UN hopes to jumpstart quartet talks

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) - The United Nations Security Council is calling for intense international efforts to conclude diplomatic negotiations aimed at creating a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine.

On Tuesday, the 15-member Council passed a unanimous resolution declaring its support for the negotiations initiated in the US city of Annapolis last year in November amid calls for both parties to refrain from any step that could undermine confidence.

“We must redouble our efforts,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “all of us: Israelis and Palestinians; the regional countries and the Arab League as a whole; the Quartet, including the incoming US administration; and this Council.”

The resolution was adopted after the conclusion of a high-level meeting of the Mideast Quartet, which comprises the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia. The Quartet was formed about six years ago to facilitate peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Monday’s Quartet meeting was attended by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and the UN secretary-general.

The Quartet representatives said the bilateral negotiations process launched at Annapolis was “irreversible” and that these negotiations must be intensified in order to put an end to the conflict and to establish “as soon as possible” the state of Palestine.

“A final treaty and a lasting peace will be reached through simultaneously, reinforcing efforts on three-tracks, negotiations, building the Palestinian state, and implementation of the parties’ obligations under the Roadmap,” they said in a joint statement.

They said they want all Palestinians to commit themselves to non-violence and the recognition of Israel. The Quartet urged Israel to freeze all settlement activities, saying it has “a negative impact on the negotiating environment and on Palestinian economy.”

The Quartet has been heavily criticized for its inability to prevent Israel from settlement-building and military actions in the Palestinian territories. Last year, before the end of his term, the UN special rapporteur on human rights, John Dugard, noted that the Quartet had “done nothing” to protect the Palestinians.

Israel has continued its policy of raids and blockading the exit and entry points around Gaza and other occupied areas despite protests by international aid agencies and human rights organizations.

According to the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, about 46 percent of Palestinians do not have enough food to meet their basic needs. UN officials say due to acute poverty and increasing unemployment, many children are unable to complete their education.

The total population in the occupied territories is estimated at three to four million people.

The Quartet, which plans to hold its next meeting in Moscow, said it was concerned about the recent increase in the closures of crossing points in Gaza and noted that such actions have limited the range and basic quantities of commodities and humanitarian supplies.

On Monday, while the Quartet meeting was in progress, the UN General Assembly president’s spokesperson Enrique Yeves issued a statement saying the president was “very concerned” about a series of recent developments that were “not helpful or conducive” for the climate of international harmony that he was trying to promote.

“This morning we have learned about the arbitrary detention of Professor Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories,” the spokesperson said. “He was denied entry to Israel when he arrived at Tel Aviv airport.”

Yeves said Falk was detained at the airport, and despite two brief urgent telephone messages to the US, was held almost incommunicado for at least 30 hours. “We believe that Prof. Falk has been put on a flight back to the United States.”

“Such actions by a member state of the United Nations reflect a dangerous decision by individual countries to rebuff UN mandates and its appointed mandate-holders,” said Yeves of the Israeli action in Tel Aviv.

He also said “very serious threats have appeared on the Internet against the life of the president of the General Assembly. This matter is being looked into by the pertinent authorities.”

For years, Israel has been in violation of numerous Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. In noting that last week, the Assembly’s President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann publicly criticized Israel.

Independent experts on the region say that in the absence of intervention to shift the balance of power and secure implementation of a genuine peace agreement, there will be no easing of the human suffering and instability there.

“Until and unless a just and comprehensive peace is seen by the US to be as strategic an interest as keeping military secrets safe, peace will remain an elusive goal,” said Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow at the US-based Institute for Palestinian Studies.

Meanwhile, asked by IPS for his reaction to the Quartet meeting and statement, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour said: “It’s a well-adopted resolution, but we need to see action.”

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