The UN Secretary-General travelled from Spain to Israel for an official visit, with a day and a half layover in Geneva, Switzerland.
Following his arrival in Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon, 13 March, he met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Before entering the meeting, the Secretary-General told reporters that he had been very encouraged by recent developments in the region, including the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement. He added that, as a member of the Quartet, he looked forward to working with Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
During the meeting, the Prime Minister thanked the Secretary-General for his stand against anti-Semitism and for his strong backing of the recent General Assembly Special Session to mark sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the death camps.
The Prime Minister briefed the Secretary-General on his assessment of the peace process and current relations with the Palestinians. Both agreed that it was a time of opportunity.
Mr. Sharon provided a more detailed briefing on disengagement and plans to close 24 settlements.
The Secretary-General reiterated his support for the Gaza disengagement and said he hoped that it would lead to full implementation of the “Road Map”. The Secretary-General was encouraged that coordination had begun between the parties. The Quartet, consisting of the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United Nations and the United States, would offer any assistance to the parties as the disengagement plan moved forward.
The Prime Minister said he was committed to helping the United Nations move staff and humanitarian goods through to the West Bank and Gaza.
On Monday morning, the Secretary-General met a group of staff from the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) at their West Bank field office in Sheik Jarrah, Jerusalem.
Speaking to staff, the Secretary-General praised the unflagging energy and commitment of the outgoing leader of UNRWA, Peter Hansen. He said it was hard to imagine anyone more devoted to Palestinian refugees and more courageous in defending their cause.
He announced that the current Deputy Commissioner-General, Karen Koning Abu Zayed, would be the Acting Commissioner-General while a truly open and global search for a new head of the agency got under way.
The Secretary-General praised the work and dedication of the agency’s staff. He told them that they not only help to address a humanitarian plight and contribute to the long-term development of Palestinian society, they also help to create an environment conducive to peace. (See Press Release SG/SM/9759.)
While at the UNRWA office, the Secretary-General laid a wreath at a memorial stone commemorating Iain Hook and Kamal Abdul Rahman Salem, staff killed in the line of duty.
The Secretary-General then left for Ramallah for a series of meetings with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and, while there, he laid a wreath at the tomb of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
He held meetings with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas; with Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei; and had a working lunch with Foreign Minister Nasser al Kidwa and other cabinet members.
He told reporters afterward that he and President Abbas had discussed Israeli disengagement from Gaza, economic reconstruction and the progress in the Palestinian Authority. He told the press, “With a clear determination and good will on both sides, a lot can be done.”
He was asked about the Israeli barrier, and said that he had also discussed the United Nations register, which would list damage claims from the barrier.
Following his return to Jerusalem, the Secretary-General travelled to Government House, the Jerusalem headquarters of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, to meet with staff from the various United Nations peacekeeping missions and agencies represented in the region. He paid tribute to the hard work and dedication of the staff, whose work is done under difficult circumstances in an area where tensions run high.
Later that evening, the Secretary-General met with the President of Israel, Moshe Katsav. When asked at a press encounter afterward about when a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon would take place he said that Terje Roed-Larsen would have to report to him on that matter, but added about the withdrawal, “I would hope that it would take place before the elections” in Lebanon.
In a separate programme on Monday, Mrs. Nane Annan visited the Ramallah Women’s TrainingCenter for Palestinian refugee women, widely considered one of the Arab world’s foremost teacher education and vocational training institutes for women. Mrs. Annan spoke with the young women about their studies and their hopes for the future in fields such as nursing, teaching, computers and jewellery-making, among the many courses on offer.
On Tuesday morning, the Secretary-General met with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, with whom he discussed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Security Council resolution 1559 and United Nations-Israel relations.
At a press encounter later, he said that, in his discussions the previous day with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Abbas had said he hoped the talks with Palestinian groups in Cairo on Tuesday would result in an understanding on a cease-fire and non-use of violence. Such an outcome, the Secretary-General said, should be seen as a first step towards a peace leading to two States, living side by side in peace and security.
The Secretary-General later had a bilateral meeting with French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. They exchanged views on the Middle East peace process and the Prime Minister expressed his strong support for the Secretary-General’s efforts in preparing the 2005 General Assembly High-Level event. They also discussed the situation in Côte d’Ivoire. Both agreed on the need to support the efforts of South African President Thabo Mbeki and the Secretary-General also expressed his support for the French component of United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). They also discussed, among other issues, the latest developments regarding the implementation of resolution 1559. The Secretary-General briefed the Prime Minister on the most recent mission of his Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen.
He also had a constructive working lunch with Israeli Vice-Prime Minister Shimon Peres, to continue discussions on the peace process, as well as the implementation of resolution 1559.
Accompanied by his wife Nane, the Secretary-General attended the official inauguration of the new HolocaustHistoryMuseum at Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem.
With the President of Israel and the other invited foreign dignitaries, the Secretary-General was given a tour of the museum by its curator.
The Secretary-General later spoke at the official ceremony marking the opening. He said that the Holocaust occupies a unique place in the history of the United Nations. “Our global mission of peace, freedom and human dignity was literally forged in fire”, he said, “in fact the most awful fires humankind has ever seen.”
He added that the United Nations has a sacred responsibility to combat hatred and intolerance, and it must be at the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism. (See Press Release SG/SM/9762.)
Also addressing the ceremony were, among others, President Katsav, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel.
Before a dinner hosted by President Katsav, the Secretary-General met with the Speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin. The Speaker shared with the Secretary-General his views on the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. He also briefed the Secretary-General on his recent visit to Cairo where he participated in an international meeting of parliamentarians.
The Secretary-General and Mrs. Annan later attended the official dinner during which he delivered remarks. He thanked the people of Israel for understanding how important it was for the United Nations to be represented at the Yad Vashem event. Referring to the recent special session of the General Assembly to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the death camps, the Secretary-General said that Israel and the United Nations continue to build a new relationship “more and more”. He concluded, “I hope Israelis and Jews will come to feel that the United Nations is their home as much as any other people or nation.” (See Press Release SG/SM/9763.)
In a separate programme on Tuesday, Mrs. Annan visited the Mevasseret Zion Absorption Centre, which provides new immigrants from Ethiopia with housing, health care, Hebrew classes and pre-school day care. She was accompanied by Judith Nir-Moses Shalom, the wife of the Israeli Foreign Minister.
The Secretary-General returned to New York on Wednesday, 16 March.