Annan to host Quartet meeting on Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Tuesday

The Middle East Quartet concluded on January 30 that it was inevitable that future assistance to any new government would be reviewed by donors. (UN Photo)

Secretary-General Kofi Annan will host a high-level meeting on Tuesday of the diplomatic Quartet, the partnership of the United Nations, European Union (EU), Russia and the United States that is seeking to bring a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid a potentially dangerous deterioration looming on the horizon.

The meeting at UN Headquarters in New York is being held at the principals’ level and is expected to be attended by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, with the EU represented by its High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik of Austria, which currently holds the EU Council presidency, as well as European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero Waldner.

It comes just two weeks after the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Alvaro de Soto, warned the Security Council in his latest monthly update that the situation had reached a volatile juncture, with donors balking at funding the Hamas-led Palestinian Government, tensions between that administration and President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, and continued settlement expansion by Israel.

“We are witnessing a potentially dangerous deterioration of the situation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said then, noting that the funding crisis was due to the failure of the new Palestinian Government to commit to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist and acceptance of previous commitments and obligations.

The Quartet is sponsoring the long-running Road Map peace plan which seeks to establish two States – Israel and Palestine – living side by side in peace, originally targeted for achievement by the end of last year.

Underlining the human dimension of the cut-off in funding to the Hamas-led administration, a senior official of the main UN agency helping Palestinian refugees said today a crisis was already at hand, with shortages of medicines and many Gaza workers going with their salaries unpaid.

“Two weeks ago we were counting down to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said John Ging, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Director of Operations for Gaza. “Today the crisis is on our doorstep.

“There are now shortages of medical supplies in the public hospitals in the Gaza Strip and UNRWA has seen a large increase in the number of refugees coming to its centres seeking food aid and cash assistance.”

Prior to the current crisis, some 55,000 Gaza families received a Palestinian Authority salary, but they have now been unpaid for two months and are turning in large numbers to UNRWA’s already overstretched relief centres.

Moreover, at a time when money is in short supply, UNRWA is paying $78,000 a month in surcharges because its empty food containers are stuck in Gaza due to an Israeli refusal to allow exports at the Karni commercial crossing from the Gaza Strip. Israel has cited security concerns.

“This is a scandalous waste of money. We need every cent we have for food and medicine to help the refugees,” Mr. Ging said. “I call on everyone who can help to resolve this issue to do so.”

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