Press Releases

    17 December 2002


    NEW YORK, 16 December (UN Headquarters) -- "We should not neglect the dangers facing the Middle East –- or the perils of inaction during this critical period", Terje Roed-Larsen, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, told the Security Council this afternoon during a briefing on the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine.

    He said since the last briefing on 12 November, three United Nations staff members, working for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had lost their lives in recent weeks as the result of actions of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). The killing of Iain Hook in the UNWRA compound in Jenin, along with the recent destruction by the IDF of a World Food Programme (WFP) storehouse in Gaza, reflected a troubling indifference to the sanctity of United Nations facilities. The killing of United Nations staff also highlighted the need for the IDF to ensure that its soldiers acted in a manner that did not place civilians in harm’s way. The United Nations urged the Government of Israel to ensure that the IDF behaved with greater restraint and discipline and in conformity with international humanitarian law.

    Terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians had also continued, he said. The day of the Likud Party primary had been marred by the death of nine Israelis in two separate terrorist incidents. An Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, had been bombed, and great loss of life had been narrowly averted when missiles fired at an Israeli tourist charter missed their target. He had repeatedly demanded that the Palestinian Authority take all measures within its power to apprehend and prosecute those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who order such attacks. The Palestinian Authority had been asked to do everything in its power to prevent the commission of further acts of terrorism. He had emphasized the need for immediate and bold steps during a meeting with President Arafat on Friday.

    The IDF’s security measures were creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the Palestinian areas, he continued. The humanitarian crisis could not be solved by donor support alone. Only a political solution could provide the necessary underpinnings for reviving the Palestinian economy. The Government of Israel had recently transferred $28 million in withheld tax revenues to the Authority. The approximately $580 million owed in arrears should be transferred, as well. Without those transfers, and a lifting of internal movement restrictions, even a drastic increase in donor assistance would only scratch the surface of the growing need. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), if Israel fulfilled its promise of fund transfers, the Palestinian Authority would have ample funds to meet its budgetary needs for the coming year.

    Little improvement regarding Israel’s commitments on the humanitarian situation, such as shorter waiting times for ambulances at checkpoints, facilitated passage of water tankers, and free movement of international organization personnel, had been observed. The United Nations was troubled by reports that the Israeli military was confiscating and demolishing homes in Hebron in order to build a new road for the use of Jewish settlers. The construction and expansion of settlements in occupied territory was prohibited by international humanitarian law, he said. From the Oslo Accords to 2001, the settler population in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip had expanded 95 per cent, from 109,784 to 213,672. The erection of a new security wall east of the Green Line threatened to sever thousands of Palestinian from their agricultural lands and other sources of livelihood.

    The Quartet Task Force on Palestinian Reform had determined that the Palestinian Authority had made considerable but uneven progress in advancing the reform agenda, he stated. Financial reforms had been substantial, while progress in the judicial sector had been extremely slow. President Arafat had appointed an elections commission that was universally regarded as independent. Rapid implementation of the road map would do much to facilitate reforms -– including creating a climate within which free, fair and open elections could soon take place. The Task Force had called upon the Authority to continue advancing reform efforts and called on the Government of Israel to end actions impeding reform, including withholding tax revenues owed to the Palestine Authority and restricting the movement of Palestinian officials involved in the reform process.

    He said the upcoming electoral contest for general election on 28 January 2003 in Israel had begun to take shape. The Labour Party had elected Haifa Mayor Amran Mitzna as candidate for Prime Minister. Mr. Mitzna had consistently emphasized that, once elected, he would re-open negotiations with Mr. Arafat, evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip and seek to close a deal with the Palestinians within one year. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who once again won the leadership of the Likud Party, had endorsed United States President George Bush’s vision which supported the establishment of a Palestinian State. Mr. Sharon also had stated that the political concessions already made by Israel since Oslo were irreversible.

    Consensus around the two-State solution was growing, he said, and there was nearly unanimous support within the international community, including in the Middle East. However, the steadily growing gap between the deteriorating situation on the ground and the growing consensus about where to go had to be resolved. The Quartet Road Map was the best tool for showing the way. It was imperative, therefore, that the upcoming Quartet meeting in Washington this week finalize a plan for moving forward, and set out -– in parallel and with reciprocity -– political, security and economic steps, monitored under the Quartet’s auspices.

    Turning to the situation in Lebanon, he said that the situation along the Blue Line continued to be one of "uneasy stability", and two elements had raised tension over the past month. On 8 December, a roadside bomb placed on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line had been detonated, injuring two soldiers of the IDF. Israeli military aircraft continued to violate the Blue Line and Lebanese air space on a regular basis. There had been no change in the political situation with regard to the Wazzani springs issue. He was concerned that unless a useful mechanism was established soon to handle future developments through diplomatic channels, there might be a dangerous escalation of tensions between Israel and Lebanon, with possible regional consequences.

    He was pleased to report that the Lebanese leadership had assured him that they would remain within the parameters of the report on the water issue submitted by them in October and that they would refrain from any unilateral moves regarding water. The Lebanese leadership had reiterated their desire for a mechanism, under United Nations’ good offices, to establish a diplomatic means for resolving future water disputes. The success of any such arrangement, however, was contingent on clear acceptance by both concerned parties.

    The peace process had been at a stalemate for more than two years, and the entire region had suffered tremendously as a result. The Quartet Road Map set out a coherent framework for shifting the parties from violence and confrontation to negotiations and compromise. A consensus at the upcoming Quartet meeting must be the highest priority. "This is not the time to hesitate", he concluded.

    The meeting, which was called to order at 3:18 p.m., was adjourned at 3:43 p.m., after which the Council went into consultations to consider the situation further.

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