By: Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende
Introductory Remarks at the Cairo Conference on Palestine
Cairo, 12 October 2014
Thank you, Minister Shoukry. And many thanks to His Excellency, President Sisi. I would like to pay tribute to you both for the leadership you have shown. Egypt is doing us all a great service in hosting this critically important conference. Cairo is indeed a fitting venue, in the light of Egypt’s indispensable role in the region.
It is a privilege for me to co-host the Cairo conference with you and His Excellency, President Abbas. I appreciate our partnership. And I am gratified to see that so many political leaders and high-level officials have joined us here today.
Let me echo your words of welcome to our distinguished keynote speakers and co-chairs, many of whom also attended the recent meeting of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee in New York. The remarkable turnout speaks volumes about the international community’s continued concern about the unresolved situation in Gaza.
Last but not least, I want to greet the steadfast people of Gaza. I pay tribute to you for holding out – and for holding on to your humanity, in spite of everything you have had to live through. I know that more than anything, you yearn to build a better future for your children. And I want you to know, that it is in support of this desire to rebuild your lives that international donors come out in force today.
Some six weeks have passed since the 51 days of fighting ended, but the wounds are far from healed. Ahead of the AHLC donor meeting in New York, I visited Gaza in early September to survey the fallout on the ground. The scenes of massive destruction were devastating. With those images still fresh in my mind, I would like to make five main points:
First, The latest round of war in Gaza made it clear for all to see that the cycle of recurring violence and destruction must be broken. Returning to the status quo ante is simply not an acceptable option. That is why, already in July, I called for an international conference to address the challenges in Gaza within its broader Palestinian context.
Out of the rubble of war, we must find a radically new way of dealing with the whole Gaza equation. This opportunity is shored up by a new international consensus that there can be no going back. Yet it is an opportunity which – if missed – may be lost for ever. Going forward, we owe it to the bereaved on both sides to make sure that the loss of their loved ones was not in vain.
Second, If going back is not an option, neither is waiting for better days. Yes, it is understandable that journalists and tax payers alike are asking why donor countries should – once again – pick up the bill for rebuilding what warring parties have torn down. In the same vein, donor country authorities are justified in questioning the unsatisfactory basis on which to pledge their support. These are indeed legitimate questions in the absence of agreement on a lasting ceasefire and a sound political framework.
The answer is still the same. We simply do not have the time to wait for the stars to align. The people of Gaza cannot be held hostage to negotiations that may, or may not, produce the desired outcome. Letting Gaza fester while leaving the parties to their own devices is the surest way of setting ourselves up for another round of war a year or two down the road.
Having said that, let me be absolutely clear:
This is not an invitation to take the untiring commitment of donors for granted. Nor should it encourage any sense of complacency on the eve of continued proxy negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian factions being mediated by Egypt. The missing political framework is urgently needed, and our message to all parties involved is clear: There is no more time to lose.
Third, The breakdown this year of final-status peace talks and the subsequent outbreak of war in Gaza have brought Israelis and Palestinians to a dead end. A complete turnaround is now needed.
So now is the time to set out a new course of action. Sooner rather than later, the Israeli closure regime must be reversed in view of its strategic failings. Security and prosperity must be sought for both peoples – on equal terms. That is why last month the AHLC welcomed the UN monitoring mechanism and its acceptance by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
And that is why Norway stands ready to shoulder a substantial share of the mechanism’s estimated operational budget. In 2014, an extraordinary Gaza contribution of 20 million dollars brings Norway’s support for this year to the Palestinians to an all-time high of 136 million dollars. For the rest of the pledging period until 2017, we are planning to continue our support at a high level.
Priority is given to the mechanism because – for the time being – it is the only feasible way of providing access for the materials necessary for large-scale reconstruction. This in turn would help to set the wheels of the Gazan economy in motion, generating public revenue in the process.
Ultimately, the potential of the private sector must be tapped to fuel Gaza’s transformation from an economic basket case to a net contributor to the Palestinian state-building project. This can only happen if Gaza’s spirited entrepreneurs have access to internal and foreign markets and are able to trade with the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the outside world. Setting Gaza up on a sound economic footing could arguably be the single most effective way to help the PA break out of its structural donor dependence. Moreover, it would pave the way for the people of Gaza to reclaim their rightful place in the future Palestinian state.
Fourth, A fundamental turnaround in Gaza requires more than a strategic shift in Israeli policies; it depends on the reintegration of the whole Palestinian Territory under one effective authority. At last month’s meeting, the AHLC called on all Palestinian factions to facilitate the resumption of governance of Gaza by the Palestinian Authority.
Finally, Some may say the reversal of the closure regime and the reintegration of Gaza under one legitimate authority is a tall order, that international donors are asking too much. My response is this:
That is not all we are asking. Our demands do not stop there.
On the contrary, we see Gaza reconstruction efforts as part and parcel of our support for the two-state solution. While the humanitarian imperative of helping the people of Gaza weighs heavily on donors, we are also in this for political and strategic reasons. We have not bargained for a one-state reality, for a three-state non-solution, nor for the financing of a permanent occupation.
Gaza must be part of the solution, and our efforts here should pave the way for a return to credible final-status negotiations in good faith. When the donors meet in Brussels in the spring to take stock, this is the yardstick by which we will measure the progress made over the next six months.