UNITED NATIONS – The chief U.N. envoy to the Middle East declared Monday that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (search) has broken down and said he fears even worse bloodletting lies ahead.
"The recent cycle of terror attacks and extrajudicial killings has broken the Palestinian cease-fire and brought the process to a standstill," U.N. Mideast envoy Terje Roed-Larsen (search) told the Security Council at the start of an open meeting to discuss the troubled region.
But "while the situation is grave, it is alarmist to speak of the demise of the peace process," he warned.
The Palestinians are urging the United Nations to demand that Israel ensures Yasser Arafat's (search) safety and key Security Council members are urging both parties to implement the peace plan known as the "road map."
Roed-Larsen stressed that Arafat was the democratically elected Palestinian leader who "embodies Palestinian identity and national aspirations. He is now far from irrelevant."
If the course to peace outlined in the road map is abandoned, he warned, "we would cede to those individuals and groups that do not want peace."
Roed-Larsen accused both Israelis and Palestinians of failing to "seriously and actively" address each other's concerns.
"For Israelis, that concern is security and freedom from terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority failed again to grasp control of the security situation," he said.
"For Palestinians, the core concern is an assurance that the peace process will lead to the end of the occupation and the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders," he said. "The ongoing settlement activity and continued construction of the separation wall cause Palestinians to wonder whether we are moving in the opposite direction to that goal. In addition, Israel has never fully endorsed the Road Map."
Without a major change in the situation, Roed-Larsen said, "further deterioration, resulting in major bloodshed, seem inevitable."
The council scheduled the open meeting Monday amid mounting criticism of the Israel's security Cabinet's decision Thursday to "remove" Arafat in a manner and at a time to be decided.
The statement Sunday by Israel's Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (search) that killing Arafat is a possibility was certain to intensify the Palestinian demand for speedy U.N. action.
The council began consultations on a resolution drafted by the Palestinians late Friday and then adjourned until Monday, despite Palestinian pressure for a quick vote.
Council ambassadors said they wanted to consult capitals and wait for the outcome of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's meeting in Geneva on Saturday with the foreign ministers of the five permanent council nations — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.
In the interim, the council issued a press statement expressing "the view that the removal of chairman Arafat would be unhelpful and should not be implemented."
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that Israel would incite rage not only among Arabs but also Muslims everywhere by exiling or executing Arafat.
Deputy U.S. ambassador James Cunningham made clear on Friday that Washington's primary aim is to get the peace process back on track, "and that this isn't the right time to be looking at a Security Council resolution."
After Saturday's meeting in Geneva, Annan announced that the four parties that drafted the road map — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — would meet in New York later this month to consider how too move forward.
"The permanent ministers of the Security Council recognized that both sides have obligations under the ... road map and ... that it is now essential to go ahead with its implementation," Annan said.
No date was announced for the meeting, but it is likely to take place when ministers are at the United Nations for the high-level General Assembly meeting which starts on Sept. 23.
Recent attacks by both sides have stalled progress on implementing the road map, which envisions a Palestinian state by 2005, and Israel's threat against Arafat has heightened tensions.
The Palestinian U.N. envoy Nasser al-Kidwa (search) said the council must take an immediate stand "when illegal actions are taken by member states."
The Palestinian draft "demands that Israel, the occupying power, desist from any act of deportation and to cease any threat to the safety of the elected president of the Palestinian Authority."
It calls for the cessation of violence — including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction — and increased efforts by both sides to ensure implementation of the road map.
It also would reiterate the council's concern at the "tragic and violent" events that have taken place since September 2000 when the latest Israeli-Palestinian clashes began, "and the recent dangerous deterioration of the situation, including the escalation in extrajudicial executions and suicide bombings."
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman (search), said Israel is urging the United States to veto the resolution, but Washington seems more likely to abstain, allowing the resolution to pass.
Without a U.S. veto, "we can expect a resolution, which the Palestinians and others are presenting as a moderate and lukewarm statement ... but in my opinion the very fact of the meeting is proof ... of the U.N.'s real hypocrisy," Gillerman said in an interview with Israel's Army Radio.