TENSIONS IN MIDDLE EAST ‘NEAR THE BREAKING POINT’, SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL

12 December 2006
SC/8896

TENSIONS IN MIDDLE EAST ‘NEAR THE BREAKING POINT’, SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL

12 December 2006
Security Council
SC/8896
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5584th Meeting (AM)

TENSIONS IN MIDDLE EAST ‘NEAR THE BREAKING POINT’,

 

SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL

 

Presidential Statement Underlines Need to Intensify

Efforts to Achieve Just, Lasting, Comprehensive Peace in Region

Reporting to the Security Council today that tensions in the Middle East were “near the breaking point”, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that a final settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict had defied the best efforts of several generations of world leaders, and he also would leave office without an end to the prolonged agony.

Opening the debate, which culminated in the adoption of a presidential statement (document S/PRST/2006/51) reaffirming the Council’s profound attachment to the vision of two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, the Secretary-General said that, with prospects in the Middle East grim, the opportunity for negotiating a two-State solution would last for only so long.

“Should we fail to seize it, the people who most directly bear the brunt of this calamity will be consigned to new depths of suffering and grief.  Other conflicts and problems will become that much harder to resolve, and extremists the world over would enjoy a boost to their recruiting efforts,” he said.

Warning that the region was in profound crisis, Mr. Annan said that mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians had reached new heights.  The Gaza Strip had become a “cauldron of deepening poverty and frustration”, and the overall situation was more complex, more fragile and more dangerous than it had been for a very long time.  With that in mind, he had prepared a new report, which was now in the Council’s hands.  His aim was “to get us out of the preset morass and back to a viable peace process that will respond to the region’s yearning for peace”.

Perhaps the greatest irony in that sad story was that there was no serious question about the broad outline of a final settlement, he said.  The parties themselves, at various times and through various diplomatic channels, had come to bridging almost all the gaps between them.  There was every reason for them to try again, with principled, concerted help from the international community.  The road would be long, and much trust would have to be rebuilt along the way, but it should be remembered where that effort would lead, he said. 

Among the “frank messages” he addressed to both sides, the Secretary-General said that Israel’s democracy could thrive only if the occupation over another people ended.  He agreed with Israel that there was a difference between terrorists who deliberately targeted civilians and regular soldiers who killed or wounded civilians unintentionally in the course of military operations.  However, the use of military force in densely populated civilian areas was a “blunt instrument”, which only produced more death and destruction, recrimination and revenge.  “We should all work with Israel to move beyond the unhappy status quo and teach a negotiated end to the occupation,” he urged.

To the Palestinian side, he said that no resistance to occupation justified terrorism.  Everyone should be united in their unequivocal rejection of terror as a political instrument.  Palestinians would never truly be effective if they focused solely on Israel’s transgressions, without being willing to admit that Israel’s opponents had, themselves, committed appalling and inexcusable crimes.  Also, those who wanted to be heard on Palestine should not deny the connection many Jews felt for their historic homeland.  Rather, they should acknowledge Israel’s security concerns, and make clear that their criticism was rooted, not in hatred, but in a desire for justice, self-determination and peaceful coexistence.

The First Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar, Sheik Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, whose delegation holds the Council presidency for the month, said: “We have more international resolutions, projects, plans and positions than we can possibly use.”  What was lacking was political will to achieve them.  The Arab-Israeli conflict could no longer be resolved through partial or half solutions, which had failed to bring about a permanent settlement.  A coordinated, integrated and consistent approach was needed, which was comprehensive, open to participation by all parties and protected fundamental rights and humanitarian principles.  It should stamp out violence and attend to the social and psychological aspects of the conflict.  “We are all called upon to confront parties on both sides of the camp who refuse to work towards peace,” he said.

Echoing the view that the elements of peace in the Middle East were clear, precise and already in place, Palestine’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations said that the main problem remained, not only a lack of political will, but also a lack of tangible measures and practical mechanisms, essential for effective implementation of the resolutions and initiatives.  He welcomed European efforts aimed at breaking the impasse through the introduction of practical measures, as well as the useful recommendations in the Baker-Hamilton report.  Some Israeli leaders had also indicated a willingness to consider the Arab Peace Initiative as an appropriate platform for peace talks.  He called for an international conference that sought to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli question, as that was at the heart of resolving all crises in the region, he said.

Israel’s representative, however, felt that the analysis of the events in the Middle East heard in forums at the world body tended to be misleading.  Symptoms were routinely mistaken for causes, and decisions were based on rhetoric rather than reality.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was erroneously identified by some as the source of all instability in the region.  Yet, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in actuality the consequence –- not the cause -– of extremism, radicalism, incitement, intolerance, hate and terrorism, all poisoning the region.  The region and the world were challenged by warring ideologies.  It was no surprise then that the road to peace ran directly through the battlefield of the moderates and extremists.  Unless the international community was willing to stand up and confront the enemies of peace, progress would never be made.

The United States was firmly committed to the two-State vision of Israel and Palestine living in peace and security, based on the Road Map -– the only agreed international basis upon which to advance that goal -- said that country’s representative.  Parallel efforts at the United Nations should bolster, and not inadvertently undermine, the pursuit of a lasting peace in the region.  The United States was disappointed that the Security Council and the General Assembly had recently indulged in debate over an excessive number of politicized and biased resolutions.  Everyone should ask themselves whether the goal of a two-State solution would be achieved through the sort of polarized debate that had characterized recent United Nations discussions of the conflict.

Statements were also made by the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Republic of Tanzania, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Argentina, United Kingdom, Congo, France, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Japan, China and Peru.

The meeting was called to order at 10:56 a.m. and it adjourned at 1:41 p.m.

Presidential Statement

Following is the complete text of presidential statement S/PRST/2006/51:

“The Security Council expresses its deep concern over the situation in the Middle East, with its serious ramifications for peace and security, and underlines the need to intensify efforts to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region.

“The Security Council stresses that there can be no military solution to the problems of the region and that negotiation is the only viable way to bring peace and prosperity to peoples throughout the Middle East.

“The Security Council stresses that the parties must respect their obligations under previous agreements, including by putting an end to violence and all aspects of terrorism.

“The Security Council expresses grave concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation and calls for the provision of emergency assistance to the Palestinian people through the Temporary International Mechanism, international organizations and other official channels.

“The Security Council welcomes the agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to establish a mutual ceasefire in Gaza.

“The Security Council welcomes the steps taken by both sides to maintain the ceasefire and expresses its hope that it will lead to a sustained period of calm.  It calls on both sides, therefore, to avoid any actions that could jeopardize further progress.  It reiterates its call for an end to all aspects of terrorism and violence, as set out in previous statements and resolutions.

“The Security Council is mindful of the need to encourage steps to increase confidence in the peace process.

“The Security Council reiterates its call for the Palestinian Authority Government to accept the three Quartet principles.

“The Security Council reaffirms its profound attachment to the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as envisaged in the Road Map.

“The Security Council underlines that action by the international community cannot be a substitute for determined measures by the parties themselves.

“The Security Council encourages the parties to engage in direct negotiations.

“The Security Council reaffirms the vital role of the Quartet and looks forward to its continued active engagement.

“The Security Council reiterates the importance of, and the need to achieve, a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, based on all its relevant resolutions, including resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 1515 (2003), the Madrid terms of reference and the principle of land for peace.”

Background

The Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in the Middle East, for which it had before it the latest report of the Secretary-General, dated 11 December (document S/2006/956).

Statement by Secretary-General

Reporting to the Council on that situation, Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN said that, as he had told members in September, the Arab-Israeli conflict was not just one regional conflict among many.  No other conflict carried such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge even for people far away.

Yet, while the quest for peace had registered some important achievements over the years, a final settlement had defied the best efforts of several generations of world leaders, he said, adding that he, too, would leave office without an end to the prolonged agony.

He said that the Middle East today faced grim prospects.  The region was in profound crisis.  The situation was more complex, more fragile and more dangerous than it had been for a very long time.  It was with that in mind that he had taken the initiative of preparing the report that was now in the Council’s hands.  His aim was “to get us out of the preset morass, and back to a viable peace process that will respond to the region’s yearning for peace”.

Mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians had reached new heights, he said.  The Gaza Strip had become a “cauldron of deepening poverty and frustration”, despite the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlements last year.  In the West Bank, too, the situation was dire.  Settlement activity and construction of the barrier continued.  Israeli obstacles impeded Palestinian movement throughout the area.  The Palestinian Authority, paralyzed by a debilitating political and financial crisis, was no longer able to provide security or basic services.

Israelis, for their part, continued to live in fear of terrorism, he continued.  They were dismayed by the inadequacy of Palestinian efforts to halt rocket attacks into southern Israel, and they were alarmed by a Hamas-led, Government.  At best, that Government was ambivalent about a two-State solution and, at worst, refused to renounce violence and rejected the basic tenets of the approach to the conflict consistently favoured by a majority of Palestinians and enshrined in the Oslo accords.

In Lebanon, the country’s political transformation was complete, and its leaders faced a campaign of intimidation and destabilization, he said.  As last summer’s fighting between Israel and Hizbollah had shown, Lebanon remained hostage to its own difficult history and captive to forces, from within and from beyond its borders, that wished to exploit its vulnerability.

He said that casting a glance to other parts of the region, one saw the Syrian Golan Heights still under Israeli control and concerns about Syria’s relations with militant groups beyond its own borders.  Iraq was mired in unrelenting violence.  Iran’s nuclear activities and possible ambitions had emerged as a source of deep concern to many in the region, and beyond it as well.  All of that fed, and was fed by, an alarming rise in extremism.

Each of those conflicts had their own dynamics and causes, he stated.  Each would require its own specific solution and its own process to produce a solution that would endure.  And, in each case, it was the parties involved who bore the primary responsibility for peace.  No one could make peace for them, impose peace on them, or want peace more than they did.

At the same time, he said, the international community could not escape its responsibility to use its influence.  The various conflicts and crises in the region had become ever more intertwined.  Though deeply separate and distinct, the various arenas affected and shaped each other, making conflict resolution and crisis management much more difficult.  The international community must develop a new understanding of the uncertainty engulfing the Middle East, and then shoulder its full responsibility in resolving it and stabilizing the region.

He, therefore, offered a few thoughts on what the parties themselves and outsiders, from the Quartet to the Security Council and other bodies, might do differently in the search for peace -- in particular, peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which, while no panacea, would go a long way towards defusing tensions throughout the region.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the apparent inability of many people on both sides to understand the position of the other, and the unwillingness of some to even try, he said.  As a true friend and supporter of both sides, he wished to address frank messages to each.

He said it was completely right and understandable that Israel and its supporters should seek to ensure its security by persuading Palestinians, as well as Arabs and Muslims more broadly, to alter their attitude and behaviour towards Israel.  But, they were not likely to succeed, unless they themselves clearly grasped and acknowledged the fundamental Palestinian grievance -- namely, that the establishment of the State of Israel had involved the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families, and had been followed 19 years later by a military occupation that brought hundreds of thousands more Palestinian Arabs under Israeli rule.

Israel was justifiably proud of its democracy and its efforts to build a society on respect for the rule of law, he said.  But, Israel’s democracy could thrive only if the occupation over another people ended.  Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had acknowledged as much.  Israel had undergone a major cultural shift since the days of Oslo:  all of Israel’s major political parties now acknowledged that Israel needed to end the occupation, for its own sake and for the sake of its security.

Yet, he continued, hundreds of thousands of Israelis still lived in territories occupied since 1967 -- and more than 1,000 were added monthly.  As Palestinians watched that activity, they also saw a barrier being built through their land in contravention of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, as well as more than 500 checkpoints to control their movement and the heavy presence of the Israel Defense Forces.  Their despair at the occupation only grew, as did their determination to resist it.  As a result, some tended to invest much of their trust in those who pursued the armed struggle rather than a peace process that did not seem to yield the coveted goal of an independent State.

He said he agreed with Israel and its supporters that there was a difference -- moral as well as legal -- between terrorists who deliberately targeted civilians and regular soldiers who, in the course of military operations, unintentionally killed or wounded civilians, despite efforts to avoid such casualties.  But, the larger the number of civilians killed and wounded during those operations, and the more perfunctory the precautions taken to avoid such losses, the more that difference was diminished.  The use of military force in densely populated civilian areas was a “blunt instrument”, which only produced more death, destruction, recrimination and revenge.  As everyone had seen, it did little to achieve the desired goal of stopping terrorist attacks.  Israelis might reply that they were merely protecting themselves from terrorists, which they had every right to do.  But, that argument would carry less weight as long as the occupation in the West Bank became more burdensome and settlement expansion continued.  Israel would receive more understanding if its actions were clearly designed to help end an occupation, rather than to entrench it.

“We should all work with Israel to move beyond the unhappy status quo and teach a negotiated end to the occupation, based on the principle of land-for-peace,” he urged.

He said it was completely right and understandable to support the Palestinian people, who had suffered so much.  But, Palestinians and their supporters would never truly be effective if they focused solely on Israel’s transgressions, without conceding any justice or legitimacy to Israel’s own concerns, and without being willing to admit that Israel’s opponents had, themselves, committed appalling and inexcusable crimes.  No resistance to occupation could justify terrorism.  Everyone should be united in their unequivocal rejection of terror as a political instrument.

The actions of some United Nations bodies might themselves be counterproductive, he said.  The Human Rights Council, for example, had already held three special sessions focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Hopefully, that body would take care to handle the issue in an impartial way, and not allow it to monopolize attention at the expense of other situations where there were no less grave violations, or even worse.

In the same vein, those who complained that the Security Council was guilty of a “double standard” -- applying sanctions to Arab and Muslim Governments, but not to Israel -- should take care that they themselves did not apply double standards in the other direction, by holding Israel to a standard of behaviour they were unwilling to apply to other States, to Israel’s adversaries, or indeed, to themselves.

He noted that some might feel satisfaction at repeatedly passing General Assembly resolutions or holding conferences that condemned Israel’s behaviour.  But, one should also ask whether such steps brought any tangible relief or benefit to the Palestinians.  There had been decades of resolutions.  There had been a proliferation of special committees, sessions and Secretariat divisions and units.  Had any of those had an effect on Israel’s policies, other than to strengthen the belief in Israel, and among many of its supporters, that this great Organization was too one-sided to be allowed a significant role in the Middle East peace process?

Even worse, he said, some of the rhetoric in connection with the issue implied a refusal to concede the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence, let alone the viability of its security concerns.  It must never be forgotten that Jews had very good historical reasons for taking seriously any threat to Israel’s existence.  What had been done to Jews and others by the Nazis remained an undeniable tragedy, unique in human history.  Today, Israelis were often confronted with words and actions that seemed to confirm their fear that the goal of their adversaries was to extinguish their existence as a State and as a people.

Those who wanted to be heard on Palestine, therefore, should not deny or minimize that history, or the connection many Jews felt for their historic homeland, he said.  Rather, they should acknowledge Israel’s security concerns, and make clear that their criticism was rooted, not in hatred or intolerance, but in a desire for justice, self-determination and peaceful coexistence.

He said that perhaps the greatest irony in that sad story was that there was no serious question about the broad outline of a final settlement.  The parties themselves, at various times and through various diplomatic channels, had come to bridging almost all the gaps between them.  There was every reason for the parties to try again, with principled, concerted help from the international community.  A new and urgent push for peace was needed.

The road would be long, and much trust would have to be rebuilt along the way, he said.  But, it should be remembered where that effort would lead.  Two States, Israel and Palestine, within secure, recognized and negotiated boundaries, based on those of 4 June 1967; a broader peace encompassing Israel’s own neighbours, namely Lebanon and Syria; normal diplomatic and economic relations; arrangements that would allow both Israel and Palestine to establish their internationally recognized capitals in Jerusalem, and to ensure access for people of all faiths to their holy places; and a solution that respected the rights of Palestinian refugees and was consistent with the two-State solution and the character of States in the region.

He said that reaching that destination was not as impossible as some might imagine.  Most Israelis genuinely believed in peace with the Palestinians -- perhaps not quite as the Palestinians envisioned it, but genuine, nevertheless.  Most Palestinians did not seek the destruction of Israel, only the end of occupation and the establishment of their own State -- perhaps in a slightly larger territory than Israelis would wish to concede, but a limited territory, nevertheless.

The challenge was to convince people on each side that those majorities existed on the other, while showing that the spoilers and rejectionists were a distinct minority, he said.  He believed that the fundamental aspirations of both peoples could be reconciled.  He believed in the right of Israel to exist, and to exist in full and permanent security -- free from terrorism, free from attack, free even from the threat of attack.  He believed in the right of the Palestinians to exercise their self-determination.  They had been miserably abused and exploited, by Israel, by the Arab world, sometimes by their own leaders and perhaps even, at times, by the international community.  They deserved to see fulfilled their simple aspiration to live in freedom and dignity.

He said that the “Road Map”, endorsed by the Council in its resolution 1515 (2003), was still the reference point around which any effort to reenergize a political effort should be centred.  Its sponsor, the Quartet, retained its validity because of its singular combination of legitimacy, political strength and financial and economic clout.  But, the Quartet should do more to restore faith, not only in its own seriousness and effectiveness, but also in the Road Map’s practicability, and to create the conditions for resuming a viable peace process.  It needed to find a way to institutionalize its consultations with the relevant regional partners.  It needed to engage the parties directly in its deliberations.  The time had come for the Quartet to be clearer at the outset on the parameters of an end-game deal, and it would have to be open to new ideas and initiatives.

Tensions in the region were “near the breaking point”, he said.  Extremism and populism were leaving less political space for moderates, including those States that had reached peace agreements with Israel.  Welcome moves towards democracy, such as elections, had simultaneously posed a quandary in bringing to power parties, individuals and movements that opposed the basis of current peacemaking approaches.  The opportunity for negotiating a two-State solution would last for only so long.  “Should we fail to seize it, the people who most directly bear the brunt of this calamity will be consigned to new depths of suffering and grief.  Other conflicts and problems will become that much harder to resolve, and extremists the world over would enjoy a boost to their recruiting efforts,” he said.

The period ahead could well prove crucial, he added.  Every day brought defeats in the struggle for peace, and reasons to give up.  “But we must not succumb to frustration,” he said.  The principles on which peace must be based were known to all.  Even the contours of what a solution would look like on the ground were well mapped out.  He believed it was possible to break the current stalemate and make new strides towards peace.

He said that the United Nations and the Middle East were closely intertwined.  The region had shaped that Organization like no other.  The situation, the people, the thirst for peace, were all very close to his heart.  “I know they are close to yours as well,” he said, adding that, as a matter of urgency, “let us match that concern with concerted action”.

Statements

SHEIK HAMAD BIN JASSIM BIN JABR AL-THANI, First Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar, which holds the Council presidency in December, said the United Nations had been seized by the dilemma of the Middle East conflict since its establishment.  Its engagement in the crisis in all its aspects was manifested by efforts that were effective at times, but stagnant at others depending on the intensity of the moment and the degree of concern shown by the international community.  It was no secret that the crisis entailed grave and negative consequences for the region and the world.  Its repercussions would continue to be felt so long as it eluded a peaceful, just and comprehensive solution that guaranteed the rights and spelled out the obligations of all concerned parties.

He recalled that, when the international community had decided to assume responsibility for the establishment of a just, permanent and comprehensive peace in the Middle East after the Madrid Conference, the people of the region had felt that had augured well for their future.  A sense of optimism had prevailed as a long sought objective was finally within reach.  Fifteen years after the Madrid Conference, optimism was dissipating; hopes for peace were shattered; and a feeling of frustration and despair prevailed.  Destruction was rampant.  Many innocent Arabs and Israelis continued to fall victim to rampant acts of violence and counter-violence.  Added to that list were acts of terror whose effects were felt way beyond the region and constituted a serious challenge to the international community.  “This is the result of our failure to arrive at a just and comprehensive peace,” he said.

As the Council embarked on a discussion of the fundamental issue of international peace and security, it must consider some basic points, he said.  The conflict had lasted for over half a century.  Failure to arrive at acceptable solutions to the question over the years had led to catastrophic consequences that affected the overall situation in the region.  While the reasons for failure were well known, just and equitable solutions need not remain elusive.  All it took was good faith and commitment to the tenets of international legitimacy.

Israel was not the only side that was legitimately entitled to live in peace and security in the region, he said.  Palestinians and Arabs had the exact same right.  Generally speaking, the Arab side had for quite some time been consistently confirming, both through its positions and actions, that it robustly desired, wanted and sought the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace.  Facing up to the political, security and development problems of the region could not be achieved without an honourable and peaceful solution to the question.  History had demonstrated that a military solution to the problem was impossible.  It had also demonstrated that the civilized and humanitarian course of action dictated that the international community must renounce extremism and avoid rigid positions and unilateral solutions that sought to guarantee the rights of one side and stamp out those of others.

“We have more international resolutions, projects, plans and positions than we can possibly use,” he said.  What was lacking was political will to achieve the common objectives that would serve the interests of all parties to live in peace, security and stability, and promote coexistence and good cooperation.  At the current stage, the Arab-Israeli conflict could no longer be resolved through partial or half solutions, which had not only proven futile, but also failed to bring about a permanent settlement to the question.  A coordinated, integrated and consistent approach was needed to resolve the conflict, build peace and achieve reconciliation.  That approach must be comprehensive, be open to participation by all parties and protect fundamental rights and humanitarian principles.  It should stamp out violence and attend to the social and psychological aspects of the conflict.  “We are all called upon to confront parties on both sides of the camp who refuse to work towards peace,” he said.

In that regard, he said that, while Israel had never ceased to say that it was in need of a Palestinian partner in the peace process, it was necessary to ask who would decide the credentials of a partner that was acceptable.  Qatar’s efforts to realize sustainable peace in the Middle East were not simply a theme under discussion in the Council.  The protraction of the conflict would continue to entail dire consequences for peace and stability.  As part of the region, Qatar both influenced and was influenced by developments in it. 

The United Nations was responsible for the realization of sustainable peace in the Middle East, since the Organization’s first purpose was the maintenance of international peace and security, he added.  It was regrettable that the Council dealt with issues of lesser gravity and importance with unwavering seriousness and resolve, but failed to accord the Middle East question the same degree of significance.

All were aware of the critical and alarming circumstances in the region, he said.  The Council should, therefore, accord more attention to the question and play an active role with a view to arriving at a comprehensive, just and permanent solution to the Palestinian question and the Arab-Israeli conflict.   The dividends of peace would not only benefit the parties concerned and their immediate region, but would also extend to the world at large, particularly to influential actors to whom he appealed today, to earnestly strive for peace.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine, said that the elements of peace in the Middle East were clear, precise and reflected in relevant Security Council resolutions, the 2002 Arab Initiative, the principle of land-for-peace, as well as the Road Map set forth by the Quartet and endorsed by the Security Council.  Yet, the main problem remained a lack of political will in the international community and a lack of serious and tangible measures and practical mechanisms, essential for effective implementation of those resolutions and initiatives.  The paralysis in the peace process, which had persisted for some time, was the reason why the Arab ministers had come to the Security Council last September in an attempt to “break the ice” and breathe new life into the peace process, in the wake of the war in Gaza and Lebanon last summer and following the worsening of the situation in more than one region in the Middle East.

He welcomed European efforts aimed at breaking that impasse and relaunching the peace process through the introduction of practical measures.  He also wished to underscore the promising signs in the Baker-Hamilton report, which contained recommendations that could be used as a prelude to resuming the political peace process.  He also underscored some statements made by Israeli leaders, who had shown their readiness to consider the Arab Peace Initiative as an appropriate platform for negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis on the one hand, and the Arab parties on the other; the latter whose territories had been under Israeli occupation since 1967.  A non-settlement to the Palestinian question and the persistence of the occupation of Arab territories had continued to fuel conflict and paved the way for all forms of violence and terrorism, regional conflict and international crises.

Noting that the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization had met last Saturday, 9 December, under President Mahmoud Abbas, he said that the meeting had welcomed all international efforts aimed at resuming the peace process, particularly on the Palestinian-Israeli question, as that was the cornerstone to solving any crisis in the region.  There was also a need for an international conference.  Meanwhile, Israel should refrain from pretext and false excuses for not meeting deadlines and it should acknowledge the difficulties as they arise, especially those that had undermined serious peace talks in the past.  The occupying force had continued its unbridled campaign, including in East Jerusalem, to confiscate Palestinian land and build the separation wall, which was illegal.  It also continued to pursue its policy of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, destruction of Palestinian property and goods, closures, checkpoints and barricades -– all of which had dismembered and isolated East Jerusalem and “broken down” the Palestinian people.

He stressed that Israel must honour its commitment to international humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.  The imperative for peace in the Middle East required the occupying force to renounce its tactical manoeuvres.  It claimed to desire peace, yet it carried out practices that shook the very foundation of the peace process and destroyed opportunities for peace.  There were several opportunities for achieving peace in the Middle Eat through serious negotiations and the adoption of mechanisms aimed at creating an appropriate climate for the resumption of talks.

DANIEL CAMERON ( Israel) thanked the Secretary-General for his many years of dedication to the Organization and to the nations of the world.  His remarks, unbiased and referring to both sides of the issue, were not the traditional narrative heard at the United Nations, as the Secretary-General himself had stated.  He offered the Secretary-General his deepest appreciation.

The analysis of the events in the Middle East heard in statements delivered at the world body tended to be misleading.  Symptoms were routinely mistaken for causes and decisions were based on rhetoric rather than reality.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was erroneously identified by some as the source of all instability in the region.  Yet, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in actuality the consequence –- not the cause -– of extremism, radicalism, incitement, intolerance, hate and terrorism, all poisoning the region.

The region and the world were challenged by warring ideologies, he said.  It was no surprise then that the road to peace ran directly through the battlefield of the moderates and extremists, he said.  Unless the international community was willing to stand up and confront the enemies of peace, progress would never be made.  The extremist-moderate divide could be heard from the different voices in the region.  The vast differences between those voices was precisely the reason why Israel must insist on the international community’s three conditions -- for Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous agreements.  Without meeting those conditions, the Palestinian Authority would continue to support violence and terror, not peace and prosperity.

The vast difference between those voices was also the reason why the international community must insist on the full implementation of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1701 (2006), he said.  Without fully ensuring the end of Hizbollah’s “State within a State”, the region would remain in danger of extremist influence.  The vast difference between the voices was the same reason why the international community could not tolerate a nuclear Iran.  It was with particular indignation that, as the Council met, in Iran, a country whose President had threatened to wipe another Member State off the map, a conference was under way with its own “experts and scholars” concluding that the Holocaust had never happened.   Iran’s denial of the Holocaust, its pursuit of nuclear weaponry and its strategic backing of Hamas and Hizbollah threatened peace and security.  Iran could not and would not rewrite history.  Yet, it remained the international community’s duty to make sure that the extremists did not write the world’s future.

The formula for peace had already been prescribed, he said.  It was found in the Road Map and in the international community’s various forums.  At its very heart was the principle of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.  That vision had been consistently reaffirmed over the years, particularly in the past few months, by Israel’s leadership.  Sadly, however, that vision remained unmatched on the Palestinian side.  Israel had embarked on the painful course of disengagement from the Gaza Strip last year -– to show the Palestinians its commitment to peace.  In return for disengagement, Israel had received terror.  Over the last year, more than 1,000 Qassam rockets and mortar shells had been fired by Palestinian terrorists at southern Israeli communities and towns.  Weapons had also been continuously smuggled into Gaza.  Corporal Gilad Shallit had been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists and was still being deprived of his freedom.  Those were not the overtures of peace and moderation, but of terror and extremism.

The ceasefire two weeks ago had once again been a sign of Israel’s willingness to try its hand at peace, he said.  Israel wished to maintain the ceasefire as a means to end the violence and enable progress in political negotiations.  For that reason, Israel was exercising restraint and maintaining the ceasefire, despite repeated violations by Palestinian terrorists.  Israel’s commitment to peace was also the reason why resolution 1701 remained a test for the Council.  While it could bring stability to the region, for that to happen, kidnapped soldiers Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev must be released, immediately and unconditionally.  An active and efficient United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was also needed, as was the full deployment of the Lebanese army over all its territory.  The arms embargo must be enforced and the border with Syria monitored for trafficking.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan had made it a personal campaign to support resolution 1701’s full implementation, and he trusted the incoming Secretary-General would continue such efforts.

Direct negotiations with partners willing to make concessions was the only way to move forward, he continued.  He hoped that moderates in the region understood what needed to be done in order for peace to be realized, and where the real threat to the region lay.  There had been far too many victims from both sides, neither of which had a monopoly on that status or human suffering.  Israelis, Lebanese and Palestinians all deserved better.  Recent developments showed what would happen if the international community refused to engage the moderates and allowed the extremists to cast their dark shadows of influence.  The international community must join hands in fighting extremism and radicalism, incitement and intolerance, terrorism and hate.

SEIF IDDI, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Republic of Tanzania, said he was keenly aware that the Council had for many years supported the search for peace in the Middle East.  Regrettably, despite so many efforts, a lasting solution to the Palestine question remained elusive; there had been more talk than action.  That state of affairs needed to be reversed and agreements needed to be translated into concrete action.  It was up to the Palestinians and Israelis to realize that no peace agreement would be viable, unless both of them accepted and acted in line with common aspirations for a two-State solution.  They both needed to comply with the Road Map obligations and the Quartet’s requirements.  For its part, the international community must assist in every possible way, so that the peace accords were implemented.

He said he had followed with keen interest renewed signals towards the revival of the peace process.  He urged Palestinians to forge a Government of national unity and to work with Israel towards peace and security for all in the region.  He welcomed the agreement between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas to establish a ceasefire in Gaza.  Hopefully, it would hold, and contribute to an atmosphere supportive of the peace process.  Also welcome was the proposal for an international peace conference on the Middle East and he saw the current climate as conducive for launching a serious peace process.  He expressed his appreciation to the regional efforts of Arab States in the search for peace and stability in the region, including helping to avert the humanitarian crisis confronting the Palestinian people.

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, he said that recent events, including the killing of a leading politician, cabinet resignations and anti-Government rallies, had contributed to increased tensions.  The deterioration of the security situation was putting the country’s democratic system in danger and threatening national independence.  He called for maximum self-restraint and for the kind of wisdom required to bring about a unified and peaceful Lebanon.  The people of Lebanon deserved nothing less, he said.

ALEXANDER SALTANOV, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation noted that it was the second time in the past few months that the Council was meeting at a high level to discuss the Middle East question, testifying to the international community’s mounting concern regarding the deteriorating situation there.  The situation throughout the area was dangerously unbalanced, and some hotspots of tension had arisen that were interlinked with each other.  “That is the Middle East,” he said, stressing the need to take that reality into account. 

The search for a solution to the Middle East problem required an integrated approach and the multilateral efforts and direct participation of the States of the region, he said.  Unilateral steps and the use of force could only further aggravate the conflict.  Fresh impetus must be given to a negotiated settlement of the oldest and newest conflict in history, namely the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Reference points for a mutually acceptable solution existed in the Security Council’s resolutions and in the Road Map.  The Arab Peace Initiative had positive potential for the full normalization of the countries of the region.  Recently, efforts had been taken to restore the political process.  An important step was the agreement on the Gaza ceasefire, which must also be extended to the West Bank.  The international community must also support the readiness for direct dialogue.   With no breakthrough thus far, it was necessary to remove the remaining problems, including the release of the Israeli soldier and a resolution to the issue of the Palestinian detainees.

The situation in the Palestinian territories, particularly in Gaza, remained serious, he said.  Severe restrictions and closures affected ordinary people, creating a sense of pessimism among the Palestinian people.  That state of affairs could no longer be tolerated.  It was important not to lose sight of the strategic goal of achieving a just settlement of the question.  The Road Map was the main tool for that.   The events of this year, the crisis in Lebanon and Israeli operations in Gaza, had affirmed that peace in the Middle East could not but be comprehensive, covering all negotiation tracks.  The Russian Federation favoured a speedy resumption of collective efforts for a move towards such a peace through halting the occupation and ensuring normal conditions of security and development for the States of the region, including Israel.  The time had come to cast a fresh look at the proposal to convene an international conference on the Middle East.  Such a major event must be well organized and receive the approval of all the relevant parties. 

DIANA STROFAVA, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, said that peace capable of promoting and delivering stability, security and prosperity to the entire region was today, more than ever, vital.  As the tragic developments on the ground, notably in Gaza last month, had once again proved, there was no military solution to the many challenges of the region, with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute at the core.  She remained convinced that a settlement could and should be achieved only through peaceful negotiations and full implementation of all relevant Security Council resolutions and the principles defined by the Quartet and the Road Map.

She said she welcomed the mutual ceasefire in Gaza established last week, as that was a crucial confidence-building measure and a vital step and prerequisite towards a much-needed sustained period of calm.  She hoped and expected both parties to exercise utmost restraint and do everything possible not to jeopardize further possible progress and promising prospects for peace.  In that connection, she was deeply concerned about statements and efforts aimed at questioning or denying the Holocaust, as well as the right of Israel to exist.  Such acts of clear incitement to hatred only contributed to further destabilization of the entire region and undermined peace efforts.

She reaffirmed her country’s support for a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on negotiations, and remained convinced that the Quartet remained the most appropriate mechanism for advancing the peace process.  Deeply concerned at the economic and humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza, she urged Israel to resume transfers of withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues and called for the full implementation of the Movement and Access accord.

Regarding Lebanon, Slovakia was very concerned about the current developments, she said.  It had repeatedly reaffirmed its firm support to the legitimately elected Lebanese Government, and it supported all steps undertaken by Lebanese authorities to regain control over its whole territory and to re-establish stability and security throughout the country.  Only a stable Lebanon could be reconstructed and further developed.  All disputes should be solved at the negotiating table and not on the streets, where there was the risk of provocation and an escalation of dangerous conflict.  The international community should not allow the further destabilization of Lebanon and the whole region.  The country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected by all, including all actors inside and beyond Lebanon and its neighbours, as well as countries like Iran. The national dialogue must reach consensus on several important issues, including the disarmament of all militia in the country.

ALEX D. WOLFF (United States) said there could be no denying that today’s debate focused on a goal shared by all –- sustainable peace in the Middle East.  The United States remained firmly committed to the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as well as to the Road Map and the principles contained therein, as the Road Map was the only agreed international basis upon which to advance that goal.  To help make that goal a reality, President George Bush had repeatedly stressed that the United States would pursue diplomatic efforts to engage moderate regional leaders, help the Palestinians strengthen and reform their security sector and support the parties in their efforts to come together to resolve their differences.  The United States was the single largest donor to the Palestinian people, having provided $468 million in direct assistance in 2006.

He said that, while his country worked closely with its Quartet partners and friends in the region to create an environment that would facilitate progress towards the realization of the two-State vision, it must make certain that parallel efforts at the United Nations bolstered, and did not inadvertently undermine, the pursuit of a lasting peace in the region.  In that regard, the United States was disappointed that, in recent weeks, the Security Council and the General Assembly had indulged in debate over an excessive number of politicized and biased resolutions that did not contribute constructively to that effort or enable any progress towards the two-State solution.

Calls for a high-level debate and a greater Council role in encouraging peace efforts ignored the fundamental fact that the ultimate responsibility for progress rested with the parties and with their fulfilment of the parallel obligations to which they had agreed, he said.  The role of the international community, therefore, including of the Council, must be to help create the environment that would enable the parties to come together to resolve their differences.  Everyone should ask themselves whether that goal would be achieved through the sort of polarized oratory and debate that had characterized recent Council and Assembly discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the region, President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert had reached agreement on an important ceasefire, and Prime Minister Olmert had delivered an address making clear his interest in working towards peace with the Palestinians.  President Abbas had deployed security forces to northern Gaza to try to enforce the fragile ceasefire, and Israel had demonstrated remarkable restraint in not responding to recent rocket attacks into Israel.  In order to build on that progress, the United States was actively involved in efforts to reform the Palestinian security sector.  It was engaged in that important effort because it recognized that, ultimately, the only way real progress would be made was if Palestinian security forces were able to bring stability to Gaza and prevent attacks against Israel.

With Israel, he said his country had pressed for concrete progress related to Palestinian access and movement within and between the West Bank and Gaza.  It was pleased with success so far, on which it hoped to build, and remained committed to working on that issue actively with both parties, in order to make real, concrete progress and improve the lives of millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

Implementation of the Road Map necessitated partnership, and he said his country had worked with the international community to support the efforts of President Abbas to establish a Palestinian Government that accepted the Quartet principles of renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements.  He commended President Abbas for his efforts to break the current impasse caused by a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority Government that failed to govern responsibly, but he deeply regretted that Hamas had walked away from a proposal for a technocratic Government that would have allowed for early engagement.  He was also dismayed by Palestinian Authority Government Prime Minister Ismail Haniya’s 8 December statement in Tehran that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel.  That type of rhetoric demonstrated that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority Government was not interested in becoming a partner for peace and continued to fail in its duty to the Palestinian people to govern responsibly.

In that context, he said the United States strongly condemned the Iranian-sponsored conference on the Holocaust that called into question the magnitude of the horrors of the Holocaust.  His country rejected, in the strongest possible terms, all efforts that sought to refute the historical fact of the Holocaust.

He said it was clear that any discussing of fostering greater peace in the region must include Lebanon.  The conflict launched by Hizbollah in July had caused enormous suffering and destruction in both Lebanon and Israel, highlighting the risks of acquiescing to a status quo in Lebanon that permitted militias to remain armed and unchecked.  The United States supported the efforts of the democratically elected Government of Lebanon as it expanded its sovereignty over all its territory, and continued to call for implementation of relevant Council resolutions, particularly the provisions regarding the disbanding and disarming of the militias.  He, once again, called for the immediate, safe and unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser kidnapped on 12 July.

The current demonstrations in Lebanon were an attempt by Hizbollah and its allies, with support from Syria and Iran, to overthrow Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s democratically elected pro-reform, pro-sovereignty Government, in a clear bid to re-establish Syrian control over Lebanon, he said.  The recent assassination of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was especially shocking in that light, and underscored the threat to the physical safety of Lebanon’s remaining cabinet members.

CESAR MAYORAL ( Argentina) thanked the Secretary-General for his presentation of an excellent report on the evolution of the situation in the Middle East during his 10-year tenure.  In spite of the sombre panorama of the Middle East peace process, he was more convinced than ever that the international community should not allow the legitimate aspirations of all the peoples of the region to recognition, security and well-being to be buried under a cover of mutual denial, violence and resentment.  The primary responsibility for the current regrettable state of affairs lay with the parties directly involved in the crisis.  The international community, however, particularly the Security Council, shared part of the responsibility.  The Council’s inability to respond to the deepening crisis in the Middle East had been increasingly evident, in particular in recent years.

At the heart of the Middle East peace process was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.  In spite of efforts since 2002, the objective of two States living side by side in peace and security had proven elusive.  That failure did not mean that the Quartet or the Road Map had lost their usefulness and should be abandoned.  It was abundantly clear, however, that, if the Quartet did not reform its working methods and engage more actively in the monitoring of the Road Map’s implementation, it would become a dispensable mechanism.  In that regard, he called on the Quartet members, the main regional players and the Council to undertake a profound process of reflection.

In recent years, neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority had fulfilled their minimum obligations, and the exchange of mutual accusations had not fostered a climate of trust and cooperation, he said.  Some of the Israeli practices, such as the expansion of settlements, the construction of the separation barrier and the excessive use of force, did not contribute to fostering a sense of optimism among the Palestinian population, but rather fed extremism.  The humanitarian crisis in Gaza further exacerbated the already dire situation of the Palestinian population.  On the other hand, the Palestinian inability or unwillingness to maintain peace and order in Gaza, to release Israeli solider Gilad Shalit and reform its institutions did not generate confidence in Israel about the existence of a Palestinian counterpart with which to negotiate.

He added that, in spite of that disheartening panorama, there had been some positive developments, including the Gaza ceasefire, which should be extended to the West Bank and accompanied by a series of additional measures, such as the deployment of international observers and the possible establishment of a mechanism for the protection of civilians.  In that regard, he supported the proposal to convene an international conference with the same format as the 1991 Madrid conference.  On the Israeli-Lebanese and Israeli-Syrian tracks, he reiterated Argentina’s commitment to the full implementation of resolution 1701.  A fundamental ingredient for comprehensive peace was the end of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights and the return of that territory to Syria.

EMYR JONES PARRY ( United Kingdom) said that key issues remained for ending the prevailing frustration and instability through a comprehensive and just solution.  His colleagues had already sketched out a prescription for that solution.  Progress in Israel and Palestine was of the utmost importance towards achieving that goal, and it was essential to advance towards a comprehensive peace and a two-State solution.  At the same time, he recognized the need for a regional approach, which encompassed all relevant issues.  The United Kingdom remained fully committed to that purpose.  He welcomed the ceasefire in Gaza and hoped that it would be a first step towards further progress.  The Road Map was the best way to achieve the two-State solution, and he called on both parties to implement their commitments in full.  The United Kingdom continued to call for the release of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, and for Israel to charge or release the Palestinian parliamentary members it held.

He said his country would continue to support the Palestinians through the temporary support mechanism, to which it had already contributed more than €186 million, including payment to key workers in the public sectors, such as health care, schools and some of the most vulnerable Palestinian sectors.  That had allowed basic services to continue running and it had provided livelihoods for the poorest Palestinian families.  He welcomed the efforts of President Abbas to form a Government of national unity, and supported the Quartet’s call for a Government based on the renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of all agreements and obligations, including the Road Map.

The United Kingdom and the entire European Union had underlined the importance of preserving and strengthening Palestinian institutional capacity, he noted.  The Union had expressed its readiness to provide enhanced support to a Palestinian Government with which it could engage.  Recent events had highlighted the need to move forward.  He regretted the incident in Beit Hanoun on 8 November; Israel should do all it could to avoid civilian casualties, and the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel must stop.  Israel and the Palestinian Authority must intensify efforts to bring all violence to an immediate end.  Civilians on both sides had the right to live in peace and security.  He called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including their natural growth, and to dismantle all outposts built since 2001, in line with the Road Map.  The Palestinian Authority should make every effort to prevent terrorism, also as required under the Road Map.  All must build on the fragile progress in Gaza towards a just peace. 

BASILE IKOUEBE ( Congo) stressed that the critical situation in the Middle East made the status quo intolerable.  It was the right time for the Council to give fresh impetus to the Middle East question.  The Council’s message today must be its clearly expressed will for an immediate and unconditional resumption of negotiations, which would to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.  The Council must support the idea of organizing an international conference to put back on track the measures advocated in the agreed comprehensive settlement.  Such a conference should, however, be prepared most carefully.

Reaffirming the key role of the Quartet in the resumption of the process, he also reaffirmed the validity of all international documents and instruments, such as the relevant United Nations resolutions, the Oslo Accord and the terms of reference of Madrid.  The principle of land for peace remained fundamental.  Such an initiative must break new ground by heavily involving all regional actors.  It must recognize the interconnection between the various crises engulfing the Middle East.  There was, therefore, the need for a comprehensive approach to a solution that would include all States.  Such an approach must also take into account the positive role of the League of Arab States. 

All were well aware that there was no military solution to the 60-year old conflict, whose ramifications were likely to ignite a highly unstable region, he said.  An international conference would breathe fresh life into the process.  Congo expected the main protagonists to display the greatest restraint and refrain from violence and unilateral actions.  Ultimately, it was for the parties to make the final decision.

JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIÈRE ( France) welcomed the recent ceasefire and the expressed commitments of President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, which were positive and promising signs after several months of violence that had cost the lives of several hundred civilians.  All must respect the commitments and extend the ceasefire rapidly to the West Bank.  That positive decision must be followed by other confidence-building measures, including the unconditional and immediate release of Corporal Shalit and Palestinian officials and politicians imprisoned in Israel.  He also called for implementation of the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement and the Access and Movement accord to restore confidence and promote recovery of the Palestinian economy.  The return by Israel of tax revenues due to the Palestinian Authority since the beginning of the year would also likely help to bring rapid relief to the disastrous humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

He said that cessation of the violence, in order to be durable, must also be accompanied by a real political plan, for which both parties were responsible.  Palestinians must not deviate from the path marked for more than 15 years in the context of the peace process.  France supported President Abbas’ efforts in favour of national unity, and the recent Palestinian clashes were particularly disturbing.  He invited all Palestinian factions, particularly Hamas, to cooperate with the Palestinian President in the formation of a new Government whose political platform reflected the Quartet’s principles.  Such a Government would be a legitimate partner of the international community and would receive the necessary support for its reforms.

Israel had a duty to refrain from any unilateral action that would undermine efforts to create an economically and geographically viable Palestinian State, and it must, according to the International Court of Justice, put an end to the construction of the wall in the West Bank, he said.  France would continue to work with determination towards a comprehensive, just and lasting solution based on council resolutions, the Madrid Conference, land-for-peace and the Arab Peace Initiative.  A carefully prepared international conference, in coordination with all the parties, should be organized in the near future, and the Quartet was the most appropriate forum for negotiating and establishing the conditions for such a conference.  A meeting of the Quartet at the level of the principles should be held swiftly towards that goal, he said.

ELLEN MARGRETHE LØJ ( Denmark) said the meeting was an opportunity to thank the Secretary-General for his work in keeping the international community focused on the goal of brining lasting peace to the Middle East.  Two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace with internationally recognized borders was the goal.  As the Secretary-General had indicated, the longer it took to reach that goal, the harder it was to reassure people that there was reason for hope and that there was a better future ahead.  It was essential, therefore, that the parties, the regional players and the international community, rededicated themselves to the goal.  The key to success, however, rested with the parties.  While the international community could help -- the Quartet played a pivotal role in that effort -- success could only come when the parties were committed and ready.

In that regard, she noted encouraging developments, including the ceasefire in Gaza.  While it might only be a first step, it provided residents a moment of breathing space from the violence and terrorism.  Reaching the agreement had not been easy, and both parties had been under tremendous political pressure.  Prime Minster Olmert’s 27 November speech was welcome and indicated Israel’s willingness, among other things, to release prisoners when the captured Israeli solider was freed.  The challenge was to convert the current opportunity into sustainable change for the better.  Both parties must take urgent steps to boost confidence and solve problems that could undermine peace efforts.

She added that Israel needed to ease humanitarian conditions for civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.  One such step was to release the Palestinian tax and customs revenues it was withholding.  The Agreement on Access and Movement must also be implemented.  It was also essential that Israel halt new settlements and outposts, which were in contradiction to Security Council resolutions and the Road Map.  While Denmark continued to recognize Israel’s right to defend itself, it must be ensured that measures to protect Israeli civilians were in accordance with international law.  Disproportionate use of force could hamper the achievement of a lasting solution to the conflict.

The Palestinians must also build confidence and become a partner with whom it was possible to build lasting peace, she said.  The captured Israeli solider must be released immediately.  Denmark supported President Abbas’ efforts to create a national unity Government that reflected Quartet principles.  In-fighting among factions was only going to weaken the prospects for real progress.  It was also essential that all Palestinian factions did their utmost to keep and consolidate the ceasefire.  While it was not a solution, it provided a much-wanted opportunity.  At a time when the outlook seemed as grim as ever, the parties had succeeded in creating yet another opportunity.  The parties, neighbours and the international community must play a part if the moment was to be seized.  Progress was critical, mainly for the principal parties involved, but equally for the greater region.

NANA EFFAH-APENTENG ( Ghana) said that the situations in Iraq and Lebanon, coupled with the Iranian nuclear programme, were of major international concern.  He also shared the Secretary-General’s view that failure to achieve a just and comprehensive solution to the “long-festering” Arab-Israeli conflict was the major underlying source of frustration and instability in the region.  On Lebanon, the progress made in implementing resolution 1701 (2006) made him cautiously optimistic that the cessation of hostilities would hold; however, he was also mindful of the need for Israel and Lebanon to commit further to implementing a permanent ceasefire based on the full acceptance of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords and of resolution 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006).

He said that the mutual ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians had brought relief to those genuinely interested in Middle East peace.  He expected that the two sides would eschew the terrorism and violence of the past and seek to maintain the ceasefire and ensure a sustained period of calm, which the peoples of both sides deserved.  Israel must now exhibit flexibility and show magnanimity by taking steps to reverse the financial ban on the Palestinian Authority, in order to bring succour to the Palestinian people.  The Secretary-General’s recommendation for the Quartet and the Council to explore the feasibility of consolidating the ceasefire within an international framework deserved serious consideration.  Meanwhile, he remained concerned that the tireless efforts by Palestinians at forming a national unity Government had failed to materialize.  He again urged the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to cooperate to achieve that goal.

The notion that only a regional approach would resolve the various crises and conflicts in the Middle East was attractive, not least because progress in each area was largely dependent on progress in other areas, he said.  Power without legitimacy only bred disaffection, chaos and resistance, and military supremacy alone could not offer the desired security.  A sober and objective analysis of the Secretary-General’s report could only lead to the conclusion that any attempt to continue with “half-baked” or temporary solutions was not feasible.  Only a peace agreement whose parameters were well known and enjoyed widespread international support could bring peace and security between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world, and make possible a regional system of security.

ADAMANTIOS TH. VASSILAKIS ( Greece) said he shared the Secretary-General’s assessment of the reasons behind the lack of progress in the Road Map’s implementation.  Both sides had failed to live up to their obligations under phase one of the Road Map.  The Arab-Israeli conflict -- of which the Palestinian issue was at the core -- and attempts to find a solution to it, should not oversee the wider regional picture and dynamics in the conflict.  The countries of the region had the responsibility to create the necessary climate for progress.  The behaviour and rhetoric of one country had a direct impact on the behaviour and rhetoric of another.  The United Nations had a permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until it was resolved in all its aspects, and that responsibility applied equally vis-à-vis the Palestinians and the Arab populations, as well as to the Israeli people and the State of Israel.

Reaffirming Greece’s commitment to the realization of the vision of two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and within secure and internationally recognized borders, he said the Secretary-General’s proposals constituted a sober and informed insight as to how progress in that direction might be advanced.  The parties to the conflict, the countries of the region and the Council should explore all of the possibilities open to them.  The peoples of the region and the international community could ill afford to allow time to elapse without making significant and substantial progress towards peace.

KENZO OSHIMA ( Japan), expressing deep concern over the continued violence and the high number of casualties on both sides, said that the international community could not serve as a substitute for the parties to the conflict.  That, by no means, however, diminished the importance of the international community’s creating an environment conducive for the parties to solve the conflict.  The crisis in Lebanon last summer had reminded all once again that nothing was more essential than concerted and dedicated efforts and a strong will for peace among the parties, in order to overcome the difficulties confronting the region.  He welcomed the recent ceasefire agreement, and reiterated his call on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to exercise maximum restraint now.  Direct talks at the highest level between the parties were the only way to open a window to a solution and, hopefully, the summit of the leaders would break the current stalemate.

He said that the political deadlock in Palestine remained another matter of deep concern.  Emphasizing the critical importance of demonstrating strong political will, backed by determined efforts on the part of the concerned parties, he expressed his strong hope for the formation of new Palestinian Authority Government.  Once established, it should make clear its determination to pursue peaceful coexistence and mutual prosperity with Israel.  When that happened, the international community should respond positively with all the support such a welcome development would deserve.  Also, he was particularly concerned over the deteriorating humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people and said Israel needed to take immediate action to transfer the tax and customs revenues to the Palestinian Authority and restore freedom of movement for the Palestinian people.

Japan had been a major donor for the Palestinians for many years, and it reaffirmed its determination to continue to extend its assistance, he said.  With respect to Lebanon, the recent political upheavals notwithstanding, he welcomed the maintenance of the cessation of hostilities and the improvement of the overall security situation following the adoption of resolution 1701 (2006), particularly through the extension of State authority in the south of the country.  Reaffirming his commitment to that text’s implementation, he said there remained, however, many challenges to be addressed, foremost among them, the full implementation of that resolution and lasting stabilization of the situation in Lebanon.  No actions that contributed to destabilizing that situation could be tolerated and, in order to achieve a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution, the international community must address the disarmament and disbanding of all remaining militias and the delineation of the border.

WANG GUANGYA ( China) said the turbulence in the Middle East with no solution in sight did not bode well for the prospect of peace and development in the region.  The current situation was particularly worrying with the continuation of conflicts between Palestine and Israel, the impasse in the implementation of the Road Map and the lack of progress in both Lebanese-Israeli and Syrian-Israeli talks.  The future direction of development in the Middle East was a question of serious concern.  For decades, the Middle East question had mainly found expression in conflicts between Israel and the Arab countries.  At present, however, various hot-spot issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Lebanese-Israeli conflict, the instability in Iraq and other tension in the region shared the stage.  The Middle East was undergoing the most profound changes in recent years, resulting in an even more complicated situation.

While a settlement of the Middle East question could not be achieved without the international community’s support, the key to the settlement still rested in the hands of the parties concerned, he said.  Decades of confrontation and conflict had left an excessive accumulation of grievances between Israel and Arab countries.  He hoped the parties could break out of the futile mode of “violence for violence” and show good will.  In that regard, he supported efforts by Palestine to form a Government of national unity, welcomed Israel’s willingness to engage in peace talks and expressed hope that the two parties would work together for an early return to the “right track of negotiations”.

The Middle East question was the oldest item on the Council’s agenda, he noted.  Failure to find a solution to the Middle East question for so long had negatively affected the Council’s role and authority.  For many years, the Council had been in a passive “fire-fighting” mode.  After the breakout of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict, it had taken the Council 34 days to adopt a resolution requesting the two sides to cease hostilities.  When United Nations peacekeepers had lost their lives, the Council had only expressed regret in a presidential statement.  The Council should transform itself from “fire fighter” to “problem shooter” and work in the spirit of seeking overall common ground.  After decades of turmoil, the people in the Middle East were tired of conflict.  In the twenty-first century, their desire to achieve peace had become more urgent than ever.

JORGE VOTO-BERNALES ( Peru) said the lack of a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict continued to be a source of frustration and instability, and for which a comprehensive approach was needed.  The parties must take constructive steps to eliminate tension and generate an environment that was conducive to peace.  Political will was needed to move the process forward.  The main objective should be ending the occupation and establishing two States living side by side.  The weakening of political institutions and the lack of cohesion in the Palestinian Government had seriously jeopardized the peace process.  Extremists groups had taken advantage of the situation by launching terrorist acts against Israel.  While Israel had the right to respond to those acts, it must exercise that right responsibly.

The recent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, which he hoped would be extended to the West Bank, had led to new hope that the path to negotiation might replace the path of violence, he said.  Regarding Lebanon, he said resolution 1701 provided a new opportunity to resolve a number of pending problems among the Lebanese.  The question of the occupation of the Syrian Golan was another pending issue.  The doors for negotiation must also be opened.  This summer’s events had only reaffirmed the close connection between the various hotbeds of tension in the Middle East.  Political negotiation was the only way to solve those problems.  As there could be no lasting unilateral solution, the Road Map must serve as the point of reference for any initiative to solve the Middle East question.

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