22 October 2003


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

SEVILLE, 21 October -- A two-day international media seminar on the question of peace in the Middle East opened in Seville, Spain today, 21 October, with a message by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan read by Shashi Tharoor.  In his message, the Secretary-General noted that the meeting in Seville was taking place at a critical juncture.  Seldom was it more urgent to re-establish the momentum towards a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, he said.

Referring to the apparent breakdown of negotiations and an increasing spiral of violence, the Secretary-General said that the trend of events was distinctly in the opposite direction.  This month had brought even greater violence and suffering to both peoples, he noted, with the potential for even worse to come.  He strongly emphasized the role of the international community in continuing to pressure the parties to the conflict to exercise maximum self-restraint, avoid further escalation, respect the provisions of international law, and implement their commitments in accordance with the “Road Map”.

Spelling out the steps both sides needed to take to resolve the conflict, the Secretary-General stated that Israeli actions -- including military strikes using disproportionate force, the construction of a separation fence, house demolitions and the expansion of settlements -- served only to increase the misery of ordinary Palestinians.  Such actions, he stated, also undermined the Palestinian Authority’s ability to carry out its responsibilities, including the responsibility to prevent violence.  Moreover, he stated, the Israeli air strike against Syria marked a serious escalation of conflict in this already tense region.

The Secretary-General stated, however, that such actions in no way justified suicide bombings by Palestinian factions, and that such acts of terror were immoral and must be stopped.  Apart from the appalling toll on lives, he said, every new outrage diminished Israeli support for reconciliation and did grave damage to the Palestine cause.

The Secretary-General noted that each side had doubts about whether it had a partner for peace and that both were pushed farther away from the negotiating table.  “This is especially tragic”, the Secretary-General told the participants, “because, as the title of your conference indicates, a just and lasting solution is available:  two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

 The Secretary-General emphasized that the United Nations stood firmly behind this vision, and that the Road Map offered a way to realize the vision of meeting Israel’s need for security and recognition, while realizing the Palestinians’ right to an independent and viable State.  Even amid the carnage of recent days and the overall prevailing pessimism, he was encouraged to see that private efforts by notable Israelis and Palestinians -- such as the Geneva and Nusseibeh-Ayalon initiatives -- were now drawing possible ways to address final status arrangements.  The last phase of the Road Map called for an agreement on such sensitive final status issues as Jerusalem, settlements and refugees.  Such private initiatives deserved praise as a courageous attempt to break the stalemate by civil society on both sides, and it was not of paramount importance to start implementing the Road Map provisions without further delay.

“It is essential that people of good will everywhere, in both official and unofficial positions, devote their political energies and creative efforts to realizing the vision of peaceful co-existence between Israel and the future State of Palestine”, concluded the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General’s message was delivered by Mr. Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information (DPI), United Nations Department of Public Information, who is also moderating the meeting.

The seminar, organized by the DPI, in cooperation with the Regional Autonomous Government of Andalusia, is taking place under the overall theme of “Towards a Two-State Solution”.  It brings together over 40 international participants, including present and former policy makers from Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, as well as senior United Nations officials, international experts and media representatives.

Mr. Tharoor, in his opening remarks, told the participants that the meeting was taking place at a time when events in the Middle East were posing serious challenges for the United Nations.  The task of restarting the implementation of the Road Map had become even more urgent in light of recent tragic events in the region, he said.  “But during these difficult times, it is important that the dialogue continue in order for both sides to remain in touch”, he noted.

Mr. Tharoor expressed his hope that by providing a forum for such dialogue, the seminar would make its own contribution to peace in the Middle East.

Welcoming the participants on behalf of his Government, the Regional Autonomous Government of Andalucia (Junta de Andalucia), Gaspar Zarrias, Minister of Presidency, emphasized that it was not permissible to claim that the peace process was dead.  He said that Seville had been the scene of the “Declaration of Sevilla” adopted by the European Union on the issue of the Middle East.  This declaration was a key, historical, step forward in the search for a solution [where the members of the European Union discussed for the first time the two-State solution].  It was an honour, he said, for the Government of Andalucia to participate as a partner with the United Nations in the organization of the media seminar.  The United Nations had always been a key actor in the peace process in the Middle East, beginning with the 1947 decision.  Mr. Garrias noted that it was extremely important to engage in dialogue, and he expressed his hope that the dialogue that was being embarked upon today would have a positive effect and stem the tide of violence which had taken so many lives.  It was an unbearable social cost, Mr. Garrias said, that the conflict had cost the lives of 3,000 Israelis and Palestinians.

In the first panel, journalists from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and communications experts presented their perspectives on covering the conflict.

The speakers who took part in the session were Edward Mortimer, Director of Communications, Executive Office of the Secretary-General; Daniel Ben Simon, journalist, Ha’aretz; Laila Atwan, Bureau Chief, West Bank and Gaza, Abu Dhabi TV; and Teresa Aranguren, reporter for Telemadrid, Spain.

Summary of the discussions will be issued at a later date.

The seminar, mandated by the General Assembly resolution 57/109 of 3 December 2002, which asked the DPI to organize international, regional and national seminars or encounters for journalists, aiming in particular at sensitizing public opinion to the question of Palestine, is the eleventh such event organized by DPI since the series was launched in 1991.

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