|Press Conference of Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner in Jerusalem|
17 January 2006
This is a critical moment for the Middle East. The elections due shortly in the Palestinian Territories and in Israel are landmark events.
- We hope these elections will bring two leaderships ready and able to inject new vigour into the Peace Process. The vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians are tired of conflict and insecurity.
- Neither the health of PM Sharon, nor the escalating violence in the Gaza strip, should distract leaders from the challenge of seeking peace.
- One of the reasons for my visit is to show Europe’s support for Palestinian elections, in line with international standards. These elections are an important milestone on the road to democracy, and they should be held with no further delay.
- Effective, functioning, democratic Palestinian institutions are essential for the peace process. Without them we cannot lay the foundations for a viable Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. Improving democracy, accountability and efficiency in Palestinian governance is in everyone’s interests.
- That is why, once again, the EU is operating the biggest Election Observation Mission at the forthcoming legislative elections with 237 observers. The EU Observation Mission, will help build confidence in the electoral process and I hope it will help to encourage Palestinians to go out and use their votes. Its leader, Veronique de Keyser, is doing a fantastic job in very difficult circumstances.
- And that is why we have done so much to support the preparation of these elections by the Central Electoral Commission – indeed these elections could not have taken place without us. During this trip I am announcing another €1.4 million to help the CEC with voter registration and polling activities. That brings our support to the electoral process to €18.5 million, including our observation missions now and at the Presidential elections.
- Just as we are playing our part, we are counting on Israel to provide all due facilitation to the elections, including in East Jerusalem – in its own interests.
- I was in Gaza, yesterday, to see for myself the important work we are doing, providing urgent assistance to make Palestinian's ordinary lives more bearable. We are improving the health system, building schools, repairing roads. I was able to inaugurate some public works programmes which have just been completed. And I am announcing the launch of four new energy and environment infrastructure projects in Gaza worth €20 million. We are working with all possible speed, though I cannot pretend the security situation is making our work any easier.
- Revitalising the economy in Gaza is essential. What I have seen here only strengthens my conviction that this is key to further progress. I will continue to press this point in the Quartet and with Israel. It is crucial that we continue to improve free movement of people in and out of Gaza
- We will not be able to step up travel in and out of Gaza without properly managed borders. I am announcing during this trip new assistance in support of Palestinian customs. This is the second phase of work we are doing to help the Palestinians build up secure and well managed borders. I am announcing a second payment of €1.5 million to provide x-ray machines, metal detectors, computers and other equipment. We will also be providing capacity building to fill gaps identified by the EU mission at Rafah.
- Last night I met FM Nasser al-Kidwa because of President Abbas last minute travel to the funeral in Kuwait, and this morning I saw Acting Prime Minister Olmert.
- I am making clear to both that the EU is contributing in very substantial ways, to creating the conditions for a two state solution. Like everyone else involved in this process we face some major challenges, but we are in it for the long haul. We have been a consistent, and reliable partner for both sides – and we will continue to offer our support to all those who seek peace by peaceful means.