NEW YORK – The United Nations called on Thursday for “bold and decisive steps” to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as the region awaits a possible new initiative by US President Barack Obama.
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UN political chief Lynn Pascoe and ambassadors of key Security Council countries said it was important to break the deadlock soon as a proclaimed September deadline for reaching an agreement draws closer.
“Bold and decisive steps are needed to resolve this decades-long conflict, with vision, leadership and responsibility from all concerned,” Pascoe told a monthly meeting of the Security Council on the Middle East.
In the meeting, numerous United Nations delegates and representatives decried the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, referencing both the Goldstone report and recent events in Gaza.
Over 40 countries requested the floor to speak at Thursday’s Security Council meeting.
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice quoted Obama as saying, “With the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it is more urgent than ever” to create a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Negotiations between the parties remain the only path” to establishing a secure and comprehensive peace in the region, Rice said, but noted that the US does “not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” stating that the fate of existing settlements is up for discussion in future peace talks.
Saying the US is “deeply concerned” about the firing of rockets, Rice said advanced weaponry is particularly and deeply disturbing.
“There is no justification for targeting innocent civilians,” she said.
Rice noted that the Goldstone Report has returned to the news forefront, but stated that the US position remains that there is no evidence that Israel deliberately targeted civilians. In light of Richard Goldstone’s recent recanting of certain positions in the report, Rice said, the United States “urges the United Nations to end its actions in relation to the Goldstone Report.”
Pascoe, the UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, started the session with a report in which he saluted institutional achievements of the Palestinian Authority but deplored the persistence of stalemate in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Noting the “highest level of violence” in and around Gaza since Operation Cast Lead, Pascoe stated that Quartet envoys would need more time with the parties separately before scheduling another meeting. Pascoe did, however, express the UN and international community’s opposition to future Gaza flotillas, stating that the “appropriate way to meet needs in Gaza is through legitimate crossings,” and that there is “no need for unnecessary confrontations.”
Palestinian permanent representative to the UN Riyad Mansour said Israel repeatedly defies international law “with impunity,” and that the world is veritably united in its support for the Palestinians.
Israeli Ambassador Meron Reuben cited terrorists and extremists pursuing “the same destructive agendas” as springboards for disaster in the region.
Recent events in the Gaza Strip, Reuben said, “provide another clear example of the destabilizing threat posed by these terrorists and their patrons, bringing to light, once again, the depth of their callousness in carrying out violent attacks that deliberately target innocent civilians: men, women, and children.”
Reuben noted that since the beginning of March, Hamas and other terror groups have launched 92 rockets and 141 mortars at civilians throughout southern Israel, calling it “the most serious escalation of projectile fire emanating from Gaza in more than two years.”
“There is no question about the intended targets of these attacks,” Reuben said, highlighting the clear intent to strike at a civilian population. He referenced the April 7 Hamas attack on a school bus in southern Israel which fatally wounded 16-year-old Daniel Raphael Viflic.
“I ask my colleagues sitting around this table: Can you imagine how you would feel if an anti-tank missile was deliberately fired at such a bus in Manhattan or Brooklyn?” Reuben asked the Security Council.
“This is the reality facing many Israelis today. This is also the reality facing the Israeli government as it seeks to pursue the terrorists that carry out these horrific attacks – terrorists who consistently demonstrate their disregard for any considerations of human life and basic precepts of international law.
“I am continually astonished that some in the international community express the belief that the de facto terrorist organization now in control of Gaza can conduct an independent, credible, and impartial investigation into the crimes that it commits on a daily basis,” Reuben added, calling it “naïve at best to put such faith” in Hamas, which he said repeatedly evidences disdain for human rights.
The attack, Reuben said, constitutes a reminder of the consequences of arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip, primarily sponsored by Iran and Syria. The Victoria
cargo vessel, Reuben said, provides “yet another example of Iran and Syria’s cynical and dangerous practice of using civilian ships and airplanes to transfer weapons to their proxies in our region.
“This incident reveals only the tip of the iceberg of Iran and Syria’s illegal smuggling activities,” Reuben said.
However, he added, the Security Council and international community do not pay sufficient attention to the illegal smuggling into Gaza or the danger it poses to Israeli security and regional stability. He called on the Security Council to devote “much more attention” to the issue and to take “tangible measures” to stop it.
“Every day, more Israelis are placed within the range of terrorist
rockets as a result of illegal arms smuggling into Gaza,” Reuben said.
“And the alarming potential for using these smuggled weapons to attack
civilian targets in our country continues to be demonstrated over and
over again. This month, terrorists in Gaza struck a school bus. Next
month it may be a ship or a civilian airliner.”
Referencing the fact that nongovernmental organizations have publicized
their intent to direct a 15-ship flotilla to challenge the Israeli naval
blockade of the Gaza Strip in a month’s time, Reuben touted
“established mechanisms” through which humanitarian assistance could be
delivered to Gaza via Israel.
“The flotilla anticipated for this May is clearly designed to serve
purely as a political provocation and not to advance any humanitarian
goal,” Reuben said. “Let me stress that Israel is not interested in
confrontation. However, we are firmly determined to enforce our naval
blockade of Gaza, which is solely intended to prevent the illicit
trafficking of arms and ammunition to the Gaza Strip – and to stop
additional terrorists from infiltrating the area.”
Reuben called on the United Nations “to speak with a clear and resolute
voice against this new provocation and to take all necessary measures to
prevent it from occurring.”
Reuters contributed to this report.