Dagens Nyheter debate page 15 August 2005
Laila Freivalds, Minister for Foreign Affairs
Carin Jämtin, Minister for International Development Cooperation
"Israel's pullout from Gaza only a first step"
Israel's pullout from Gaza and four settlements on the West Bank must be followed by a process that will bring hope of a lasting peace. Israel must recognise that it is in the country's interest that the withdrawal from Gaza that is now beginning is followed by a withdrawal from the entire West Bank. This would be a means of undermining the destructive forces that believe that peace cannot be achieved through negotiations. It would also fundamentally change the political dynamics of the Middle East, write Minister for Foreign Affairs Laila Freivalds and Minister for International Development Cooperation Carin Jämtin.
In the next few days the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and four small settlements in the northern West Bank will begin. This is a welcome first step, which can open the way for a resumption of the peace process - but it must be followed by the return of all the occupied territories. If the will is there, this can give the two sides a way out of the dead-end street they have been stuck in and create an opportunity to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in the evacuated areas.
The withdrawal was originally the initiative of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It has the support of a majority of Israelis, which shows that many people recognise that in the long run continued occupation will not lead to the peace that a great majority - Palestinians and Israelis alike - wish for. However, its unilateral quality has been criticised internationally, by Sweden and the EU, among others. There is also internal criticism in Israel, as certain people oppose Israel now leaving occupied land.
If the withdrawal is carried out as planned, Israel will retain control over the airspace, borders and waters of the Palestinian areas they have left. In these circumstances, under international law Israel will continue to have obligations as an occupying power.
Consequently, Israel's current pullout from Gaza and the four West Bank settlements must not be an isolated event. The withdrawal must be followed by a process that can give Israelis and Palestinians back the hope for peace and reduced poverty that has been so obviously destroyed for far too many people in recent years.
If the withdrawal is combined with a simultaneous orderly transfer of control over these areas to the Palestinians and if it is followed by a corresponding process on the West Bank, in time the status of the Palestinian territories under international law may also change. This can provide scope for joint solutions and break down the distrust.
The attention now being focused on the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and four small settlements on the West Bank must not lead to the situation on the rest of the West Bank being forgotten in the meantime. The Israeli settlements continue to expand and the separation barrier risks being increasingly perceived as a new border - despite Israeli assurances that the barrier is only a temporary security measure. The misgivings about a new border being established are underlined by statements from Israel's political leadership. The view of Sweden, the EU and the International Court of Justice is unequivocal: those parts of the separation barrier that are erected on occupied land are in breach of international law and must be dismantled.
The visible presence of the Israeli occupation, in the form of roadblocks, curfews and where the separation barrier is being erected on Palestinian land, has made it impossible to conduct normal economic activities in the Palestinian territories. The separation barrier in particular has devastating consequences. Villages and towns are cut off from one another. People lose their jobs. Families are split up. Together with the inadequate responsibility taken by Israel for the social and economic circumstances of the occupied population, this has created a situation that has made large parts of the Palestinian territories completely dependent on international assistance. World Bank estimates show sharply increased poverty in the Palestinian territories.
As a result of the deteriorating situation, international assistance, including Swedish assistance, has largely shifted from more long-term development cooperation to pure disaster relief. This development is a matter of deep concern and presents the donor community with a serious dilemma. Swedish and other donor resources are now financing activities that under international law are the responsibility of Israel as an occupying power. Having said that, our observations show that in many cases this support makes the difference between total destitution and a chance of managing the bare necessities of life. Sweden will therefore continue to provide assistance to the Palestinian areas so as to alleviate the humanitarian effects of the ongoing conflict.
The Israeli withdrawal also makes demands on the international community. We are therefore intensifying our efforts in the EU, together with the other members of the Quartet - the UN, the United States and Russia - to promote dialogue and negotiations. We will also continue to support the building of a democratically governed and independent Palestinian state.
The EU must ensure that the Quartet continues to take responsibility as a cohesive force in international endeavours and prevails upon the two sides to fulfil their commitments. The Quartet's special envoy James Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank, has proved in the last few months that it is possible to bring the two sides together. The United States has a special responsibility to ensure that the vision of a two-state solution - a vision that President Bush shares - becomes a reality.
Israel must recognise that it is in the country's interest that the withdrawal from Gaza is followed by a withdrawal from the entire West Bank. This would be a means of undermining the destructive forces that believe that peace cannot be achieved through negotiations. It would also strengthen Palestinian confidence in President Abbas and so put him in a better position to tackle corruption, lawlessness, terrorism and extremism without reserve. Interplay involving mutual confidence-building measures and international support will be needed to enable a peace process to get under way.
If the withdrawal from Gaza is the first step towards an end of the Israeli occupation, the political dynamics of the Middle East would fundamentally change. Great changes for the better would become possible. It would undoubtedly lead to positive economic, social and humanitarian developments, not just for the Palestinians and Israelis directly affected by the conflict but for the whole region. Such developments are not in the interest of Palestinians and Israelis alone; they are a matter of concern for the rest of the world. The day the Israeli occupation is over and two independent states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace - on that day, the world will be a safer place for us all.