Ban Ki-Moon
Gulf News
March 1, 2009 - 1:00am

The widespread destruction and suffering that marked the fighting in and around Gaza between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009 affected civilian populations of Gaza and southern Israel the worst. The people of Gaza, who have endured untold hardship for years, were subjected to still greater misery, leaving them to face an already uncertain future with greater anxiety and despair.

I personally felt the extent of the indignities facing the people when I visited Gaza two days after the ceasefire had been declared and what I saw and heard left me deeply perturbed.

The people of Gaza and southern Israel have not been the only victims. The political process that had been set in motion at the Annapolis conference in November 2007 has also suffered. As we size up the nature of the challenge ahead of us to provide humanitarian assistance and aid reconstruction efforts, we also confront the need to recover and reconstruct political processes: among Palestinians, between Palestinians and Israelis, and between Israel and the Arab world at large.

The three weeks of intense fighting ended with unilateral ceasefires announced by both sides on January 18 but the situation in Gaza continues to be fragile, with further violence and continued blockades. This only underscores the need for a durable and sustainable ceasefire, like the one called for by the (United Nations) Security Council. Egypt has commendably led efforts to achieve such a ceasefire.

Egypt has also taken the initiative to host a major meeting today in Sharm Al Shaikh to address Palestinian economic needs, particularly the recovery and reconstruction needs in Gaza.

Open border posts, as envisaged in international agreements, remain essential if any ceasefire is to hold and much-needed humanitarian and reconstruction assistance is to reach the people and, for this, Israel's legitimate security concerns will need to be addressed, and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) should be in a position to assume its responsibilities under such agreements.

This, in turn, requires the Palestinian people to be reunited under one government committed to the principles of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). I have stated that the United Nations will work with a united Palestinian government that brings Gaza and the West Bank under the authority of President Mahmoud Abbas. I urge all Palestinian parties, and all regional and international players, to support the process of Palestinian reconciliation.

If anything, the crisis in Gaza underscored the depth of the political failures of the past, and the urgent need to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace for all peoples in the Middle East.

Just as we need a unified Palestinian government committed to the peace process, we need an Israeli government that will uphold its commitments. Just as we need the Palestinians to address security issues - as the PNA is doing so commendably in the West Bank - we need the Israelis to implement a genuine freeze on colonies. Expansion of colonies is illegal and unacceptable and undermines confidence in the political process throughout the Arab world. I am urging all international partners to make this issue central to renewed international peace efforts.

In the meantime, the United Nations must continue to provide humanitarian assistance in Gaza, and wherever it is needed. We launched an appeal for assistance shortly after the fighting ended, and I hope that donors will continue to contribute generously to it while continuing to support the PNA, whose budget pays for thousands of civil servants in Gaza and for the provision of basic services. I have appealed to all parties to enable the unimpeded distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza, the safety and security of humanitarian staff, and full respect for international humanitarian law.

We must also ensure a timely move from emergency humanitarian assistance to the phase of early recovery and reconstruction, without which thousands in Gaza would continue to be dependent and prospects for long-term growth and stability would be severely undermined. We must work hand in hand with the PNA, which is planning and prioritising reconstruction efforts. There must also be unity of purpose among regional actors and the international community. As we do this, we cannot neglect the West Bank, where we must continue to assist the PNA's ongoing reform efforts. For ordinary Palestinians to see a tangible improvement in their daily lives, Israel needs to take immediate measures to enhance movement and access to critical resources such as land and markets.

Our objective should not be merely to return to the situation that prevailed before December 27 in Gaza, or in the context of the peace process. Now more than ever is the time for a full and comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

As we strive to provide urgently required assistance and to reconstruct Gaza, we must also tirelessly pursue the goal that has long united but eluded us: the end of the occupation that began in 1967, the establishment of a State of Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to co-exist alongside Israel in peace and security, and a comprehensive, just and lasting peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbours.

I pledge to do everything in my power, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, to attain that comprehensive, just and lasting peace in this vital region. The international community must assume its responsibilities to facilitate progress - and, where necessary, insist on it. In the aftermath of the tragic conflict in Gaza, this assumes an urgency now more than ever before.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017