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"As is" reference - not a United Nations document

Source: European Commission
6 June 2007

Benita Ferrero-Waldner

European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy

Middle East Peace Process:

Statement to EP Plenary

European Parliament Plenary Session

Brussels, 6 June 2007

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

The atmosphere in the region is extremely tense. There is a sense of despair. Security has deteriorated and we witness a vicious circle of violence, particularly in the occupied Palestinian territory, in Israel but also in Lebanon. If the causes of this despair are not addressed we may shortly witness the consolidation of radical groups throughout the region.

In Lebanon, fighting has now spread into another Palestinian refugee camp. I am deeply concerned about the confrontation between the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Islamist insurgents. This has turned out to be the most serious internal conflict since the end of the civil war and has already cost over a hundred human lives.

I would like to stress once again our full support to the legitimate government of Lebanon. I however also repeat our position that everything possible has to be done to avoid further casualties among the civilian population. Relief agencies must be able to carry out their work.

On the other hand, I would like to express my satisfaction about the adoption of Resolution 1757 by the United Nations Security Council on 30 May 2007, which secures the establishment of the Special Tribunal into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. This will allow the people of Lebanon to affirm respect for the Rule of Law in their country and to turn a page on one of the most tragic events in Lebanon’s recent history.

Looking at recent dramatic developments, it is highly unsatisfactory that the stand-off between the government and the opposition still continues. As the problems which Lebanon is facing are growing, I can only repeat our call to all political actors to move back to dialogue and peaceful settlement of divergences of opinion.

Tomorrow leaders will discuss the Middle East at the G8 meeting in Heiligendamm. Foreign ministers already had a lengthy debate last week at our ministerial in Potsdam. There was deep concern about political and security developments both in Gaza and in Israel - but also recognition that there is no alternative to continuing humanitarian support and exploring further the Arab Peace Initiative.

There are some reasons for hope: the Arab Peace Initiative is a unique opportunity for a comprehensive solution. Bilateral meetings between President Abbas and PM Olmert should resume tomorrow. Egyptians are trying to broker a ceasefire with all Palestinians factions. The US has increased its involvement, personally driven by Condoleezza Rice. The EU Presidency is also truly committed to move the peace process forward.

These elements all helped forge our consensus at the last Quartet meeting IN Berlin on 30 May. The Quartet made clear that it stands ready to support negotiations on both the bilateral track and the regional track. The Quartet has decided to meet first with the Parties and secondly with our Arab League interlocutors, probably in Sharm El Sheikh at the end of June. This is a positive sign of our comprehensive engagement. Secretary General Amr Moussa has already started preparations for that meeting. I have a feeling that it is time for us to step up our efforts.

I also just spoke to the Jordanian Foreign Minister Al Khatib who is planning with his Egyptian homologue a visit to Israel, before the Arab League meets with the Quartet at the end of June. This would help engaging further Israel and encouraging them to respond positively to the Arab Peace Initiative.

The day after the Quartet, I also attended a conference in Vienna on the role of Women Leaders as contributors to peace and security in the Middle East. Prominent women such as Tzipi Livni, Hanan Ashrawi, Condoleezza Rice and others discussed their potential contribution to peace. This was the first time that Tzipi Livni and Hanan Ashrawi met officially and I was encouraged by the friendly atmosphere between them. This initiative proved useful and I will organize a follow-up conference of this event here in Brussels.

I also appreciate the European Parliament involvement in the peace process. The trip of the EP Delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council was followed by President Pöttering balanced speech to the Knesset on 30 May. It is encouraging that the speech was very well received by the Knesset.

The Palestinian people desperately need a political perspective. That is why we must press for negotiations on final status issues, cooperating with the structures set up by the Arab League. The Arab League asked Israel to freeze certain measures related to the occupation such as settlements and the separation barrier.

I was encouraged by President Abbas call for an immediate end to internal violence. I hope that tomorrow’s meeting with PM Olmert takes place and that they can reach an agreement on a ceasefire. Qassam rockets from Gaza should stop once and for all, and the ceasefire should be extended to the West Bank. President Abbas needs to show a concrete outcome from the meeting, in order to restore law and order in the street, particularly in Gaza.

Regarding the National Unity Government, now is certainly not the time to give up on it. I can agree that it has not yet delivered what we were hoping for, but there are no attractive alternatives. If we allow this government to crumble, the implications for the institutions of the Palestinian Authority are grave and radical splinter groups may come out strengthened as a result.

Within the limits set by the Council Ministers, the Commission has responded quickly to the National Unity Government and to the increased needs of the Palestinians. In the first half of 2007 alone we will have committed €320 million of Community funds, which almost equals the total amount of funds committed for the entire year 2006. This exceptional effort shows that since the formation of the National Unity Government we have stepped up our emergency assistance to the Palestinians.

The financial situation of the Palestinian Authority is extremely grave. Israel must release the withheld clearance revenue to the Palestinian Authority. We will continue encouraging them to do so via the Temporary International Mechanism or through the PLO account. We reiterated our request at the last Association Committee with Israel in Jerusalem on the 4th of June. The Quartet has also noted the importance of the resumption of the transfers to improve the economic and humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. Furthermore, progress on movement and access is essential to allow some Palestinian economic activity.

Since the formation of the National Unity Government, we manage TIM in close cooperation with the Minister of Finance. Because the socio-economic situation is dire, we will extend the TIM until 30 September and are looking for fresh funds for this new extension. I will soon ask the European Parliament and the Council to make another effort and find additional resources in the budget.

Our priority task should be to help restore the institutions of the Palestinian Authority so that the latter can deliver services to the Palestinian people. We are trying to gradually shift towards a resumption of institution building and development projects and decrease our current concentration on emergency and humanitarian aid. We look forward to new Palestinian proposals for specific international support. The Palestinian Authority is currently preparing an Operational Plan which could be a useful tool to identify development activities that we could support.

But the financial gap of the Palestinian Authority is so large that it would be impossible for the Community to shoulder the burden alone. Arab States also have to deliver on their commitments to help the National Unity Government. I was encouraged to see that the PLO account established by Minister Fayad has been set up and has received funds from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

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