17 January 2003

Clear International Consensus Supports "Road Map" Towards Two-State Middle East Settlement, Security Council Told

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Says Three-Phase Plan Will Be Formally Presented After 28 January Israeli Elections

NEW YORK, 16 January (UN Headquarters) -- There was a clear consensus in the international community to support the efforts of the "Quartet" to reach a permanent settlement based on two sovereign States -- Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peace and security, Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council this morning, as he briefed it on the situation in the Middle East. The Council was last briefed on the situation on 16 December by Terje Roed-Larsen, Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

Mr. Prendergast said the principals of the Quartet -- United States, European Union, Russian Federation, United Nations -- had met on 20 December last year in Washington, D.C. The President of the United States had expressed strong support for the Quartet's efforts and firm commitment to the road map towards realization of a vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Progress was made in finalizing that road map, and it was expected that it would be presented formally to the parties following the elections in Israel on 28 January.

The road map set out a three-phase plan for achieving a negotiated settlement and was premised on a recognition that progress was contingent on parallel steps by both parties in the security, humanitarian, institution-building and political fields. The first phase of the plan required parallel implementation of a complete ceasefire, improvement in humanitarian conditions, promotion of Palestinian institution-building, and a halt to all settlement construction. The dismal situation on the ground made it imperative that implementation of the road map begin as soon as possible.

The death toll since September 2000 now stood at 2,297 Palestinians and 691 Israelis. On 5 January, 22 Israelis and foreign workers were killed during a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The Palestinian Authority has condemned the attack and pledged to bring to justice those involved. The United Nations expects the Palestinian Authority do everything in its power to fulfil that promise.

The Secretary-General has repeatedly emphasized that Israel must act in compliance with international humanitarian law. Almost every day, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and border police kill and injure Palestinian civilians, including many children. Despite repeated appeals, the Israeli Government has taken no demonstratable steps to prevent such deaths. Protection of civilians was an obligation for all parties. As occupying Power, Israel had particular responsibilities clearly defined in the Fourth Geneva Convention. Following his letter to Prime Minister Sharon of 27 November, the Secretary-General still awaits a written account of the outcome of Israel's investigation into the death of Iain Hook. The Government of Israel must also stop home demolitions and extrajudicial killings. Those Palestinians held in administrative detention must receive the protection of due process of law, he said.

There had been no appreciable improvement in the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, he continued. Israel still had not fulfilled its commitments made to the Secretary-General's personal humanitarian envoy last August. Curfews continued to place an onerous burden on the Palestinian civilian population. In the city of Hebron, 20 schools had been closed, denying children the basic right to education. New travel restrictions had been imposed after the Tel Aviv suicide bombing.

It was crucial that the Government of Israel honour its commitment to transfer monthly tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority and to develop a schedule for remitting the hundreds of millions of dollars in arrears, he continued. The construction of the security wall in the West Bank, which would adversely affect thousands of Palestinians living near that wall, was also troubling. Although Israel needed to defend itself against infiltration, it needed to ensure that its security measures were not taken at the expense of the Palestinian civilian population.

Palestinian reform efforts continued, he said, with the active support of the international community. He was particularly encouraged by the rapid pace of financial reforms and noted that the Palestinian Authority had submitted an austerity budget for fiscal year 2003 to the Palestinian Legislative Council and was in the process of developing a robust internal auditing capacity, with the assistance of prominent international accounting firms. On the other hand, the continuing lack of progress in advancing the issue of the rule of law was of concern. The Palestinian legal community continued to challenge the legality of the Palestinian State security courts. The development of a robust and transparent judiciary was an important foundation for reform in other areas.

Given the importance of advancing the Palestinian reform process, the Secretary-General had welcomed Prime Minister Blair's initiative to bring Palestinians, the Quartet and representatives of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia together to discuss the issue. He was extremely disappointed by Israel's decision not to allow Palestinian officials to attend the meeting. Thanks to modern technology, the meeting was held anyway, using a live video link. The meeting facilitated a useful review of progress on Palestinian reform, and focused attention on the importance of restarting the peace process.

Turning to other issues, he said that last week the Council had been briefed on the shooting incident on 8 January in the Golan Heights. A Syrian soldier in civilian clothing was killed by an IDF patrol, and a second was captured, west of the Alpha line -- separating Israeli and Syrian controlled areas of the Syrian Golan. The IDF handed the captured soldier to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), who turned him and the body of the dead soldier over to the Syrian authorities. UNDOF's investigation was still ongoing.

Since the last briefing, the situation along the Blue Line had generally remained calm, he noted. However, both Israeli air violations of the Blue Line and related anti-aircraft fire from the Lebanese side had continued. The Wazzani/Hasbani water issue continued to be a source of tension and possible escalation between Israel and Lebanon. Discussions continued within the Israeli Government on whether to ask the United Nations to use its good offices to reach an agreement between the two sides. He called on Lebanon to continue to respect its commitments not to expand its water projects beyond what was already stated in its report until the matter was resolved.

Much attention, he said, was now focused on the outcome of the Israeli general elections on 28 January. Whatever Israeli government emerged would confront the reality of surging violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. The growing economic hardship on both sides posed another serious challenge. Poverty now affected the majority of Palestinians, and the Israeli economy was in deep recession. There was little hope on either side that the political stalemate that prompted and continued to fuel the current crisis would soon be resolved.

Whatever the current difficulties, ultimately a lasting peace could only be achieved through a political process that fully took into account the legitimate aspirations of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. He, therefore, remained convinced that the implementation of the road map of the Quartet would constitute a new beginning for both peoples.

The meeting, which began at 10:08 a.m., adjourned at 10:26 a.m.

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