Recent developments give ‘glimmer of hope’ to Middle East peace process - UN envoy

Terje Roed-Larsen, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process

The situation in the Middle East provided for a “ray of light and a glimmer of hope”, Terje Roed-Larsen, Special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, said this afternoon at Headquarters as he answered correspondents’ questions about his briefing to the Security Council yesterday.

There were two paradoxical and contradictory developments, he said. On the one hand, the living conditions on the ground were worsening, with continuing terror attacks on Israelis emanating from the Palestinian territories. In Palestinian areas there was an unemployment rate of 50 per cent; and in Gaza alone, 75 per cent of the people lived in below the poverty level.

On the other hand, he said, there had been significant and historic developments in the diplomatic arena, with the appointment of Abu Mazen as the first Palestinian Prime Minister who was seen as a credible partner by both Israel and the United States, and the presentation of the Quartet’s (Russian Federation, United States, European Union, and United Nations) “Road Map” based on President Bush’ vision of the establishment of a Palestinian State living peacefully with Israel within secure borders.

He hoped that, on that basis, Israel would move forward to the negotiating table. The new Palestinian Prime Minister had stated that he accepted the Road Map and would start implementing it. The next few weeks would show whether one could go back to the negotiating table or whether everything would be derailed. The latest terror attacks were not helpful and undermined the very possibility of Abu Mazen to implement his anti-terrorism programme and the Road Map, he said.

He was mildly optimistic, he said in response to a correspondent’s question, because the Road Map differed fundamentally from the Oslo Accords and the Mitchell and Tenet plans. Those plans were solely based on security. The Road Map focused on security, politics and economics. It was more radical than the Oslo Accords, as it defined the end-station, encompassed the Lebanese and Syrian tracks, and included an international monitoring mechanism for tracking implementation by both parties. The Quartet had learned from past mistakes, he said.

What made him pessimistic, he added, was the continuous terror on the ground, which was “totally counterproductive” to Palestinian interests and Abu Mazen, who was internationally recognized as an empowered Prime Minister. If the issue was not resolved, his cabinet might not be a long-lived one. The heart of the matter now was to start the process. However, the terror could not be stopped by Palestinian measures alone.

There had to be reciprocal steps in parallel from both sides. Israel had to move forward with confidence-building measures, including pulling back of troops, allowing workers into Israel and releasing prisoners, in order to bolster the legitimacy and popular support of Abu Mazen for his anti-terror programme. Those steps were painful, but, unfortunately, there was no other way. “The two parties are glued together, they are mutually dependent, and they have to take mutual steps in reciprocity and in parallel”, he said.

Halting the terror without giving Palestinians some hope for the future would be impossible. The issue of the establishment of a Palestinian State was the core. One should not underestimate the issue of Palestinian identity, dignity and honour, all of which was glued to the issue of the Palestinian State. The Road Map was also “deeply” in the interest of Israel. If not implemented, terror was unstoppable. Implementation could also help in the revival of the Israeli economy, as it would help investments and predictability.

Commenting on a correspondent’s observation that there seemed to be two ways of looking at the Road Map — a certain set of rules to be implemented or an opening point for negotiations — Mr. Roed-Larsen said there was no way of reading the Road Map in two ways. The best outcome would be that both parties would embrace and implement the Road Map. The worst situation was one in which the Road Map was embraced and nothing happened, as had been the case with the Mitchell and Tenet plans. United States Secretary of State Colin Powel had summarized the Quartet’s view when he said that the Road Map would not be renegotiated.

Asked whether in the Council yesterday he had threatened that the United Nations would close down its humanitarian operations if the Israelis continued their policy of closure, he said the current security system hampered the movement of people and goods and had a devastating effect on the Palestinian economy and living conditions. There was no need for “threats” as the current Israeli security system forced the United Nations to close down vital parts of its operations.

Related Links:

  • ‘Tentative budding’ of new and fragile Middle East Peace Process being witnessed, UN Special Coordinator tells Security Council, Press Release
    SC/7761, 19 May 2003