18 July 2003


Says Revived Peace Process Has Made “Encouraging Progress”

NEW YORK, 17 July (UN Headquarters) -- Warning that the peace process in the Middle East was too important to allow “spoilers” to dictate its pace or set its agenda, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, Terje Roed-Larsen, called on the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to “stay the course” in the face of possible future violations of the 30 June ceasefire.

Citing a pressing need to create and build momentum, the Special Coordinator, in a briefing to the Security Council this morning, urged both sides to take steps to build trust and confidence and to demonstrate to the other that progress brought real and tangible benefits.  Each should strengthen the capacity of the other to move forward through bold and courageous steps.

Yet, since his last briefing to the Council on 13 June, the revived peace process had made “encouraging” progress, he stated.  Hope was beginning to supplant despair, after more than 1,000 days of violence and 3,500 deaths.  Israelis and Palestinians were meeting regularly and working together at all levels.  Those tentative steps were leading to more mobility for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem and more security for Israelis.

The Palestinian Authority had a specific duty to assume security responsibility, first in those areas from which the Israeli Defence Forces had withdrawn and later in all the areas under its control, he said.  Israel should continue its withdrawals and refrain from any act that could make the task of Prime Minister Abbas and Minister of State for Internal Security Dahlan more difficult.

Because the first halting and sometimes-painful steps towards peace had already been taken, he urged the international community to do its part by supporting the parties.  It must work actively to show its support in those early days of that “still fragile” process.  As in any process, however, the parties must help themselves and each other.  Peacemaking, in this case, could lead to separate Israeli and Palestinian States, living side by side, with peace and security.

Also in his briefing, Mr. Roed-Larsen enumerated the steps taken by the parties to implement the Road Map.  Issued on 30 April by the Quartet -- United States, Russian Federation, European Union, United Nations -- the Road Map is a performance-based plan for reaching a permanent two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It aims at progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties in the political, security, economic, humanitarian, and institution-building fields, under the auspices of the Quartet.  The destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005.

The meeting, which began at 10:27 a.m., adjourned at 10:56 a.m.

Briefing Summary

TERJE ROED-LARSEN, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, said that the challenges to the peace process remained numerous.  Since the last briefing on the subject to the Council on 13 June, 49 people had lost their lives to the conflict, raising the total death toll since September 2000 to 2,755 Palestinians and 787 Israelis.  Yet, there had been a sharp decrease in violent attacks and incitement during the reporting period.  Any fatality was tragic and needless.

He said that, as agreed between the parties, the Israeli Defence Forces had withdrawn from parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Bethlehem.  That had enabled the Palestinian Authority to begin re-establishing control over those areas.  A ceasefire that suspended attacks on Israelis had been reached among Palestinian groups and was largely being honoured.  Regular meetings were occurring between the Palestinian and Israeli Prime Ministers, and, at the ministerial level, the parties were meeting frequently to discuss such issues as security, prisoners, incitement, economic development, investment and health.

Credit for that progress should go first to the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he said.  They deserved to be commended for their courageous pursuit of the peace process.  He urged them to continue meeting and to maintain the positive momentum they had developed.  The Quartet members, particularly the United States, had assisted the parties to reach that point.

The United States had continued to demonstrate the commitment to that process by the recent visits to the region of Secretary of State Powell and National Security Adviser Rice, as well as by placing a full-time senior monitoring coordinator, Ambassador John Wolf, on the ground to work with the parties to fulfil their commitments.  Quartet members stayed in close touch with Ambassador Wolf’s team, he added.  His own office, together with other United Nations agencies, was monitoring the situation on the ground -- as it had for several years.  He would continue to keep the Council informed of progress in implementing the Road Map.

The ceasefire announced on 30 June had been achieved through the efforts of the Palestinian leadership and with the particular support of President Mubarak of Egypt, he explained, urging all Palestinian groups to adhere strictly to the ceasefire.  He also called on the parties to “stay the course” in the face of possible future violations.

He said that the Quartet -- Secretary-General Annan, United States Secretary of State Powell, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov, and, for the European Union, High Representative Solana, Foreign Minister Papandreou and External Affairs Commissioner Patten -- had met on 22 June at the Dead Sea in Jordan.  That first meeting after the presentation of the Road Map to the parties and the Aqaba summit had reaffirmed the Quartet’s role.  The members took the opportunity to assess the status of the Road Map, and they reviewed the steps that should be taken by both sides, in order to move ahead.  They also had reviewed the support the international community should give to the renewed peace process.

He stressed that a peace process was now under way and that terrorist attacks were damaging to that process.  The Palestinian Authority had a specific duty to assume security responsibility, first in those areas from which the Israeli Defence Forces had withdrawn and later in all the areas under its control.  Israel and the international community should take steps and provide needed assistance to enable the Palestinian Authority to fulfil its responsibilities.

The Israeli Defence Forces had largely ceased security activities in those areas in which the Palestinian Authority had retaken responsibility, he noted.  That was an encouraging development.  Since the Israeli withdrawal from parts of the Gaza Strip and the ceasefire announcement, the Forces had refrained from extrajudicial killings.  He strongly urged the Government of Israel to continue to refrain from targeted assassinations and to fulfil its right to defend its people within the boundaries of international humanitarian law.

Citing a pressing need to create and build momentum, he strongly urged the Government of Israel to do more in terms of prisoner releases and in easing the daily living conditions of the Palestinians.  He could thinks of few actions that would do more to build real trust and confidence.  Prisoner releases in Northern Ireland had set an encouraging precedent in that respect.

Unfortunately, he said, since his last briefing, the humanitarian situation had seen little concrete improvement, despite the sharp decrease in violent clashes following the declaration of a ceasefire by Palestinian groups.  The withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of the Gaza Strip had been accompanied by some easing of restrictions on the movement of Palestinian workers and commodities.  But, closures, curfews and checkpoints had not been relaxed significantly in the West Bank.  As a result, the economic deterioration in the occupied Palestinian territory and the humanitarian suffering of the Palestinian people had not yet reflected the early progress achieved.

Even with a full Israeli withdrawal, improvements in living conditions would take time to manifest themselves, he went on.  His office and the World Bank and United Nations agencies continued to monitor the socio-economic situation.  Hopefully, steps would be agreed to by the parties in the near future that would pave the way for necessary improvements in the humanitarian situation.

Construction of the Separation Barrier, or Wall, on which he had regularly briefed the Council, was continuing, he said. Construction had been particularly intensive in the Tulkarem-Qalqilya Governorates and around Jerusalem.  He again called on the Government of Israel to halt construction of the Wall, which was a unilateral act not in keeping with the Road Map, as that made more difficult the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian State.  He understood that Israel had serious security concerns, but it was important not to create unfortunate facts on the ground.  Israel must act in accordance with its international humanitarian law obligations and the Road Map.

He said he was pleased to report that, since his last briefing, movement through the Erez checkpoint by humanitarian personnel had improved. The all-donor Task Force on Project Implementation continued to address questions of access with the Israeli authorities.  While access had recently improved, it remained difficult to determine which part of the Israeli Government was the best source for addressing such access concerns.  He called on that Government to provide the international humanitarian community with an empowered interlocutor to address donor concerns.

Enumerating the parties’ steps to implement their Road Map commitments, he highlighted the following:  the Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to and implemented an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem in the West Bank; the Palestinian Authority had re-established security responsibility in those places; Palestinian groups had agreed to a ceasefire that prohibited attacks on Israelis everywhere; the ceasefire was largely holding; and, the parties had begun a regular series of ministerial meetings, including between the two Prime Ministers, which provided for further agreements on issues that included prisoner releases and security cooperation.

To be clear about where he stood, he said that the Government of Israel should further ease and eventually lift the closure regime in the West Bank, as a follow-up to the steps it had taken in the Gaza Strip.  The peace process would only seem “real” to Palestinians when they were able to move freely, go to work and school, seek medical care and attend to other aspects of normal life without confronting checkpoints and humiliating procedures.  He was pleased that some steps in that direction had already been taken by the Israelis.  He was also pleased that there appeared to be ongoing discussions aimed at the release of a significant number of prisoners.

Nevertheless, he said, the continued presence of settlement outposts established since March 2001 caused many Palestinians to question Israel’s intent regarding that process.  He urged the Government of Israel to continue to remove settlement outposts from the West Bank and prevent the erection of new ones.  At the same time, the international community had a responsibility to assist the Palestinian Authority at the inception of the Road Map process.

He said that quick impact projects and longer-term development initiatives in those areas in which the Authority had taken up responsibility should be funded by the donor community.  Those projects could help the Palestinian people to see tangible benefits from the peace process.  In that connection, the emergency appeal of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) remained underfunded.

Turning to the situation along the Blue Line, he said the environment remained relatively calm.  Nevertheless, he acknowledged the continuation of actions that carried “escalatory potential”.  Telling the Council that, in Beirut, he had encountered much concern over Israeli overflights in Lebanese airspace, he said he had repeatedly called on the Israeli Government to end that practice.  Unfortunately, however, Israel had chosen to ignore those calls.

Regarding increased anti-aircraft fire from the Lebanese side, he expressed worry.  He noted that some rounds had not been directed at the overflights and had instead landed on Israeli territory, thus, violating the Blue Line.  However, he was pleased to note that the anti-aircraft gun, which had been placed near position 8-32 of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), had been removed.  He further stated that the extension of the Lebanese Government’s authority throughout southern Lebanon would help to limit that country’s violations of the Blue Line.

Calling on both parties to cease Blue Line violations, he suggested that the stabilization of south Lebanon would be best achieved by encompassing Lebanon and Syria, as contemplated in the Road Map.  He also reminded the Council that it had already certified that Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon was a full application of Security Council resolution 425.

He noted that the situation in the Golan Heights remained calm, with both Syria and Israel respecting their core commitments under the Disengagement Agreement.  That was a good precedent for the region, and he hoped that the calm would lead to peace.  In that context, he confirmed that leaders in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan had all expressed support for the current peace efforts.  He also noted that the Road Map stipulated a resumption of negotiations on Syrian and Lebanese tracks as early as January 2004.  Those talks would do much to stabilize the entire peace process, including the Palestinian-Israeli track.

Because the first halting and sometimes-painful steps towards peace had already been taken, he urged the international community to do their part by supporting the parties.  It was important that the current momentum not be lost.  After all, peacemaking was not an event but rather a process, one that, in this case, could lead to separate Israeli and Palestinian States, living side by side, with peace and security.  He concluded by saying that, although the difficulties were great, so was the prize.

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