UN Chief: Time Is Not on the Side of Palestinian-Israeli Peace

UN secretary-general condemns continued Israeli settlement activity, while Palestinian PM says reconstruction impossible without opening borders.

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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, shaking hands with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah during a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Oct. 13, 2014.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, shaking hands with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah during a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: Reuters

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday expressed concern that time is running out for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We urge the Palestinians to show courage and continue with the peace process, and we urge Israel to do the same," Ban said during a two-day visit to the region.

"I welcome renewed international political leadership and action. Time is not on the side of peace. We need to act immediately to prevent a deepening of an already unsustainable status quo... this is the only way to avoid yet another tragic conflict in the future," he said.

Speaking at a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah following a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Ban called on both sides to end the cycle of violence.

"We must give renewed attention to the West Bank," Ban said.

"I once again strongly condemn the continued settlement activity by Israel. I am also deeply concerned by repeated provocation at the holy sites in Jerusalem. These only inflame tensions and must stop," he said, referring to clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem that day.

On Gaza, Ban and Hamdallah said they had reached an agreement on a mechanism that would allow the entry of construction materials, following the recent 50-day conflict. They said the reconstruction process would be monitored by the UN and enforced by the Palestinian Authority with consent from Hamas.

"I am confident that this mechanism, if implemented in good faith by the parties, would allow for large scale reconstruction urgently needed in Gaza," Ban said.

On Sunday, donor states and the European Union pledged 5.4 billion dollars at a conference in Cairo for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

Half of those funds will go to the reconstruction process, and the remainder will be given to the Palestinian Authority over the next three years, Hamdallah said.

Hamdallah described the mechanism as a temporary solution to allow speedy rebuilding in the Gaza Strip before the start of winter. He added that without Israel's cooperation, which involves opening border crossings to the free movement of goods, it will be difficult to start rebuilding.

Israel, which controls entry to Gaza, has imposed a blockade since 2007, preventing the entry of vital building material and other essential goods, citing security concerns.

Hamdallah said Israel had prevented the entry of building material to Gaza last week, and that he had demanded of the UN secretary general and his envoy Robert Serry to raise the issue in their meetings later Monday with Israeli officials.

He argued it is also necessary to give the private sector a free hand in the rebuilding process and to ease restrictions to encourage investors.

Ban urged the international community to address the underlying issues at the heart of the conflict.

"We must also tackle the root causes of instability in Gaza. This is the only way to avoid yet another tragic conflict in the future," he said.

Hamdallah recalled at the press conference that many countries never followed through on the pledges they made to reconstruct Gaza in the wake of the 2008-09 Gaza war.

No aid would be effective if Israel continues its blockade policy against the Gaza Strip, according to Hamdallah.

Ban said the Palestinians could turn to the international courts if they had an issue requiring such, but that he did not believe the Palestinians had achieved the status of a state.

Despite reports to the contrary emanating from Cairo, no agreement has been reached about joint operation of the border crossings under the responsibility of the Palestinian reconciliation government, which casts doubts on the matter of bringing in aid from the Egyptian side.

Committed to the status quo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of his meeting with Ban later on Monday that real peace would only be possible through bilateral negotiations with those who want peace. Unilateral Palestinian steps in the United Nations will not advance the cause of peace, he said. On the contrary, Netanyahu argued, they would only serve to exacerbate the situation, which no one wants.

Netanyahu also told Ban that Palestinian extremists had incited the recent violence on Temple Mount by spreading false, baseless rumors about an imagined Israeli threat on the Muslim holy places. Nothing is farther from the truth, he said. Netanyahu stressed that he and Israel are obliged to maintain the status quo as it has been for dozens of years.

The prime minister said Israel strictly protects the holy places and the right of people of all religions to pray at their holy sites. He added that Israel would continue to protect the arrangement as well as freedom of worship.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon attending a press conference ahead of their meeting at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, Oct. 13, 2014.Credit: AFP

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