UN: Israel overplayed Annan statement

Source: Papers incorrect that Annan ruled out Palestinian right of return.

olmert annan 298.88 (photo credit: GPO)
olmert annan 298.88
(photo credit: GPO)
A source in the United Nations on Wednesday protested the Israeli Foreign Ministry's interpretation of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's final speech to the UN Security Council on the Middle East conflict. The source accused the Foreign Ministry of trying to "spin" Israeli journalists into writing incorrectly that Annan ruled out the return of Palestinian refugees to the final borders of Israel in the speech. In the sentence in question, according to the official UN press office, Annan called for "a solution that respects the rights of Palestinian refugees and is consistent with the two-state solution and with the character of the states in the region." Israel's largest circulation newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, ran a story on the speech with the headline "The refugees will only return to a Palestinian state." Ha'aretz ran the story but also inserted the word 'only' in the quote. "The two-state solution - Israel and Palestine - must respect the rights of the Palestinian refugees, but only within the context of preserving the character of states in the region," Annan said, according to Ha'aretz. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's spokesperson Ido Aharoni responded to the UN source's protest by saying that "the words speak for themselves" The Foreign Ministry interpreted Annan's quote as an endorsement of US President George W. Bush's April 14, 2004 letter to former prime minister Ariel Sharon in which Bush wrote that "a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Livni have both emphasized in meetings with foreign leaders that the so-called right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel must be abandoned to preserve the Jewish character of Israel. Foreign Ministry officials were also pleased with a line in Annan's speech in which he appeared to criticize supporters of the Palestinians for misusing the UN to attack Israel. "Some may feel satisfaction at repeatedly passing General Assembly resolutions or holding conferences that condemn Israel's behavior," Annan said. "But one should also ask whether such steps bring any tangible relief or benefit to the Palestinians. There have been decades of resolutions. There has been a proliferation of special committees, sessions and Secretariat divisions and units. Has any of this had an effect on Israel's policies, other than to strengthen the belief in Israel, and among many of its supporters, that this great organization is too one-sided to be allowed a significant role in the Middle East peace process?"