ISRAEL’S GAZA WITHDRAWAL COULD LEAD TO NEW ERA IN MIDDLE EAST PEACEMAKING, OR INCREASED VIOLENCE AND NEW LOW, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

23 April 2004
SC/8071

ISRAEL’S GAZA WITHDRAWAL COULD LEAD TO NEW ERA IN MIDDLE EAST PEACEMAKING, OR INCREASED VIOLENCE AND NEW LOW, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

23/04/2004
Press Release
SC/8071


Security Council                                           

4951st Meeting (AM)                                         


israel’s gaza withdrawal could lead to new era in middle east peacemaking,


or increased violence and new low, security council told


Special Coordinator Terje Roed-Larsen Says Impact Depends

Upon Crucial Choices by Israelis, Palestinians, International Community


At a crucial and potentially seminal juncture for Middle East peace, Israel’s announced withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, if carried out in the right way, could usher in a new era of peacemaking in the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen told the Security Council this morning.


At the same time, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General continued, if such a withdrawal was implemented in the wrong way, it would lead to more violence, possibly bringing the situation to a new low in the dismal annals of the Palestinian-Israeli tragedy.  “This is the cross-roads we are at today.”


For the withdrawal to mark the beginning of an era of peace and security and a departure from decades of violence, he said it needed to contain two main elements.  First, the withdrawal should constitute an end of the occupation of the Gaza Strip, not merely a military redeployment, and be recognized as such by the international community.  The withdrawal should be full and complete and lead to the consolidation of Palestinian control over its territory and international crossings.


The second element, he continued, was that the withdrawal should be accompanied by the implementation of other Palestinian and Israeli obligations under the “Road Map”.  That was a way of ensuring that the withdrawal constituted the beginning, not the end, of a peace process and was an integral part of the Quartet Road Map.


Crucial choices lay ahead, he said.  The Israeli Government could choose to travel the road that lead to a genuine revival of the peace process and, with assistance from the international community, create conditions that would help the Palestinian Authority to act decisively against violence and terror.


Similarly, he added, the Palestinian leadership could choose to reorganize itself and act decisively against terror and violence.  With the international community’s assistance, President Arafat could chose to take an historic action to reinvigorate and refocus the Palestinian Authority, end the current vacuum and paralysis and revitalize the Palestinian leadership.


For its part, he noted, the international community could choose vigorous involvement, helping to transform the Gaza withdrawal plan into a full implementation of the Quartet Road Map.  That choice would have tremendous implications for the peace and security of the entire Middle East.


Stressing there was no magic formula for Middle East peacemaking, he said the choices that the parties made and the paths they took would shape the future of Middle East peace for many years to come.  A critical lesson from three years of violence and bloodshed was that only an overall political settlement could reverse the deteriorating security, humanitarian and economic situations both in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Israel.


The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 10:40 a.m.


Extended Summary of Briefing


TERJE ROED-LARSEN, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, focused his briefing on what he termed as a “crucial and potentially seminal juncture” for peace efforts in the Middle East.  The choices that the parties made and the paths they took would shape the future of Middle East peace for many years to come.  There was no magic formula for Middle East peacemaking.  However, a critical lesson from three years of violence and bloodshed was that only an overall political settlement could reverse the deteriorating security, humanitarian and economic situations both in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Israel.


He recalled that two months ago he had described the Israeli Government’s announced Gaza withdrawal plan as a courageous step that could lead to a meaningful revival of the peace process.  He had also said that step could revive a meaningful peace process by re-engaging the parties and the international community.  That, in turn, could lead to a full implementation of the “Road Map” and the realization of the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.


Some looked at the events of the last two weeks as proof that the Israeli Government was avoiding its commitments under the Road Map and, instead, was attempting to pre-empt the outcome of negotiations to deny the Palestinian people their basic rights, he said.  Others looked at the Palestinian reaction to Prime Minister Sharon’s announcement as proof that the Palestinian Authority was not ready to live up to its Road Map commitments and was unprepared to assume its responsibilities in vacated Palestinian areas.  According to the proponents of those views, it was only a matter of time before havoc and chaos erupted, drawing the parties deeper into conflict and despair.


He chose not to share that pessimism, he stated.  He still believed that the Gaza withdrawal, if carried out in the right way, could usher in a new era of peacemaking in the Middle East.  He also continued to maintain that, if such a withdrawal was implemented in the wrong way, it would lead to more violence, quite possibly bringing the situation to a new low in the dismal annals of the Palestinian-Israeli tragedy.  “This is the cross-roads we are at today.”


Only a rigorously engaged international community, led by the Quartet and by the Council, could enable the parties to make the right choice, he said.  Any Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza restituting Palestinian rights was a welcome development.  The withdrawal plans would deliver almost the whole remaining 40 per cent of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians, in addition to the 60 per cent that was handed to the Palestinian Authority 10 years ago.  It would also include withdrawals in the north of the West Bank.  The international community should certainly lend a hand to see the Palestinians recover their land in Gaza and to ensure that other steps in the same direction followed in the West Bank.


But, for the withdrawal to mark the beginning of an era of peace and security and a departure from decades of violence, it needed to contain two main elements, he emphasized.  First, the withdrawal should constitute an end of the occupation of the Gaza Strip, not merely a military redeployment, and be recognized as such by the international community.  The withdrawal should be full and complete and lead to the consolidation of Palestinian control over its territory and international crossings.  Occupation would end only when Palestinians gained control over their affairs in Gaza, when they went about their daily lives without being subjugated to Israeli controls; and when they lived free from fear of yet another military incursion in their cities and villages; and whey they could travel to other countries from their territory free from Israeli control.  For that to happen, robust and reliable security and administrative arrangements were needed for post-withdrawal Gaza.


The withdrawal from Gaza confronted Israel with a security dilemma:  if it withdrew completely, but in a context of hostility and mistrust, Gaza could become a launching pad for more attacks against its own territory.  If it retained control over territory in, or international access to, Gaza, the occupation continued and so would, most probably, violent acts against Israel.  That would defeat the very purpose of the withdrawal plan.


One way to resolve that dilemma was through temporary and internationally supervised security arrangements, he said.  An international presence, with the consent of the parties, would enable Israel to withdraw completely from Gaza and free itself from the occupation.  It would also enable the Palestinians to live normally, free from Israeli controls, while rebuilding their shattered security capabilities and fighting terrorism and violence in cooperation with regional and international players.


The second element, he said, was that the withdrawal should be accompanied by the implementation of other Palestinian and Israeli obligations under the Road Map.  That was a way of ensuring that the withdrawal constituted the beginning, not the end, of a peace process and was an integral part of the Quartet Road Map.


Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority must immediately recognize its ailing security system under the authority of an empowered Interior Minister and, with the help of its partners, start taking effective measures to curb violence and end terror.  There was no excuse for the Authority to avoid fulfilling that obligation any longer.  Fighting terrorism was not a payoff that depended on reciprocal Israeli measures.  Terrorism was against international law and the Authority must do everything in its power to end it, once and for all.  The international community would, first and foremost, judge the Authority through acts in that field.


While preparing for the withdrawal, Israel should immediately remove all settlement outposts erected since March 2001 and completely freeze settlement activities throughout the West Bank.  There was no excuse for Israel to avoid that obligation.  Settlement activities were also against international law and must come to an end.  The withdrawal from Gaza must be part of the implementation of the Road Map, and not a substitute for it.  The past failure of the parties to implement the Road Map could not be a justification for shelving it.  In fact, the Gaza withdrawal plan could become a historic opportunity leading to full implementation of the Road Map.


Explaining why that was necessary, he said that the Road Map represented the consensus of the international community on how to resolve the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict in a realistic, gradual and comprehensive way, encompassing the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.  It had been accepted by both parties and endorsed by the Security Council, the Quartet, and regional partners.  No previous plan had enjoyed such a broad and deep level of support.  The Road Map tackled both immediate concerns and final status issues.


Regarding the immediate concerns of security and territory, the Road Map laid out concrete, reciprocal and parallel steps that both parties should take to reverse the current situation.  Security and territory were the most pressing issues of the current conflict, and were also the key to any progress.


On security and territory, the core obligation of the Israeli side was that the Israeli Government take no actions undermining trust, including:  deportations; attacks on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; and destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure.  Also, the Government should immediately dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001 and, consistent with the Mitchell Report, freeze all settlement activity.  Both parties, unfortunately, had failed to meet their Road Map obligations.


He said the Israeli Government had not dismantled the settlement outposts, implemented a settlement freeze or abstained from taking measures undermining trust.  By the time the Road Map implementation had collapsed last year, settlement outposts had actually increased.  Large tracts of Palestinian land had been confiscated for the construction of the barrier.  The International Court of Justice was currently deliberating the issue and was expected to give a decision soon.  Many Palestinians had been killed, including an alarming number of women and children.  Extrajudicial assassinations had continued, plunging the Palestinian population into a new wave of anger and despair.


Despite the best efforts of Mahmoud Abbas, a Prime Minister committed to peace, the Palestinian Authority had failed to curb violence or reorganize its security services under the authority of an empowered Interior Minister, he said.  Terrorist attacks had continued, claiming more innocent Israeli lives and drawing more Israeli scepticism about the presence of a Palestinian partner for peace.  Unable to exercise his powers, Mr. Abbas had resigned, brining the Road Map’s implementation to a halt.  Since then, despite the good will of current Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, the Palestinian Authority’s credibility was diminishing, reaching a state of near paralysis.


Those immediate concerns needed to be tackled in order to reach the second key component of the Road Map, namely, final status issues, he said.  The Road Map paved the way for the resumption of negotiations aimed at reaching a final and comprehensive permanent status agreement and the ends of the conflict in 2005.  Palestinians needed to be reassured that a final status agreement would respect their basic rights, enshrined in many United Nations resolutions.  Israel needed to be reassured that the final peace agreement would be really final, putting an end to the conflict and the claims associated with it, ending terror and violence and leading to Israel’s acceptance by its neighbours.  They also needed to be reassured that the resolution of the conflict would be based on a negotiated, fair and realistic deal.  By articulating a political horizon to the parties, the Road Map aimed to embolden them to perform the most difficult immediate tasks, notably on security and territory.


While the Road Map provided the means to get to the final status, the international community would not prejudice the outcome of final status negotiations.  No declared views on the possible shape of a final settlement could pre-empt the negotiation of that settlement.  Today, as Prime Ministers Sharon and Qurie had repeated their commitment to the Road Map, there was a real chance for its implementation.  Sadly, it was unrealistic to expect that the parties, mired in a violent relationship devoid of almost any trust, would, left on their own, take all the decisions necessary to return to the path to peace.  It was incumbent on the international community, with the Council at the fore, to lead the parties towards a viable solution.  The Council had the authority and legitimacy to intervene in a way that would ensure the consent of all parties concerned.


The Council had, in fact, already taken ownership of the Middle East peace process, he said.  Withdrawal from the Gaza Strip set the stage for the next step in the Council’s stewardship over the process.  In that regard, Israel itself had set a precedent with its withdrawal from South Lebanon.  As was the case today with the Gaza withdrawal proposals, a unilateral initiative was implemented in full coordination with the international community and the peace partners on the ground.  The parameters for success of the Gaza withdrawal were clear and could only be derived from the parties’ obligations under the Road Map.


Crucial choices lay ahead, he said.  The Government of Israel could choose to travel the road that lead to a genuine revival of the peace process and, with assistance from the international community, create conditions that would help the Palestinian Authority to act decisively against violence and terror.  Similarly, the Palestinian leadership could choose to reorganize itself and act decisively against terror and violence.  With the international community’s assistance, President Arafat could chose to take a historic action to reinvigorate and refocus the Palestinian Authority, end the current vacuum and paralysis and revitalize the Palestinian leadership.


For its part, he said, the international community could choose vigorous involvement, helping to transform the Gaza withdrawal plan into a full implementation of the Quartet Road Map.  That choice would have tremendous implications for the peace and security of the entire Middle East.  He urged the Council to seriously consider it.  The international community could also decide to stand by and watch events as they unfolded, but he dreaded to think of the consequences of such a choice.  Quoting Bonaparte, he said that nothing permanent was founded on force.


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For information media. Not an official record.