Check Against Delivery

Opening Remarks of UN Special Coordinator, Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen

Ad Hoc Liaison Committee

18 February 2003

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Foreign Minister, Secretary of State, Dear Friends:

Forgive me if I begin by stating the obvious:  The humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is not caused by a natural disaster.  It comes from a conflict.  

That means the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis today – the deaths and injuries, the economic devastation, the profound insecurity – can end only through a political solution. And bringing this conflict to an end is entirely within the power of the parties here today.

As I see it, progress toward that solution hinges on actions that each of the main groups here – the Israelis, the Palestinian and the international community – must take in the coming days:

1. For Israel, progress depends on whether a new government is formed that embraces President Bush’s June 24th speech and the only realistic and viable plan for its implementation — the Road Map.

2. For the Palestinian Authority, progress will turn will depend on its credibility as a partner with both Israel and the international community. In this regard, the appointment of an empowered and credible Prime Minister, as President Arafat has promised, will be a critical step in the right direction.

3. For the international community, progress depends on whether the Quartet seizes the opportunity to present the finalized Road Map  — complete with a timetable and monitoring mechanism — to the parties as soon as possible so that we can finally begin working in earnest toward our shared vision for peace.

Of course, it is completely beyond the scope of our agenda today to resolve the political conflict underpinning today’s humanitarian crisis. Over the next two days, we must focus on the assistance efforts of our respective governments and organizations toward alleviating this crisis.

Our task is to seek ways to break the dilemma that has us maintaining our intense humanitarian engagement — despite the lack of political progress. To do so means coming to terms with the impasses that have helped paralyze progress for much of the last two years:

1. Israelis increasingly understand that severe restrictions on Palestinian movement contribute to the despair and resentment that help fuel terror attacks. But they fear that easing the restrictions will expose them to the intolerable risk of more terrorists infiltrating their borders. We understand their dilemma: they feel they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

2. The vast majority of the Palestinian public – and every Palestinian in this room – seeks a negotiated settlement of the conflict. They want to crack down on Palestinian violence – violence that has so fatally undermined their national ambitions. But in the current climate of insecurity and distrust they lack confidence that such efforts will yield sufficient political dividends to prevent their society from subsequently being ripped apart by internal schisms.

3. The international community is committed to improving the conditions of life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But it fears that humanitarian assistance delivered in the absence of a political horizon works against its goal of an independent Palestinian state. It effectively finances – and perpetuates – Israel’s occupation and weakens the Palestinian institutions it has helped to build over the last decade.

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There is no easy solution to these dilemmas. We will continue our efforts in the Quartet and other forums to resolve them.  But at the same time, we must seize opportunities to improve conditions despite these dilemmas.

We must start by reaching agreement on the minimum needs and basic rights of the civilian population, whatever the prevailing security circumstances.  We must ensure that every teacher and pupil is able to get to school, every patient has access to health care, every worker can reach his or her workplace; every household has access to safe and affordable water.   

I believe that the progress already achieved on the reform agenda provides an opportunity to rebuild the trilateral relationship between the PA, the Government of Israel, and the donor community.  A good first step would be to start weekly meetings that include representatives of the Government of Israel, the donor community and a PA ministerial committee. Together, we can find means to meet at least the basic needs of the civilian population.  Some indication of what can be achieved is the constructive engagement between Israel, the PA, and the United States on tax revenue transfers.

I reiterate that only a comprehensive plan like the Road Map can succeed in cutting the Gordian knot that binds us in a frustrating stasis. Regrettably, while the Road Map’s clock is wound, it is not yet ticking. And while we are confident that will start soon, there is an absolute imperative to improve the lives of ordinary people right now.

In view of the gravity of the humanitarian situation, I appeal to the parties to put politics to the side today and focus on our collective responsibility to respond seriously, effectively and immediately to the needs of the civilian population.

Thank you.