Top UN envoy says only dialogue with all parties in the Middle East will bring peace

Alvaro de Soto (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

Warning that “crisis and opportunity” exist side-by-side every day in the Middle East, the top United Nations envoy for peace in the region told the Security Council today that only simultaneous dialogue with all parties in the conflict will bring a lasting end to the bloodshed.

“A serious and systematic search for peace in the region requires dialogue with all the parties in the conflict, pari pasu, to ensure that crises are managed and opportunities explored, and that developments on one track are not undermined by developments on another,” said Alvaro de Soto, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

“The international community’s long-term goal is … not only peace between Israel and Palestine, but also peace between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon … At the heart of the conflict is the problem of Israel and Palestine … In this theatre, a deadly crisis continues in Gaza,” he added.

“The continuing violence in Gaza and southern Israel continues to kill, injure, and endanger civilians. Palestinian militant rocket fire should cease, as should Israeli military operations,” he said, adding that Israel’s operations had intensified following the capture in June of one of its soldiers although he remains in captivity and rocket attacks continue.

Mr. de Soto also said the other issue that must be overcome is the “political crisis” of the Palestinian Authority, whose President and Prime Minister follow “divergent programmes,” and he warned that the society is “teetering between national unity one day and civil conflict the next.”

Acknowledging there was no quick-fix to solving this crisis, he said the “route of national unity” offers perhaps the only solution to stem the slide into anarchy for Palestinian society, which is also facing a major financial crisis, while at the same time calling on Israel to meet its commitments to the peace process, including the two State solution.

Stressing the important role played by the Quartet, comprising the UN, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United States, in working toward long-lasting peace, Mr. de Soto noted that the group had reaffirmed its commitment to the Road Map last month, as a means to realize the goal of “two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

“Despite discussions by Quartet members with the Israeli authorities of concrete steps to move forward - including proposals put forward by the UN - Israel’s policy of near-blanket closure of Gaza continues. Israel has legitimate security concerns relating to human and commercial movements in and out of the Gaza Strip, and we continue to press the Palestinian Authority to meets its obligations.”

Mr. de Soto also spoke of continued problems in the West Bank, noting in particular that settlement activity is still going on and obstacles to movement have risen by 40 per cent in a year, although he noted that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he was willing to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and aides are now exploring this possibility.

Turning to Lebanon, he said that “heavy political tensions” remain a constant source of concern, while the UN was working closely with all sides to encourage political leaders to commit themselves to dialogue “in order to bridge their differences,” a goal that the world body was also seeking throughout the region.

“The UN’s objectives remain security and full recognition to the state of Israel within internationally recognized borders, an end to the occupation for the Palestinian people in an independent, sovereign state, recovery of lost land to Syria, a fully sovereign and secure Lebanon - through the full implementation of all relevant resolutions of this Council,” he concluded.

Representatives from 20 countries also spoke during the Council discussion.