STATEMENTS - Remarks by the United Nations Secretary-General to the press at the League of Arab States summit

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to see you all in Sirte, Libya. I am here to talk with the leaders of the Arab world at a critical time for the region, just one week after I visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. And I have been able to hear from the leaders who are in Sirte about their own efforts. Last night, I spoke to the League of Arab States’ follow up committee meeting, and I made it clear that we share a strong interest and responsibility in supporting efforts to bring the parties together and negotiate a political settlement. This is why I strongly supported the League’s decision to provide political support for President Abbas to participate in and begin proximity talks. This has offered a chance for us to move forward with negotiations after a frustrating and disappointing year. I feel the same frustrations as you do about recent unilateral actions. I was deeply dismayed by the Israel announcement to advance planning to build housing units in East Jerusalem. And as I made clear to the follow up committee, I have spoken out and have been diplomatically active whenever other provocations have taken place – including the decisions on holy sites in Hebron and Bethlehem, actions in places like Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah and tensions surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque. But I have not given up, and neither did the Quartet during our meeting in Moscow. We believe that we all share a responsibility to support the fragile effort which is underway. When I met President Abbas yesterday, I emphasized our commitment to negotiations to end the 1967 occupation, with a goal for their conclusion in 24 months. I told the Arab leaders this morning that, although I saw great frustration during my visit to the occupied Palestinian territory, I also witnessed the strong determination by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, led by President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, to build positive facts on the ground, despite the occupation. While I was in Israel, I encouraged the Government of Israel to do more to empower the Palestinian Authority. I am hopeful that some progress can be made on this soon. And I have also been pushing hard for an end to the closure of Gaza. Gaza has been priority number one for the United Nations. This was one of my main goals during my visit to Gaza, and I continue to do all I can to lift the restrictions there.
As you know, there have been over $4 billion in pledges made in Sharm El Sheikh last year for the reconstruction of Gaza in the wake of the conflict. When I met President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, I proposed the establishment of a UN Trust Fund to expedite the implementation of reconstruction projects in Gaza, and they agreed. The United Nations continues to press ahead on implementing the humanitarian projects which I announced when I visited Gaza last week, including 151 housing units in Khan Younis. My point to the Arab leaders is that, whatever our concerns, there is no alternative to negotiations on a two-state solution. Without that, we risk sliding into despair and the potential for more violence of the kind we have witnessed recently. In this regard, I am very concerned at the escalation of violence and loss of life yesterday in the vicinity of the Gaza border. I reiterate my appeals made during my recent visit for maximum restraint and an end to all violence, in particular at this critical time in which we are engaged in efforts to revive peace talks. This morning, in the opening of the Summit, I urged Arab leaders once more to support the proximity talks, which should lead to direct negotiations between the two parties to deal with all core issues. I am grateful to know that Arab leaders continue to uphold the Arab Peace Initiative as the basis on which peace initiatives between the Arabs and Israelis might be brought about. But we need peace in the wider region as well – including the Syrian and Lebanese tracks and the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701. And the United Nations is also helping to support elections in the Arab world, as we did in Iraq. The Iraqi people turned out to vote in large numbers last month despite threats and violence; now, it is time for the Iraqi parties to move ahead on forming a government. The United Nations will also provide support to Sudan’s elections next month, with a top priority of ensuring that all Sudanese people will have a voice in their future. And I also call on Arab leaders to help the people of Somalia win back stability in their country, by supporting the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission, AMISOM. As the Arab world moves forward, rest assured that you have the unwavering support of the United Nations. Thank you. I now will be able to take a few questions. Q: Mr. Ban, in your opening statement to the Summit, you urged Arab delegations to support Somalia, as you just mentioned and help get rid of al-Shabab. What do you expect leaders to do? Who, in your view is responsible for funding al-Shabab? SG: First of all, the international community should support the capacity building of the Somali national forces and police and also support the African Union Mission, their training and also equipment and financial support. The United Nations is very closely coordinating with this effort. We are considering holding reconstruction conference in late May in Istanbul, Turkey; that will be another important occasion to, first of all, boost political support for Somalia, and also to boost physical and financial support. At the same time, the United Nations is in the process of increasing our role there on the ground. We are working very closely with the international community to fight against piracy, and we are also very seriously considering how we can help the Somali Government to regain peace and stability.
Q: [inaudible question regarding piracy] How much support can you expect from a country like Libya? SG: I am about to meet President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed this afternoon, and we will discuss more in-depth how the United Nations and the international community as a whole can help. At the same time, how the Transitional Federal Government can maintain and meet the expectations of the international community, including in accountable governance. This is the expectation of the international community. We are ready to do that; at the same time, the Somali Government and people should also be able to do their own work, reconciliation with all the ethnic groups and regular factions there. This we need to have comprehensively. Q: You asked the Arab League yesterday to urge the parties to restart proximity talks between the Palestinians and Israelis. Sir, in light of the recent violations by the Israelis tied to East Jerusalem, and all the things the Israelis are doing, don’t you think [inaudible]? SG: The United Nations, including myself, and you, and everybody, is frustrated. And sometimes we have seen much anger from the people and the international community. However, despite this situation taking place on the ground, we should not be deterred by all the things that are happening. Each time when bad things happen, if dialogue is halted or suspended, that will only help all the extremists gain power. This is not desirable. However frustrated we may be, it is very important that, crucially necessary, that negotiations should go on. I know that these proximity talks have been very difficultly facilitated by the United States. And I myself have been speaking to many Arab leaders, including President Abbas, to encourage him to join in these proximity talks. These proximity talks, again, should not be seen as an end in themselves. Let us start these proximity talks, and I understand that it is the wish of Arab leaders to support these proximity talks. The United States is committed. They have been working on this, and, as Secretary-General, I have been also working very hard with the Israelis and with other Arab leaders, also as a member of the Quartet. The Quartet is very solidly united; therefore, as far as political support is concerned, I think we have it. My opinion is that the parties concerned should refrain from any unilateral measures which will undermine and prejudice the final outcome of the negotiations. That is my urgent appeal again.

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