UN seeks Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track
United Nations officials Wednesday underscored the urgency of getting the Middle East peace process back on track, noting that the momentum for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has slipped amid recent events and a resumption of meaningful talks is needed more than ever.
"The Middle East peace process is in a deep freeze," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated at his end-of-year press conference at UN Headquarters, adding that the two sides seem more polarized than ever.
Direct negotiations between the two sides have yet to resume since talks stalled in September 2010, after Israel refused to extend its freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory.
In addition, last month witnessed another cycle of violence in Gaza and Israel, as well as the granting by the General Assembly of non-member observer State status for Palestine at the UN.
"While bombs and rockets have stopped falling in Gaza and Israel, it has become clearer than ever that peace must be more than the absence of war," said Ban.
Following the Assembly's action, the Israeli Government announced it would approve plans for settlement construction of 3,000 housing units in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, indicated that planning will proceed on several thousand housing units in an area of the West Bank between Jerusalem and the settlement of Maale Adumim.
Ban voiced deep concern at heightened settlement activity in the West Bank, particularly around Jerusalem, stating that this "gravely threatens" efforts to establish a viable Palestinian State.
"I call on Israel to refrain from continuing on this dangerous path, which will undermine the prospects for a resumption of dialogue and a peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis alike," he said. "Let us get the peace process back on track before it is too late."
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, who briefed the UN Security Council on the latest developments Wednesday, recalled that settlement construction in the West Bank violates international law and is an obstacle to peace.
"If implemented, these plans would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-State solution," he told the 15-member body. "We strongly urge the Israeli Government to heed the wide international calls to rescind these plans."
He added that recent events are a reminder of "just how much the momentum for the two-State solution has slipped and just how hard we should be working in the year ahead to reverse this trend while there is still time to do so."
The backdrop to these developments, said Feltman, is a worsening security situation in the West Bank, a fragile calm in Gaza after last month's round of hostilities and a shifting geopolitical landscape in the region.
He noted that the calm in Gaza brokered by Egypt on Nov 21 has largely held, but it remains "tenuous." Since last month's briefing, one rocket has been fired from Gaza into Israel and one Israeli tank shell has landed in Gaza. Israeli security forces conducted two incursions into Gaza.
More generally, the impact of last month's violence has exacerbated the vulnerabilities of some of Gaza's poorest people and left up to 3,000 people in need of emergency shelter support, he added.
Feltman stated that the Assembly vote last month symbolizes the growing international impatience with the longstanding occupation and a resounding endorsement of Palestinian aspirations to live in freedom and dignity in an independent state of their own, and side by side with Israel in peace and security.
"2013 will be a decisive year in the peace process," he said. "It is incumbent upon all of us to support the parties in stabilizing the situation and permitting progress toward the goal of achieving a two-State solution that is so critical for regional peace and security."