UN envoy underscores need for Mideast diplomacy

Serry calls Palestinian UNESCO bid the prerogative of member states, tells UNSC he "appreciates Israel's stated security concerns."

United Nations Security Council 311 (R) (photo credit: ERIC THAYER / Reuters)
United Nations Security Council 311 (R)
(photo credit: ERIC THAYER / Reuters)
NEW YORK – Israelis and Palestinians must find “a meaningful diplomatic path forward” despite all impediments, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said in New York during a Monday briefing to that body’s Security Council.
Both parties have engaged separately with members of the Quartet, although no direct negotiations are taking place, Serry said.
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He also cited Israel’s disapproval of the Palestinians’ bid for UN membership, which currently sits in something of a holding pattern until it is brought to a Security Council vote.
Serry said that he remains engaged with both parties, as well as the Quartet and regional partners.
The September 23 Quartet statement, Serry said, provides a framework for diplomatic progress between the parties “if both parties show flexibility and responsibility.”
Quartet Envoys and Quartet representative Tony Blair met with Israeli and Palestinian representatives separately in October and November in Jerusalem, Serry said.
In an implicit contrast between the Israelis and Palestinians, Serry said that “as the United Nations, we appreciate the substance that has been discussed by the Palestinian side, which shows serious intent. At the same time, we believe its potential can only be realized in direct negotiations.”
“We appreciate Israel’s stated security concerns and its readiness to enter direct talks,” Serry continued. “But we also believe that Israel should provide genuine assurances that it is willing to present serious proposals, including on territory, in the context of direct negotiations.”
Serry cited continued settlement building as “unilateral actions on the ground” which would not “be recognized by the international community and must cease.”
Serry mentioned the October 31 vote admitting the Palestinians to UNESCO, saying that the decision to admit the Palestinians was the prerogative of member states. UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon, Serry said, “has indicated that he wishes to work with member states on practical solutions to preserve UNESCO’s financial resources.”
The Israeli decision to freeze the transfer of VAT and custom taxes to the Palestinians in the wake of the UNESCO vote, Serry said, threatens the state-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority. “Withholding this level of funding would cripple any government, let alone an authority under occupation,” he added.
Serry called upon Israel to immediately unfreeze the transfers and that donors should unblock their funding of the Palestinian Authority. For its part, Serry said, the Palestinian Authority “should find ways to contribute to de-escalation of the situation and improving the prevailing divisive climate, including in the international arena.”
“De-escalation will be necessary to create an environment conducive for direct talks,” he said.
Serry noted that the weekly average of attacks by settlers on Palestinians increased 40 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, and 165% compared to 2009. He also cited that 56 rockets had recently been fired into Israel. Additionally, Serry called for lifting of the land closure on Gaza.
Serry referenced the Hamas- Fatah reconciliation of last year, and said elections would be held in all likelihood in May 2012. “As the United Nations, we continue to support reconciliation efforts within the framework of the commitments of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the positions of the Quartet and the Arab Peace Initiative.”
Regarding Syria, Serry said that Ban has repeatedly called to an end to the bloodshed of the violent crackdowns on uprisings and for a Syrian-led process of democratic change.
Serry also referenced concerns on the Syrian-Lebanon border.
In sum, Serry said, “the stakes remain high.”
“As I warned in my briefing before this Council in July, without a credible political path forward, accompanied by more far-reaching steps on the ground, the viability of the Palestinian Authority and its state-building agenda – and, I fear, of the two-state solution itself – cannot be taken for granted,” Serry said.
Saying that gaps of trust, perception and substance remain between the parties, Serry conceded that the differences between the parties would not be easy to bridge.
“The United Nations stands ready to play its full role,” he said, in supporting good-faith negotiation efforts.