UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 (APP):Pakistan has called on the United Nations (UN)to respond to the challenges posed by the unilateral moves on the status of Jerusalem and the expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory that have undermined the prospect of peace in the Middle East.

“The United Nations, including the Security Council, have a central role in responding to these challenges,” Ambassador Munir Akram, permanent representative of Pakistan to the UN, told the 15-member Council on Wednesday.

Speaking in a debate on the Middle East situation, he said the tragedy of Palestine, at the heart of the turmoil in the region, shows no signs of ending amid Israel’s settlement expansion.

“As illegal Israeli settlements expand into the occupied Palestinian territory, the vision of a two-state solution is being systematically reduced into a one-state reality,” Ambassador Akram said.

The principle of land for peace and implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), the Madrid Terms of Reference and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2000 are well-known elements for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, he said.

“The international community must continue to promote the aim of creating ‘a viable, democratic sovereign and contiguous Palestinian State living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security’,” the Pakistani envoy added.

Emphasizing that the situation in the Middle East posed a grave threat to international peace and security, the Pakistani envoy said even as old conflicts fester, new threats have emerged.

Pakistan, he said, has sought to defuse tensions between the United States and Iran. On the personal initiative of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently visited Tehran, Riyadh and Washington, D.C., underscoring the need for mutual restraint, including recourse to dialogue.

The positive reaction from all sides is encouraging — and perhaps comprises a first step towards broad regional engagement.

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“Pakistan will continue to be a partner for peace in the region,” Ambassador Akram told delegates from around the world.

The Security Council’s recent adoption of resolution 2505 (2020) renewing the United Nations Mission in Support of the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) is a signal of the international commitment to resolve the crisis in Yemen, the full implementation of which is necessary, he said.

In Syria, he said, the establishment of the Constitutional Committee has raised hopes for an inclusive political settlement and it must be genuinely supported by Syrian parties and international stakeholders.

The recent Berlin conference on Libya must be followed by fulfilment of the pledge by international Powers to enable space for political reconciliation among various factions, the Pakistani envoy said.

Opening the debate, Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, said recent heightened tensions in the Middle East underscored the critical need for dialogue and diplomacy in the region.

She was referring the developments related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as recent protests in Lebanon, and the crisis sparked by the killing of a top Iranian general by the United States earlier this month.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not immune to the tensions in the region”, she said. “At the same time, the effects of its persistence are felt far beyond Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Ms. DiCarlo reiterated the UN’s position that there can be no sustainable peace in the Middle East without resolving the decades-long dispute.

However, with the political process deadlocked, she said negative developments’ continue to undermine prospects for a two-State solution, including Israel’s expansion of settlement activity and threats to annex parts of the West Bank.

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“In the absence of progress towards an agreement that will resolve all final status issues based on the 1967 lines, the United Nations continues to focus its efforts on establishing an environment conducive to the return to the negotiations”, she said.

“Recent regional events have once again brought to the fore the crucial necessity of dialogue and diplomacy in the region.”

The UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, informed the Council that US $ 348 million will be needed this year to provide food, protection, health care and other services to some 1.5 million vulnerable Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.

Ms. Mueller was fresh from a six-day visit to the region, where she witnessed Gazans trapped in a cycle of deepening poverty and insecurity due to a decline in external aid, high unemployment and economic recession.

“UNICEF reports rising rates of school dropout, child labour, and child marriage, and an estimated 270,000 children suffer from some form of mental disorder.

Ms. Mueller also pointed to signs of `cautious optimism’, such as an increase in the number of people allowed to leave Gaza, and the creation of 37,000 jobs by the UN agency that assists Palestinians, UNRWA, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank.

“Ultimately, the solution for the occupied Palestinian territory is neither humanitarian nor development action, but lies in political discourse and agreement”, she stated.

The UN remains hopeful that the Palestinian Authority will hold legislative and presidential elections this year. The last vote was held in 2006.

Ms. DiCarlo reported that political parties have confirmed they would include more women candidates than the law requires. There is also discussion over amending the law to raise the quota of listed women candidates from 20 to 30 per cent.