Press Releases

    13 November 2002


    NEW YORK, 12 November (UN Headquarters) -- With deteriorating conditions in the Middle East, it was critical for the Quartet -- Russian Federation, United States, European Union and United Nations -- to finalize its "Road Map" towards a comprehensive settlement of the conflict as soon as possible, along with obtaining its explicit acceptance by both sides, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, told the Security Council this morning.

    Briefing the Council on the situation in that region, including the Palestinian question, he said a new Palestinian cabinet had taken office, and Israel’s governing coalition had collapsed since his last such briefing of 18 October. Meanwhile, Israeli/Palestinian violence had continued to claim lives on both sides nearly every day; curfews and other movement restrictions continued to impoverish Palestinians; and Israel remained in the midst of its worst economic recession since 1953.

    Nevertheless, he said, there was still much activity on the diplomatic front. The Quartet Special Envoys had met to revise the draft Road Map in cooperation with the parties in the region. Terje Roed-Larsen was convening a United Nations inter-agency meeting today to present strategies for dealing with the humanitarian crisis. In addition, the Quartet capital-level task force would convene in Jordan this week to assess the progress of reform in the Palestinian Authority, following the conclusion of the Authority’s "100-Day Plan", and to discuss overcoming key obstacles to reform, especially in the areas of civil service, the judiciary and elections.

    The challenges on all fronts were now formidable, however. Since the last briefing, 46 Palestinians and 30 Israelis had been killed, as of yesterday. Despite Palestinian Authority directives, last Sunday night a Palestinian gunman had infiltrated a kibbutz in Israel and shot dead five Israelis, including two children sleeping in their beds.

    The Palestinian Authority, he said, must take all measures within its power to apprehend and prosecute the gunman responsible for that crime, as well as those who ordered him to carry it out, and to prevent the commission of further acts of terrorism. Equally important, Israel must fully respect international humanitarian law in confronting terrorism.

    However, it was clear that the self-perpetuating pattern of violence showed no sign of abating, he said. Violence against Palestinians during the harvest of olives was a growing problem. Confiscation of land to construct a "separation wall" was also increasing tensions. Once completed, the wall could effectively annex approximately 7 per cent of the West Bank. Although Israel was entitled to safeguard the security of its citizens, it must do so without prejudicing the rights of Palestinians or pre-empting the contours of a permanent territorial settlement.

    He said curfews had been eased in a number of places in recent weeks, but strict restrictions on movement remained in place for Palestinians travelling within the West Bank, and humanitarian workers faced difficulties in accessing certain areas. Ambulances also experienced severe delays. The passage of water tankers in the West Bank was also hindered, despite a commitment by the Government of Israel to facilitate such passage. Some 200 villages, with approximately 200,000 residents were without a local source of water.

    On 29 October, the Palestinian Legislative Council had approved a new cabinet appointed by President Arafat with eight new ministers. Elections were currently scheduled for 20 January 2003. Many observers were nevertheless sceptical about the prospects of holding elections at that date citing the absence of an approved legislative framework for elections and the difficulties of preparing for elections, while many West Bank cities remained under Israeli military occupation. New Israeli elections would take place on 28 January.

    He said that despite reduced rhetoric in Lebanon and Israel, the Wazzani Springs water project remained a source of tension along the Blue Line. Israeli air violations of the Blue Line and Lebanese airspace, drawing anti-aircraft fire, also continued to be a cause for concern. Those violations and the resulting anti-aircraft fire carried the potential for a deterioration of an already tense situation.

    The coming elections in Israel would cause a lot of attention, and there would be a temptation to suspend efforts on other fronts until their conclusion. That was a luxury that could not be afforded, he said. A deterioration of the situation on the ground would make the pursuit of the common objective of a two-State solution more difficult. For that reason, the current Quartet efforts to address simultaneously political, security, humanitarian and reform issues needed the international community’s full support.

    Also this morning, the Council President, Zhang Yishan (China), paid tribute to the Permanent Representative of France, Jean-David Levitte, who was moving to a different assignment. Mr. Levitte, in response, said that the current Council had become a family to all of its 15 members, leading to greater understanding between them. That explained how the Council had made great progress in credibility and effectiveness. Results achieved on Iraq and the renewed focus on Africa were clear examples of that, although the situation in the Middle East remained frustrating.

    The representative of Singapore also made a statement in tribute to Ambassador Levitte.

    Following the briefing, the Council went into closed consultations on the Middle East.

    The formal meeting, which began at 10:25 a.m., adjourned at 10:50 a.m.

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