Key international partners seeking Israeli-Palestinian peace began a series of crucial meetings at United Nations Headquarters in New York today at a critical juncture for the process with political progress deadlocked and a humanitarian crisis looming in the occupied Gaza Strip.
Foreign ministers of the so-called Diplomatic Quartet – the UN, European Union (EU), Russia and the United States – hosted by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, kicked off their day-long consultations with a meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Besides Mr. Annan, the Quartet is being represented by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; and the EU’s High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik of Austria, which currently holds the EU Council presidency, and European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero Waldner.
Following the meeting with the regional ministers, the Quartet principals are set to consult among themselves, and then hold a news conference at 5:00 p.m.
The Quartet - sponsors of the long-running Road Map peace plan aiming to establish two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, originally targeted for completion by the end of last year – is meeting at a particularly crucial time following a series of warnings by senior UN official on both the political and humanitarian fronts.
Just two weeks ago, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Alvaro de Soto, warned the Security Council that the situation had reached a volatile juncture, with donors balking at funding the Hamas-led Palestinian Government, tensions between that administration and President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, and continued settlement expansion by Israel.
“We are witnessing a potentially dangerous deterioration of the situation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said, noting that the funding crisis was due to the failure of the new Palestinian Government to commit to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist and acceptance of previous commitments and obligations.
Israel has continued to “create facts on the ground” including settlement expansion and a route of the Barrier which deviates from the 1967 borders. The envoy warned that this raises “serious concerns” as to the possibility of achieving a viable and contiguous Palestinian State.
And just last Friday, a senior official of the main UN agency helping Palestinian refugees said a crisis was already at hand, with shortages of medicines and many Gaza workers going with their salaries unpaid.
“Two weeks ago we were counting down to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said John Ging, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Director of Operations for Gaza. “Today the crisis is on our doorstep.
“There are now shortages of medical supplies in the public hospitals in the Gaza Strip and UNRWA has seen a large increase in the number of refugees coming to its centres seeking food aid and cash assistance.”