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UN Optimistic For Progress In Middle East


UN Official Paints Modestly Optimistic Picture For Progress In Middle East Conflict

For the second straight month the head of the United Nations Political Affairs office today presented a modestly optimistic picture of the “enormous potential” for progress towards settling the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in contrast to the gloomy forebodings of much of the past year.

“There is a palpable sense of expectation of real, substantial and sustainable change in the region,” Under-Secretary-General Kieran Prendergast told the Security Council, citing the democratic election of a new Palestinian President who has called for an end to attacks on Israel, and the formation of a new Israeli Government to carry out the evacuation of settlements in the occupied Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

“Optimism has, at least for now, replaced long and bitter years of disillusion, despair and hopelessness. The potential is there. But so is the danger that the fragile new process might falter and fail. We must not let that happen,” he added, urging both sides and the international community to push ahead with the so-called Road Map peace plan.

“The present period of opportunity challenges not only the parties, but all of us,” he said of the plan drawn up by the diplomatic Quartet – the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States – which calls for parallel and reciprocal steps by both sides leading to two States living in peace by the end of 2005.

“I am pleased to be able to report this morning that the overall trend of recent events tends to confirm that there exists a real opportunity to begin the long-delayed implementation of the Road Map’s provisions and to start moving once again towards a settlement of the conflict.”

But Mr. Prendergast was keenly aware of potential pitfalls. “Situations such as the present one in the Middle East are dynamic. They either evolve positively or they regress. They do not stand still for long. This underlines the need to develop momentum in the peace process and to maintain it,” he warned.

“Though the potential for positive change and progress continues to be enormous, both have, literally, come under fire on an almost daily basis,” he added, referring to the 210 Qassam rockets fired by Palestinian militants against Israeli settlements in Gaza and civilian targets inside Israel, and deadly Israeli incursions.

Urging both sides to exercise restraint, he called on Israel to freeze settlement activity as required by the Road Map, fulfil its obligations under international law to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians and refrain from the disproportionate use of force, and on the Palestinian Authority to put an end to violence and terror by reforming its institutions.

Praising the democratic election of new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to succeed Yasser Arafat, who died in November, Mr. Prendergast welcomed the prospect of a meeting in the coming weeks between Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who had refused to meet with Mr. Arafat during the past four years of the Palestinian uprising.

Following Mr. Prendergast’s briefing, the Security Council also welcomed Mr. Abbas’s election, commending the “credible and fair character” of the vote, and called for full implementation of the Road Map.

“The Security Council calls upon Israelis and Palestinians to relaunch a genuine political process and advance towards a just and lasting peace in the region,” the 15-member body said in statement read out by Foreign Minister Rafael Antonio Biélsa of Argentina, which holds the Council presidency for January.

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