UN chief ‘pessimistic’ about Israel-Palestinian peace, UK envoy says

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon (L) speaks during a joint press conference with President Reuven Rivlin at the presidential compound in Jerusalem on October 20, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/GALI TIBBON)

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon (L) speaks during a joint press conference with President Reuven Rivlin at the presidential compound in Jerusalem on October 20, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/GALI TIBBON)

British diplomat says Ban ‘thought there was a very wide gap,’ both on de-escalation of tensions and return to talks

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered the Security Council a grim assessment Wednesday of prospects for defusing the latest wave of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, a British diplomat said.

Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the UN, said council members were “struck by the pessimistic tone” Ban took during the closed video briefing.

Ban spoke to council members after meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during a surprise trip to the Middle East.

Rycroft said Ban “thought there was a very wide gap” between the two sides “both on the short term, on how to deescalate, and on the longer term to go back to a genuine political process leading to a two-state solution.”

Rycroft said the UN chief told the council that “all of those with influence need to use it to de-escalate the situation.”

The current outbreak of violence was fueled by rumors that Israel was plotting to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and take over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the holiest site for Jews and the third-holiest to Muslims.

Israel has adamantly denied the allegations, saying there are no plans to change the status quo between Muslim worshipers and Jewish visitors to the site, and has accused the Palestinians of incitement. Under the terms of the decades-old status quo, Jews can visit the site, but not pray there.

Rycroft said it was “very important that the whole international community including the Security Council use whatever is in our power to halt the escalation of violence.”

But he expected no concrete action to emerge from a Security Council ministerial meeting on the Middle East planned for Thursday, though he added “we continue to live and hope.”

Ban’s briefing coincided with his decision to send the council a 42-page document on UN historical precedents for “the protection” of people.

It was prepared by the UN Secretariat in response to a letter on July 21, 2014 from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas requesting that “the territory of the state of Palestine be placed under an international protection system by the United Nations,” with the central aim of “ensuring the protection of the Palestinian people.”

The Palestinians have been pressing for the report to be sent to the Security Council. In a letter Wednesday, the secretary-general said he decided to share the report with the council in response to inquiries and “the interest that has been generated.”

Ban said the report “does not propose any particular system or systems of protection for the occupied Palestinian territory, nor is it in any sense an options paper.” He said it is a summary of a number of historical precedents compiled to assist any future work in the UN Secretariat.

The document includes 17 different cases — in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

It starts with a League of Nations mandate over the Saar Basin after World War I, includes the 1994 agreement on protecting civilians in Hebron after 29 Muslim worshipers were murdered by Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein, and UN missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor.

 Earlier Wednesday at the United Nations, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour called his Israeli counterpart a liar for claiming that Palestinian schoolchildren are taught how to stab Jews and said he would welcome an international review of Palestinian school curricula to disprove the allegation.

Mansour was responding to comments made last week by Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon.

At a news conference, Danon held up a diagram of a human torso with knives pointed at various body parts beneath the caption “How to stab a Jew.” He claimed the image was used to teach in Palestinian schools.

Mansour protested those comments as “completely and utterly false” in a letter sent Wednesday to the UN Security Council president and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. At a news conference, Mansour said the Palestinians would welcome allowing “UNESCO or the EU to evaluate our curriculum” and disprove Danon’s claims.

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