The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, told the UN Security Council today that “the inconclusive results of last year’s Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and unmet Road Map obligations, especially regarding settlements” are realities that must be faced — and “squarely addressed”.
Of course, the Serry statement was balanced. Carefully balanced.
But there were several particularly sharp messages.
Serry told the Council that “Any Israeli Government should abide by Israel’s commitments, including to implement its Road Map and to pursue continuous final-status negotiations on all core issues without exceptions, as reaffirmed by the parties before the Quartet in Sharm el-Sheikh last November”.
But, in the perhaps most pointed remark by a United Nations official to date, he said that “As the Council is aware, I and my colleagues report the same basic points regarding settlements in every briefing. The approach taken since Annapolis — to secure implementation of Road Map commitments to freeze settlement activities, including natural growth, and remove outposts — has not worked. This is a clear challenge that must be addressed”.
Serry said that “Illegal settlement activity continues prejudicing final status negotiations and undermining Palestinians who seek a negotiated peace”. He added that according to one monitoring group, there was been a 69% increase in the number of new structures built in settlements in 2008 over the previous year, and plans were reportedly under way to seize more than 1,700 dunams of Palestinian land for the expansion of the Efrat settlement. On 2 February, he noted, the Israeli government submitted plan in the High Court of Justice to evacuate the illegal settlement outpost of Migron built on private Palestinian land — by moving 45 families to another settlement in Givat Benyamin. There had also been a number of Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians, as well as continued incidents of settlers’ attempts to block Palestinian access to their land.
The “barrier”, he said, continues to be constructed within occupied Palestinian territory “in deviation from the green line and contrary to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice [of July 2004, on The Consequences of the Construction of The Wall].
And, Serry added, Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem remained closed, by Israeli order.
By contrast, Serry praised the Palestinian efforts to implement their Road Map obligations by increasing their security control in the West Bank and “disarming militants”. He pointedly noted that at the same time, over the past month, “More than 150 Palestinians had been arrested by the Israel Defense Forces, whose actions had also resulted in three fatalities including one child and 96 injuries from IDF actions”.
150 arrests and 3 deaths in the West Bank during the past month …
Serry also told the Security Council that since the end of major hostilities in Gaza (January 18, when two unilateral cease-fires went into effect, one declared by Israel and the other by Hamas), in attacks “that are as irresponsible as they are unacceptable”, Palestinian militants have fired 15 rockets and 12 mortars towards Israel, and detonated an explosive device against an Israel Defense Forces jeep on the Israeli side of the fence. The Israeli Army had conducted 19 air strikes on Gaza. One Israeli soldier and six Palestinians have been killed, Serry said.
Six Palestinians killed in Gaza …
He said that UNDP estimates that the Israeli operation damaged and destroyed 14000 home, leaving destruction that is shocking to see, and thousands of Gazans remain homeless. And, he said, the Gaza Strip remains desperately short of basic household, commercial and industrial goods.
Serry also reported — but, interestingly, without too much apparent alarm: just being diplomatic? — that “The United Nations Mine Action Team on the ground is working to render safe unexploded ordinance safe [and has had great success, but] … The removal by unknown persons to an unknown location of several unexploded aircraft bombs from a local police traffic compound underscores the need to identify a secure site to which unexploded ordnance can be transported and secured. The UN is seeking the return of these hazardous materials”.