and its neighbours.

JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIÈRE ( France) noted that, one month after fresh hopes had been created, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis had worsened.  France remained concerned at the security and humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank.  The continuing firing of homemade rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory was a source of profound concern.  The intra-Palestinian clashes were also very worrying.  That volatile situation required a strong and swift reaction, in order to avoid additional deterioration and further destabilization of the region.  The international community could not remain inert, given the economic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  While he welcomed the restarting of the Temporary International Mechanism, that was not sufficient.  He called on Israel to repay taxes due the Palestinian Authority.  The reopening of the crossing points was also essential.  The Quartet must be involved in solving the crisis, which remained a major source of frustration in the region.  The Quartet’s last communiqué had opened up various prospects for action.

The international community’s actions, however, could not substitute action by the parties themselves, he said.  In that regard, he called on the Palestinian Authority to stop acts of terrorism and violence.  He also called for the immediate release of the Israeli soldier.  He called on Hamas to accept previous agreements and recognize Israel.  France renewed its support for President Abbas, including his efforts to bring about a national Palestinian consensus.  The formation of a National Unity Government would be positive, both for the Palestinians and the peace process.

France expected Israel to stop its disproportionate military operations, as those actions would weaken the Palestinian Authority as a partner in the negotiations, he said.  Also of concern were the arrests of Palestinian representatives, and he called on Israel to free Palestinian politicians and ministers.  He also called for a stop to settlements and the construction of the separation wall.  The settlements around East Jerusalem were also troubling, as they separated East Jerusalem from its Palestinian environment and compromised the chances for peace.

Regarding Lebanon, he said he was happy to see that the implementation of resolution 1701 was progressing.  The cessation of hostilities was being respected.  The international community should continue to work towards the objectives laid out in the resolution.  France would continue its contacts with the parties to establish Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.  In that regard, France was doing everything to ensure the holding of a conference in Paris in January.  Intensified diplomatic efforts were needed.  France would continue to work for a global and just solution to the Middle East conflict, based on Security Council resolutions, the Madrid terms of reference, the principle of land for peace, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative.

VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) agreed that the Road Map was the only way out of the continuing conflict; it was important to bring that plan up to date to meet the current realities.  In addition, a Palestinian Government of National Unity was needed.  The international community, and particularly neighbouring countries, should assist the Palestinians in that area.

Regarding Lebanon, he called for continued and full implementation of resolution 1701 and on all parties in Lebanon to cooperate with efforts for the reconstruction of the country.  He said the Russian Federation was providing much assistance in that regard.

LESLIE KOJO CHRISTIAN ( Ghana) said that the international community must bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders together for the resumption of peace talks, as there was no military solution to the conflict in the Middle East.  In that light, the Council did well by the passage of resolution 1701 and laying the foundation for a sustainable ceasefire.

The Council, he said, must continue to assert its role and work assiduously towards the resolution of the Palestinian problem -- which was indisputably at the core of the Middle East question -- on the basis of its resolutions and in accordance with the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.

BEGUM K. TAJ (United Republic of Tanzania) said the ongoing cycle of violence and counter violence had led to further tensions in the region, at a time when the parties should be looking for a way to revitalize the peace process.  The current volatile situation was very disturbing.  Israeli air strikes on populated areas and tank shelling had continued unabated.  Israel had demolished key Palestinian infrastructure.  Suicide attacks and indiscriminate mortar fire had also continued with no end in sight.  Her delegation was also concerned by the surge of intra-Palestinian violence.  The non-payment of salaries to Palestinian workers was also contributing to their desperation, which, in turn, would create violence.  She welcomed President Abbas’s commitment to peace.  She also looked forward to the January conference in Paris.  Ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, in many ways, had expressed their desire for a negotiated two-State solution.

She said it was an opportune time for the Hamas-led Government to commit to the principles set out by the Quartet, including recognition of Israel’s right to existence.  Israel should also implement its obligations, including halting the construction of the barrier and allowing for freedom of movement.  Without the resumption of free movement, a viable Palestinian economy would not be possible.  Israel should also revert to its decision to withhold customs and taxes.  It was high time to reconsider that decision, so as to avert a humanitarian crisis.

On the issue of Lebanon, she said she was pleased to note that the situation had remained calm.  She also welcomed the contributions of all countries that had made a return to peace possible, and called for the full implementation of resolution 1701.

LIU ZHENMIN ( China) noting that more than a month had passed since the Council’s historic meeting, said that the peace process remained stagnant.  That lack of progress was a cause of deep concern and worry.  The Arab-Israeli conflict was the oldest item on the Council’s agenda, and the only one to draw continued attention.  In view of the past half century, there was no lack of solutions to that conflict, whose root causes required that the parties demonstrate political courage, overcome differences and relaunch peace talks, as early as possible.  For that purpose, the two sides should adopt a forward-looking attitude and make the necessary compromises and concessions.  Peace could not be achieved through suicide bombings, or by separation walls or unilateral attempts to prejudge the final status issue.  The international community should not sit idle.  Rather, it must take action to help the parties move towards a common goal.  He welcomed the Quartet’s decision to hold regular meetings with the parties involved and the countries in the region.

He said he hoped that the Quartet, as the primary mechanism for resolving the conflict, would play a proactive role in that regard.  At the same time, the Council, as the primary organ for maintaining peace and security, should shoulder its responsibilities.  Decades of Arab-Israeli conflict had caused numerous mothers to lose their sons and wives to lose husbands.  The once land of peace flowing with milk and honey had become one flowing with blood and tears.  The seeds of peace must be allowed to take root in the fertile soils of the Middle East.  That was the Council’s historic responsibility.

PETER BURIAN (Slovakia), aligning himself with the statement of Finland on behalf of the European Union, said that the recent experience in Lebanon had shown that a settlement to the Middle East crisis could only be achieved through peaceful negotiations and full implementation of all relevant Council resolutions and on the basis of the principles defined by the Quartet and the Road Map.

In Lebanon, he welcomed progress and underlined the necessity of respecting the arms embargo, for which Syria’s cooperation was instrumental.  For other remaining problems, he encouraged the international community to facilitate an early engagement between Israel and Lebanon.  In the Occupied Territory, he urged measures to ameliorate the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians and efforts from both sides to reduce tensions and relaunch mutual negotiations.

ADAMANTIOS VASSILAKIS ( Greece) said his country looked forward to continued progress in Lebanon, but was extremely concerned over the potential destabilizing effect that the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory could have in the region.  Restraint, therefore, should be exercised by both sides.  In addition, the absence of a credible Palestinian political process should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

The complete breakdown of law and order in the Occupied Palestinian Territory must not be allowed to happen, he said.  The Quartet should move forward urgently on the basis of its September agreement and meet, on a regular basis, at the level of both principals and envoys, and with the parties and other regional partners.

CESAR MAYORAL ( Argentina) said his country was gravely concerned about the situation in the Gaza Strip, which continued to deteriorate at an alarming pace.  Israeli military operations, the actions of Palestinian extremist groups and the increasing tensions between followers of Hamas and Fatah were the main factors contributing to that deterioration.  The Palestinian civilian population was the main victim of that violence, and suffered the most from the profound economic crisis in the Gaza Strip.  If that continued, the international community would risk a greater fragmentation and radicalization of Palestinian society and a possible collapse of the Palestinian Authority, which would be a terrible, and perhaps irreversible, setback in the search for peace.

He said he regretted that the negotiations to form a Palestinian Government of National Unity had so far proven unsuccessful.  Argentina firmly supported the efforts of President Abbas to ensure that the Palestinian Government’s programme reflected the three principles set forth by the international community.  The Israeli people had the right to demand that the attacks with Qassam rockets against villages of the south ceased and that Corporal Shalit be released without preconditions.  Argentina strongly supported those demands.  At the same time, a purely military response and the disproportionate use of force would not achieve the desired results, but only contribute to increasing the suffering of the Palestinian population and strengthening the position of the advocates of that violence.

The Palestinian people also had the right, among other things, to demand the easing of closures and the restrictions of movement.  They had a right to insist that the crossings into and out of Gaza were kept open permanently and that the military operations that affected innocent civilians were ended.  He also requested Israel to transfer all tax and customs revenues withheld since the beginning of 2006.  To the end, it was essential to keep in mind that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis agreed that there was no military solution to the conflict and that a two-State solution could not be achieved through unilateral actions by either side.  The Council and the Quartet must be more active in the search for lasting peace.  In the coming months, the Quartet should focus on the revitalization of the Road Map, with a view to adjusting some of its provisions.

Regarding the situation in Lebanon, he said he was generally pleased with the progress made in the implementation of resolution 1701.  He called again for the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.  Argentina was gravely concerned about the use of cluster bombs by Israel in Lebanon, which threatened the civilian population, the humanitarian agencies and even personnel of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace must also cease immediately.  It was imperative to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.  Such a peace should encompass all tracks -- the Israeli-Palestinian, the Israeli-Lebanese and the Israeli-Syrian.  Revitalizing the peace process should be a priority that sought to realize the legitimate aspirations of the peoples of the Middle East to security, dignity and recognition.

Council President KENZO OSHIMA (Japan), speaking in his national capacity, expressed deep concern over the political deadlock and the ever deteriorating law and order, heightened by the recent disputes and clashes between Hamas and Fatah.  The worsening economic and humanitarian conditions among a large segment of the Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza, were a cause of serious concern to the international community.  To break out of the current stalemate, he urged the Palestinian people to find ways to overcome their differences and support the formation of a new National Unity Government, in order to restore law and order and improve the political climate.

He said Japan strongly expected that the new Palestinian Government would make it clear to the international community that it sought to achieve co-existence and mutual prosperity with Israel.  For its part, Israel should support and respond positively to efforts by President Abbas to promote such a goal.  He also expressed concern at the continuing fighting between Israel and Palestinian military groups since the abduction of Corporal Shalit at the end of June.  He called upon the Palestinians to work towards the safe return of the abducted soldier and to stop attacking Israel.  Japan also renewed its call on Israel to exercise the maximum restraint and release the Palestinian ministers and parliament members held in custody.  He also expressed concern at Israel’s move to expand its settlements.

At the current critical moment, nothing was more important than direct talks at the highest level between the parties, he said.  Japan strongly expected an early resumption of the long-delayed direct talks between the leaders of the two parties, Israel and Palestine.  The fast deteriorating humanitarian and economic situation among the Palestinians was a matter of deep concern.  An early resumption by the Israeli Government of the transfer of tax and customs revenues to the Palestinian Authority was of primary importance, as was the full implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access. 

Regarding the situation in Lebanon, he welcomed that the cessation of hostilities had generally held under resolution 1701, with the withdrawal of the Israeli Defense Forces from the Lebanese territories and the steady deployment of UNIFIL and Lebanese forces in the south.  On the other hand, serious efforts were needed to address the other terms of the resolution, including the disarmament of the militias and delineation of Lebanon’s borders.  Stability in Lebanon was indispensable to realizing a comprehensive Middle East peace.  For its part, Japan would consider providing appropriate assistance to Lebanon’s recovery and reconstruction efforts.  He also emphasized the importance of Syria’s role in achieving stability in Lebanon and peace in the region.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine, said the Gaza strip was the victim of a ferocious campaign by Israeli Forces, which would expand the conflict in the region.  Israel had recently occupied the border with Egypt, which had resulted in 25 murders, including of women and children.  The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza had merely increased suffering there by turning it into a huge prison encircled by Israeli Forces.   Israel’s continued illegal practices against the population had led to the deaths of 350 Palestinians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure.

In addition, he said Israel was terrorizing the population by warning it of impending destruction and by the constant overflights, leading to large-scale displacement.  Thousands had been imprisoned, including members of the Government.  Tax funds were being withheld, starving the people.  During the month of Ramadan, racist policies had prevented Muslims from accessing the Holy City, while the extremist settlers had access to places of prayer without restrictions.

He said that the Palestinian Authority rejected any unilateral modification of the situation in the West Bank, because the true goal of such moves was to annex more territory, as shown by expansion of settlements and continued construction of the barrier.  Instead, President Abbas had made appeals to resume negotiations on the basis of international agreements.  The imposition of a fait accompli would have extremely negative consequences in the region. 

He appealed to the Security Council to put an end to the violations committed by the occupying Power against the Palestinian people.  Arab ministers had recently appealed again to the Council to take on its responsibility to maintain peace and security by taking firm action to end the crisis and protect the Palestinian people living under occupation.

Israel, he said, was faced with two choices; to put an end to its occupation and pursue a just solution to the problem of refugees, or continue its State terrorism and war crimes.  The choice of Palestinians and Arabs in general was peace.  It was high time for Israel to make the same choice.

DAN GILLERMAN ( Israel) said positive currents were flowing in the Middle East.  Moderate voices were beginning to surface where they had been ignored or suppressed in the past.  Israelis were tortured everyday by unimaginable anxiety and shattered hopes, painfully awaiting the safe return of Israeli soldiers Gilad Shalit, Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who had been callously abducted earlier this summer by Hamas and Hizbollah.  In resolution 1701, the Council took upon itself the responsibility to secure the soldiers’ unconditional release.  “I ask you now, as I did then, to do your utmost to alleviate this humanitarian crisis and bring them home,” he said.

He said that Israel welcomed the steps taken by its Arab neighbours and other moderate Arab leaders in the region seeking to follow through on their commitments for peace.  The positive voices from the Arab and Muslim world showed a genuine desire to embark on a path of historic reconciliation and mutual advancement.  Regrettably, different voices were sometimes still heard in the building, including those spoken a few minutes ago, which too often failed to reflect the dramatically changing world.  A major task was to narrow the gap between what was heard and done in the “real world”, and what was still too often heard and done on First Avenue.

Resolution 1701 sent a clear and unambiguous message that the international community would not tolerate a “State within a State”, be it Hizbollah or any other terrorist organization, he said.  The strength of that conviction was a test for the Council.  Today, the situation along Israel’s northern border had begun to stabilize.  The Lebanese Army was deployed throughout its territory.  Success, however, could not be prematurely declared, but would only be determined to the extent that resolution 1701 was fully implemented.  In that regard, there was reason to be concerned about the smuggling of arms across the border between Lebanon and Syria.  Hizbollah’s rearming not only violated the essence of resolution 1701, but also placed the entire region in immediate peril.  The embargo must be enforced, and its violators held accountable.

“ Israel is a serious and committed partner to a peace-seeking Government in Lebanon,” he stressed.  The events of the recent summer had compelled everyone to rise above the culture of scepticism and forge a direct line of communication.  Only in that way could peace be brought to the two peoples.  As a result of Palestine’s choice to turn Gaza into a terror base; while hostilities in the north had ceased, hostilities in the south had only escalated.  During September, some 45 Qassam rockets, launched by Palestinian terrorists from the Gaza Strip, had pierced the skies of southern Israel.  Along with the rocket attacks had come daily psychological trauma inflicted on an entire civilian population, whose only wish was to live in peace and security.

By now it was clear to all that the Hamas Government -- not mentioned in the Palestinian statement -- currently leading the Palestinian Authority, was driving dangerously on a road that would only lead to further isolation, he said.  As long as the Hamas Government failed to recognize Israel, accept and implement agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and eradicate terrorism -- including, but not limited to attacks on Israel’s southern communities -- Israel could not dialogue with it.  Israel would not compromise on those conditions.

As the escalation of violence in Gaza had shown, the Hamas Government and the President of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people were not one and the same, he said.  As the violence continued, the world was beginning to recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the consequence, and not the cause, of such ideology, intolerance and hatred.   Today, the Palestinian people faced a critical decision, one that could reverse their situation, a situation they chose and for which they were responsible.

“We are witnessing the rise of a new world order, where moral courage and authority is confused with militaristic chauvinism and pomposity,” he said.  The Council’s swift action last week had demonstrated the consensus within the international community that rogue States could not be allowed to threaten global security.  North Korea, however, was only the prelude to a more disturbing story, the emergence of a nuclear Iran, armed and willing to share its State terrorism capabilities with the other unholy extremists, who yearned to destroy everyone.  “Indeed, North Korea is only the preview.  A nuclear Iran is the main feature –-coming soon, if we do not act resolutely, to a theatre near you,” he said.

He said that Israel saw the Iranian threat as an existential one, not solely to itself, but to the entire world as well.  Iran’s web of lies, perversions of history and distortions of human destiny were lurid warnings to “read the writing on the wall”, and respond.  The international community must be determined, clear and unequivocal in its plan of action.  There was only one choice; the world must ensure that Iran did not attain nuclear weapons.

Many had mentioned today the need to release Corporal Shalit, he added.  It was in that context that he wished to share some disturbing news, learned just this morning, that Iran had bribed Hamas leader Khalid Mashal, “hosted by Syria”, with some $50 million to sabotage the negotiations on the release of Corporal Shalit and prevent his release.  Moderates were joining together to form an alliance against extremists.  That coalition of moderates must be bolstered and the opposition of extremists isolated.  Global terrorism and extremism was moving the international community closer together, uniting it in places where only division and difference were thought to exist, he said.

TAWFEEQ AHMED ALMANSOOR ( Bahrain) said the ministerial meeting of the Quartet last month, at which Bahrain had spoken for the Arab League, had been an important development, as instability in the Middle East could have a destabilizing effect on the entire region.  The occupation had lasted for far too long, Palestinian rights had been denied too long and the Palestinian people had endured too much hardship.

He said the Arab States had appealed to the Council many times to assume its responsibility.  It should not have to keep repeating itself.  It was high time to put an end to the stagnation and to implement all the relevant Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace.  The length of the conflict had shown that there was no military solution to the crisis, neither would unilateral actions create a just and durable peace.  The time was right to work towards peace on the part of all peoples.

KIRSTI LINTONEN ( Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Middle East had once again in recent months witnessed turbulent times.  It was now important to look ahead and work strenuously to stabilise the region.  In Lebanon, there had been some encouraging developments.  She welcomed the overall deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces in southern Lebanon, supported by UNIFIL.  The Union had noted the almost complete withdrawal of Israeli troops, and called on Israel to also withdraw from the Lebanese town of Ghajar, in coordination with UNIFIL.  Lebanon’s sovereignty over its land, sea and airspace must be respected.  She also called for the immediate release of the two Israeli soldiers, whose abduction had sparked the Israeli military operation.  The Union once again reiterated its commitment to support the full implementation of resolution 1701.

Recalling the numerous meetings held during the General Assembly’s ministerial week, she said there seemed to a consensus within the international community for the need to make urgent progress towards a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, based on Council resolutions and the Road Map, and with a negotiated two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at its core.  To achieve that, it was necessary to focus on the most pressing issues.  The Union remained deeply concerned at the continued Israeli operation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and deplored the loss of civilian life it had brought.  It also called on the Palestinian leadership to bring an end to violence and terrorist activities, including the firing of rockets into Israeli territory.  The recent intra-Palestinian clashes were also a cause of great concern.  She called for an end to violence and for restraint from all sides.

Once again, she reiterated the Union’s call for the immediate and unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldier.  She also repeated the Union’s call for the immediate release of Palestinian ministers and legislators in Israeli custody, as that would ease tensions and provide a much needed step on the path to peace.  A very pressing issue was the question of the Palestinian Government.  She expressed support for President Abbas and called on the Palestinians to join his efforts towards national unity and the formation of a Government with a political platform, reflecting the Quartet principles and allowing for early engagement.  Such a Government would also be a key for allowing the Union to pursue its goal of strengthening the capacity of Palestinian institutions.

Also of utmost urgency was the alarming humanitarian and economic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she stressed.  Some 65 per cent of Palestinians lived below the poverty line, and civil servants were on strike, since they had not been paid for many months.  The Union reiterated its call for an immediate resumption of transfers of withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues by Israel, as that would have a significant impact on the Palestinian economy.  It also called on Israel to consider resumption of such transfers via the Temporary International Mechanism to alleviate the deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions in Gaza and the West Bank.  Full implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access, particularly the permanent opening of Rafah, Karni and other crossings, was also vital.

“We must all work to solve these pressing issues,” she said.  As long as the conflict was not resolved, peace would not be secured anywhere in the region.  The Union reiterated its continuing support to Israeli and Palestinian efforts to advance the peace process.

RODRIGO MALMIERCA DIAZ (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the Movement had agreed to continue supporting the Palestinian people and its leadership, in order to promote a just and lasting solution to the crisis and the right of Palestinians to self-determination.  Israel was under obligation to terminate its violations of international law, and to halt the construction of the wall in the Occupied Territory.  He also condemned the continued expansions of settlements.

He called upon the Security Council to assume its responsibilities to compel Israel to respect international law regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as the occupied Syrian Golan.  Reiterating support for a two-State solution, he stressed the continued relevance of the Arab Peace Initiative, as had been reaffirmed by the South American and Arab Countries Summit in 2005.

BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said he added his voice to that of Cuba and Bahrain.  The Arab-Israeli conflict was the longest on the United Nations agenda and was equal to the Organization’s age.  Decades had passed since Israel had occupied the Arab territories.  Yet, the bulk of the Council’s resolutions had not been carried out, due to the Council’s inability to apply them to Israel, the occupying force, which hurt the Council’s credibility.  The Council’s clock stopped, because of the use of the veto by an influential State.  Thus, the occupation of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon persisted.  The just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict required the political will for peace.  The Arabs had always contributed in that regard, presenting many peaceful initiatives, including the initiative of the 2002 Beirut summit.

It was clear, he said, more than ever, that Israeli military supremacy could not impose a fait accompli on people chaffing under occupation.  While the question was not a new one, the Arab-Israeli conflict remained unresolved with tragic repercussions.  Arab land had long been occupied, resulting in the suffering of millions.  The responsibility for establishing a just and comprehensive peace was a collective one.  President Bashar al-Assad had talked about the peace of principles, not the peace of manoeuvres.  What had been Israel’s response to Syria’s peaceful intentions? he asked.  The Israeli Prime Minister had declared that Israel would not withdraw from the occupied Syrian Golan, which was part and parcel of Israel.  Many Israeli statesmen had criticized him for his lack of political realism.  Without the restoration of the occupied Golan to mainland Syria, Israel would not enjoy peace.  Continued occupation meant, in fact, the absence of peace.

Regarding the United Kingdom’s concern for the so-called Syrian role in financing and arming groups inside Lebanon, he said that the distorted reading of facts on the ground did not conform with the numerous reports presented by the United Nations itself on Syria’s positive political role vis-à-vis what was transpiring in the region.  The United Kingdom, which shouldered the bulk of moral responsibility for sowing the seeds of the Arab-Israeli conflict, knew full well the identity of the real terrorism from which the region was suffering, with many British nationals having fallen in the explosion of the King David Hotel in Al Quds.  Given its long experience in the Council, Britain knew that United Nations records were replete with official reports of Israeli terrorism in the region.  Numerous speakers today, particularly Mr. de Soto, had stated that Syria was for peace.

Continuing, he said Syria had moved part of its border guard from the border with Iraq to the Lebanese border to prove its commitment to the implementation of resolution 1701, despite its declared reservations with some of its provisions.  The Council knew that his country had requested European technical devices to monitor the long borders with Lebanon.  Syria was still awaiting the delivery of those devices.  His country was participating in the reconstruction of many Lebanese villages destroyed by Israel and provided Lebanon with electricity.   Syria had not killed any elements of UNIFIL, nor had it committed war crimes or crimes against humanity in Lebanon or Palestine.  It had also not established a racist separation wall.

MANSOUR SADEGHI ( Iran) said that the atrocities of the Zionist regime had continued for nearly six decades, causing tension in the entire region.  Recently, the Security Council had watched as thousands had been killed or maimed in Lebanon, over 36 days of indiscriminate destruction that had seen the shocking use of multiple rockets and cluster bombs.  After the belated cessation of hostilities, there had been numerous violations by the Israeli regime.

In Gaza as well, he said, violations of the Israeli regime had increased recently, while elsewhere, that regime had defied international law by building the wall and expanding settlements.  As such crimes multiplied, the Council had continued in its failure to act.  He categorically rejected the allegations against his country made by Israel before the Council in an attempt to divert attention from its State terrorism and its defiance of international law and Council resolutions.  In addition, Israel should be compelled to accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Mr. GILLERMAN ( Israel) objected that Syria, which he called the host country of the “Olympics of Terror”, had preached to the Council about peace.  As for Iran, he said it was surrealistic to hear from it a condemnation of the destruction of Lebanon, which it had initiated.

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