If the proposed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza were implemented in the right way, it would open up an unprecedented opportunity for progress towards peace, Terje Roed-Larsen, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, told the Security Council this morning.
There had been no tangible progress related to the parties’ implementation of their commitments under the Road Map, he stated. It was in that context that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon announced his important initiative to withdraw the Israeli armed forces from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
Ending the occupation of Gaza would be the most important step since the mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). For the withdrawal to succeed, he said, each of the parties would have to carry out one crucial task. Israel’s task was to withdraw fully and completely from the Gaza Strip, transferring control to a reformed and reorganized Palestinian Authority, with reliable Palestinian security arrangements supervised by third parties acceptable to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. There was no way around that task.
The Palestinian task was to act immediately and without delay to reconstitute its security forces as stipulated in the Road Map and as detailed and operationalized by the Egyptian initiative, he said. The credibility of the Authority was at stake and its interests, as well as the interests of the Palestinian people, would be served best by decisive action on its part to reform and reorganize itself and regain the full credibility it once enjoyed.
The international community also had a crucial task at hand, which was to take the parties by the hand along the challenging and laborious road leading to peace. “I admit, it would be much more comfortable for all of us if we could design a perfect plan, pass it to the parties, and then watch while they implement it in good faith”, he said. “But we do not have that luxury.”
While it would be comfortable to do that, he said, more people would get killed. There were only two options: “Either we act, all the time, patiently and tirelessly, trying to find a way out of this conflict. Or we sit and watch as more people bleed. The choice is for each of us to make.”
The meeting began at 10:18 a.m. and ended at 11:07 a.m.
Summary of Statement
TERJE ROED-LARSEN, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, provided recent specific examples of the “gruesome and heartbreaking reality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” and added they were not exceptional cases in that unfolding tragedy. Since the last briefing, violence had continued on the ground, claiming 61 Palestinians and seven Israelis, and wounding more than 580 Palestinians and 71 Israelis.
He said that unless both parties took immediate action to halt that terrible bloodshed and resolve their differences over the negotiating table, he was afraid that by the next briefing, more people crossing Israeli streets or sitting in homes in Palestinian cities would get killed. Since September 2000, 3,499 Palestinians and 949 Israelis had been killed. More than 34,300 Palestinians and 6,000 Israelis had been injured in the daily bloodshed.
The diary of violent acts was painfully long, he said. On 27 June, Hamas and Al-Aqsa Brigades militants detonated explosives in a tunnel they had dug underneath a military outpost in the settlement bloc of Gush Katif in the southern Gaza Strip, killing one Israeli soldier and injuring five. In retaliation, Israel conducted missile strikes against targets in Gaza City, hitting a media office affiliated with Hamas in a six-story building in Gaza City, and a metal workshop. Israel also began a bulldozing operation around the outpost where the soldier had been killed, demolishing Palestinian houses and uprooting fields and crops. A full closure was declared on all crossings and checkpoints in the Gaza Strip.
He said that Israel responded to recent killings and injuries by firing three missiles at targets in and near GazaCity, hitting metal workshops. Israel also began a major operation in the northern Gaza Strip, near Beit Hanoun, early on 29 June, using tanks and bulldozers to encircle the city and demolish several Palestinian houses, in order to prevent Palestinian militants from firing Qassam rockets into Israel. In that operation, at least 20 Palestinians had been killed, to date. Ten of those had been killed and at least 20 had been wounded on 8 July alone. As Israeli troops continued uprooting trees and installations in the area and moved into Beit Hanoun, more than 1,000 dunums of crops had been destroyed in that operation, although the final extent of the destruction was still unknown. As of today, Beit Hanoun remained isolated and the operation continued.
On 8 July, five Israeli soldiers, among them two officers with the rank of colonel, had been injured in the Gaza Strip when Palestinians fired an anti-tank missile and detonated a roadside bomb near their jeep, he reported. Israeli incursions and arrest campaigns also continued over the last three weeks and culminated in large-scale Israel Defence Forces (IDF) operations in the Old City of Nablus and the nearby Balata refugee camp between 23 and 27 June. A curfew had been imposed and maintained for three consecutive days. A total of 10 Palestinians had been killed during that operation, among them the commanders of the Fatah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas’ military wings in the city. A second major arrest operation had taken place in Nablus on 6 July, resulting in the deaths of four Palestinians and one Israeli soldier. A shootout erupted when IDF troops were trying to arrest the Nablus commander of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and his deputy, and the troops used a missile and heavy shooting in that densely populated area, killing not only two militants, but also Dr. Khaled Saleh and his 16 year-old son Mohammad.
Parallel to those operations, one Israeli was killed in a shooting attack on his truck in the northern West Bank on 29 June, he said. A second Israeli was shot dead and his wife injured in a gunfire attack on their car near the village of Yabad in the northern West Bank on 4 July, for which the Fatah affiliated Al-Aqsa Brigades claimed responsibility. Then, on 11 July, for the first time in four months, a bombing hit Tel Aviv during the morning rush hour, killing a woman and injuring 30 Israelis, five of them critically. Al-Aqsa Brigades claimed responsibility for the bombing, stating that it was in retaliation for the assassinations of two of its top commanders, as well as other Palestinians in Israel incursions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Almost at the same time, he recalled, four Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip as a car exploded near the settlement of Netzarim in the central Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources claimed that an explosive device planted by Israeli troops had caused the blast. The IDF claimed the incident had probably been caused by a bomb transported in the car by Palestinian militants. Also on 10 July, a 15-year-old girl who had been shot by IDF troops in Rafah several days earlier died of her wounds.
That was the “dreadful log of blood and tears” he had compiled since Under-Secretary-General Kieran Prendergast’s last briefing to the Council just three weeks ago, he said.
House demolitions had also continued during the reporting period. And, closure continued to affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Despite announcements of intent, restrictions on freedom of movement remained in place. Only occasionally, some restrictions were eased slightly, such as movement between Tulkarem and the surrounding governorates of Nablus, Ramallah, and Qalqiliya, thanks to the reopening of the Anaba gate in the first week of July. However, a number of important checkpoints were closed at times, restricting Palestinian traffic between villages and towns and into Jerusalem.
He said that curfews had been imposed, not only in Nablus where those lasted for three days during the major operation between 23 and 27 June, but also Jericho, Hebron, Kfar Dee in the Salfit area, Kfar Malik near Ramallah, Yamoun in the Jenin district, and Deir Ghassana, as well as Beit Rima in Ramallah. On 28 June, the IDF also imposed a curfew on the town of Yamoun near Jenin and searched houses using police dogs. Explosives and gas were used, which — according to Palestinian sources — had destroyed and polluted a number of water wells in the town. The operation continued until 28 June. Renewed curfews were also imposed in a number of towns.
Those disturbing events reflected the lack of progress in the political process, he said, adding that he had repeatedly cautioned both parties against the fallacy that a military solution to that conflict was possible. Those events, and the events of the last three years, supported the broad international consensus that only a political settlement could stop the bloodshed and bring the lives of Palestinians and Israelis back to normalcy. That was why the international community had devised its “Road Map” for peace, which the Security Council had adopted in its resolution 1515, calling on the parties to implement it.
Unfortunately, both parties had chosen to ignore that call. That had brought to mind the words of historian Barbara Tuchman, who said that a noticeable phenomenon throughout history, regardless of place and period, was the pursuit by many governments of policies contrary to their own interests.
He said that the Palestinian Authority, despite consistent promises by its leadership, had made no progress on its core obligation to take immediate action on the ground to end violence and combat terror, and to reform and reorganize the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli Government had made no progress either on its core obligation to immediately dismantle settlements outposts erected since March 2001 and to move towards a complete freeze of settlement activities.
Progress on the implementation of Palestinian reform remained slow and could not be explained except by the lack of political will to advance along that road, he said. The Palestinian Authority decided to begin holding local elections as early as this fall. The commitment to do so was a step towards creating more democratic local institutions and, as such, should be encouraged. However, the Palestinian Authority had not yet responded to repeated calls by the international community to reform its electoral institutional framework in line with minimal international standards. It had appointed a partisan body to supervise local elections instead of the existing Central Elections Commission, which should prepare and supervise voter registration. Instead, the Commission had been endangered by the Palestinian Authority’s intention to launch parallel registration without impartial supervision.
As the Quartet had informed Prime Minister Qurei last week, the international community stood ready to support well-prepared elections, he said. But, it remained of great concern that minimal international standards be met with regard to the preparation and conduct of those elections.
He said that the most successful areas of reform had been in the areas of finance and public administration. In terms of the crucial area of security reform, the President of the Palestinian Authority had lent only nominal and partial support to the commendable Egyptian efforts aimed at reforming the ailing Palestinian security services, consistent with the Road Map. Those efforts had the full support of the Quartet and the international community and represented the best, and probably the last, chance to salvage whatever remained of Palestinian security capabilities. Those efforts were necessary to put an end to the steadily emerging chaos in Palestinian areas, to restore law and order and — most importantly — to re-establish the Palestinian Authority as a fully credible partner for the international community.
All those who yearned for peace had already and repeatedly urged President Arafat, in public and in private, to take immediate action to restore that diminished credibility, he emphasized. The Quartet, as well as the Arab peace partners, had also been active in trying to bring about the necessary reforms. The required elements of reform were clear to all: the consolidation of all security services into three main bodies; and rejuvenating its leadership by putting it under the authority of an effective interior minister, who reported to an empowered Prime Minister. The Palestinian Prime Minister and cabinet should be empowered in a way that enabled them to make the necessary changes and carry out the executive tasks entrusted to them by the Palestinian basic law. They must be given the power not only to make decisions, but also to implement them. Unfortunately, there was, so far, no sign of any of those measures being taken.
The fact that, under those conditions, the Palestinian leader remained confined to his headquarters in Ramallah in difficult conditions was no excuse for passivity and inaction, he said. Decisive, robust and enduring action, particularly in the critical field of security reform, should lead to more vigorous international engagement in the process and to an environment conducive to more bold leadership, consistent with requirements of the Road Map and the Egyptian initiative. Unfortunately, there was no sign of constructive movement at present, far from it. Despite a well-intended Prime Minister, the Palestinian Authority’s paralysis had become abundantly clear, and the deterioration of law and order in Palestinian areas was steadily worsening.
Continuing, he said that clashes and showdowns between branches of Palestinian security forces were now common in the Gaza Strip, where legal authority was receding fast in the face of the mounting power of arms, money and intimidation. Lawlessness and gang rule was becoming common in Nablus, the mayor of which resigned a few months ago in protest against the lack of Palestinian Authority support for the legal authorities. The perceived Palestinian Authority abdication of responsibility had led many Rafah residents to take matters into their own hands, up to the point where some of them had established a private checkpoint, preventing Palestinian Authority officials from crossing to Egypt or from entering Rafah. Jericho was becoming the only Palestinian city with a functioning police. That collapse of authority could not be attributed to the Israeli incursions and operations inside Palestinian towns.
“The Palestinian Authority was in deep distress, and is in real danger of collapse”, he said.
Israel’s lack of compliance on the sensitive issue of settlements was equally frustrating, he added. Territory lay at the heart of the conflict. It had already been established by the Mitchell Commission that settlement expansion was the most important factor undermining Palestinian trust in the peace process and leading to its breakdown. The drafters of the Road Map had been careful to require from Israel an immediate dismantling of all outposts that had been erected since March 2002 in order to send a clear and positive message to the Palestinians that a paradigm shift was taking place. A full and comprehensive freeze on settlement activities was to be achieved as the security situation improved, but that had not been the case.
There was no paradigm shift, but rather a movement in its reverse, he said, stressing “settlement expansion has to come to a complete stop”.
He quoted from the recent opinion of the International Court of Justice on the illegality of the construction of the barrier wall by Israel, as well as the ruling on 30 June by the Israeli High Court of Justice ordering the Israeli Government to change the course of approximately 30 kilometres of the barrier to the north-west of Jerusalem. The United Nations Secretariat had fully cooperated with General Assembly resolution ES-10/14 of 8 December 2003 regarding that issue, and the Secretary-General had submitted a detailed report on the construction of the barrier and its impact. He had also provided the Court with an update of that report and had communicated all relevant documents at the Secretariat’s disposals to the court in The Hague. It was now up to the appropriate United Nations bodies to deliberate that opinion and decide on next steps.
The impact of the conflict on the population went beyond deaths and injuries, he said. The violence also affected the economies on both sides and the living conditions of Israelis and Palestinians, spreading the misery further and deeper. There was very little he could add to what had already been said about the impact of the current situation on the Palestinian economy, whose fiscal situation was also fragile. The violence had also taken its toll on the Israeli economy in a recession that had been described by many as the worst in Israel’s history.
Despite the gloomy picture, he continued, there was hope. Despite the suffering, the bloodshed and the misery, a majority of both Palestinians and Israelis still had faith in the possibility of reconciliation and peace.
On the Palestinian side, he said, a large majority of 72 per cent continued to favour reconciliation between the two peoples. An overwhelming majority of 92 per cent continued to support calls for fundamental political reform in the Palestinian Authority, giving support to the international community’s policy of insisting on tangible reform measures in the Authority. Hope was brought not only by opinion polls, he continued. Developments in the diplomatic arena also offered many opportunities. If seized, they would revive the peace process and lead to the achievement of shared goals: an end to the occupation that started in 1967 and the establishment of a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian State living side by side with Israel in peace and security.
There was no tangible progress related to the parties’ implementation of their commitments under the Road Map, he stated. It was in that context that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon announced his important initiative to withdraw the Israeli armed forces from Gaza and parts of the West Bank and to evacuate all settlements in the Gaza Strip, as well as four settlements in the northern West Bank. A withdrawal from Gaza, bringing the occupation of the Strip to an end, was consistent with calls for bold steps made to Prime Minister Sharon since the beginning of his term. It was also consistent with detailed proposals presented by the Secretary-General to the Quartet last summer.
Yet, some Israelis and Palestinians still raised reservations about that initiative and its possible impact on the peace process. Their fears, though not baseless, were often, and unnecessarily, used as pretext for passivity and inaction. If the withdrawal were implemented in the right way, it would open up an unprecedented opportunity for progress towards peace. Ending the occupation of Gaza would be the most important step since the mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
During their meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Qurei in Ramallah last week, the Quartet envoys indicated that their support for the withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank did not in any way affect their insistence on the fulfilment of outstanding obligations related to the West Bank. The link between the Gaza withdrawal and the implementation of the Road Map were simple and clear: the requirements for the success of the withdrawal initiative were the very same requirements involved in the implementation of the Road Map.
For the withdrawal to succeed, each of the parties would have to carry out one crucial task, he said. Israel’s task was to withdraw fully and completely from the Gaza Strip, transferring control to a reformed and reorganized Palestinian Authority, with reliable Palestinian security arrangements supervised by third parties acceptable to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. There was no way around that task.
A partial withdrawal, or withdrawing while retaining control, would not constitute an end to the occupation and would, therefore, defeat the entire purpose of the withdrawal. Withdrawing without establishing a security regime supervised by reliable third parties would be a recipe for renewed conflict. Security for Israel and freedom for the Palestinians were not only compatible with one another; they were actually intertwined and interdependent.
The Palestinian task was to act immediately and without delay to reconstitute its security forces as stipulated in the Road Map and as detailed and operationalized by the Egyptian initiative, he said. Security reform, as was the case with the entire reform agenda, enjoyed the support of a majority of Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority had the duty to implement it in a speedy manner. There was already a well-developed security plan that enjoyed the support of the international community.
That plan, he continued, had been submitted to the Authority by Egypt, and had been supported by the Quartet. Now was the time for action. The credibility of the Authority was at stake and its interests, as well as the interests of the Palestinian people, would be served best by decisive action on its part to reform and reorganize itself and regain the full credibility it once enjoyed.
The international community also had a crucial task at hand, which was to take the parties by the hand along the challenging and laborious road leading to peace. The envoys would start preparations for a meeting of the Task Force on Palestinian Reform to be held during this summer, followed by a meeting of the main body of the donors, the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, in September, with a meeting of the Quartet principals also in September, here in New York, to review progress and determine the future course of action.
Turning to the situation between Israel and Lebanon, he said that, although an atmosphere of tension and potential instability continued to exist along the Blue Line, the situation had remained relatively calm since the last briefing to the Council. Israel, however, had continued to violate Lebanese airspace. On 29 June, 15 Israeli aircrafts flew over the Blue Line 11 times. Shortly afterwards, Hezbollah fired three rounds of heavy machine-gun fire.
It was important that all parties exercise restraint, and avoid the escalatory cycle of violations. Such restraint was required to maintain stability along the Blue Line. He hoped that the relative calm that had prevailed along the Blue Line in the last month was reflective of the parties’ renewed desire for a greater degree of stability in the area.
Unfortunately, he said, no progress had been achieved on the Syrian-Israeli track. He hoped that the two countries would find an appropriate way, in the near future, to resume their suspended peace negotiations. That would contribute to creating a conducive environment for comprehensive peace in the region.
“I admit, it would be much more comfortable for all of us if we could design a perfect plan, pass it to the parties, and then watch while they implement it in good faith”, he said. “But we do not have that luxury.”
“I also admit that it would be more comfortable for us to sit in our chairs, express our doubts about the chances of success of this or that plan, show sympathy for the suffering of the victims of the conflict on this or that side, indulge in arguments over the asymmetry between the occupier and the occupied or over the immoral equivalency between self-defence and terrorism. And then wrap up and go out to resume our normal, easy lives, and rest peacefully in our untroubled moral self-righteousness.”
While it would be comfortable to do that, he said, more people would get killed. There were only two options: “Either we act, all the time, patiently and tirelessly, trying to find a way out of this conflict. Or we sit and watch as more people bleed. The choice is for each of us to make”.