The United Nations and its diplomatic partners in the search for Middle East peace may hold a high-level meeting soon to try to revive direct Israeli-Palestinian talks that stalled after Israel did not renew a partial settlement moratorium, a senior official said today.
We are at an impasse, " Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco told the Security Council in its regular monthly briefing on the Middle East.
The moratorium in the occupied West Bank expired late last month despite calls on Israel from the diplomatic Quartet " comprising the UN, European Union, Russia and United States " to renew it. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has indicated he will not continue with negotiations unless Israel freezes settlement activity.
Quartet envoys have been in regular contact and its principals are discussing the possibility of meeting soon to review developments, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said.
We have a brief and crucial window to overcome the current impasse, " he said. Intensive diplomatic efforts led by the United States and supported by all members of the Quartet are ongoing to create conditions conducive to the continuation of the negotiations. "
The talks were the first direct negotiations between the two sides in over 18 months, and Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said efforts to break the impasse have been made even more difficult by the Israeli Government`s approval last week of construction tenders for 238 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlements of Ramot and Pisgat Zeev, contrary to international law and running directly counter to the Quartet`s efforts. "
The Quartet champions the Road Map plan, which foresees two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace within secure borders. It was originally meant to have been achieved by 2005. The Palestinians aim to build their state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital, all of it land which Israel occupied in the 1967 war.
In an overview of the past month, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said the Palestinian Authority continues to advance in its State-building agenda, with critical achievements in public finance reform, infrastructure and the provision of social services. It has also made efforts to provide security in areas under its authority to meet its Road Map commitments to combat terrorist activity, reportedly thwarting attempts by militants to launch attacks.
Despite these efforts, Israeli security forces, citing security concerns, conducted 353 operations in the West Bank during the reporting period, in which 6 Palestinians were killed, including two Hamas militants allegedly involved in the killing of four Israelis near Hebron in August. Also, 157 Palestinians were injured and 330 arrested.
Incursions on this scale weaken efforts to build genuine security cooperation, " the UN official said.
Forty-four violent incidents were recorded between local Palestinians and settlers, in which 6 Palestinians and 4 Israelis were injured. Hundreds of olive trees are reported to have been set on fire, poisoned or uprooted by settlers throughout the West Bank in the run-up to the harvest. There were renewed confrontations in sensitive areas of East Jerusalem, underscoring tensions due to the presence and expansion of settler communities in Palestinian neighbourhoods.
Much more needs to be done by Israel to prevent violence by extremists against Palestinian civilians under occupation, and to impose the rule of law, " Mr. Fernandez-Taranco told the Council.
He said Gaza remains a source of serious concern, although the Israeli blockade was eased a few months ago. Modest gains over recent months must not obscure the need for more far-reaching measures to ease the blockade, including enabling freer movement of people, exports, and a wider range of goods on the commercial market, " he stressed.
During the moth`s reporting period, 2,570 truckloads entered Gaza, a weekly average of 857, compared to a weekly average of 566 in June. However, current imports still represent only one third of the June 2007 pre-blockade weekly average. We reiterate that the appropriate way to meet needs in Gaza is through the further opening of legitimate crossings, " he said.
The official also called for urgent, serious steps to restore the regional tracks of the peace process, in particular between Israel and Syria. Only a comprehensive approach to peace will be sustainable, and has the potential to ease tensions in the region, " he noted.
In summing up, he said the current impasse must be overcome and the talks, when they resume, must move intensively to seek resolutions of the key core issues, including borders.
We must remain collectively committed to the goal of a peace agreement within a year from the start of talks in September, " Mr. Fernandez-Taranco declared. Time is of the essence and we need progress in the coming weeks. "
Nearly 40 delegates were scheduled to speak during today`s open debate. Palestinian Permanent Observer Riyad Mansour said there were two paths to choose: the path supported by the overwhelming majority of the international community for a two-state solution, or that of allowing the intransigence of one State " Israel, the occupying power " to completely sabotage the prospects of such a solution.
Israeli Ambassador Meron Reuben expressed his country`s profound desire to establish peace with the Palestinians with compromises from both sides and said the settlements were one of many issues that needed to be resolved in final status negotiations.