While it is essential for both Israel and the Palestinians not to lose sight of the immediate goal - Israel's disengagement from Gaza - relations between the two sides are being marred because no agreed framework exists for that pull-out, or for what will happen next, a senior United Nations envoy told the Security Council today.
"The unease, suspicion and cynicism that bedevil Israeli-Palestinian relations can be attributed in large part to the fact that the disengagement is not taking place within an unequivocally agreed framework for the next steps toward the overall solution to which both sides claim adherence, i.e., two states living alongside each other in peace," the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Alvaro de Soto, said in the monthly briefing - his first - on the situation.
Israelis need to be assured of their security and, besides an improvement in the daily lives of Palestinians, the Palestinians need to be provided with hope for the future, he said.
The Palestinian Authority must be empowered to counter militancy and extremism as "an element of central significance in the preparations to take control over the areas that Israel is withdrawing from," Mr. de Soto, who has been on the job for six weeks, said.
With a win for one side seen by some as a loss for the other, satisfying Israel's interest in withdrawing settlers from Gaza may be seen by Palestinians as their loss, "judging from their efforts to jeopardize it," but the pull-out is an important step which defies that judgement, he said.
"How could the dismantling of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory the first ever - be anything but a gain for the Palestinian side," Mr. de Soto said, given that it offers a tangible improvement in the daily lives of Palestinians and a return to the Road Map for peace supported by the Quartet - the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russian Federation.
He noted that Israel is determined to proceed with disengagement despite the activities of Israeli extremists and he welcomed the Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas' forceful address to his people late last week.
"Hope was also provided by the report only two days ago that the ceasefire has been renewed and that the Palestinian factions are committed to end internal fighting," Mr. de Soto said.
Israel can and should do more to support the PA in countering militancy and extremism and should take the initiative in meeting its side of the parallel obligations under the Road Map, dismantling all settlements built since March 2001, while the PA must continue to exert control and authority, he said.