It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to all those who have gathered in Cairo for this timely media seminar on peace in the Middle East.
Since the last such seminar, the political situation in the region has improved, thanks to the historic Palestinian elections in January, Palestinian security reforms, the understandings reached at Sharm el-Sheik and the preparations for an Israeli disengagement from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank. Unfortunately, we have also seen a slow but steady increase in violent incidents in recent weeks, underlining the fragility of the moment. That only makes it more urgent that, despite hardship and fear, we take advantage of the revived spirit of cooperation and keep our eyes on our long-standing objective: two states, Israel and a sovereign, viable, contiguous and democratic Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
I have urged Palestinians to do more to prevent acts of violence and terror. I have also continued to stress the need to avoid unilateral actions, such as the Israeli Barrier and continued settlement expansion, that could prejudge the resolution of final status issues or the implementation of UN resolutions. The new United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Alvaro de Soto, has taken up his duties and is making his initial contacts with all relevant parties. He is with you today and will brief you on his first impressions. The Quartet, for its part, continues to press both sides to respect their obligations under the Road Map, and through its Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement, James Wolfensohn, is showing its determination to make that step unfold smoothly, in a way that helps Palestinian economic recovery and builds momentum for the peace process.
Indeed, when the peace process is moving forward, much seems possible. But when it stands still, the parties are actually moving backward, as positions harden, resentment builds, opportunities are missed, and the slightest provocation or misunderstanding risks sparking great damage. Such has been the experience, all too often, with the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
The people of the Middle East are now approaching a number of important turning points. With help from their regional and international partners, they can prevent a slide back into conflict and confrontation. And with help from responsible media -- media that refrain from myths, stereotypes and hate propaganda – they can avoid inflaming an already volatile climate. Indeed, let us all do our part to make recent events a new start on the road towards a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Thank you again for participating in this seminar and for your commitment to that goal, upon which so much depends.