UN official paints grim picture of Palestinian situation

Ibrahim Gambari (right), Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefs the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN Headquarters in New York. (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

Briefing the Security Council today on the situation of Palestinians in the Middle East, the top United Nations political officer painted a grim picture of developments over the past 12 months, warning that the vision of Israel and Palestine living peacefully side-by-side has slipped “further away,” and stressing the need for a renewed international effort in the region.

In an open meeting of the Council, which also heard speeches from almost 30 countries, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, listed six main reasons why the situation had changed so much from a year ago, when Israel was disengaging from Gaza and part of the northern West Bank and the world community was working to ensure both sides would return to the Road Map for the region.

“Far from advancing towards the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security, we have seen that vision slip further away during the past year.”

Listing the reasons for such developments, he said the first was the “political positions and actions of the parties,” noting that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has not fully committed itself to basic principles of the peace process, while Israel has itself failed to implement Road Map obligations, including freezing settlement activity.

Mr. Gambari also highlighted the financial difficulties faced by the Palestinian Authority, but said that the “most terrible” measure of the state of the peace process was the death and destruction from violence, as he cited examples of the suffering on both sides.

“The cycle of attack and counter-attack leads only to increased human suffering which is intolerable on all sides…in the past year a total of 41 Israelis have been killed, and nearly 480 injured, by Palestinian violence. In the same period, over 450 Palestinians have been killed, and over 2,500 injured by Israeli violence.”

He highlighted also that no progress has been made in securing the release of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, despite calls for his unconditional release, while efforts to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners have also been unsuccessful.

A fourth reason for the lack of progress towards a negotiated two State solution, said Mr. Gambari, was the fact that settlement activity continues and so too does the building of The Barrier, large parts of which are on occupied Palestinian territory.

He also highlighted the high degree of poverty, noting that “impoverishment in the Palestinian territories is more severe now than it has ever been,” but concluded by saying that perhaps the most worrying development of the past year was in the attitudes of ordinary people. “The sixth measure of the state of the peace process is perhaps the most worrying development…difficult to quantify, but easy to discern - in the attitudes of ordinary men and women. Opinion polls suggest a woeful decline in confidence in the peace process and in the prospects for a negotiated settlement on both sides.”

“Positions may be hardening, and could harden further unless a credible political process is somehow revived,” he said, as he emphasized the importance of Security General Kofi Annan’s recent call for greater global involvement and the need to look at peace in the whole Middle East region as a whole.

“There are many concrete steps, some immediate, which need to be taken in order to get out of the current crisis and back towards a political path. And as the Secretary-General stressed on 11 August, something more is needed - a renewed international effort, in which the various crises in the region are addressed…as part of a holistic and comprehensive effort, sanctioned and championed by this Council.”

To read the full briefing (PDF) click here.

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