United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Israel from Egypt on Saturday, 24 March. He was greeted upon arrival by Israel’s Minister for Defence, Amir Peretz. After making brief remarks at Ben Gurion airport, the Secretary-General travelled to his hotel in Jerusalem.
Concerned about the deteriorating situation in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, that evening, he telephoned President Joseph Kabila and expressed his concern over the latest escalation of violence. He urged for the matter to be resolved in a way that ensures the long-term stability of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by displaying President Kabila’s commitment to national reconciliation.
On Sunday morning, the Secretary-General breakfasted with his senior staff based in Jerusalem, including Alvaro de Soto, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Near East (UNRWA).
He then visited Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority, at the Muqata in Ramallah. During a press conference, the Secretary-General stressed that “achieving peace will require all parties to go further than they have before. But it can and must be done. And my message to Israel and to the world from here in Ramallah is that I am convinced that President Abbas is ready.”
He had a working lunch with Palestinian representatives, and received a briefing by the Negotiations Support Unit on final status issues. He held a round table with East Jerusalemites.
Early on Sunday evening, the Secretary-General met with Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State of the United States. They exchanged views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the newly formed National Unity Government.
On Monday in Jerusalem, the Secretary-General attended a breakfast hosted by Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. In their meeting, the Secretary-General discussed the Iranian nuclear issue, the situation in Lebanon and the importance of making progress on the Palestinian issue.
A vital first step on that issue, the Secretary-General said, is for the new Palestinian Government to take action against the firing of rockets from Gaza and to secure the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit. The Secretary-General also stressed that Israel’s actions are very crucial, particularly as regards settlements, outposts, check points and withheld revenues. Existing obligations and commitments, including under the Road Map, need to be kept by both parties, he insisted.
Later, at a joint press conference, the Secretary-General stressed once more his conviction that “the long-term safety and security of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian State go hand in hand”.
In his remarks to the press, he encouraged all Israelis to assess carefully the opportunity that may be emerging, saying that “we must use the weeks and months ahead to advance the political dialogue, since the alternative is renewed stagnation, which only means more extremism and violence”. The Secretary-General also stressed the need to give the new Palestinian National Unity Government some “political space”.
He then toured Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. He said, while at the memorial: “I have been deeply moved by the images and exhibits here. Even today, more than 60 years since the Holocaust, the systematic murder of millions of Jews and others is shocking.” He also planted a tree at the site.
Later in the day, he met with Dalia Itzik, Speaker of the Knesset and Acting President of the State of Israel, and took a tour of Israel by helicopter.
He also held meetings with Shimon Peres, Vice-Premier and Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, and with Benjamin Netanyahu, former Prime Minister and Head of the opposition Likud party.
In the evening, the Secretary-General held a joint press conference with Tzipi Livni, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel. The Secretary-General said that, despite the obstacles ahead, he believes that “we can and must make progress in the coming weeks and months”.
Early on Tuesday, Mr. Ban met with the United Nations country team in Jerusalem before travelling to the Summit of the League of Arab States in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, via a stopover in Jordan.