|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6022nd Meeting (AM)
POLITICAL PROCESS IN MIDDLE EAST ONGOING, BUT TANGIBLE IMPROVEMENTS IN SECURITY,
LIVING CONDITIONS WOULD GIVE CIVILIANS FAITH IN PROCESS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD
Under-Secretary-General, in Briefing, Says First Ever Joint Meeting
Between Parties, Quartet ‘Important Marker of Ongoing Political Process’
In a “landmark meeting” on 9 November in Sharm el-Sheikh, the parties to the Middle East peace process had jointly met for the first time with the Quartet, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs told the Security Council this morning, describing that meeting as “an important marker of the ongoing political process pursuant to last year’s Annapolis Conference”.
At his monthly briefing to the Council, B. Lynn Pascoe said that while it was regrettable that Israel and the Palestinians would probably not reach an agreement by year’s end, their engagement in direct, sustained and intensive negotiations was welcome. Talks were expected to continue through the coming period, although domestic political matters in Israel –- among them, Prime Minister-designate Tzipi Livni’s inability to form a coalition Government and President Shimon Peres’ decision to call for new elections now scheduled for 10 February 2009 -- might complicate matters.
Palestinians also remained divided, he said. Hamas had decided not to attend the reconciliation meeting called by Egypt for 9 November and the rhetoric between Hamas and Fatah had intensified. The League of Arab States Foreign Ministers would meet in Cairo tomorrow, 26 November, to discuss the situation in Gaza and the internal Palestinian and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
He stressed that recent developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Israel underscored the gap between the political tracks and the situation on the ground. The death of 16 Palestinians had resulted from Israeli-Palestinian violence, while 122 others, mainly civilians, had been injured. One Israeli had been killed in Jerusalem last month, while 25 Israeli soldiers and civilians had been injured. The calm in Gaza and southern Israel was being threatened by Israeli incursions. More than 123 rockets and 118 mortars had been fired by Palestinian militants into Israel or at the Israel-Gaza crossings.
Turning to humanitarian concerns, he noted that Israeli authorities had severely restricted the access of humanitarian workers and goods into Gaza between 4 and 23 November. United Nations food aid had been suspended. The Gaza power plant had shut down for more than 12 days. Fuel shortages, including of cooking gas, were also widespread, rendering 30 of 71 bakeries inoperable and leading to water rationing throughout the Strip. Despite the closures, 23 medical cases were allowed daily through the Erez crossing.
After rocket fire had decreased drastically on 23 November, Israel had reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing, allowing humanitarian goods and food and fuel supplies to enter the Strip, he said. Following rockets being fired towards Ashkelon yesterday evening, however, Israel had ordered all crossings closed again today. The Gaza power plant was still not working because of a lack of spare parts. Appeals to Israel had been made to allow those parts into Gaza. Major news agencies and organizations had protested to the Israeli Government that they had not been allowed entry for more than 14 days.
Mr. Pascoe noted that the Secretary-General had spoken with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni last week. While the Secretary-General had condemned the rocket fire, he had stressed that Israel must itself uphold humanitarian principles.
Continuing, he said that, in absence of Palestinian reconciliation, about half of all teachers and a quarter of all health workers were still on strike in Gaza. As a result of both internal disputes and import restrictions, 95 essential drugs and 174 medical supplies were out of stock. Reports of human rights abuse committed in Gaza under the de facto Hamas regime was another matter of concern. The regime, which apparently had strengthened its control, was divorcing Gaza’s institutions from those of the Palestinian Authority.
In the West Bank, Palestinian security forces continued to make progress in implementing phase one Road Map obligations. More than 350 Hamas affiliates had reportedly been arrested. There had not been a significant reduction in Israelis Defence Forces incursions, however. On 29 October, following a six-month suspension, the Israeli authorities had resumed demolition of houses –- some 47 structures, displacing 150 Palestinians -- in the West Bank. In East Jerusalem, eight houses had been demolished, displacing some 50 people, including a couple who had been living there since 1956.
It was “deeply regrettable”, he said, that settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was ongoing, but Israel had announced its intention to immediately cease all funding for illegal settlement outposts. An attempt to dismantle an outpost near Hebron had been met with settlers’ violence. In total, there had been 30 attacks by settlers on Palestinians during the reporting period. Construction of the barrier in deviation from the Green Line continued, contrary to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.
The Palestinian Investment Conference Northern Forum had taken place on 22 and 23 November in Nablus, attracting some 250 international participants and promoting the northern West Bank as a region for investment. The Palestinian Authority continued to strengthen its fiscal management and had paid all of its wage and private sector arrears. The 2009 budget process was on track and Quartet Representative Tony Blair had visited the region twice.
He said that Special Coordinator Robert Serry had held meetings with Syrian officials in Damascus on 24 November to discuss regional developments and express support for the continuation of the indirect Israel-Syrian talks. The situation in the occupied Syrian Golan remained quiet, but Israeli settlement activity continued. The importance of the Arab Peace Initiative had been widely discussed as a vital platform for reaching the goal of a comprehensive regional peace.
The political process was still under way, he said, but developments on the ground remained the biggest challenge to building lasting peace. There was a need for tangible improvements in the living conditions and security of civilians to give them faith in the political process. It was important that the Quartet continue to push the process forward during the transition period. The Secretary-General had urged United States President-elect Barack Obama to engage early in that regard.
“Our shared goal remains clear”, he said in conclusion: “An end to the occupation that began in 1967, and the achievement of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel.”
The meeting, which began at 10:14 a.m., concluded at 10:37 a.m.
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