The “window of opportunity” to revitalize the Middle East peace process that opened during the past year is still ajar, but the setbacks include Israel’s building of the separation barrier and the Palestinian Authority’s failure to help restore law and order, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan says in his latest report.
Noting the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank in September, he says, “I would like to commend Prime Minister Sharon’s political courage and steady commitment to disengagement. I would also like to commend the Palestinian Authority for its responsible behaviour during this period, in facilitating a smooth and peaceful operation.”
On the other hand, unilateral actions meant that the Israeli Defence Forces did not demolish places of worship and the Palestinian Authority, left with them unexpectedly, could not protect them, he says in the report to both the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, covering the period from September 2004 to September 2005.
Israeli Government-sponsored settlement activity may have a negative impact on the contiguity of Palestinian territory and is a source of serious concern, he adds. According to the road map to peace drawn up by the mediating Quartet – the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia – “Israel has an obligation to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, and immediately dismantle outposts erected illegally since March 2001,” he writes.
Instead, in the spring of 2005, Israel announced plans to construct 3,500 new housing units in Ma’ale Adumim and two other settlement blocs in the West Bank, and in early June it publicized tenders for the construction of 22 housing units in Ma’ale Adumim, he notes.
Mr. Annan urged the Government of Israel “to address its security concerns in a manner that will not increase suffering among Palestinians, prejudge final status issues, or threaten longer-term prospects for peace by making the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian State more difficult.”
The settlements and “Israel’s continued construction of the barrier in the West Bank, which encroaches on Palestinian land” constitute a key challenge to the fulfilment of the road map’s goal of a two-State solution, he says.
A recent independent report in the Palestinian security services by Strategic Assessments Initiative, written in collaboration with U.S. Security Coordinator Gen. William Ward and in consultation with senior Palestinian security officials, said the services were divided, weak, overstaffed, badly motivated and under-armed, with a number of unintegrated forces, Palestinian clans and individual force commanders wielding undue influence, Mr. Annan says.
“Other potentially troubling issues within the security services include corruption, institutional hierarchies, cults of personality and lack of cohesive training,” he states, adding that in the period after the Israeli disengagement, the problems within the services were illustrated when law and order seemed to crumble.