New York, 24 March 2010 – Secretary-General's press encounter following security council briefing on the Middle East
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to see you.
I have just briefed the Security Council on last Friday's Quartet meeting and my own visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
Tomorrow I am heading to Sirte, Libya, to participate in the League of Arab States Summit meeting.
These missions take place amid continuing efforts to start Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks, as well as a crisis of confidence surrounding Israel's plans to build new settlements in East Jerusalem.
I am aware of the latest news concerning yet another 20 dwellings to be constructed in East Jerusalem, this time in the heart of an Arab neighborhood.
I say again, here, what I have been repeatedly saying: that settlements are illegal under international law. This must stop.
From my discussions with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership and the Quartet members, as well as what I saw for myself in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, I would draw four main points:
First, there is no alternative to negotiations for a two-state solution. As the Quartet stressed, proximity talks should move ahead, evolving into direct negotiations between the parties as soon as possible. The goal should be to resolve all final status issues within 24 months.
Second, we must not let those negotiations be disrupted by provocations. No doubt there will be tests. However, you should know that extremists must know that the parties are determined to stay at the table.
Third, there have been too many negative facts on the ground. We need more positive facts — a settlement freeze, a lifting of the blockade of Gaza, an end to rocket fire from Gaza, an easing of the constraints that stifle Palestinian life, prisoner exchanges, Palestinian unity, further security and economic progress by the Palestinian Authority.
The list is long, and time is very short. Israelis and Palestinians should do much more to build trust and meet their obligations under international law and the Roadmap.
Fourth, while peace is primarily in the hands of the parties themselves, the international community will continue to play a crucial role. At this important juncture, the Quartet is determined to push the parties and monitor the situation. That is one of the reasons why I am going to Sirte to meet with Arab leaders to encourage and facilitate and support these proximity talks. The parameters of a solution are well known. Our challenge is to get from here to there.
Thank you very much.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you spoke of how the indirect talks should not be interrupted or delayed by provocations. What about pre-conditions? Would you say that the Palestinian side should not allow the building going on as a pre-condition for beginning these indirect talks and moving to direct talks?
SG: Most ideally speaking, there should be no pre-conditions in talks. There should be negotiations going on. The process for these proximity talks has been agreed upon. It has been quite difficult. However, I am pleased these parties have agreed to engage in proximity talks. Therefore, any unilateral actions, which would undermine or prejudice the final outcome of this negotiation will have to be refrained.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you're going to Sirte to tell the Arab leaders there's no alternative but a negotiated two-state solution. Many Arab countries including Saudi Arabia have come and said that the statements of the Israeli Prime Minister Mr. [Binyamin] Netanyahu in Washington about East Jerusalem have torpedoed the talks, and they want clarifications from the Quartet and the United Nations on their position on such statements. What do you say to these Arab countries who are very worried that this is not a pre-condition, that this is already undermining the final status talks by declaring a position on a very important subject for the Arabs and for the world: East Jerusalem. What do you say to that?
SG: That is exactly what and why I have been saying that not only the parties concerned, the whole international community, particularly the countries in the region should do their best to encourage these talks. I know that the Arab countries are frustrated, and they express their concerns and even reluctance in supporting these proximity talks. I have been engaging in bilateral talks with many Arab leaders, advising an opinion to them to support this dialogue process, and I'm grateful for their flexibility, even though they have given some conditional support. This support should continue so that Israeli and Palestinians will continue their bilateral negotiations. These proximity talks eventually should lead to direct negotiations. I will talk first of all with President [Mahmoud] Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and engage a group of Arab leaders collectively and individually, and I'm going to discuss this matter with them.
Q: A follow-up, sir. It seems like all the talking has been done with Arab leaders, while many feel that the Israelis should be told to refrain from making such statements on a very important topic, East Jerusalem, in a very definite way, which Binyamin Netanyahu did!
SG: The Quartet and the United Nations and the whole international community have been vocal and clear and loud that Jerusalem is an issue that should be negotiated and discussed as a result of a final negotiation.
Q: I wanted to ask in the run-up to this meeting with the Group of Friends of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi has said that her party, the NLD [National League for Democracy], and other opposition parties, shouldn't even register for the poll, that the election laws are flawed. I'm wondering; you convened the meeting, what's your thinking of what the UN can do, given that the main opponent now wants to boycott it? And just one other thing, a week ago you'd said on the Sri Lanka panel or board on accountability that there'd be no delay. So a week's gone by, I want to know if anything's been done in that regard in that week?
SG: For your first question, let me answer tomorrow afternoon after I have convened the meeting of the Group of Friends of Myanmar. I need to discuss this matter with the ambassadors participating in that meeting. I will have a clearer answer, if you excuse me.
And second, I'm in the process of identifying persons who can work in the panel of experts. My chef de cabinet has been meeting with the Sri Lankan ambassador here and they are now in the process of making a move on this, and I expect that Mr. Lynn Pascoe will be able to visit Sri Lanka in the near future to discuss all the matters.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, in the past week you've seen Prime Minister Netanyahu, and you met yesterday with the opposition leader [of Israel] Tzipi Livni. Do you sense at all that there's any room for movement in these proximity talks? It seems that, particularly in his speech in Washington, the Prime Minister took a very, very hard line defending the settlements and everything else, so I wonder if whether in your private talks you got any sense that there was any room for movement or flexibility?
SG: First of all, you should know the positions of both Israelis and Palestinians on proximity talks. These proximity, talks facilitated by the United States with a lot of political difficulty, have now been agreed. This is an encouraging point. How much progress can they make? I think they need to discuss all substantive core issues in the proximity talks. If you remember, there is a conditional restraint on settlements, freeze by the Israeli Government, and again some conditional support by the League of Arab States on these proximity talks. Time is very short so we must make progress so that they can move further toward direct negotiations. I can only urge the parties concerned to engage in dialogue with sincerity, sense of flexibility and also political will with longer perspective, visions.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, while you were talking in Moscow and here in Washington and other places, while talks are for talks and may take a very long time, what did you sense from the leaders and the ministers regarding the situation in Gaza? Are the people of Gaza going to wait many years until this blockade will be lifted?
SG: My second visit to Gaza was very much sobering. I went there with a sense of a heavy mind, knowing that the people in Gaza have been living under such very difficult circumstances. I have seen many houses and ruins still lying without being cleared. All these things need to be accelerated, for reconstruction, which will last one year after the end of this conflict. Nothing has been done, and I was relieved that the Israeli Government had finally approved the United Nations humanitarian projects. But as I said it is just less than one per cent of all the requirements which are needed to reconstruct all the Gazan economy. I have made this case very strongly to the Israeli authorities that the longer this closure continues, the more the people, Palestinians in Gaza, will suffer and may end up in undermining and disrupting the normal economic life of Palestinian people and also empowering these extremist militants there in Gaza. That is not in the interest of Israel, it is not in the interest of people in the region and it's not in the interest of anybody in the international community.
Q: But they don't care. Are you going to take any further steps like recommending to the Security Council to come forward – any new resolution in this regard?
SG: The Quartet in its statement said that they will monitor the situation and will take into consideration any additional steps if necessary, and we will continue to monitor the situation. And I have very sincerely and strongly urged the Israeli Government to take urgent measures to ease such closures and open crossings, and urge them to have longer perspectives for the future.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, do you think that lifting the blockade in Gaza can be played with this, with some tolerance from the Palestinians for the new settlement?
SG: I'm not sure about all this. However, easing the sanctions that they are [placing], the closures, and opening crossings — that should be done without any preconditions on humanitarian grounds.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, it was remarkable that you added Iran in the Middle East context, that you addressed the issue of Iran. Do you believe that the issue of Iran should be addressed in the Middle East context, the whole Arab-Israeli conflict?
SG: There are many regional dynamics in the Middle East. The Iranian issue is one of them. It has become international consensus that this is the one which must be addressed now. All the Member States of the international community have deep concern on the nuclear development programme. The Iranian authorities, according to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], have not been able to verify the true nature and scope of their nuclear development programme, that it is genuinely for peaceful purposes. That should be verified and proven by international community, and the burden is on them. At the same time, the negotiations should continue. Iranians should return to negotiations with the EU 3 + 3 and IAEA has made a good proposal and EU 3 + 3 also, their proposal is now something which needs to be given serious consideration by the Iranian authorities. I again urge that this issue should be resolved peacefully, through dialogue, as soon as possible.
Thank you very much. Thank you.