NEW YORK – A senior United Nations official today briefed the Security Council on the Middle East peace process saying that amid a “deepening humanitarian catastrophe” in Syria and political unrest in Egypt, “time is of the essence” in the effort to renew serious dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
“This is the moment to translate our collective call for action into a shared sense of urgency in supporting leaders on both sides as they must realize that this is an opening they cannot afford to lose,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry said, briefing the 15-member Council in the wake of the announcement last week by US Secretary of State John Kerry that the basis has been established to resume talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr. Serry noted that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had welcomed Mr. Kerry’s intense diplomatic efforts and noted that “some very tough choices” will be required from both sides in the period ahead.
“We are convinced of the need for a broader regional and international role in support of any political initiative, as well as continued efforts to ensure that the Palestinian Authority remains a viable interlocutor and partner,” he said.
“We do not underestimate the difficulty of developing a substantial initiative that should provide a credible horizon for achieving a two-State solution at long last,” Mr. Serry continued, and stressed: “But we cannot emphasize enough that this is the moment for concerted action and continued support to the parties.”
He said that the United Nations remained hopeful that renewed negotiations will be substantive and set a clear path towards a two-State solution, the end of conflict, and lasting peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr. Serry also stressed that it was crucial to build on the opening offered by the recent reaffirmation by the Arab League ministerial committee of the Arab Peace Initiative and the prospect of ending the Arab-Israeli conflict and achieving regional peace.
He added that envoys from the diplomatic Quartet – the UN, European Union, Russia and the US – have recently been briefed on the efforts underway and “intend to meet soon to review the situation and assess how the wider international community can lend effective support to resumed negotiations.”
Reviewing the situation on the ground, Mr. Serry summarized the situation in recent weeks as “relatively quiet, but tense and volatile at the same time”.
He expressed concern about the treatment of Palestinian prisoners, and highlighted President Mahmoud Abbas continued calls on Israel to address the legitimate concerns and to consider releasing prisoners, including those convicted in times predating the Oslo agreement officially known as the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements.
“With parties having now agreed to resume negotiations I have little doubt that a meaningful prisoners release would help to build confidence and improve the situation on the ground,” Mr. Serry said.
He also noted that despite last month’s reported slow-down, some renewed steps have been taken in settlement planning in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“The position of the United Nations regarding settlements is unequivocal; they are contrary to international law and Israel’s commitments under the Road Map,” the Special Representative stressed.
AS for the situation in Gaza, Mr. Serry noted that the situation on the ground has been affected by the political development in Egypt. He also highlighted some serious shortages of fuel and basic building materials as a result of Egyptian authorities shutting down tunnels into Gaza, coupled with Israeli access restrictions.
If access into Gaza through legal crossings is not liberalized, Mr. Serry warned that the already difficult economic and humanitarian conditions in Gaza will further deteriorate.
“We encourage all parties not to forget the precarious situation in Gaza and to take advantage of the improved context between the parties to further lift the remaining closures,” the Special Representative said, also calling on Egypt to keep open the Rafah crossing for people.
In addition, Mr. Serry urged the de-facto authorities in Gaza to heed their commitments and adhere to a full calm, “any violation of the ceasefire by rocker fire at this politically delicate juncture is not only unacceptable but also completely irresponsible.”
Meanwhile, the Special Representative said the surge in sectarian threats and violence in Syria and across the region is “deeply worrisome.”
“Syria is increasingly turning into a regional, if not a global, battleground,” he stated.
Mr. Serry said that that warring parties have not responded to appeals for a cessation of violence during the holy month of Ramadan and should be reminded that those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law will be held to account.