Ramallah: UN chief Ban Ki-moon, on his first official visit to the region on 25 March, called on Israelis and Palestinians to seize the opportunity to revive stalled peace talks.
“President (Mahmud) Abbas and I agree on the importance of this moment and though numerous elements are at play and obstances are many, progress must be made on this front,” Ban told a joint press conference with the Palestinian leader in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The UN secretary general’s visit comes amid intense diplomatic efforts to revive dormant peace talks. He is also slated to meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jerusalem.
Ban urged the new Palestinian coalition cabinet, uniting Abbas’s secular Fatah with Hamas, which is considered a terror group in Israel and the West, to show commitment to the peace process.
“I encourage this government and I hope its actions will show a genuine commitment to peace,” he said, saying the new coalition should work to release an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza-based militants nine months ago, consolidate a ceasefire with Israel and re-establish law and order in Gaza.
According to him such steps would address vital Palestinian interests and will be welcomed by the international community.
The international Quartet for Middle East peace has called on the new cabinet to renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by past accords - conditions imposed a year ago when the West slapped a freeze on direct aid to Palestinians after Hamas first took power.
Prime minister Ismail Haniya has said the new government will respect past accords, but he has also insisted on the Palestinians’ right to resist Israeli occupation. Though there is the possibility of facing complication in the resumption of peace talks.
“The platform of the unity government,legimitization of armed resistance and violation of commitments by the president are issues that will not make contacts any easier in the future,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the weekly cabinet meeting.
The summit is due to focus on a five-year-old Arab peace plan which Israel and the United States would like to see amended at the summit in Riyadh on 28 March.
The blueprint calls for full normalization of relations with Israel in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands occupied in 1967 and creation of a Palestinian state. Although Israel rejected the plan when it was first adopted in 2002, it has since said it could serve as a basis for negotiations, provided clauses concerning the right of return of Palestinian refugees are dropped.
Ban is due to meet Olmert on 26 March before travelling on to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where he will address the opening session of the Arab summit. He will wrap up his tour in Lebanon with separate talks with beleaguered Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and his pro-Syrian rival, parliament speaker Nabih Berri.