Middle East peace process tops Ban's talks with Israeli Defence Minister
28 April 2010 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak today discussed the prospects for progress on the Middle East peace process, with the United Nations chief voicing hope that proximity talks, or indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, will begin shortly.
During their conversation in New York, Mr. Ban also appealed for advances to be made on moving reconstruction materials into Gaza, which is seeking to rebuild after last year’s devastating Israeli offensive, with the stated aim of halting rocket attacks, which destroyed scores of buildings.
During his visit to Gaza earlier this year, he noted that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, instituted for what it called security reasons after Hamas took over power there in 2007, “causes unacceptable suffering of human beings,” with the half of the area’s population that is under the age of 18 suffering the most.
“The policy is also counter-productive,” he emphasized. “It prevents legitimate commerce and encourages smuggling. It undercuts moderates and empowers extremists.”
Last week, the top UN official in Gaza told reporters that the recent easing of some Israeli restrictions on the entry of goods into the territory is welcome but infinitesimal when compared to the needs of the 1.5 million Palestinians living there.
“[It is] a drop in the bucket,” said John Ging, Director of Operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). “The context is so great; the scale of the need is so large.”
During Mr. Ban’s meeting with Mr. Barak today, they also discussed stability in the region, including in Lebanon, as well as Iran’s nuclear programme.
Iranian authorities hold that its work in the nuclear field is for peaceful purposes, while some countries contend it is driven by military ambitions. The programme has been a matter of international concern since the discovery in 2003 that the country had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Earlier this week, the Secretary-General spoke by telephone with United States Special Envoy George Mitchell about continuing efforts to get the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, as well as the situation in Gaza. Mr. Ban thanked Mr. Mitchell for his determined efforts and reiterated the UN’s support.
At its meeting in Moscow in March, the diplomatic Quartet promoting Middle East peace – comprising the UN, European Union, US and Russia – called on the Israeli and Palestinian sides to resume negotiations as soon as possible with the aim of reaching a settlement within two years.
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