(un.org) - Expressing regret that the Middle East peace process has not been revitalized this year as hoped, and that prospects for a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have dwindled rather than grown, Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed today that the Road Map remains the best way of achieving a lasting peace in the region.
In his latest report to the General Assembly and the Security Council on the question of Palestine, Mr. Annan said that while he was extremely disappointed with the events of the past 12 months, he saw some recent encouraging signs on both sides of the conflict, reports Trend
"In this regard, I have welcomed the continued commitment of [Palestinian] President Abbas to a platform of peace, and I have noted with satisfaction [Israeli] Prime Minister Olmert's stated readiness to engage a Palestinian partner," he observed in the report, which covers the period from September 2005 to last month.
"I am also pleased that opinion polls have continued to emphasize the desire of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples for a negotiated two-State solution, even if confidence in the peace process is declining."
The peace process is supposed to follow the Road Map, which was set out by the diplomatic Quartet - comprising the United Nations, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United States - and which originally called for Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in two States by the end of 2005.
Reiterating his pledge that the UN will help the two sides settle their dispute, Mr. Annan said violence rose across the region over the last year, and he deplored the way civilians had fallen victim all too often.
He cited suicide bombings by Palestinians and their indiscriminate rocket and mortar fire at Israel, as well as Israeli aerial strikes, extrajudicial killings of alleged militants, tank shelling and extensive ground operations. There was also a surge in acts of intra-Palestinian violence, mainly in the Gaza Strip.
Mr. Annan noted that the Palestinian Government that assumed office after elections in January did not commit to principles set out by the Quartet, including the recognition of Israel's right to exist and a commitment to the principles of non-violence.
He observed that Israel has failed to implement its obligations under the road map to freeze its settlement activities in the West Bank and dismantle outposts built since March 2001.
He also said Israel had accelerated construction of the barrier in the West Bank, and imposed other checkpoints and obstacles that made it difficult for Palestinians and UN staff to move around.
"Quartet Special Envoy James Wolfensohn [who stepped down in April] has emphasized that without the re-establishment of free movement inside the West Bank, a viable Palestinian economy is not possible," the report stated.
Mr. Annan added that Israel's decision to withhold customs and value-added tax payments it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, combined with some donor governments' withdrawal of aid because the Palestinian Government did not commit to Quartet principles, has "resulted in an acute fiscal crisis for the Palestinian Authority."
The Secretary-General said he was particularly concerned about several incidents over the past year in which UN staff members were endangered. Some staff were fired on at checkpoints while UN offices and facilities have been targeted by demonstrators or, in one case, bombed by Palestinian militants.