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31 Mar, 2016

UN official Urges Move Beyond ‘Mere Condemnations’ in Seeking Best Way to Middle East Peace

United Nations, 24 March 2016, (UN News) – Amid the current bloody wave of escalating violence, including stabbings and shootings in Israel and the occupied West Bank, the international community must move beyond mere condemnations and send a clear message to both sides that a two-State solution was the best road to peace, the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Security Council today.

“To the Palestinian people, we need to say clearly [that] stabbing someone in the street will not bring about a Palestinian State,” Nickolay Mladenov said during his monthly briefing on the Middle East. “By the same token, Israel should understand that building more walls, administrative detentions, punitive demolitions and movement restrictions all breed anger among people who feel they are being collectively humiliated, punished and discriminated against.”

He said that six months after the initial upsurge of violence, it remained blatantly clear that security measures alone would not contain the forces perpetuating the violence.  Heavy-handed responses played into the hands of extremists, undermined moderate voices and further deepened the gulf between the two sides. Meanwhile, Israel’s settlement enterprise continued, despite broad international condemnation, he noted, urging that country’s Government to respect international humanitarian law and cease its unfair and unjust planning processes in the occupied West Bank.

To counter the current challenges, Israelis and Palestinians must, at long last, face the stark realities that continued to drive the violence and hold a two-State solution hostage, he emphasized.  Both sides must actively take steps that would demonstrate their commitment to, and create the conditions for, an eventual return to negotiations so as to achieve a viable Palestinian State and ensure Israel’s long-term security.

“But let us be also abundantly clear that the current security challenges cannot be addressed if we lose sight of the fundamental problems that have led us here — the persistent inability to achieve a just and lasting solution that meets the national aspirations of the Palestinians and Israelis and allows them to live in two States, side by side, in peace, security and mutual recognition.”  He added: “The prospect of a two-State solution is not dead.  It remains the best pathway for peace.”

He continued: “The time has come to ring the alarm bells that the two-State solution is slipping from our fingers, that it is disappearing as the realities on the ground make the prospect of a viable and independent Palestinian land less possible and less likely.”

For the international community, the immediate priority must be to end the violence tearing Israelis and Palestinians apart when both faced a rise of radicals among their own constituents.  “We only need to look at the rest of the region to see the dangers of religious extremism, sectarianism and terrorism,” he warned.  “The time has come for us to speak clearly as to the risks that undermine the two-State solution, but also point to the way to a return to meaningful negotiations.”

That was why the Secretary-General, European Union, Russian Federation and the United States — all members of the Middle East Quartet — had stepped up efforts to break the political impasse, he said, noting that Quartet envoys had begun work on a report that would review the situation on the ground, identify dangers to a two-State solution and provide recommendations on the way forward.

Turning to the Gaza Strip, he said the security situation there remained volatile, with rocket fire into Israel and air strikes that had killed two Palestinian children reflecting the fragile nature of the current ceasefire.  Failure to comprehensively address the chronic problems affecting Gaza risked another escalation in the future, he cautioned.

On Lebanon, he noted that the Secretary-General and the President of the World Bank were currently on a two-day visit there, demonstrating the strong commitment of the United Nations and the international community to help that country address multiple challenges arising from the crisis in Syria.

In closing, he said that while there could be no peace without hope, fostering hope required courageous leadership that was willing to articulate a clear political horizon.  That in turn required moving beyond unilateral actions, ending the policy of eternal management of the shifting status quo and making a commitment to improve dynamics on the ground with a genuine aim of reaching a negotiated two-State solution — the stated goal of both sides.

While the obstacles were many, they were not insurmountable, he said.  Re-establishing trust and laying the foundations for a peaceful resolution must remain a collective focus, but change required political will from the parties.  “Without it, Palestinians and Israelis will continue to face an uncertain and dangerous future as the Middle East’s violent and unpredictable tectonics continue to shift around them,” he said.