Press Releases

    19 January 2004

    Middle East Peace Process “Remains Stalemated” Security Council Told, in Briefing by Under-Secretary-General Kieran Prendergast

    NEW YORK, 16 January (UN Headquarters) -- Acknowledging the lack of substantive moves towards peace, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast told the Security Council this morning that the “narrow window of opportunity” cited a month ago had not opened wider and the Middle East peace process “remains stalemated”.

    That situation was tragic and frustrating, he stated, because the solution was evident, though to implement it required courage and political will to take risks for peace. The peace process would resume only when both parties recognized that their mutual concerns must be addressed through parallel steps -- and not in a sequential manner littered with pre-conditions. 

    If the “Road Map” for Middle East peace presented by the Quartet -- the United Nations, United States, Russian Federation and the European Union - was to succeed, he stated, a basic requirement was that both sides acknowledge and address each other’s core concerns.  Be it on terror or on territory, they had fallen short of carrying out their preliminary, phase one commitments under the Road Map. 

    The Palestinian Authority took no tangible measures during the last month to establish control over the various groups using violence and terror, he stated.  It had so far failed to reform its security apparatus or, as called for in the Road Map, consolidate it under the single authority of an empowered Interior Minister.  Israel had repeatedly committed itself to implementation of the Road Map, but had not matched those words with action.  It had not fulfilled its core commitment to remove all settlement outposts erected since March 2001 and, as the security situation improved, implement a complete settlement freeze.  Rather, settlement outposts had increased and Israel was proceeding with the construction of the West Bank barrier. 

    Since the last briefing, he noted, 58 Palestinians and 11 Israelis had been killed.  Almost 440 Palestinians and 65 Israelis had been wounded.  In addition, more than 62 mortars and 38 rocket attacks on Israeli targets were launched from Palestinian areas.  Israel had resumed extra-judicial killings, and house demolitions had continued. 

    The situation on the ground continued to cause harm to the Palestinian economy, he went on.  Israel’s ongoing internal and external closures of the occupied Palestinian territory remained the central impediment to economic stabilization and recovery.  The closure system also continued to impede the international community’s efforts to delivery emergency and humanitarian aid.  Improvements “here and there” would not change the rapidly deteriorating overall trends; only a political agreement could reverse those trends.

    There had been some particularly disturbing economic developments that could have serious political and humanitarian consequences and further derail the peace process, he said.  At a major donor meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee held in Rome in December, donors and the parties had discussed the first substantive review of the rising costs and complexity of aid delivery.  One of the glaring examples was the direct cost of closure borne by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) alone -- $22,000 each day.  Furthermore, serious signs of donor fatigue were emerging, which could have dramatic consequences for the financial status of the Palestinian Authority and the humanitarian relief effort. 

    The Authority’s financial situation was perilous, with the budgetary shortfall for 2004 estimated at $650 million, he said.  It could not meet all its financial and budgetary obligations in December and at this stage, it was not clear how January public sector salaries would be paid, let alone other expenditures.  Recognizing that the Authority faced bankruptcy, the World Bank had suggested creating a trust fund to generate additional budgetary support from donors.  That effort was now underway and deserved the international community’s support.

    Against the backdrop of violence, misery and stagnation, both parties had threatened unilateral steps, he continued.  Prime Minister Sharon had stated his intention to implement unilaterally “a separation plan” if he concluded that the Palestinian side had failed to take effective action against violence.  The Palestinian Authority, for its part, had declared that it reserved the right to declare statehood unilaterally if Israel resorted to unilateral separation, or to reject the two-State solution altogether.  The parties must recognize that unilateralism did not pay and that they should fulfil their obligations in parallel.

    The Middle East peace process had suffered serious setbacks, he said.  Yet, the stakes were too high for the international community to allow the region to sink into despair and conflict.  The road to peace was clear, spelled out in resolution 1515, which endorsed the Road Map.  The international community agreed on the end goal -- a comprehensive peace based on relevant Security Council resolutions.  Collective efforts were needed to persuade the parties to move towards that goal.  The dangers of inaction were great.  Time was on no one’s side.

    Turning to the situation between Israel and Syria, he said that since the calm on that front had been broken last October, tension and threats of further hostile actions had been frequent.  Recently, worrying reports outlined an Israeli plan to expand settlements on the Golan Heights.  Although the reliability of those reports remained unclear, it should be noted that, in any case, settlement activities were illegal and must stop.

    A resumption of the peace process on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks was needed to avoid a potential deterioration of the situation there, he said.  President Assad of Syria had asked Israel to resume peace talks, and it would be in the interest of peace and security for Israel to respond positively to that overture.

    Since his last briefing to the Council, he continued, the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel had been calm, though still tense.  On at least four occasions, Israeli jets had violated Lebanese airspace.  In that respect, he reiterated the call to Israel to comply with Council resolutions 425 and 1310 and refrain from such violations.  There had been no reports of anti-aircraft fire from Lebanon on any of those occasions, and he commended that restraint. 

    Also, as on 12 December and 4 January, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had informed the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) that it had identified explosive devices on the Israeli side of the Blue Line, he urged all parties to refrain from any actions that could lead to destabilization of the situation and called on the Government of Lebanon to establish full control over South Lebanon in order to ensure that international peace and security prevailed.

    The meeting began at 10:45 a.m. and ended at 11:05 a.m.

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