It is my pleasure to send greetings to the participants in the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People. I thank the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for organizing this event.
I have just returned from a trip to the Middle East, including the occupied Palestinian territory. I was there to see for myself the challenges we face on the road to peace, and to underline my personal commitment to reaching that long-sought destination.
During my visit, I clearly saw the high economic cost of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory. I reiterated my longstanding call for an end to the occupation that began in 1967 and an end to the conflict.
The issue of settlements, which are illegal and hurt prospects for a negotiated solution, clearly has an economic dimension. Settlements and their infrastructure severely restrict access to land and natural resources by the Palestinian people. This is further compounded by settler violence. Israeli restrictions on free movement remain another vast impediment to Palestinian economic viability in the West Bank.
This situation is unacceptable. As I said during my visit, notwithstanding Israeli steps to facilitate economic growth, occupation measures which stifle Palestinian life must be rolled back. This is especially important as the Palestinian Authority has built the institutions essential for a functioning democracy and a future Palestinian state. Now is the time to build on that progress. Israel can make a critical contribution to consolidating these achievements, preparing the ground for a negotiated, two-State solution.
I am concerned about the fragile financial situation of the Palestinian Authority. Continued shortfalls could challenge the impressive progress in institution-building.
I call on donors to deliver their 2012 contributions to the Authority as soon as possible.
I continue calling for immediate action on the closure of the Gaza Strip in line with Security Council resolution 1860. The full opening of legitimate crossings for the import of construction materials is critical for Gaza's economic recovery, and would enable badly needed reconstruction activities. Exports, a critical component of any economy, should be allowed to resume at scale, including transfers to the West Bank and Israel. All these policy changes can be implemented with due consideration for Israel's legitimate security concerns, while making a significant difference in the lives of many ordinary Gazans.
All parties must respect international humanitarian law. I condemn the continued firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli civilian areas. Militants must stop their indiscriminate attacks. I also call on Israel to show maximum restraint.
Economic progress cannot be reached and sustained absent a credible political solution on the horizon. A month ago, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators engaged in direct talks in Amman. In Jordan recently, I had the opportunity to personally congratulate King Abdullah for breaking the impasse. I remain hopeful that these meetings will soon lead to substantive negotiations aimed at reaching an agreement for a two-State solution by the end of this year, as envisaged by the Middle East Quartet. Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders must show the vision, courage and determination necessary to overcome the current mistrust and reach an historic peace agreement that meets the legitimate aspirations of both sides.
A two-State solution is long overdue. The status quo is unacceptable; it only guarantees continued conflict and suffering. A just and lasting peace in the Middle East based on relevant Security Council resolutions, previous agreements, the Madrid framework, the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative is critical and urgent.
For my part, I pledge to continue to pursue peace and stability across the Middle East with all the means in my power.
Your deliberations can help advance this cause. In that spirit, I wish you a most productive session.