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Source: United States of America
20 September 2005

Mideast Quartet Looks To Build on Israeli Withdrawal from Gaza
Democratic transition must be Palestinian process, Secretary of State Rice says

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- The United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, known as the Quartet when dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have met for the first time since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza to discuss ways to maintain momentum toward a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

"The Quartet's assessment of the Gaza withdrawal is that, in fact, it has been a successful withdrawal [and] that it demonstrated that the Israelis and Palestinians can work together in the most detailed circumstances and the most difficult circumstances.  There has been excellent security coordination and cooperation that allowed the withdrawal to take place peacefully and effectively," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a press conference at the end of the two-hour Quartet meeting September 20.

"Our task now is to build on the momentum of that withdrawal to help the Palestinians create in Gaza a model for a Palestinian Authority that can, indeed, govern and the international community is very actively involved in that," the secretary said.

Commenting on the Palestinian parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2006, Rice said, "You cannot have armed options within the democratic process."

"We hope that the elections can go forward and that everyone will cooperate to make those elections go forward, because elections are fundamental to the continued evolution and development of the Palestinian process," Rice said.

"This is going to be a Palestinian process and we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process," she added.

The Quartet – represented by Rice, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, European Union Representative Javier Solana and European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner -- issued a statement saying that "the brave and historic decision" of Israel to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank "should open a new chapter on the path to peace in the region."

The Quartet representatives said they hope that the Israeli withdrawal will open new opportunities to proceed toward peace according to a plan, known as the road map, that Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the Quartet have endorsed.

The Quartet discussed security reform; the mission of U.S. Security Coordinator General William Ward to improve the capability of the Palestinian security forces; the $750 million package of international aid, especially the so-called "quick action" economic development projects to create jobs; freedom of movement for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank; controlling armed groups and supporting the political process.

The Quartet will continue to lead international efforts to support the sustainable growth of the Palestinian economy and to help strengthen the ability of the Palestinian Authority to assume responsibility through an aggressive pursuit of state-building and democratic reform efforts, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.

"The Quartet urges an easing of the system of movement restriction that prevents Palestinian economic recovery, consistent with Israel's security needs," Annan added.

In its statement, the Quartet recognized that the Palestinian leadership has sought to encourage Palestinian terrorist groups to abandon the course of violence and engage in the democratic progress.  The Quartet urged the Palestinian Authority "to maintain law and order and dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure."

"Ultimately those who want to be part of the political process should not engage in armed group or militia activities, for there is a fundamental contradiction between such activities and the building of a democratic state," Annan said.

"You cannot have a sense of lawlessness," Rice added.  "The Palestinians have to do a better job on the security front and in beginning to deal with terrorism."

The Quartet paid tribute to "the political courage" of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and commended the Israeli government for the "smooth and professional" withdrawal from Gaza.

Nevertheless, the secretary-general said, "The Quartet believes that settlement expansion elsewhere must stop and Israel must remove unauthorized outposts.  The Quartet continues to note with concern the route of the barrier, particularly as it results in the confiscation of Palestinian land, undermines Palestinians' trust in the Roadmap."

The United States, and especially President Bush, Rice said, "have been clear that activity in the settlements, for instance, (and) the separation barrier have effect on Palestinian livelihood and the international community expects Israel to live up to its road map obligations here not to engage in that activity."

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