Press Releases

                                                                                                                     17June 2004

    Voices of Israeli, Palestinian Majorities Ready to Compromise for Peace Must Be Heard, Says Secretary-General in Message to Beijing Seminar

    NEW YORK, 16 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, delivered by Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, in Beijing, 16 June:

    It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to all the journalists and others who have gathered in Beijing for this timely media seminar on peace in the Middle East, and in particular on the role of civil society in that quest.

    I know you share my profound distress at the stalled political process, at the fear and bitterness that prevails on both sides, and at the escalation of violence and destruction that we have seen in recent weeks. The humanitarian plight in the occupied territories has worsened, with increasing numbers of Palestinians living below the poverty line and dependent for the survival on their aid provided by United Nations agencies and others. Despite the clarity of the Quartet’s Road Map, despite its acceptance by both sides, and despite the reciprocal and reasonable nature of the steps it calls for to realize the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in security, efforts to implement it remain deeply unsatisfactory. Mr. Larsen, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, will bring you up to date on the latest developments and give you his analysis of the situation.

    It is at such bleak moments that we need civil society to do its part. Non-governmental organizations, citizens’ groups and others often have greater freedom to speak and act than governments and other officials. Civil society can at times be well ahead of the political class in understanding the roots of conflicts and societal problems, and in sensing the possibilities for reconciliation. Civil society can even, in extraordinary circumstances, go where politicians may be reluctant to tread, testing the possibilities for future official action.

    The Geneva and Nusseibeh-Ayalon initiatives are prime examples of very encouraging efforts by notable Israelis and Palestinians to find possible ways to address final status arrangements such as Jerusalem, settlements and refugees. Such private initiatives, while not a substitute for official diplomatic negotiations between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, deserve praise as a courageous attempt by civil society to break the stalemate.

    It would be especially helpful in the present climate for civil society on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to focus particular energy on countering the view that there are no serious partners for peace on either side. To the contrary, polls, media accounts and other reports show continually solid majorities on each side exhausted by conflict, ready to compromise on even the most sensitive issues, and willing to embark on a new era in their relations. Those voices must not only be heard; they must be targeted at the leadership on both sides.

    The road back to the Road Map will be difficult. But the status quo is simply unacceptable. I hope civil society will continue to do what it does best in trying to end business as usual. They will find in the United Nations a willing partner, equally dedicated to the just, lasting and comprehensive solution for which we have all yearned for so long.

    Please accept my best wishes for a constructive seminar.

    * *** *