UN envoy stresses need for coordination to translate Gaza disengagement into peace

Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefs the Security Council. (UN Photo)

Energetic coordination, cooperation and engagement by Israelis, Palestinians and the international community were needed to translate the disengagement from Gaza into a sustained and negotiated peace, Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council this morning.

“An upsurge in violence has undermined the positive political developments and dulled the sense of optimism that had resulted from last month’s Gaza disengagement”, he said during the monthly briefing to the Council on the situation in the Middle East. The postponement of proposed meetings between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was particularly disappointing, and it was to be hoped that talks planned for November would continue even if further security crises occurred. “The political track has to be resilient to the inevitable ups and downs of this unstable post-engagement period”, he added.

Welcoming today’s meeting in Washington between President George W. Bush and President Abbas, he said the international community would continue to play its part in consolidating the success of the disengagement. However, the parties themselves must take bold steps to fulfil their respective commitments. Israel must halt all settlement- and barrier-construction activity on Palestinian land, and the Palestinian Authority must persist with the reform and strengthening of its security services. There was evidence that Palestinians strongly supported efforts to rein in militant groups and the leadership must build on that support.

He recalled that on the day of his last briefing to the Council, the level of violence in Gaza had escalated when an explosion at a Hamas rally in Jabalya killed 19 people. Shortly afterwards, Hamas had fired rockets into Israel, which had responded with air strikes on Gaza and large-scale arrests in the West Bank. Palestinian security forces had also clashed with militants. Such events demonstrated the all-too-familiar potential for deteriorating security to derail the political process. While the disengagement had yet to revive the peace process, it offered a basis and opportunity to do so through completion of the agenda laid out by the Quartet and by renewed and broader dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian Governments.

Regarding steps taken since the disengagement, he noted that James Wolfensohn, the Quartet’s Special Envoy, had returned to the region on 7 October to push forward the Quartet’s agenda on disengagement, seeking to conclude agreements on the “six-plus-three” issues relating to movement, security and reform, which had formed the basis for his work since June. The first of the six joint issues was border crossings and trade corridors. Reopening the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza was of immediate social and political importance.

Since 17 September, the Rafah crossing had been fully open for five days, pending agreement between the parties on its administration, he said. According to the Special Envoy, agreement on the crossing regime was close; the parties had reached consensus on the main technical elements of its administration and on a third-party presence along the border with Egypt. The European Union had offered to consider such a role, although a formal invitation had not yet been issued. Hopefully, reports that the Rafah crossing would reopen by 15 November were accurate. The three parties should cooperate on that crucial issue.

The flow of people and goods between Israel and Gaza, as well as between Israel and the West Bank, must be improved, he stressed, adding that the United States and the World Bank had launched an options review to compare the costs of a road link and a railway. However, Israel had demanded an end to work on the study. The Quartet was implementing a major assistance programme to create jobs and boost Palestinian recovery in the aftermath of disengagement. Such a recovery would not be sustainable until restrictions on the movement of goods and people were lifted and the Palestinian Authority was able to establish firm administrative control. Recent reports about a number of weaknesses in the Palestinian Authority’s internal structures and its growing fiscal crisis were a source of concern.

He said that the movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip had been restricted more heavily than during the months preceding disengagement, leading to a dramatic drop in the number of workers crossing into Israel via Erez, as well as food shortages. The closures conformed to the pattern of restrictions in previous years during Jewish holidays, but were particularly worrying in the fragile post-disengagement period. After having been reduced in the West Bank, closures had increased again after the killing of three Israelis on 16 October. In addition, settlements and the barrier continued to impede movement within the West Bank. Those obstacles, as well as poor internal security, continued to impede United Nations assistance programmes in both Gaza and the West Bank.

On domestic political issues, he said the disengagement process had increased cooperation between the parties at the working level. The leaders also seemed closer to resuming bilateral negotiations. Prime Minister Sharon had carried out disengagement in the face of vocal domestic pressure, while on the Palestinian side, the Palestinian Legislative Council had called on President Abbas to dissolve the Government and form another within two weeks. A third round of Palestinian municipal elections had been held in the West Bank on 29 September, but postponed in Gaza due to security concerns. Participation in the poll had been high, with Fatah winning more than 53 per cent of the seats compared to 26 per cent for Hamas. Technical preparations were under way for legislative elections scheduled for 25 January 2006.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian security services had responded to the upsurge in violence, clashing with militants in Gaza and confiscating explosives and Qassam rockets in an attempt to assert control that had tested Palestinian law-enforcement capabilities. The security situation had improved during the second week of October, but on 16 October, militants of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade had shot three Israelis dead as they travelled to settlements in the West Bank. United States Security Coordinator General William Ward had continued to push for security-sector reform.

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, he recounted the attempted assassination of journalist May Chidiac and reported that the situation along the Blue Line had remained calm, though 11 Israeli air violations, involving 19 aircraft had been recorded.

Following the briefing, Council members went into informal consultations to continue their discussions on the subject. The formal meeting, which began at 10:15 a.m., adjourned at 10:40 a.m.

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