|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
5788th Meeting* (AM)
UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL, IN BRIEFING TO SECURITY COUNCIL, HAILS JOINT
UNDERSTANDING REACHED AT ANNAPOLIS AS ‘SIGNIFICANT BREAKTHROUGH’
On Lebanon, He Points out Continuing Impasse over Presidential Election
The most significant breakthrough for the Middle East peace process in several years had been achieved three days ago, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reached a joint understanding, read out by President George W. Bush at the opening of the Annapolis conference, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs told the Security Council this morning.
Delivering his monthly briefing to the Council, Under-Secretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe said the understanding included three important elements: agreement to launch immediate good-faith bilateral negotiations to conclude a peace treaty, resolving all outstanding issues without exception before the end of 2008; agreement on a joint steering committee that would meet continuously; and a commitment immediately to implement their respective obligations under the Road Map. The two leaders had also agreed to form an American, Palestinian and Israeli mechanism, led by the United States, to follow up on implementation.
In addition, Mr. Pascoe said, President Abbas had spoken of his determination to fight terrorism “under all circumstances and from any source”, while Prime Minister Olmert had underlined his acknowledgement of Palestinian suffering, including that of the refugees, stating that that pain and deprivation were among “the deepest foundations of the ethos of hatred”. The joint understanding had been given added significance by President Bush’s pledge, while opening the conference, to devote his efforts during his remaining time in office to do all he could to help the parties achieve their ambitious goal.
The Under-Secretary-General noted that, in addition to the host and the parties, other participants in the Annapolis conference included the United Nations Secretary-General and other members of the Quartet (the European Union and the Russian Federation), the five permanent members of the Security Council, the Group of Eight industrialized nations, representatives of the League of Arab States and other significant donors and supporters of the Middle East peace process.
He said the Quartet principals had met on the eve of the conference and expressed their strong support for the event. As part of the continuing process, the Quartet would meet next month on the sidelines of the Paris Donors’ Conference and looked forward to meeting again with members of the Arab League. The Annapolis conference had also included extensive discussion of international support for building the institutional capacity of the Palestinian Authority, setting the stage for the upcoming Conference in Paris.
In preparation for Paris, Mr. Pascoe said, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had circulated a summary of the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan for 2008-2010, which demonstrated fiscal responsibility and political commitment to reform. It also laid out what Israel and the international community should do to assist the Palestinian Authority. During his recent trip to the region, Quartet Representative Tony Blair had joined with Prime Minister Fayyad and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak to highlight several initiatives that would have a substantial economic impact on the ground.
The Under-Secretary-General said that, in the lead-up to Annapolis, a number of developments had provided important building blocks. Regarding its Phase I Road Map obligations, the Palestinian Authority had deployed 300 security forces in Nablus in order to crack down on militants and impose law and order. The Israeli Government had announced the release of a further 441 Palestinian prisoners, a decision that was yet to be implemented. In addition, settlement activity continued and no outposts had been dismantled as yet.
Encouraging both parties to exert all efforts to implement all their commitments and build mutual trust, the Under-Secretary-General noted the active Arab diplomacy in the lead-up to Annapolis, but pointed out that violence continued to plague Palestinians and Israelis alike. During the reporting period, 42 Palestinians had been killed, including 4 children killed during Israeli military operations, and more than 133 injured. More than 346 Palestinians had been detained by the Israel Defense Forces. Two Israelis had been killed and six injured in an escalation of attacks as militants in Gaza had fired more than 116 rockets and 121 mortars into Israel. Meanwhile, Corporal Gilad Shalit was in his eighteenth month of captivity.
He said factional fighting among Palestinians, mostly in Gaza, had intensified, resulting in 18 deaths, including 3 children. The 12 November rally fired upon by Hamas police had left 7 Fatah supporters dead, some 100 wounded and around 400 under arrest. The humanitarian situation in Gaza continued to be a source of concern, with the principal crossing for commercial goods remaining closed. Only 41 per cent of basic commercial food needs had been met in the past six weeks and prices had risen significantly. Around 6,400 Gazans holding foreign certifications had been unable to leave the territory since June, and access to specialized medical care had been affected. Medical and water sanitation equipment had fallen into disrepair.
Meanwhile, the political divide among Palestinians continued, with Hamas continuing to create parallel structures, he said. It had convened an illegal session of the Palestinian Legislative Council to cancel all decrees issued by President Abbas since June. In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority security forces had continued arresting Hamas militants while Hamas security forces retaliated against Fatah members in the Gaza Strip. Hamas had also denounced the Annapolis conference and held protest demonstrations in both Gaza and the West Bank.
Turning to developments in Lebanon, he said there had been six postponements of a parliamentary session to elect the country’s new President in the past two months, despite extensive diplomatic efforts, continued mediation and a visit by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
With regard to the recovery of the Nahr El-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, estimated to cost $200 million, he said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had received only $28 million of its flash appeal for $54 million to meet immediate and longer-term needs. Israeli air violations of Lebanese airspace had continued throughout the reporting period, sometimes at low altitude. Despite the security reasons for the overflights, they violated Council resolution 1701 (2006).
He said the Secretary-General looked forward to Robert Serry of the Netherlands becoming the new United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and his Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority.
The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 10:40 a.m.
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* The 5787th Meeting was closed.