Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the international conference on the Palestinian economy and Gaza reconstruction, in Sharm el-Sheikh, today:

I am immensely happy to see you together for this important conference.

We are here, today, to express our solidarity with the people of Palestine, and especially those of Gaza.

President [Hosni] Mubarak, thank you, especially, for your leadership at this challenging time.

Egypt’s role has been key to ongoing efforts to achieve a durable ceasefire, which we so desperately need.

We are working to improve humanitarian conditions on the ground.

With this timely conference, we begin the vital work of reconstructing Gaza.

The innocent, it is said, pay the highest price in war.

So it was during the recent crisis in Gaza.

People who had already endured so much hardship, for so many years, now face even more.

They face a future of anxiety if not despair.

As we all know, the situation remains fragile.

We have seen new rocket attacks and new bombings.

During my recent visit to the region, I went to both Israel and to Gaza.  I stood in the United Nations compound, which was still burning.  I saw for myself the human misery.

I met many leaders in the region and beyond.

I asked for their help in halting the violence, and I value their efforts.

Many are here today.  I thank you all for your commitment and your leadership.

We are here, formally, to discuss the Palestinian economy and the reconstruction of Gaza.

But we need to think of the big picture.  We need to think comprehensively.

When building a house, we begin with the foundation.

So too with our work today.  When it comes to rebuilding Gaza, this foundation must be a durable ceasefire.

And that, in turn, requires us to face a number of political realities — and to deal with them squarely.

First, the humanitarian issue.

For the United Nations, this is paramount.  We need to be able to deliver aid and implement our social and economic programmes.  This is the starting point of reconstruction.

In this regard, the situation at the border crossings is intolerable.

Aid workers do not have access.  Essential commodities cannot get in.

Construction materials and spare parts are needed to repair damaged water and sanitation systems.  There is no concrete or steel to build homes or shelters.

Our first and indispensable goal, therefore, is open crossings.  By the same token, it is essential to ensure that illegal weapons do not enter Gaza.

This is the point of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).

Second, we support the efforts of the Palestinian Authority led by President [Mahmoud] Abbas to reconstruct Gaza.

However, the full potential of the plan can only be realized with political progress.

I have spoken about the need for a durable ceasefire and open border crossings.

But we also need Palestinian reconciliation.

Without it, we would have to think very creatively about how we can implement our recovery plans.

That is why the United Nations strongly supports Palestinian reunification under the Palestinian Authority.  We urge all factions to work constructively towards this end under Egypt’s auspices.

Third, we must recognize that we are entering a new chapter, with new challenges and with new opportunities.

With United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in this hall, I would like to say how encouraged I am by the speed with which President Barack Obama has engaged in the Middle East.  The appointment of Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell is also cause for optimism.

Early and full engagement of the United States is indispensable if we are to make real progress.

In the same spirit, I urge a new Israeli Government to fully engage as well.

Fourth, the peace process.

Nothing is more important.

As we deal with the challenge of recovery and reconstruction, we must also rebuild political relationships — among Palestinians, between Palestinians and Israelis, between Israel and the Arab world.

I look forward to an active Quartet, both here in Sharm el-Sheikh and beyond.

It is crucial that we support President Abbas and Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad.  That requires meaningful political progress, particularly a freeze on settlements.

Whatever new Government emerges in Israel, I call on it to honour existing commitments.

In closing, let me note that we have taken some promising initial steps.

We can be grateful for the support we have received for the United Nations flash appeal.  I urge you to be equally generous for the consolidated appeal, which includes programming for the West Bank.

We should also strongly support the Palestinian Authority’s Gaza early recovery and reconstruction plan.

It is designed to help people rebuild their lives, restore social services and promote longer term development, including the creation of a more vibrant private sector.

I call for action now.

The United Nations stands ready to help implement the plan.

The people of Gaza cannot and should not wait any longer.

None of us here today seeks a return to the status quo, as President [Nicolas] Sarkozy stated.

The situation prevailing on 27 December was untenable, in Gaza and more broadly.

We must move on.  We must move forward.

There is only one viable future: Palestinians and Israelis living side by side in peace and security.

That is why, like you, I say:  This is our moment.

If ever there were a time to think freshly, to lead boldly, it is now.

Let us begin today.

I look forward to your successful discussion.

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For information media • not an official record