It is crucial that both Israel and the Palestinians take steps to reduce tensions in the Middle East in order to advance the peace process, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in Jerusalem today after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “The long-term safety and security of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian State go hand in hand,” he added, a day after holding talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, noting stressed the need to give some “political space” to the new Palestinian National Unity Government formed by Hamas and Mr. Abbas’s Fatah movement.
“We must use the weeks and months ahead to advance the political dialogue, since the alternative is renewed stagnation, which only means more extremism and violence,” he said.
A vital first step on that issue is for the new Palestinian Government to take action against the firing of rockets from Gaza and to secure the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit, kidnapped from Israel and taken in to the Gaza Strip by Palestinian militants last June, Mr. Ban noted. He also stressed that Israel’s actions are very crucial, particularly as regards settlements, outposts, checkpoints and revenues withheld from the Palestinian Government for the past year.
Existing obligations and commitments need to be kept by both parties, he insisted, including those the Road Map, the blueprint drafted by the Diplomatic Quartet - the UN, European Union, Russia and United States - that lays out mutual steps to achieve a two-State solution to the conflict, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace.
In his meeting with Mr. Olmert Mr. Ban also discussed the Iranian nuclear issue and the situation in Lebanon where Israel fought a 34-day war with Hizbollah last summer.