19 June 2001


NEW YORK, 18 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the International Media Encounter on the Question of Palestine delivered on his behalf by Shashi Tharoor, Interim Head of the Department of Public Information:

The theme of your encounter -- "The Search for Peace in the Middle East" -– could not possibly be more topical, indeed urgent, than it is today.

In the last nine months, violence between Israelis and Palestinians has taken over 600 lives. Unspeakable acts of terrorism have been committed -– such as the horrific suicide bomb in Tel Aviv on 1 June -- and measures of harsh repression adopted. Too often, people on both sides have shown a callous disregard for human life.

By far the larger number of those killed have been Palestinian, and it is also the Palestinian people who live in the conditions of far greater hardship, in the grip of an occupying Power. Yet the trauma and insecurity suffered by both peoples are acute.

This situation is all the more tragic because it follows a period of dialogue, during which hopes of a just and peaceful solution were raised on both sides, and a degree of trust was built between their leaders. Now, trust has all but vanished. Throughout the region there is anxiety that at any moment a new cataclysm may be unleashed.

In the last two weeks, helped by the intense and concerted involvement of the international community, the two sides have stepped back from the brink. A ceasefire has been negotiated; there has been a perceptible decrease in violence; and both sides have declared that they accept in full the recommendations of the Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee chaired by Senator Mitchell.

It is in that context that I myself have spent the last six days in the region -- talking first to the leaders of all the neighbouring countries, then to President Arafat and his colleagues in Ramallah, and finally to the leaders of Israel.

I also met victims of the conflict on both sides: Palestinian children mutilated by gunfire, and school friends of the Israeli teenagers killed by the Tel Aviv bomb. Their suffering is terrible in itself, but all the worse in that each act of violence sows the seeds of the next, and further erodes each side’s belief that peace with the other will ever be possible. Yet on both sides there is also a deep yearning to escape from this hell and find the way to a normal and peaceful life.

The ceasefire offers hope, but it is very fragile. There is no time to be lost in consolidating it, and this can only be done by embedding it in a wider political process -- one which offers the Palestinians hope of an end to the occupation, and of an independent State. It is equally urgent to bring them economic aid, and give them the space to resume normal economic activity.

The end of the process must be a comprehensive peace settlement, negotiated by the parties on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and the principle of land for peace. And the road that leads back to such negotiations has been clearly traced by the Mitchell Committee.

By agreeing on a ceasefire, the two sides have already begun to implement the Mitchell recommendations. I have been pressing them to agree on time-lines for implementing all the others, and to accept the help of third parties in whom they both have confidence. You will be hearing my ideas in more detail tomorrow from Terje Roed-Larsen, who is my Personal Representative as well as being the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Both sides understand, I believe, that they need the help of the international community. Your interest is therefore very important. Only a well-informed world public opinion can provide the basis for effective international action. I thank you for coming to this Encounter, and I thank the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the French Government for their help in hosting it.

May your deliberations prove fruitful, and may we all soon witness a happier Middle East, in which Palestinians and Israelis at last live side by side in peace and security.

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