MIDDLE EAST EVENTS OF RECENT DAYS TRAGIC STEP AWAY
NEW YORK, 23 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Security Council meeting on the Middle East in New York on 23 September:
Less than a week ago, the Quartet met in this building and agreed on the need for a road map to achieve a permanent settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We agreed that it was essential and urgent for the Palestinians to take all possible steps to improve security, by bringing an immediate end to violence and terror. But we also agreed that it had to be done within the context of an overall plan, which must address the political, economic, humanitarian and institutional dimensions of the problem.
We agreed that the plan must spell out reciprocal steps to be taken by the parties in each of three phases, with a Quartet mechanism to monitor and assess each party’s progress against specific benchmarks, culminating in the negotiation of a final and comprehensive settlement by 2005.
We agreed, in short, on the need for a process driven both by performance and by hope.
That linkage is essential, and I cannot emphasize it too strongly. Yes, we need performance. But there must be hope, too. For without hope there will be no performance.
So far from seeing the first steps towards implementing the Quartet’s vision, the events of the past few days represent a tragic step in the opposite direction.
Until last week, there had been six weeks of relative calm in Israel itself, but during the same period in the occupied territory at least 54 Palestinians were killed in Israeli military operations.
Then, in the space of three days -- 17 to 19 September -- we saw a bomb explode in a Palestinian school, and two new suicide attacks perpetrated against Israeli civilians inside Israel.
I have said over and over again that such acts are "morally repugnant" -- and I say it again today. Each time those words have to be repeated, they become even more grimly apt.
These acts are to be condemned, both for the utterly unjustifiable loss of life, the pain and misery that they cause to innocent people, and because they set back even further the prospect for a just and lasting settlement. They strike directly at that very hope which -- as the Quartet agreed -- is an essential driver of political progress.
Once again I urge all Palestinians, especially the leaders of all political factions, to renounce this wicked instrument of terror -- clearly and irrevocably, now and forever.
Last week, the Quartet recognized Israel’s legitimate security concerns, and repeated its demand that terrorist attacks be stopped once and for all. It also repeated its call on the Palestinian Authority to work with the United States and regional partners to reform security services and combat terrorism.
But how can the Palestinians respond to that call, if what is left of the civil and security infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority -- which already gravely weakened -- is now in the process of being destroyed? Surely, such destruction will only set back even further the prospects for implementing necessary reforms and ensuring real improvements in the Authority’s security performance?
Similarly, the continuing destruction of ministries’ and municipalities’ capacity to provide basic services -- such as water, electricity, and education -- will hamper and even undermine efforts to meet humanitarian needs, whether by Palestinian or by international organizations. Further misery is hardly a basis for progress, whether political, security or economic.
The Quartet and our Arab partners in the region are working intensively with the Palestinian Authority to see that security and institutional reforms are implemented. But we can succeed only if the Government of Israel actively supports the process, rather than hindering it.
The systematic and literal grinding down of the Authority’s Headquarters in Ramallah, in which a further 10 Palestinians have been killed, is also likely to cause greater political instability in the West Bank and Gaza.
Despite the reimposition of curfews in most West Bank towns, it has already prompted mass demonstrations in a number of Palestinian cities, including Ramallah, and efforts to address key reform issues have been postponed as a result.
This too will set back the prospects for resuming the peace process. Once again, I appeal to Israel to take greater care to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians, and to refrain from policies and actions that are in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
My Special Envoy is in constant contact with both parties, and has repeatedly spoken to Chairman Arafat and other senior Palestinian officials in Ramallah. He met this morning with Foreign Minister Peres, and is now in Ramallah with the Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Abu Mazen. He is working in close coordination with the other members of the Quartet and key actors in the region.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not going to be resolved by military might alone, or by violent means of any kind. A policy based on forcing the other side to capitulate is a bankrupt policy. It is not working, and it will never work. It only encourages desperation. It weakens moderates, and strengthens extremists.
In the end there will have to be a political settlement, negotiated between the two peoples on an equal basis; a settlement in which -- as this Council has said -- two States, Israel and Palestine, are living side-by-side within secure and recognized borders.
Why not reach that end sooner rather than later? How many hundreds or thousands more have to die, how much more pain and misery must be endured, before leaders on both sides find the vision and the courage to accept the inevitable?
Only a settlement on that basis can bring real peace and security to both peoples, and only a comprehensive approach can bring a settlement on that basis nearer.
The so-called "sequential" approach, which insists on full security as a precondition for progress on the political, humanitarian and institutional fronts, has clearly failed.
Israel needs to understand that there will be no lasting security without a political settlement -- and therefore, even while defending itself against terrorist attacks, Israel should cooperate actively with the Quartet's efforts to reach such a settlement within the next three years.
The Palestinians, on their side, need to understand that there will be no settlement without lasting security for Israel.
Both sides must be urged -- by all who have any influence over them -- to accept and act on those understandings, so that at last there can be peace and security for both peoples, as part of a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement in the Middle East.
But I fear this vision will remain a distant mirage, so long as our television screens -- and the minds of all those involved -- are filled with ugly scenes of death and destruction, whether in the streets of Tel Aviv or at the mukataa in Ramallah.
More than 80 years ago the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote of a time in his country when
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world… "The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity."
Alas, those words have been true of many times and many places since, and they seem all too true of the situation between Israelis and Palestinians today.
But let us not resign ourselves to that state of affairs. Let us help the best on both sides, Palestinian and Israeli, to regain their passion for peace, and the conviction that brought them so close to agreement two years ago.
Let us resist the downward spiral into anarchy. Let us rebuild a centre that can hold.
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