|UN envoy attacks Middle East quartet 'failures'|
The UN should withdraw from the quartet of Middle East mediators unless the group addresses Palestinian human rights, its envoy said today.
15th Oct 07, Mark Tran, The Guardian (UK)
John Dugard, the UN human rights envoy for the Palestinian territories, told the BBC that the UN was doing itself little good by remaining a member of the quartet along with the US, Russia and the EU.
The group had failed to engage properly on Palestinian human rights and to deal with the split between the rival Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas, he said.
The militant Islamist movement Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in June, ousting Fatah, led by the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, which controls the West Bank.
Mr Dugard said the rift was threatening the Palestinians' right to self-determination, and that the UN "should be playing the role of the mediator".
"Instead the international community has given its support almost completely to one faction - to Fatah," he said.
"That's not the role the UN should take."
The comments from Mr Dugard, a retired South African professor of international law, echoed the end of mission report by Alvaro de Soto, the former UN Middle East envoy, leaked to the Guardian in June.
Mr de Soto said the UN's image of impartiality had been badly damaged by its involvement in the quartet because the US dictated policy.
Mr de Soto also strongly criticised Hamas, with its "abominable" charter, its links to Iran and its abysmal record of stopping violence directed at Israeli civilians.
But he thought the decision to boycott Hamas after it won parliamentary elections last year was misguided.
Mr Dugard told the BBC: "In my most recent report to the (UN) general assembly, which I will present later this month, I will suggest that the secretary general withdraw the UN from the quartet, if the quartet fails to have regard to the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories."
Mr Dugard also expressed pessimism about the US-sponsored Middle East peace conference to be held next month in Annapolis, Maryland.
The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, was today meeting Mr Abbas on the second day of her efforts to find common ground ahead of the conference.
After her first round of talks with Israeli leaders yesterday, state department officials were downbeat, indicating that the conference, called by George Bush, might be postponed.
Heads of negotiating teams have been appointed only in recent days - the former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia, last week, and the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, yesterday. Officials said they would meet for the first time later this week, just six weeks before the tentative date of the gathering.
The Palestinians said they would not attend without a meaningful pre-conference document that covers all the main outstanding issues - borders for a Palestinian state, the extent of Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank, Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Palestinians also insisted that the document include a solution for division of vital water resources, and no talks have been reported on that issue.
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, told his cabinet yesterday, he did not believe a joint statement was a prerequisite for the conference.
He reiterated his position in his lengthy meeting with Ms Rice, according to his office.
The goal, Mr Olmert said, "is to arrive at a joint statement during the international conference, even though the existence of such a statement was never a condition for holding this conference".
Ahead of her meetings today, Ms Rice warned Israel not to take any steps that might erode confidence in the peace process.
"This is a very delicate time," she said. "It's just a time to be extremely careful."
Her comments referred to the renewal of a road project that Palestinians fear is intended to tighten Israeli control over strategic West Bank areas near Jerusalem. Israel said construction is not imminent, and is meant to ease Palestinian movement.
In his interview, Mr Dugard warned of the danger of the Palestinian Authority raising expectations too high among Palestinians on the forthcoming conference.
"If those expectations are not met, I fear there may be serious consequences," he said. He noted these might include a third "intifada" - a large-scale, violent uprising.
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