Press Releases

          14 September 2004

    In Message to Civil Society Conference, Secretary-General Urges Freeze on Israeli Settlements, Restructuring of Palestinian Security to Confront Terror Groups

    NEW YORK, 13 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People, delivered today by Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs:

    I warmly welcome to United Nations Headquarters all who have gathered for the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People.

    The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians has been of utmost concern to the international community for several decades.  It has devoted energy, resources and diplomatic effort in searching for a just and lasting settlement of the conflict. The world community has also long recognized that peace between the two peoples is crucial for political and economic stability in the Middle East.

    The scope of the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory is deeply disturbing. The number of Palestinians killed and wounded continues to escalate. The widespread destruction of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip and the number of Palestinians rendered homeless as a result is extremely troubling. These measures, as well as closures, curfews and other severe restrictions of movement, have had a particularly devastating effect on the vulnerable members of the Palestinian population -- women, children and the elderly.  More than half of the Palestinians now live below the poverty line.  Each day, more become dependent on international emergency assistance for their day-to-day existence.

    At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that some Palestinian groups continue to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks that kill Israeli civilians, fuel hatred and fear, and only serve to interfere with the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.  We must all strongly and consistently condemn such terrorism, wherever and whenever it occurs.  No cause can justify it.

    The path to a solution is spelled out in the Quartet’s Road Map. Its vision is clear -- two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. A final settlement that ends the occupation that began in 1967 should be arrived at through negotiations between the two parties, on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515 and the principle of land for peace.  Although both parties agreed to undertake a series of parallel and reciprocal steps called for in the plan, efforts to implement those commitments have so far been disappointing. To further delay the implementation of the Road Map is unacceptable, since time is not on our side. Both parties should abide by their obligations under the plan.

    I urge the Government of Israel to dismantle outposts established since March 2001, immediately freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth of settlements, and stop the construction of the barrier in the occupied Palestinian territory, on which the International Court of Justice has recently ruled.

    I urge the Palestinian Authority to take the long-awaited steps aimed at restructuring and consolidating Palestinian security services in order to confront groups that engage in terror, and to move forward along the road of reform.

    However difficult and complex the situation has become, the international community, including civil society, cannot turn away from its obligation to do all it can to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian people, and to help cultivate a climate conducive to political negotiations and reconciliation between the two peoples.

    Over the years, non-governmental organizations worldwide, through grass-roots initiatives and campaigns, have shown the unique dimensions they bring to the task of peaceful transition in conflict-affected parts of the world. Your field experience and first-hand knowledge of the communities where you carry out your work, as well as the diversity of your associations, allow you to explore new ways of working together to find common ground.

    The Geneva and Nusseibeh-Ayalon initiatives are remarkable examples of civil society undertakings. Such endeavours, although unofficial, offer fresh ideas for give-and-take that could be considered by official negotiators.  More importantly, they re-energize those discouraged and weary by proving that there are Israelis and Palestinians who are ready to make compromises, and who believe that the peace and security of generations to come are well worth the price of compromise.

    A peace settlement can only be reached through official political negotiation resulting in an agreement between the parties. Otherwise, both sides will face the grim reality of a never-ending stalemate and continued violence.

    Until the day comes when a negotiated settlement is in place and reconstruction has begun, the United Nations, with its various organs, agencies and programmes, will remain deeply committed to alleviating the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territory. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), although beset by over-stretched resources and faced with increasing danger in its working conditions, continues to provide assistance and emergency services wherever needed and whenever possible. I reiterate my urgent appeal to the donor community to give generously to UNRWA and other United Nations agencies that remain actively involved on the ground during this time of great need. I also call on the Government of Israel to facilitate safe passage for UN and other humanitarian workers in the region.

    I look forward to continued partnership with civil society in working for the attainment of our shared goal -- a comprehensive, just and lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis, and for the entire region of the Middle East.

    I should like to commend the Committee for continuing to work closely with civil society on this very important issue, and I wish you success in your important deliberations.

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