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Decisive Steps Needed In Middle East Peace Process

Time For Decisive Steps In Middle East Peace Process, UN Official Says

New York, Sep 18 2008 2:10PM

The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is at a crossroads and needs to make decisive advances in the months ahead, as disturbing developments counter-balance recent positive steps, a senior United Nations official said today.

“It appears so far that no agreement has been reached on the core issues,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) Robert Serry told the Security Council. “However, it also appears that there have been substantive discussions, the potential of which must be built on with a continuation of intensive negotiations.

Noting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s election yesterday as head of the ruling Kadima party, he called on the new government she intends to form to stop all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory.

On the positive side he cited the “unsung success story” of the gradual and systematic process of Palestinian self-empowerment in the West Bank under President Mahmoud Abbas, “real strides” in implementing a security plan there, including action against militants, and “notable gains” in other areas, such as public financing procedures.

“A reflection of improved security is that the casualty rate from violent clashes in this past month is one of the lowest in recent years,” he said, nevertheless noting that there had been several clashes, leaving two Palestinians, including a child, dead and 128 others injured, 84 of them children. Eleven Israelis, including a child, were also injured.

While welcoming Israel’s release of 198 Palestinian prisoners and the dismantling of several checkpoints, Mr. Serry underlined that over 600 obstacles to movement remain across the West Bank and actions taken so far to ease closures are insufficient to enable security and economic efforts by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

He also noted that Israeli settler violence had intensified and settlement activity continues despite repeated statements by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that all such activity contravenes Israel’s commitments under the so-called Road Map plan, which foresees a two-State solution with Israel and the Palestinians living side by side in peace.

“Rectifying this unacceptable situation should be the urgent priority of any new Israeli government,” he said.

On the Gaza Strip, Mr. Serry reported that the humanitarian situation remained “extremely grim” given the continued Israeli closures, with imports decreasing by 21 per cent over the past month and UN priority projects stalled by the shortfall in materials, while 95 per cent of local industry was closed.

The one piece of positive news is the continuation of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which has made efforts to prevent the launching of rockets and mortars into Israel. But he blamed Hamas, which has seized PA institutions in Gaza, for compounding the Strip’s problems by divorcing these institutions from the PA.

“It is clear that the only way to begin addressing the overall crisis, and indeed to lay the basis for a two-State solution, is for Gaza to be peacefully reunited with the West Bank within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority in a manner which allows the peace process to advance,” he said, welcoming Egypt’s effort to achieve Palestinian reconciliation.

Turning to Lebanon, Mr. Serry hailed efforts for a national dialogue but noted that the security situation remained precarious between the various groups and that Israeli air violations continued on a daily basis.

ENDS

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