17 December 2003


Creative "Track Two" Initiatives Can Promote Momentum for Peace,

He Tells Meeting on Palestine Question

NEW YORK, 16 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the United Nations Asian Meeting on the Question of Palestine in Beijing, delivered today by Kim Hak-Su, Executive Secretary, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific:

I send my best wishes to all who have come together for this important meeting organized under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  My sincere gratitude goes to the Government of the People’s Republic of China for hosting this gathering.

This meeting is a manifestation of the international community’s continuing commitment to the search for a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, a conflict which has taken far too great a toll already.  The last three years have been marked by an unconscionable level of deadly violence on both sides.  The total number of dead is now approaching 4,000.  Most of the victims were Palestinians, but hundreds of Israelis have also lost their lives.  Every effort should be exerted to bring this to an immediate halt.

Both Israelis and Palestinians face the daily threat of violence.  Israeli military operations, closures and curfews, the destruction of houses and continued settlement add to the daily suffering of the Palestinians and reinforce their feelings of deep despair and hopelessness.  In the last months, the humanitarian situation, largely caused by Israeli security measures, has continued to worsen.

In addition, the construction of a barrier in the West Bank, which I have recently reported on, causes great concern.  It deepens economic and humanitarian problems facing the Palestinians, runs contrary to the letter and the spirit of the “Road Map”, and sows the seeds of mistrust and suspicion among Palestinians.  Last week, the General Assembly discussed the report at its tenth emergency special session and adopted a resolution, in which it requested the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences arising from the construction of the barrier.

It is critical for both sides at this stage to take good-faith, confidence-building steps, so as not to impair future negotiations.  In this respect, the construction of the barrier is seen as counterproductive.

                                                                                                                                                     Israel has a legitimate right and duty to protect its people against terrorist attacks.  That duty, however, should not be carried out in a way that is in contradiction with international law; that could damage the longer-term prospects for peace by making more difficult the creation of an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian State; or that increases suffering among the Palestinian people.  The practice of collective punishment and extrajudicial killings further diminishes trust and further raises levels of frustration and anger.

The new Palestinian Cabinet must act decisively to put an end to terrorist attacks.  A solution will not be achieved through terrorism. Suicide bombings against innocent Israeli civilians are morally reprehensible and cannot be justified. Terrorism is also harmful to the Palestinian cause.  The Palestinian side should live up to its Road Map obligations as regards security and take immediate and practical steps to rein in extremists committing terrorist acts.

The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians will not be resolved militarily.  Only through a political process can there be a solution resulting in a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement based on two States, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace within secure and recognized borders.

Recent efforts by civil society demonstrate that there are indeed Palestinians and Israelis who feel that peace is an aspiration that can no longer be put on hold. They have embarked on a serious dialogue, and have proven that it is possible to come up with imaginative solutions to thorny issues.  The Geneva Initiative, launched on 1 December, offered a detailed plan to resolve the conflict in a comprehensive manner.  The Ayalon-Nusseibeh statement of principles was another clear signal that the Israelis and Palestinians can indeed act with reason and restraint and can agree on how to live in peace.  These creative Track Two initiatives are consistent and compatible with the Road Map and make important contributions to promoting a momentum for peace.

The international community needs to bolster its role in the peace process.  I welcome the Security Council’s unanimous endorsement of the Road Map in its resolution 1515.  It paved the way for a more vigorous involvement of the international community in helping the parties to implement their respective Road Map obligations. 

I urge the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to speed up efforts to restart negotiations.  The Palestinian Cabinet has declared its intention to establish law and order and to curb violence.  There are prospects of another ceasefire, and moves are under way for a meeting between the two Prime Ministers.  Bolder steps by each side might be necessary to put the political process back on track.  The international community should remain steadfast in its support for the quest for peace in the Middle East.

The United Nations, along with international donors and non-governmental organizations, is fully engaged in development and humanitarian work on the ground through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Children's Fund and other agencies.  In spite of a budgetary crisis, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) continues to play an important role in addressing the vital needs of Palestine refugees.  The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and my Personal Representative to the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen, maintains close contact with the parties, the other members of the Quartet, and donors, in order to promote political and security dialogue and to foster cooperation on economic and humanitarian issues.

For my part, I will continue to work with all concerned for achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement to the question of Palestine, based on Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, and the principle of land for peace.

I am hopeful that this event will make its own contribution to peace.  Allow me to thank the Committee for holding this timely event and for faithfully pursuing the mandate entrusted to it by the General Assembly.  I wish you all an engaging and productive meeting.

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