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15 May 2002
Nobel Annual Lecture Oslo
15 May 2002

Terje Roed-Larsen
U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends.

It is an honor and a pleasure to be with you here this afternoon: here with the Nobel Institute the "home" of the Nobel Institute, which honored the United Nations and our Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, with its millennium Nobel Prize earlier this year; and here in Oslo, where ten years ago we began a process which led to hope for peace in the Middle East.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The first question we must ask is this: why are all still so embroiled in the Middle East conflict? Why does it continue to engage us all out of all proportion to the myriad of other conflicts raging around the globe?

I do not have to tell you that the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the enduring diplomatic challenges of the 20th and 21st centuries. Long before the UN sought to create two states in 1944, conflict between Jews and Arabs bloodied the sands of Palestine. Since the birth of Israel 54 years ago, the modern'Israeli state has seen war with one or more of their neighbors for the majority of those years. And for that entire time, the Palestinians have been left in limbo, struggling to find their own path to independence.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the core of the core of the Middle East conflict. It brings together the complexities of land disputes; military occupation; resistance; terrorism; and the clash of cultures, whose knowledge of each other is profoundly limited. It is entrenched in the high geopolitics of oil and of superpower prestige. It touches the political symbols of three major religions and two civilizations.
But more than anything else it is a conflict between two peoples' histories and political psychologies. Israelis and the Palestinians have long been locked into a system of distrust and aggression - similar to perhaps what we see in the Balkans, the other enduring zone of conflict in the 20th and 21st centuries...
It is a local conflict fought on an intimate scale - in the despair of Israeli parents whose teenage daughter was killed at a pizza parlour in Jerusalem; in the agony of a Palestinian woman whose baby son was killed in the slums of Rafah.

It is also a global conflict - a conflict whose warp and woof occupies the daily agendas of world leaders from President Bush to Crown Prince Abdullah to Secretary-General Annan. A conflict which threatens the stability of the Middle East, and the world economy - indeed, of the global order itself.

Finally, and most profoundly, it is a conflict of deep existential passions. For Israelis, the conflict is each and every day felt as a struggle for their very existence, their very survival. They are confronted with words and actions that seem to confirm their constant fear that the goal of their adversaries is literally to extinguish their existence as a state, as a people. This fear may seem irrational to most Europeans, indeed to most of the world; but it is far from irrational for a people who have experienced that very threat in the lifetime of their current leaders.

For Palestinians, the conflict is a struggle to resist each and every day the perceived erosion of the possibility of a future as an independent people. Each day, Israel's military strength growths; its settlements expand; its occupation deepens. And so the future of the Palestinians recedes further and further from hope. A people who have lived through 50 years of violence, betrayal, and dashed hopes have found recourse to violence.

Outsiders who live with both people know that the vast majority of Israelis genuinely believe in peace for the Palestinians - perhaps not quite as the Palestinians envision it, but genuine nevertheless. And that the vast majority of Palestinians do not seek the destruction of Israel, only the end of occupation - perhaps in a slightly larger slice of territory than Israel would concede, but a limited territory nevertheless. Outsiders who live with both people see that the aspirations of both peoples can be reconciled with each other; that their visions can be shared. But the two peoples do not yet share that vision.

Hence, we are here today.

I believe, we are here this afternoon also because almost ten years ago in this city we began an experiment in trying to building a channel through which the two peoples could find ways to share their vision, and to build a common future. We began an experiment that became known for this city that embodies the spirit that fueled it. Not only in the region, but all over the world "Oslo" for many millions is just as much a process of peace, as a city.

Ten years later the process of Oslo has collapsed; the institutions it gave birth too are shattered and almost destroyed; and the spirit that fueled it is being drowned out by violence, recriminations, and distrust.

• How did we get here? Where are we now? And how can we go forward?

I. History: How did we get here? II. Where are we? (1) Trust. As I have said, as early as 1999 the process of building trust began to falter, as political progress on the ground stalled. From September 2000 onwards, the use of force shattered the remaining confidence of those on both sides who believed in the will of the other to make real progress towards a common future. Israel's heavy and at times excessive use offeree convinced Palestinians that Israel did not truly believe in peace - if not, why would the Israeli army use live ammunition and deadly force to respond to what Palestinians saw as a genuine, popular uprising characterized by young men and boys armed with slingshots and stones? 140 Palestinians had been killed prior to the first suicide bombing attack that killed 2 Israelis in a crowded marketplace in Jerusalem on 2nd November 2000. Several Israelis were also killed during this period by gun attacks and other violence. (2) Dialogue. Faced with this violence, the second victim of the crisis was political dialogue. It did not die immediately - both sides bravely continued talking in the months after the collapse of the Camp David talks, and through the Taba negotiations, which ended in January 2001. This dialogue was sporadic, but it was real - and it made real progress. After Taba, however, dialogue withered and then died. Since April of 2001, there has been only very limited, partial, and ultimately fruitless dialogue between the parties. (3) Living Conditions of the Palestinians. An early, continuous, and disastrous cost of the current conflict is the collapse of the living conditions of the Palestinians. One of the premises of modern peacemaking, which also underpinned Oslo, was that you cannot make peace on the backs of a people who see no hope for their future. Improving the living conditions of the Palestinians was a key goal of Oslo.
(4) The institutions of the PA. Finally, during the last incursions, the institutions of the PA itself were fundamentally damaged. During its recent incursions, Israel undertook many actions to cope with Palestinian terrorism, destroying security and terrorist infrastructure. Many of these actions were consistent with Israel's right to self-defense. However, their incursions also did great damage to the civilian institutions of the PA. The records of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics were destroyed; the hard drives of the Ministry of Health were smashed; computer files of teachers' employment records were erased; and in hundreds of other ways, the civilians governance capacity of the PA was weakened or dismantled. This is frankly very difficult to reconcile with Israel's security concerns. III. Future: Where do we go now?
1 Source: UNRWA Daily Situation reports

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