18 July 2002
DPI International Media Seminar on Peace in Middle East Opens in Copenhagen
Speakers Call for Vigorous Third-Party Mediation and "End-Game" Plan
COPENHAGEN, 17 July (UN Information Service) -- A two-day international media seminar on the question of peace in the Middle East opened in Copenhagen, Denmark, today, 17 July, with a message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in which he emphasized the role of the international community in providing an operational road map for reaching the goal of a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
Referring to the continued bloodshed in the region, the Secretary-General noted that despite international efforts, the two sides were not any closer to a permanent settlement. In fact, the political, security and economic dimensions of the problem today were arguably worse than any time since 1967.
Spelling out the steps both sides needed to take, the Secretary-General emphasized that the Palestinian Authority should take immediate and specific action to prevent terrorist acts against Israel and do more to de-legitimize terrorism among the public. It was also important that real progress be achieved in rebuilding and reforming Palestinian security and governance structures and institutions.
As for the Government of Israel, the Secretary-General said, it must stop all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. Such activity was a fundamental obstacle to advancing the peace process and was also contrary to international law. The Secretary-General said that Israel should also withdraw from the areas it had occupied to positions held before 28 September 2000, resume revenue transfers, and lift the increasingly severe curfews, internal closures and other restrictions on movement imposed on Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Secretary-General's message was delivered by Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, who is also moderating the meeting.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Tharoor told the participants that one of the aims of the seminar was to send a message to both Israelis and Palestinians that the only way the peace process could be revived was through dialogue, "because only through dialogue. As a practical token of the importance the Department of Public Information (DPI) attached to real dialogue, he noted, the seminar was being conducted in Arabic, English and Hebrew with simultaneous interpretation.
Welcoming the participants on behalf of his Government, Carsten Staur of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, underlined the general consensus shared by the international community that a solution to the Middle East conflict could be found through negotiations, and not through military means. He said that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority had to take important steps, including immediate withdrawal by Israel from its advanced positions in order to enable Palestinian reforms and elections to take place. The Palestinians on their side must ensure real reforms and elections that must bring terror activities against innocent civilians in Israel to an end.
Five speakers took part in the opening panel of the seminar, addressing the question of the role of third parties in restoring confidence and building peace. They were: Taher Masri, former Prime Minister of Jordan; Stephen P. Cohen, founder of the Institute for Middle East Peace (United States); Afif Safief, Palestinian delegate to the United Kingdom; Ron Pundak, Director-General of the Peres Centre for Peace (Israel); and Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia and President, International Crisis Group (Brussels).
Mr. Masri noted that third-party intervention was needed now more than ever before. The two sides of the equation should be harmonized and standardized, he said. He felt that the Palestinians and Arabs had already made substantial steps in this direction, which, however, were not matched by Israel.
Mr. Masri suggested that the diplomatic Quartet (United States, Russian Federation, European Union and United Nations) should put together a realistic plan of action for implementing simultaneously the points and principles declared recently by United States President George Bush. That plan of action should be submitted to an international conference under the aegis of the Quartet.
Mr. Masri noted that a gradual process in building the Palestinian State should be accepted, "provided the end game is clearly drawn".
Mr. Cohen noted that mutual trust and reinvigoration of political will were a prerequisite for ending the ongoing violence. In the absence of confidence-building measures and with a continued dependence upon violence and intimidation as political tools, third-party attempts at reconciliation could only contribute to perpetuating violence. He emphasized that a third-party attempt to impose an agreement under such circumstances -- with Israelis and Palestinians increasingly polarized -- would not lead to any lasting, productive developments. At this point, for any third-party mediation to be successful, the third side must rehabilitate mutual trust and confidence amongst Israelis and Palestinians.
Ambassador Safief also argued for strong international involvement in the Middle East conflict. The two sides had been left to themselves for far too long without making much progress, he said. One reason negotiations between the two parties had not borne fruit, he said, was because what was democratically acceptable to Israel was not acceptable to the Palestinians, and what was democratically acceptable to the Palestinians was not acceptable to Israel. The international community should be in a position to impose on the two sides a peaceful settlement and then follow through with actions to implement it.
Mr. Pundak said that today, despite continued bloodshed, we were closer to peace than ever before, because we knew what the shape of that peace would be.
All the issues were on the table and the options presented. The question was how could we get there. Both Israelis and Palestinians needed to make concessions. Every Israeli feared being attacked by Palestinian gunmen. Similarly, every Palestinian lived under curfew and was afraid of being hit by tanks and bullets. There was a complete lack of trust on both sides. The international community had a responsibility for bringing the two sides closer and renewing negotiations that would lead to lasting peace.
Mr. Pundak underlined the importance of outlining the final settlement, or "end-game". He felt that it might be achieved through the mediation of a third party, since the present political climate in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory was not conducive to a meaningful resumption of dialogue. He said that if Palestinians could control terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, public opinion in Israel could swing back in favour of a meaningful resumption of dialogue with Palestinians. Likewise, Israel needed to take concrete measures, such as freezing settlement building, which would influence public opinion in the occupied Palestinian territories against suicide attacks.
Mr. Evans also argued in favour of a vigorous international role in the Middle East conflict. He felt that the Quartet and the trio (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan) could be instrumental in pushing a comprehensive peace initiative to achieve once and for all a fair and durable peace between Israel and its neighbours. A clear "end-game" was a prerequisite for pushing both sides towards peace, he said. The International Crisis Group had presented a clear, detailed, and comprehensive agreement for a Palestinian-Israeli agreement and a peace treaty for Syria and Lebanon, as well. The Group, said Mr. Evans, wanted this package to be put on the table by a United States-led "Contact Group", preferably at a special international conference convened for the purpose.
The seminar will continue in the afternoon with discussions on lessons learned in peace negotiations during the past decade or so.
The seminar, organized by the DPI, in cooperation with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Denmark, is taking place under the rubric of "Ending confrontation: Building peace in the Middle East". It brings together over 40 international participants, including present and former policy-makers from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the European Union and the Arab League, as well as senior United Nations officials, international experts and media representatives.
* *** *