17 April 2003

Assistant Secretary-General Tells Security Council Middle East Process Appears to Be on Verge of Restarting, Using Quartet "Road Map"

Noting "Grim Reality" on Ground, Says Path Charted by UN, European Union, United States, Russian Federation Only Realistic Hope for Ending Current Violence

NEW YORK, 16 April (UN Headquarters) -- "We appear to be on the verge of restarting a Middle East peace process through the Quartet's Road Map, which is to be presented to the parties once the Palestinian Cabinet has been confirmed", Danilo Türk, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council this morning as it considered the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.

Briefing the Council on developments since 19 March, when the situation in the Middle East had been addressed by Terje Roed-Larsen, Special Coordinator for the Middle East, he said in the face of the grim reality on the ground, with continuing terrorist attacks on the Israelis and deepening humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the path ahead, charted by the Quartet -- European Union, Russian Federation, United States and United Nations -- represented the only realistic hope for ending the current cycle of violence and counter-violence.

The Road Map, which provided parallel responses to security, political, economic and humanitarian issues, placed responsibility on each of the actors involved. The Palestinian Authority must take immediate and effective action against terrorism, and the Government of Israel must ease the humanitarian plight of Palestinians. The international community must give this initiative its full, consistent and impartial support. The Road Map remained the best prospect for achieving the vision of two States -- a secure and prosperous Israel and an independent, viable, sovereign and democratic Palestine -- living side by side in peace and security.

After confirmation by the Palestine Legislative Council of Palestine Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his government, the Quartet would present the Road Map to the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, after which the parties, with the full support of the Quartet and the entire international community, would have to take the painful steps necessary to end the current cycle of violence. The path to peace along the Road Map would be difficult and strewn with obstacles, but the alternative was a continued cycle of violence and economic and social dislocation.

Some of those obstacles were apparent, Mr. Türk continued. Since the last briefing, 64 Palestinians and five Israelis had lost their lives to the conflict, raising the total death toll since September 2000 to 2,566 Palestinians and 766 Israelis. On 30 March, a suicide bomber struck in Netanya, injuring dozens.

The Palestinian Authority must bring those involved in planning and carrying out such attacks to justice, and the groups responsible should immediately cease all forms of violence.

During March, some 103 Palestinians had been killed, marking the highest Palestinian monthly death toll in the last 12 months. On three occasions, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had carried out extrajudicial killings of alleged terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On 11 April, a British peace activist had been shot in the head by IDF gunfire, the third such incident in the last four weeks. He called on the Israeli authorities to abandon the use of excessive force in densely populated areas and to protect the safety of civilians and to desist immediately from such provocative acts as extrajudicial killings. Although Israel had a right to self-defence, it must exercise that right within the boundaries of international law.

Regarding the deteriorating socio-economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he said it was clear that no amount of donor assistance would alleviate the crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory. The only solution was to allow the Palestinian economy to operate in a normal fashion, which could only happen through removal by Israel of internal roadblocks and the lifting of curfews. Research reports indicated that over half of the Gaza Strip children were suffering from acute post-traumatic stress disorder. It was not difficult to imagine that similar pain and trauma had been inflicted on Israelis, especially on Israeli children.

The continued construction of the separation wall in the West Bank raised an additional concern, Mr. Türk continued. The projected path of the wall's first phase in some places cut as far as six kilometres into the northern West Bank and would form a barrier between Palestinians on each side of the wall and their agricultural lands, wells, markets, and public services. The unilateral nature of the planning of the wall, and its placement inside the West Bank, encircling such towns as Qalqilya and Tulkarm, could have a negative impact on the Quartet's efforts to establish a viable Palestinian State.

Highlighting the challenges before the new Palestinian Prime Minister, he said that he would need to build on the impressive progress already achieved in reforming the Palestinian Authority. Due to considerable success in establishing financial accountability and advancing economic reform, he had firm ground on which to construct his administration. Now, he would need to work hard to improve the judicial sector's performance, to restore law and order in the Palestinian areas, reverse the breakdown in internal security and take immediate steps to curb terrorism and bring to justice those involved in terrorist attacks.

He hoped that Abu Mazen would be empowered to continue and extend the Palestinian reform process, he said. He must prove to be a leader who would provide the Palestinian people with the transparent, effective government they deserved. He must also provide the Israelis with the partner in peace that they needed. In his work, Abu Mazen should receive active cooperation and support of the international community, in particular, the Quartet.

Turning to the Government of Israel, he said that it had an important role to play in ensuring the success of the new Palestinian Government. Crucial first steps would include facilitating the reform process and minimizing the effects of security measures on the people of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Removal of internal closures and lifting of curfews would be welcome developments. Such steps would empower the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen to take action against terrorists.

He also welcomed recent statements by Prime Minister Sharon, in which he had acknowledged that Israel might need to make "painful concessions", including the removal of some settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel's early embrace of the Road Map and active implementation of the process would seem to be an essential manifestation of the support expressed by Mr. Sharon.

On the situation between Israel and Lebanon, he said the level of tensions along the Blue Line remained high. He expressed concern over a pronounced increase in Israeli violations of the Blue Line, in the greatest numbers since the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000, and the ensuing Hezbollah anti-aircraft fire, as well as the number and location of new Hezbollah anti-aircraft guns near the Blue Line. Hostile acts from both sides could lead to a quick deterioration on the ground. It was incumbent upon both Lebanon and Israel to prevent any escalation along the Blue Line. It was also important for the international community to use its influence towards that end.

The meeting began at 10:40 a.m. and was adjourned at 11 a.m.

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