The current turmoil in the Palestinian Authority should prompt reforms, United Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today, spelling out measures that could serve to foster progress.
“I really hope that as difficult and as complicated as the crisis is in Palestine that they will exploit this crisis positively and move ahead and really come out with some of the reform structures which are required, particularly in the security area,” he told reporters at a news conference in New York.
Specifically, Mr. Annan called for consolidating the security structures, empowering the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior to “really take charge” and undertaking other reforms related to the Cabinet.
“I hope Chairman [Yasser] Arafat will seize the need in supporting this sort of reform at this stage and be able to move the process forward,” he said.
The Secretary-General was also asked about the General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution yesterday demanding that Israel comply with an advisory opinion issued earlier this month by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which declared the construction of a separation barrier in and around the West Bank to be illegal.
He acknowledged that the Israeli Government did not like the General Assembly resolution. “But the Israeli court itself also came out with a decision on the route of the barrier and asked them to change it because of its impact on the Palestinians, so one cannot say that the International Court [of Justice] was entirely wrong,” he said.
The Israeli court’s decision, he added, was “courageous and bold.”
The Secretary-General also stressed the need to “heed and pay attention to the Court’s decision; even though it is not enforceable, it has some moral bearing on what they do.”
Secretary-General’s Press Conference
Question: The recent events in the Palestinian territories. Have you been in touch with President Arafat or Mr. Qurei? When was the last time you contacted Mr. Arafat, or have you boycotted him, like the rest of the world has done?
The Secretary-General: I did speak to Chairman Arafat; I think the last time we spoke was about six weeks or two months ago. I have not spoken to him during the current crisis, but I have a Representative on the ground who has been in touch with all parties, even though he is, for the moment, on holidays. I think we are the only member of the Quartet that has a permanent presence in the region, in the form of Terje Roed-Larsen. So that is the answer to your question.
Question: But he is away, and there is a crisis. What are you doing about it?
The Secretary-General: He has deputies and he is in daily touch with the people, and he is given daily reports
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, it has been really a bubbling crisis for the past few weeks. First we had the Palestinians taking great umbrage at an assessment by Terje Roed-Larsen, your Special Envoy; now we have the Israelis being very defiant about a resolution demanding that they tear down the barrier. I was wondering what the next steps are. Do you see this as a crisis for the Quartet in trying to get the peace process back on track?
The Secretary-General: I think all the members of the Quartet are worried about the latest developments. I really hope that, as difficult and as complicated as the crisis is in Palestine, that they will exploit this crisis positively, and move ahead and really come up with some other reform structures which are required, particularly in the security area. If they can use the situation to reform the security, put it under one head and empower the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior to really take charge of the security apparatus and come up with other reforms that will allow the Cabinet to work as a Cabinet under the Prime Minister. I hope Chairman Arafat will see the need, in supporting this sort of reform at this stage, to be able to move the process forward. If that were to be done, I think it would help the Quartet’s efforts to implement the Road Map.
I am aware of the statements the Israel Government has made with regard to the General Assembly resolution. Obviously, they don’t like it, but the Israeli court itself also came up with a decision on the route of the barrier and asked them to change it because of its impact on the Palestinians. So one cannot say that the International Court [of Justice] was entirely wrong. Obviously, this is an issue for the General Assembly, but I think they should heed and pay attention to the Court’s decision. Even though it is not enforceable, it has some moral bearing on what they do.
Question: Since you were one of the officers that were called on by the ICJ to act if Israel fails to heed, as you call it, the Court’s decision, should sanctions be imposed on Israel? My second question is about the same issue. Do you agree with the ICJ that Article 51 does not apply to non-State actors, or with the Israeli Supreme Court that says that, though the route is flawed, the fence is allowed to protect Israel against terrorist attacks?
The Secretary-General: Let me say that I think the resolution requires me to keep track of damages because of the barrier and report back. Of course, that is a mandate from the General Assembly that I will have to find a way of honouring. As far as the barrier itself is concerned, I gave my views in the document to the General Assembly and to the Security Council. But on the question of application of Article 51, as you say, I don’t want to take on the Court or do their work. I am not one of the judges and I think that the judgement of the Court will have to stand by itself. I am not going to second-guess the judges of the International Court, but I should also say that I thought that the decision by the Israeli court was also a courageous and a bold decision which has said a lot for the Israeli judiciary system.