25 November 2008The top United Nations political official today voiced regret that Israel and the Palestinians will probably not reach a peace agreement by the end of this year under the negotiating track launched last in the United States city of Annapolis, but noted that ongoing direct talks between the two sides are a positive sign. “The parties stated that negotiations would continue uninterrupted, and that their goals remain a comprehensive peace agreement addressing all their issues, without exception,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council in an open meeting.But he cautioned that domestic politics in both Israel and among the Palestinians could thwart the process. The inability of Prime Minister-designate Tzipi Livni to form a coalition government has prompted elections, which will be held next February, while the Palestinians “remain divided,” he said.“Unfortunately, recent developments in the occupied Palestinian territory and in Israel underscore that the gap between the political tracks and the situation on the ground remain large, posing considerable obstacles to the path that lies ahead,” Mr. Pascoe said.During the reporting period, 16 Palestinians were killed and 122 others, mainly civilians, were injured, with one Israeli being killed and 25 soldiers and civilians suffering injuries.For much of this month, Israeli authorities restricted humanitarian access, as well as the entry of commercial and relief supplies, into Gaza. This resulted in UN agencies suspending the distribution of much-needed food aid for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Fuel shortages also forced power cuts and rolling blackouts.Crossings into Gaza remain closed today, and the lack of cooking gas has prevented nearly half of the area’s 71 bakeries from operating. Water-rationing is also impacting over half a million people, the official said.In today’s briefing to the Council, Mr. Pascoe expressed concern over reports of human rights abuses committed in Gaza under the “de facto Hamas regime,” which has also apparently consolidated its control, divorcing Gaza’s institutions from those of the Palestinian Authority.He noted that in spite of the Palestinian Authority’s security efforts in the West Bank, there has been no major reduction in Israeli military incursions or easing of closures there.“It is deeply regrettable that settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is ongoing in the vast majority of settlements,” the Under-Secretary-General said, but added that in a positive development, the Israeli Government announced on 2 November that it immediately intends to cease funding for illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank.“There is a need for tangible improvements in the living conditions and security of civilians to give them faith in the political process,” he told the 15-member body, underscoring the need for the Middle East diplomatic Quartet – comprising Russia, the United States, the European Union and the UN – to keep up the momentum.Mr. Pascoe also said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged US President-elect Barack Obama to engage early in the region to push the peace process forward in line with the Quartet-sponsored Roadmap plan.“Our shared goal remains clear, an end to the occupation that began in 1967, and the achievement of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel,” he added, citing the Roadmap goal of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, originally slated for completion by the end of 2005.