Parallel progress needed in Middle East, Ban Ki-moon tells UN meeting

Paul Badji, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations, and Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)


With a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians supporting a negotiated settlement to the Middle East conflict that would allow two States to live side by side in peace and security, it is vital that their leaders take concrete steps to achieve that goal, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a United Nations-sponsored meeting on the issue today.

“It is clear that a parallel commitment by the parties is essential for advancing on key issues,” Mr. Ban said in a message at the start of the UN International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, held at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, urging participants to play their part.

The message to the meeting, organized under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, was delivered on Mr. Ban’s behalf by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, the Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG).

Mr. Ban’s message noted the meeting was taking place “at a critical moment for the future of efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East,” especially given the formation of a Palestinian National Unity Government last weekend, which he described as “a very significant step forward.”

“I hope this will also lay the groundwork for a Government that will respect existing agreements with Israel and reflect Quartet principles,” he said, referring to the diplomatic grouping that comprises the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States.

“It is also important and encouraging that [Palestinian] President Abbas and [Israeli] Prime Minister Olmert have continued their dialogue, both in a bilateral setting and in a trilateral one, along with [US] Secretary [of State] Rice, on ways to ensure that existing commitments are met and a political horizon can be made clear.”

But Mr. Ban emphasized that serious obstacles remain, including the worsening humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, the continuing Israeli military operations and expansion of settlements and ongoing construction of the barrier in the West Bank. He added that continued Palestinian rocket attacks at Israel and indiscriminate violence against civilians are unjustifiable, and “only reinforce a sense of insecurity among Israelis.”

Paul Badji, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, told the meeting that continuing restrictions on financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority could cause a collapse of the institutions being seen as the foundations for an eventual Palestinian State.

Mr. Badji said that abandoning those institutions would seriously set back the prospects for a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East and voiced hoped that the formation of the new Palestinian National Unity Government would lead to the restoration of more economic and humanitarian assistance.

The theme of the two-day meeting is “Relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace process - challenges and vision.” Participants include representatives of the UN system and Member States and Observers, internationally renowned experts, including Israelis and Palestinians, lawmakers and members of inter-governmental organizations, civil society and the media.

UN Secretary’s Speech at the two-day meeting in Rome

Following is the text of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message to the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, taking place at the Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome, 22-23 March, as delivered today by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General, United Nations Office at Geneva:

I extend greetings to all participants in this United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, organized under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

You meet at a critical moment for the future of efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East. Important developments are taking place among Palestinians, between Palestinians and Israelis, in the region and internationally. Taken together, these hold the potential, if not yet the promise, to overcome a period of violence and despair and replace it with a future of dialogue and hope.

The agreement reached in Mecca has brought relative calm to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the formation of a Palestinian National Unity Government last weekend is a very significant step forward. I hope this will also lay the groundwork for a Government that will respect existing agreements with Israel and reflect Quartet principles. The international community will naturally be following closely the actions of this new Government, and we hope that the expectations that the Palestinian people and the international community have of it will be fulfilled.

It is also important and encouraging that President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have continued their dialogue, both in a bilateral setting and in a trilateral one, along with Secretary Rice, on ways to ensure that existing commitments are met and a political horizon can be made clear. Equally vital are the efforts of regional countries, based on the Arab Peace Initiative, to stretch out the hand of peace.

Serious obstacles remain, threatening to block progress. The humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continues to worsen. Israeli military operations, continuing settlement activity and severe movement restrictions erode prospects for socio-economic recovery. The expansion of settlements and construction of the barrier in the West Bank intensify feelings of mistrust, anger and despair, pushing the chances of peace farther away.

At the same time, continued rocket attacks at Israel and indiscriminate violence against civilians are totally unjustified, and only reinforce a sense of insecurity among Israelis. For its part, Israel must ensure that it exercises its right to defend itself in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law, so as not to endanger civilians.

It is clear that a parallel commitment by the parties is essential for advancing on key issues. A majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a negotiated settlement whereby two independent States, Israel and Palestine, would live side by side in peace and security. It is vital that their leaders take concrete actions which show their commitment to achieving that goal, by word and deed. The United Nations, for its part, will remain fully engaged in efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement, based on Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, the Arab Peace Initiative and the principle of land for peace. I am hopeful that your Meeting will make its own contribution and I wish you all the best in your deliberations.

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