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Assistant Secretary-General Urges Security Council to Seize on Preparatory Israeli-Palestinian Talks as ‘Important Opportunity’ for Lasting Peace

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Security Council
6706th Meeting (AM & PM)

Actions on Ground Continue to Fuel Tensions,
He Says in Briefing Ahead of Day-long Discussion on Middle East

Despite continuing tensions on the ground, preparatory meetings in Jordan between the Israelis and Palestinians presented an important opportunity for lasting peace that must be seized, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today, ahead of a day-long debate involving some 45 speakers.

“We remain hopeful,” said Oscar Fernández-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, “that the preparatory meetings between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will continue and will ultimately lead to serious negotiations based on comprehensive proposals on territory and security and reaching an agreement for a two-State solution by the end of this year.” He added: “Neither the international community nor the parties can afford to let this opportunity pass by.”

After 15 months without direct talks, negotiators had started meeting in Amman on 3 January, under the auspices of Jordan’s King and Foreign Minister, and in the presence of Quartet envoys, he said. Since then, the parties had begun discussing issues relating to territory and security, in accordance with the Quartet statement of 23 September 2011, he said, adding that they had also been discussing confidence-building measures and creating a positive environment for the talks to succeed.

Unfortunately, actions on the ground over the past month continued to fuel tensions, he said, citing continued Israeli settlement activities, violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians, security incursions into the West Bank, the arrests of Hamas-connected legislators, continued rocket fire from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli actions, and worrying exhortations by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. He expressed support for continuing efforts to advance Palestinian reconciliation, within the framework of previous commitments.

On Lebanon, he recounted the Secretary-General’s visit, from 13 to 15 January, and said that security incidents in the operational area of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) showed the continuing fragility and vulnerability of conditions there. The situation along the Lebanese-Syrian border remained of concern, he said, noting that Lebanese nationals had been killed by gunfire and that an influx of refugees had arrived while escaping the violence in Syria, on which he commented: “We hope that the international community will act in a concerted and coherent manner in support of ongoing efforts for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.”

Following the briefing, the Permanent Observer of Palestine and the representative of Israel addressed the Council. “Despite all odds, the resilient Palestinian people remain hopeful that this year will bring long-awaited freedom, justice, peace, dignity and security in their homeland,” said the Permanent Observer. Maintaining that the Palestinian leadership had cooperated fully with Quartet initiatives, he added nevertheless: “The two-State solution is withering with every inch of Palestinian land seized by the occupying Power, every settlement unit constructed, every Israeli settler transferred, every wall erected, every home demolished and every Palestinian family displaced.” He vowed to continue efforts to mobilize the United Nations as well as Member States to save the dream of a possible Palestinian State.

Israel’s representative, pointing to the magnitude of unrest, threats and civil rights violations in the region, maintained that the Israeli-Palestinian issue was not the central conflict in the Middle East. The primary obstacle to peace was not “municipal building applications” or settlements in the West Bank, but the claim by Palestinian refugees of the right of return to Israel, a culture of incitement that instilled hatred of Jews while glorifying terrorism, and the accommodation of Hamas, which did not recognize Israel. As for the negotiations, he said: “It’s time to stop negotiating about negotiating,” calling for immediate, unconditional, direct talks to resolve all issues. He criticized the Security Council’s inaction on militancy in Gaza, which was creating an explosive situation. “The silence is deafening,” he added.

Following those statements, representatives of Member States expressed hope that the current preparatory talks would lead to substantial negotiations, with many speakers urging that a comprehensive agreement on the details of a two-State solution be reached by the end of the year. Most speakers also called for an end to Israeli settlement expansion and a lifting of the blockade on Gaza, with some also calling for an end to Palestinian rocket fire and incitement.

France’s representative said his country had limited expectations for progress in the current talks, stressing that the will of the parties, while essential, was not enough. Only an international follow-up mechanism could create the necessary dynamics to end the current impasse and allow progress to a two-State solution, he maintained. Jordan’s representative said that an early agreement on border rectifications, based in international legality, was key to resolving the settlement issue politically, paving the way for the much-needed final-status negotiations, which would ultimately lead to freedom, security and peace.

On Syria, many speakers expressed deep concern at the continuing deaths and repression, calling for international support for efforts by the League of Arab States to end the violence and begin a Syrian-led dialogue process towards reform. Qatar’s representative, among others, supported the League’s request that the Security Council adopt its recent decisions, since “the plan is realistic and meets the different orientations of the Syrian people”.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, India, Togo, Colombia, Morocco, United Kingdom, Germany, Portugal, Pakistan, Russian Federation, China, Guatemala, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Egypt (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Lebanon, Brazil, Malaysia, Australia, Japan, Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Iran, Sri Lanka, Iceland, Tunisia, Syria, Cuba, Kazakhstan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Norway, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya (on behalf of the Arab Group), Venezuela, Benin (on behalf of the African Group) and Bahrain.

Also speaking today were the Head of the European Union delegation to the United Nations, and the Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.