Push for direct Middle East talks nearing turning point – UN
Efforts to promote direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are nearing a turning point, a senior United Nations official said on Tuesday, underlining that success hinges on continued regional and international support, UN website reported.
Since May, seven round of proximity, or indirect, talks have been held between the two sides to identify areas of mutual areas, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco told the Security Council.
Currently, the parties are holding internal discussions on whether to enter direct talks.
"We urge them to be forthcoming in their deliberations and are hopeful that both sides will seize the opportunity and engage in a path of decisive progress towards a sustainable, mutually-acceptable two-State solution, within a realistic timeframe," the UN official said.
He voiced appreciation for the United States' mediation, especially the "tireless" efforts of United States Senator George Mitchell, who held talks separately last week with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr. Fernandez-Taranco also noted the involvement of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who continues to be in contact with Mr. Mitchell and has spoken directly to Palestinian, Israeli and Arab leaders to encourage progress in the peace process.
He welcomed last month's decision by the foreign ministers of the Arab League to give its backing, in principle, to Mr. Abbas to enter into direct negotiations when he deems it appropriate.
"For these negotiations to succeed, it is crucial to maintain an enabling climate on the ground," Mr. Fernandez-Taranco stressed, calling on the parties to adhere to their commitments under the Roadmap, the internationally-approved plan for a two-State solution to the Middle East conflict, and international law.
On West Bank settlement construction, he called for the continuation of the partial moratorium set to expire on 26 September.
"Let me recall that under the Roadmap, Israel is obligated to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, and dismantle outposts erected since March 2001," he said.
On the occasion of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, Israel has removed three obstacles to movement in the West Bank, extended the hours of operation at some checkpoints and slightly eased access to Jerusalem for Friday prayers on the Temple mount.
But the number of obstacles to movement in the West Ban continues to number more than 500, and Mr. Fernandez-Taranco urged the expansion of easings on movement and access.
The UN is also concerned about the rise in demolition or dismantlement of Palestinian-owned structures in Area C which have uprooted or affected more than 200 people, especially in Al-Farisiye in the North Jordan Valley, where two families - evicted from their homes earlier this year - currently face demolition of the shelter provided by the Palestinian Authority with international support.
Following the announcement by Israel in late June that it would ease the blockade against Gaza, and the volume and variety of supplies entering Gaza has continued to increase, up nearly 30 per cent from the last reporting period.
"While these are positive developments, imports into Gaza still remain far below the weekly average of truckloads before the closure was instituted in 2007," the senior official pointed out. "The current extent of easing cannot meet the crucial longer-term construction and rehabilitation needs of Gazans, and resuscitate the legitimate economy."
Although Israel recently approved 11 UN construction projects in Gaza, a move welcomed by the world body, he voiced concern over bottlenecks in carrying out these projects.
Mr. Fernandez-Taranco expressed concern over the $84 million deficit that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) faces, which could soon force it to close schools and clinics in Gaza.
"I call on the international community to help UNRWA fulfil its important mission in health, education and social services in Gaza and elsewhere in the region," he stressed.
UNRWA assists, protects and advocates for some 4.7 million registered refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, and is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states.