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Israeli-Palestinian peace climate vastly improved

Israeli-Palestinian peace climate vastly improved but threats persist, Security Council told

22 February 2005 – The political climate between Israel and the Palestinians has vastly improved in the past month with hopes for progress towards peace rekindled, but possible action by Palestinian groups and the continuing hardships of daily life in the occupied territories still cast a dangerous shadow, the top United Nations political officer said today.

“We are convinced that 2005 is a year of opportunity,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast told the Security Council in his monthly briefing, citing the summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians’ vow to stop acts of violence and Israel’s pledge to cease military activities.

“We fervently hope that, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it, the international community will help the parties to ‘transform opportunity into achievement,’” Mr. Prendergast added. He also noted that the people across the region had been outraged by the “cold-blooded terror attack that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.”

Mr. Prendergast said that by their actions, Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas had effectively re-started the Road Map process, the peace plan sponsored 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, originally by the end of 2005.

On the Palestinian side, Mr. Prendergast praised Mr. Abbas’ “courageous” actions to end violence, including his deployment of 1,000 security officers along the Gaza Strip’s northern border with Israel, his reorganization of the security forces and his efforts to secure a temporary ceasefire from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups.

“We call on these groups to eschew terror and armed confrontation with Israel and to choose the peaceful, democratic road of negotiations and political activism,” he declared. “The path taken by President Abbas will not be easy. If he is to prevail against those who favour violence over peace, he will need strong support from both Israel and the international community.”

But he also noted that “despite the vastly improved political climate” and Israel’s initial measures to ease conditions in the occupied territories, most movement restrictions remain in place in the form of checkpoints, curfews and the permit system.

“The lack of improvement in the daily life of ordinary Palestinians poses a serious threat to the viability of a renewed peace process,” he said.

Referring to the barrier Israel is building on the West Bank, which cuts off some occupied land and has been declared illegal in an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice that called for it to be torn down, he acknowledged Israel’s “right and duty” to protect its people against terrorist attacks.

“But, now more than ever, we urge the Government of Israel to address its legitimate security needs in ways that do not increase suffering among Palestinians, pre-judge final status issues or threaten longer-term prospects for peace by making the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state more difficult,” he said.

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