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Middle East peace prospects waning, says UN envoy

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NICOLA MILTZ

Matjila was responding to a fairly comprehensive briefing on the Middle East by Nickolay Mladenov, Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. What is essential for any move towards peace, said Mladenov, was “leadership that believes that peace is possible through negotiation and an international community willing to support both sides in finding a resolution”. He added that the Middle East crisis should never be seen as being “about Israel or Palestine, but rather about Israel and Palestine”.

“As time goes on, we have seen the positions of the Israelis and Palestinians growing further and further apart,” said Matjila.

He expressed concern about the “dire humanitarian situation” of more than two million Palestinians living in Gaza, of which 50% are children.

“The people of Gaza desperately need humanitarian assistance. In that connection, we wish to call upon the international community to continue to support UNRWA [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], which continues to play a pivotal role in providing basic services for the people of Palestine.”

Matjila expressed South Africa’s regret that the Israeli government had decided not to renew the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) after 22 years of dedicated service to both Palestinians and Israelis. The TIPH was a unilateral agreement made between Israel and the Palestinians to have a civilian observer mission in the West Bank to ensure that neither side breached international humanitarian law.

This decision, he said, “clearly undermines one of the few confidence-building mechanisms between the Palestinians and the Israelis.” And it will have “negative implications on the Middle East peace process.”

Matjila reiterated South Africa’s position in support of a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders. “We, as part of the international community, support and encourage both parties towards this endeavour. Dialogue and negotiation remains the only way forward to finding a lasting solution.”

He said South Africa was elected onto the security council to work with other member states for a long-lasting peace in the Middle East, and that the council should show consistency and act to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

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