18 July 2001


NEW YORK, 17 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following the text of the message by the Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the United Nations International Meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, delivered by Terje Rød-Larsen, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority, in Madrid today:

I am pleased to convey my greetings to all who have gathered here in Madrid for this important international meeting. I would like to pay tribute to the Government and the people of Spain for hosting this event and for assisting in its preparation. And as you discuss the present and the future of the peace process, it is fitting to remind ourselves that it was here in the city of Madrid that the stage was set in 1991 for what has become a historic breakthrough in the quest for peace in the Middle East.

This international gathering is taking place at an extremely sensitive moment for the region. Since September last, the violence on the ground has claimed over 600 lives, many of them children, with thousands of injured. The vast majority of those killed and wounded have been on the Palestinian side. As the confrontations continued, I have strongly condemned the excessively harsh and disproportionate attacks by the Israeli forces against the Palestinians. I have also condemned all acts of terrorism. The crisis has deepened the sense of anger, bitterness and suspicion between the Israelis and the Palestinians. These tragic events have also underscored the urgency of pressing forward with efforts to bring calm, stabilize the situation and enable the parties to resume their dialogue. The idea is to hold violence in check long enough to allow the parties reach a workable solution. For many months, this has been a daunting and elusive task.

In the past several weeks, international efforts to resolve the crisis have intensified considerably. The international community is united in expressing its concern for the situation on the ground and for the state of the peace process. Both sides have indicated that they accepted the Mitchell Committee Report in all its parts. The United Nations has also fully endorsed the report and will remain at the disposal of the parties and the co-sponsors of the peace process in their efforts to implement it. Leaders on both sides must show the political will and courage needed to resume the peace talks in order to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement in the region on the basis of resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of land for peace.

Last month, I visited the region where I had useful discussions with Chairman Arafat, Prime Minister Sharon and the leaders of neighbouring countries. In the course of the trip, I also met victims of violence on both sides, many of whom were children. It was clear that both the Israelis and the Palestinians genuinely wanted to find a way out of the cycle of violence and suffering. Since the release of the Mitchell Report and following the commitment by the parties to respect the ceasefire plan, the level of violence has been reduced to some extent.

Now is the time to consolidate the fragile ceasefire and move swiftly to the implementation of the report recommendations. The ceasefire agreement negotiated last month is now very fragile. Both sides must now make every effort to restore the ceasefire, and move rapidly towards the implementation of the Mitchell Committee Report. For their part, the co-sponsors and other international actors stand ready to help them on the implementing the Report’s recommendations. It is important to view the ceasefire, the cooling-off period and confidence-building measures in a broader context. These are critical interim steps on the way to resuming a meaningful political dialogue.

Nine months of violence and recurrent closures have had a severe impact on the Palestinian economy. The extent of the damage is enormous and is yet to be fully assessed. Also, the effect of military actions directed at Palestinian towns, villages and agricultural facilities has been devastating. The demolition of Palestinian houses, settlement construction, uprooting of trees, destruction of crops, the closures and the withholding of VAT payments have brought the economy to a virtual collapse. A massive and urgent assistance programme is needed in order to allow the Palestinians to rebuild their lives and households. The United Nations will continue its work of rehabilitating the Palestinian economy, with a special focus on providing effective emergency assistance to the Palestinian people. In this regard, much is being done by the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and others in the United Nations family. I also pay tribute to the Arab and European countries who have generously contributed to the fiscal stability of the Palestinian Authority.

For decades, the UNRWA has provided substantial assistance to the Palestinian people. It now helps on a day-to-day basis to some 3.8 million Palestine refugees. The UNRWA has provided generations of Palestinians with social services, schooling and health care. And yet, in spite of its important and dedicated humanitarian work, the Agency continues to experience recurrent financial problems. Last month, UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen launched an appeal for emergency aid to provide food, medicines and work for more than 200,000 refugee families. I would like to take this opportunity to call on donors to continue to assist UNRWA and contribute generously to its budget. Today, such contributions are particularly vital and welcome.

At this decisive point, the co-sponsors and other international parties should make a determined effort to prevent the unravelling of the peace process and bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together in order to reach an agreement that could bring demonstrable benefits to both sides. Personally, I will continue to do whatever it takes to contribute to these peace efforts.

I am hopeful that this United Nations meeting will make a contribution in its own way to international endeavours aimed at supporting the peace process. Allow me to thank the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for holding this timely event and for demonstrating once again its strong determination to move forward the cause of peace in the Middle East. I wish you all an interesting and productive meeting and success in your deliberations.

Thank you very much.

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