PRESS CONFERENCE BY QUARTET
Opening a press conference this morning by the members of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East*, Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced a three-phase "roadmap" to achieve, within three years, a comprehensive and long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
Other participants in the press conference were the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Igor Ivanov; the Secretary of State of the United States, Colin Powell; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Denmark (representing the European Union presidency), Per Stig Moeller; the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, European Union, Javier Solana; and the External Relations Commissioner of the European Commission,
Mr. Annan highlighted the results of a “historic meeting” of the Quartet, which had met for the first time by itself and with five Arab States and Israeli and Palestinian representatives. Stressing that “the morally repugnant violence must end”, he said the overall plan must address political, humanitarian and economic dimensions and have reciprocal, monitored steps by the parties. A performance driven and hope driven process was essential. The process would take place in three phases, and progress would be assessed based on the parties’ compliance with performance benchmarks.
He said the first phase (2002-first half of 2003) would focus on Palestinian security reform, Israeli withdrawal and support for Palestinian elections. It should include a ministerial-level meeting of an "Ad Hoc Liaison Committee" to review the humanitarian situation and prospects for economic development in the West Bank and Gaza and an ad hoc meeting in November to assess the humanitarian situation and the development process.
The second phase (2003) would focus on the creation of a Palestinian State with provisional borders and based on a new constitution as a way status to a permanent status settlement, he said.
The third phase (2004-2005) would envision Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at a permanent status solution, he continued. That solution should include Israeli measures to improve the lives of Palestinians, to allow resumption of normal economic activity, facilitate freedom of movement of goods and services, and easing or lifting closures and return of tax revenues owed by Israel. Israeli settlement activities must also stop. The Palestinian party must work with partners to reform security services and combat terrorism, and both the Israelis and the Palestinians should re-establish security cooperation.
The Quartet was discussing the timing and modalities of an international conference. It remained committed to the search for a comprehensive and long lasting settlement, the Secretary-General concluded.
Questions and Answers
Asked whether the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have hoped that the new plan outlined in the communiqué would not be derailed as previous plans had been, the Secretary-General replied that the Quartet intended to work with its regional partners. However, the main onus was on the parties themselves.
Another correspondent asked what the new plan contained for Palestinian suicide bombers, since there had been no halt in Israeli settlement activities?
Secretary-General Annan responded by noting that the communiqué not only stressed the need for progress on the political, economic, social and security fronts, but also offered Palestinian statehood. There would be concrete steps to achieve that, hopefully giving Palestinians an incentive. Any new peace plan must not only be performance-driven, but also hope-driven, he reiterated.
Asked why the Quartet had taken so long to come to agreement while people were dying in the region, the Secretary-General replied that the situation was not one where the Quartet could simply come in and impose a solution. He pointed out that while the Quartet had been meeting with the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as with Israeli officials, any progress would depend on the political will and actions by the parties. Progress must be judged in light of the complexity of the issue.
Noting that a senior Israeli official visiting Washington, D.C. last week had ruled out January elections in the West Bank, another journalist asked whether Israel could take such a position.
Mr. Powell replied that it was indeed appropriate that elections be held next year. It was necessary to work out how the electorate would get back and forth to cast their votes as well as the purpose of the elections. While taking note of what the Israeli official had said, it was necessary to move ahead and permit the Palestinians to have elections.
Another correspondent asked whether the position of the five Arab Foreign Ministers had affected the United States’ view of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, even if the Palestinians re-elected him.
The Secretary of State said the position of the United States was that Mr. Arafat's leadership had failed and that the Palestinian people were looking for new leadership, as evidenced by what had happened with the Palestinian Cabinet last week. The United States Government would not dictate to the Palestinians, but it must retain the option of deciding who it would deal with and who was effective in helping to move the peace process forward.
In response to a question about reported attempts by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah to divert river waters from northern Israel, Mr. Powell said American experts are examining that issue, and others would be dispatched to look into the relevant rules and agreements made over the years. The United States understood the sensitivity involved and did not want another crisis over the water question.
*The Quartet comprises the European Union, Russian Federation, United Nations and United States.
* *** *