The United Nations-backed diplomatic Quartet seeking peace in the Middle East today called on Israel to take immediate steps to relieve economic hardships facing the Palestinians and on the Palestinians to fight violence and terrorism ahead of Israel’s planned withdrawal from the occupied Gaza Strip.
“The Quartet reiterates its belief that this is a moment of optimism in the search for peace in the Middle East, and is an opportunity that should not be missed to revitalize the Road Map,” the four partners – UN, European Union (EU), Russia and the United States - said in a statement after a meeting in London attended by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The Road Map, the Quartet’s plan for a Middle East settlement, calls for parallel and reciprocal steps by Israel and the Palestinians leading to two States living in peace and security, originally targeted for the end of this year.
Also attending today’s meeting were US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Luxembourg Deputy Foreign Minister Jean Hasselborn representing the EU Presidency, EU High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
With less than two months remaining the planned withdrawal from Gaza, the partners stressed the urgent need for Israel and the Palestinians to work directly and cooperatively with each other.
They urged Israel “to take immediate steps, without endangering Israeli security, to relieve the economic hardships faced by the Palestinian people and to facilitate rehabilitation and reconstruction by easing the flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza and the West Bank and between them.”
Noting that that peace and security are essential components for political and economic revival, they stressed that “the Palestinians must confront violence and terror in order for political and economic life to flourish” and urged both parties to avoid and prevent any escalation in violence so that the withdrawal can proceed peacefully.
Condemning the recent upsurge in violence in Gaza, including the firing of mortars and Qassam rockets into Israeli towns and homes, which has claimed innocent lives on both sides, they noted that rapid reform of Palestinian security services and strengthening of the rule of law are essential elements that can improve security for both parties. They also voiced concern over Israeli settlement activity.
“The Quartet encourages Israelis and Palestinians to take full advantage of this opportunity in order to move closer to the goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” they declared. “The Quartet reaffirms that the two-state vision and the Roadmap are the best way to achieve a permanent peace and an end to the occupation that began in 1967.”