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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
26 March 2007

Tel Aviv, Israel, 26 March 2007 - Secretary-General's press conference

SG: I have just completed two days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah. I have also received a number of briefings on both sides and seen many moving things.

I met with [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas and I was deeply impressed by his continuing commitment to the peace process and his persistence in the face of so many obstacles and setbacks. His goals are those shared by the international community: for example to move forward to negotiations with Israel aimed at establishing an independent and viable Palestinian state, side by side with a secure Israel.

I also visited the West Bank and east Jerusalem and met many ordinary Palestinians as well as key leaders. The longing for their own state runs deep and is compounded by the many frustrations they face in daily life. I fully understand Israel's legitimate security concerns. Having gone through some parts of Israel by helicopter today, I came to better appreciate the security constraints facing Israel. But at the same time I am deeply troubled by the network of checkpoints, the growth of settlements and the barrier where it intrudes on Palestinian land. There is also a desperate need to revitalize the Palestinian economy.

Israeli leaders impressed upon me their continuing worries and concerns about the security threats. Rocket attacks continue from Gaza. I am troubled also by reports of arms smuggling. I impressed upon the Palestinian leadership the vital importance of tackling the security situation, of ending violence in all its dimensions and, above all, securing the early release of Corporal [Gilad] Shalit. I am convinced such a move would go a long way to assuring Israel, the Quartet and the wider international community of the determination of Palestinian leaders to make real progress.

Despite the obstacles ahead, I believe that solid grounds exist for hoping we can advance the peace process in the coming period. I say this for four reasons.

Firstly, I have no doubt that President Abbas is a genuine partner for peace and enjoys the confidence of Israel and the Quartet, as well as widely in the Arab world.

Secondly, Israel too wants peace and security and I know that Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert is also ready to take difficult decisions if peace is genuinely on offer; and addressing the security situation has to be part of any peace process. That goes without saying.

Thirdly, there is a renewed dynamism in the Arab world. Arab leaders, who will meet in a few day's time, have discussed a renewal of the Arab peace initiative. It offers full normalization with Israel if the occupation of 1967 ends and there is an agreed solution of the refugee issue.

Fourthly, there is a renewed international commitment to pushing forward the peace process. The Quartet has become re-energized and U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, is actively engaging in all concerned parties. Achieving these goals will require imagination and political courage, but I believe we can and must make progress in the coming weeks and months. I leave Israel tomorrow determined to make my contribution to advancing the cause of peace in this region.

Thank you very much.

Q: You have constantly talked about balance in the security of Israel and Palestine. After this trip, do you feel that the balance is working?

SG: For your question I think I have said many times already [during] my visits to refugee camps as well as the barriers and while flying over those areas by helicopter. I thought that while I fully appreciate and understand this genuine security concern, at the same time, there is a need to be some balancing by addressing this humanitarian [aspect] as well as rejuvenating the economy of the Palestinians. I hope that Israeli leaders also will look at this, while Palestinians also look at this issue as a product of facilitating the peace and security process formally established.

Q: After meeting with top Israeli officials, what would be your message to the summit in Riyadh, and do you have news regarding the abducted Israeli soldiers?

SG: During my participation in the Arab League Summit meeting, I will be engaging in a series of meetings, bilateral meetings, including the King of Saudi Arabia and the President of Sudan, President [Omer Hassan Al-]Bashir and many other leaders. My first visit to Cairo, Baghdad, Israel have been very useful for me to first of all to processing and understanding more the security and political situations and the visions and concerns and challenges of those countries in the region. I will reflect upon those discussions with the leaders, when I meet with them. My goal is to contribute as much as I can as the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the ongoing peace process. We have seen the formation of the National Unity Government. As I said Arab countries are constructively engaging in this process. The Quartet process has been energized. The United States has been very actively engaging in this process. We need to take this momentum, make it as much as possible to the fullest possible extent and help facilitate this peace process.

I know that according to the parties' concerns, there are certain elements or aspects may not be totally satisfactory, but whatever we can, wherever we can find some common denominators, we can build upon first on those common denominators, and wherever these to be addressed further, then we can find some other ways and means to improve or address the concerns of the parties concerned.

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