22 October 2013 – The top United Nations political chief today called for taking advantage of the opening that now exists with renewed negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to achieve the long-sought vision of two States living side by side in peace and security.
“Despite the difficult regional context and the challenges on the ground between Israel and Palestine, this is not an opportunity that either can afford to lose,” Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman said in his briefing to the Security Council.
“After 20 years of talks and too many negative developments on the ground, we don’t need lengthy negotiations,” he added. “What we, and the parties, need are decisions, the right decisions, and leaders who are committed to usher in an agreed political solution.”
Direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians stalled in September 2010, after Israel refused to extend its freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory. Following efforts by United States Secretary of State John Kerry, the two sides resumed negotiations this August.
“Despite the welcome intensification of negotiations, there have been worrisome developments on the ground that we cannot ignore,” Mr. Feltman said, reiterating the UN’s unequivocal call on all to refrain from violence and incitement, reinforce calm and reverse negative trends in order to preserve the “tentative” opening in the political process.
He cited a number of violent incidents that led to deaths and injuries on both sides; settlement activity, which is “an obstacle to peace and against international law”; ongoing clashes between Palestinians and settlers; growing provocations at holy sites; and Israeli demolitions.
The calm in the Gaza Strip is also showing “worrying” signs of erosion, he added, referring to a recently discovered tunnel between the territory and Israel as well as Palestinian rocket fire into Israel and Israeli incursions into Gaza.
Meanwhile in Lebanon, security continues to be affected by cross-border shelling and shooting from Syria. In light of the multiple impacts of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month convened the inaugural meeting to launch an International Support Group for Lebanon. Mr. Feltman said the UN anticipates an expansion of the Group to embrace additional countries and organizations that share the goal of helping Lebanon.
“The tragedy in Syria continues to test our collective resolve and ability to end the violence there,” he said, referring to the conflict that is now in its third year and has already claimed more than 100,000 lives. “While important progress has been made on the chemical weapons file, it will by no means bring an end by itself to the appalling suffering of the Syrian people.”
The UN is working to convene a peace conference in Geneva in mid-November aimed at helping the Syrian sides launch a political process and establish by consent a new transitional governing body with full executive authority.
“With a political process, however difficult it may be, there is hope that a new Syria will emerge. Without it, there is little on the horizon but the further destruction of Syria and the further destabilization of the region as a result of this conflict,” said Mr. Feltman.
“We are working at all levels and hope that a common vision for apolitical solution can soon emerge among Syrians, in the region and globally,” he added.
The Council, he said, is meeting at a time of “heightened diplomacy” on several issues, from the Syria catastrophe to the Middle East peace process to questions regarding nuclear proliferation.
“While the challenges on each front should not be underestimated, it is important to maintain and even increase the momentum behind diplomacy,” he stated. “We encourage and remain committed to supporting this Council and its members in fully exploring all opportunities at hand to resolve peacefully, though dialogue, the difficult issues that bedevil peace and security in the region.”