14 June 2001


NEW YORK, 13 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean meeting on the question of Palestine, delivered by Danilo Türk, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, in Havana on 12 June:

For over 50 years, the international community has been engaged in efforts to resolve the question of Palestine and to bring peace and stability to the Middle East. The 1990s seemed to be carrying a special promise for the region, as exemplified by the 1991 Madrid Middle East Peace Conference, the bilateral and multilateral tracks of the peace process that followed, and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian agreements and understandings. The strenuous efforts in the first half of 2000 resulted in a measure of progress in the peace process, bringing the parties to the Camp David Summit. Yet, their seriousness and commitment to peace notwithstanding, the parties were not able to reach an overall agreement.

As you meet today, the Middle East peace process is going through a critical and very complicated phase. The events last September and the outbreak of violence that ensued have interrupted the peace process and allowed frustration and despair to set in again. The parties’ mutual trust -- which had been so difficult to achieve -- has once again given way to hostility and suspicion.

The understandings reached at Sharm el-Sheikh last October were an important step towards stopping the violence and putting the peace negotiations back on track. We were also much encouraged to see senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators making progress on the core issues of the conflict -- refugees, Jerusalem, borders and security -- in their talks at Taba last January. It was hoped that those understandings would allow the parties to seize the moment and re-animate the peace negotiations. Yet, despite growing international pressure to halt the violence, it has escalated rapidly in recent months. I have strongly condemned indiscriminate terrorist attacks from whatever quarter they came. I have also said on a number of occasions that the attacks by the Israeli armed forces against Palestinian towns and villages, and the restrictions imposed on Palestinian economic activity, were excessive, disproportionate and counter-productive.

Many efforts have been made to help the parties escape from deadlock. Last month, the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee produced a fair and balanced assessment of the causes of the crisis, and put forward a set of recommendations aimed at calming the situation and enabling the peace talks to resume.

These recommendations offer the most promising opportunity to move forward without delay to check the violence, rebuild confidence and jump-start the peace dialogue. It is very important that the parties use them to break through the seemingly insurmountable logjam in their way, and turn them into tangible and coherent steps on the ground, to be implemented, and carefully monitored, in accordance with an agreed and verifiable timetable. Above all, the violence must cease, so that the two sides can again resume the journey towards peace through negotiations on final status issues.

Of course for this to happen, both sides will need to move beyond their anger, bitterness and recriminations. A great deal remains to be done for genuine trust to be established, so that negotiations on the core issues of the conflict can resume.

What the events of the last few months have clearly shown -- not least to the parties themselves -- is that there can be no military solution to this conflict. The only viable political settlement -- and therefore the only road to peace -- is one based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. The principles embodied in those resolutions are irreplaceable.

Another matter of great concern is the serious damage inflicted on the Palestinian economy during the months of confrontation. The aggregated impact of the closures, of the withholding VAT payments, and of the bombings, demolitions and uprootings has been massive. Only a well-coordinated and concerted international relief and assistance effort can help rehabilitate the infrastructure and gradually improve the people's living conditions.

The United Nations remains at the forefront of efforts to alleviate the hardships of the Palestinian people. The Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator, the United Nations Development Programme and other United Nations bodies continue their work in the region, adjusting the focus of their activities as required by the circumstances.

In particular the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) -- the longest-running relief effort undertaken by the United Nations in any part of the world – has been a lifeline to some 3.8 million Palestinians. Once again, I call on donors to assist the Agency so that it can continue to deliver the level of services that refugees so badly need. Assistance is especially vital now, at this time of crisis and dire economic hardship.

The international community must help the parties in their quest for peace and reconciliation. It should intensify its efforts to provide support and all forms of assistance to the Palestinian people, until a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine is achieved. The United Nations family will continue to stand by the parties in their efforts to bring peace and stability to the region. I myself remain fully engaged, and I am prepared to do whatever is in my power to help move the peace process forward.

This United Nations meeting provides an opportunity for the governments and peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean to demonstrate their solidarity with the Palestinian people at this time of dire need, and to reaffirm their support for the Middle East peace process. I am grateful to the Government of Cuba for its hospitality and assistance. And I thank the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for its initiative in convening this meeting, as well as its commitment to the cause in general.

I wish you all success in your deliberations.

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