17 February 2003

Quartet "Road Map" Aims at Israeli and Palestinian States in Mideast, Secretary-General Tells Palestinian Rights Committee

NEW YORK, 14 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the opening meeting of the 2003 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, delivered by his Chef de Cabinet, S. Iqbal Riza:

First, let me congratulate you and your colleagues in the Bureau on your unanimous re-election to the leadership of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

As we meet today, the situation between Palestinians and Israelis remains extremely dangerous. Let us not fall into the trap of imagining that it cannot get any worse. It easily can.

Already, the human cost of the crisis has been appalling. Since September 2000, more than 3,200 people have lost their lives -- the great majority of them Palestinians, but also many Israelis. Thousands more on both sides have been wounded, again preponderantly Palestinians. Deplorably, the majority of the victims have been civilians, many of them children.

Stifling closures and curfews, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, house demolitions, continuing settlement activity and the often-excessive use of force by Israel have only added to long-standing Palestinian anger and resentment. At the same time, cruel and devastating terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, including suicide bombings, have revived old fears. Because of this spiral of action and counteraction -- because of this pervasive climate of recrimination, retribution and deep mutual distrust -- the reserves of goodwill that existed a decade ago seem to have been virtually exhausted.

Still, there is a way out. A broad consensus has emerged on the need for a two-State solution. The "road map" that has been drawn up by the Quartet -- the United States, European Union, Russian Federation and United Nations -- aims to help realize that vision, set out in Security Council resolution 1397 (2002), of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace.

The road map is intended to achieve a settlement founded on the terms of reference of the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991, the principle of land for peace, Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, agreements previously reached by the parties and the initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, which was endorsed by the Arab League at its Beirut Summit last March.

The road map is performance-based and hope-driven, with clearly defined phases and realistic timelines and target dates. Its implementation would end the occupation that began in 1967, establish an independent, viable and democratic Palestine within three years, bring hope to Palestinians and ensure security for Israelis. It should settle not only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also promote peace in the broader region, including the Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli tracks.

Achieving this objective will, of course, require great patience and tenacity on the part of all involved.

One key factor will be the willingness of Palestinians and Israelis to take parallel steps in the security, institution-building, humanitarian and political areas. Indeed, progress in any one of these areas is heavily dependent on progress in the others.

Moving ahead in tandem offers the most promising path away from the current impasse and towards a reactivation of the political dialogue. The Quartet stands ready to facilitate this process. Ultimately, however, it is the parties themselves who will have to summon political will, show good faith and demonstrate a readiness to make the painful compromises that will fulfil the mutual obligations outlined in the road map.

An important factor will be Palestinian reform. Efforts in this direction have already begun and should be viewed as part of the broader framework of steps outlined in the road map. I urge the Government of Israel to support this Palestinian-driven process by creating conditions that will lead to the normalization of Palestinian life.

In particular, Israel should expedite the withdrawal of its troops from Palestinian areas occupied since September 2000, immediately freeze all settlement activity, end the practice of house demolitions, lift restrictions on the movement of people, goods and essential services, and disburse in full revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority. Israel should also abide fully by its obligations under international humanitarian law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Palestinian groups, for their part, should unconditionally cease all terrorist acts, and the Palestinian Authority should do everything in its power to combat terrorism. As I have said repeatedly, attacks that target civilians are heinous and morally repellent, regardless of whether their perpetrators see them as reprisals for acts by the other side.

International help remains vital. The Palestinian people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance and emergency relief. The Palestinian economy has suffered a catastrophic decline. United Nations agencies, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Children's Fund, will continue their efforts.

The UNRWA remains the main provider of basic services to more than 3.9 million registered Palestine refugees. Commissioner-General Peter Hansen and his staff are helping to deliver these services in extremely difficult circumstances, often at risk to their own lives.

The UNRWA today is facing an especially severe financial crisis. Unless the international community provides immediate assistance, UNRWA's emergency operations in the West Bank and Gaza could come to a halt by the end of March. I call on donors to contribute generously in this time of acute hardship.

For my part, I would like to reassure you of my deep personal commitment to working with all concerned for a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement. My Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Rød-Larsen, will continue to work closely with the parties.

The outlines of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region are clear. But peace cannot be imposed on the parties. Nor can a lasting solution be found by force. It must be achieved through a political process that takes the legitimate aspirations of both peoples fully into account. This Committee has an important role to play as our common efforts towards that long-sought goal continue. I wish you all success in your sustained and dedicated efforts.

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