As a tireless advocate of efforts to bring to an end the sixty-year-old conflict in the Middle East, I have a cautious but determined sense of optimism in the final run-up to the international meeting in Annapolis. I returned from my trip to the region last week with the conviction that although it will be difficult, it should be possible to relauch the peace process. Everyone must now do their utmost to ensure that the meeting is a success.
After years of setbacks, stagnation and pain a new dynamic is in place. President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have entered into a serious political dialogue; they have made clear that they are determined to begin negotiating on the core issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They have made a two-state solution the stated aim of their talks. Furthermore, the United States Government is committed to lending these bilateral negotiations its full support and it is convening an international meeting in Annapolis with the aim of launching a process that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. This initiative is backed not only by the International Quartet and by the European Union as one of its members, but also by the Arab League.
We have to grasp this opportunity for peace. All interested parties must focus their energies on working constructively for a successful outcome. The Arab-Israeli conflict is the oldest conflict in the region and I believe it is the most crucial one, lying at the heart the problems in the wider region. We cannot afford to fail now. The stakes are too high. The cost of failure would not be a return to the status quo, it would mean going backwards. Failure now would lead to ever-increasing radicalism, terrorism and extremism, endangering us all.
We are aware that a settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict cannot solve all the problems of the region but it will help unlock a solution to the other conflicts in the Middle-East conflict, putting all the players in much better position to tackle them in the future.
We have the outlines of a permanent settlement. The reference points for a lasting and just settlement of the conflict are clear: it must be based on the principle of land for peace, on the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, on the Arab Peace Initiative, on the Roadmap and on the previous agreements reached between the parties. What we want to see is an end to the occupation of the Palestinian Territory.
The forthcoming international meeting in Annapolis should be the starting point for bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on final status issues, as a first step towards a comprehensive peace agreement to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. The “day after” Annapolis is just as important as the day itself. It will be very important to establish a robust follow-up process with the involvement of the international community, under the auspices of the Quartet.
Israel and the Palestinians have to demonstrate their commitment to the two-state solution by taking without delay the measures needed to prepare the ground for the end game. Israel has to freeze and then reverse its settlement policy in the Occupied Territories. The Palestinians have to demonstrate their will and their ability to assume the responsibilities that come with statehood, including the responsibility for the legitimate use of force.
The European Union is ready to assume its responsibility for accompanying and supporting a credible political process. It is already closely involved as an influential member of the Quartet and as a strategic partner of the parties themselves and of the region as a whole. The parties, namely the Arab states, the Quartet and the whole of the international community, together bear the responsibility for its success.
The European Union is assuming a major share of the responsibility. It is preparing to support the political process by further increasing its already significant contribution to Palestinian capacity-building and economic development. It is already leading the way with efforts in health, education and public administration. It has taken on responsibilities for the Palestinian security sector and it has deployed a team of European policemen on the ground. It is now preparing to expand the training and equipping of the Palestinian police and to support the reconstruction of the local and regional police headquarters, prisons and training facilities. The EU’s assistance to the civil police will be complemented by broader support for the rule of law, including assistance in establishing an efficient penal and judiciary system.
The EU will also play a crucial role in helping the Palestinian Authority with the vital task of stabilising its finances. It will continue to encourage private-sector activity as well as public financial management. It will be a leading player in providing practical support for the ambitious reform agenda of Prime Minister Fayyad, working closely with the Quartet Representative, Tony Blair. The EU encourages other players to share the burden and play their part.
The international donors’ conference to be held in Paris in December will be very important.
As the prospects for resolving the conflict grow closer, the European Union stands ready to help all the parties in the region share the dividends of peace. It will continue to work with Israel to significantly upgrade bilateral relations and it will do everything possible to promote regional cooperation aimed at post-conflict rehabilitation, sustained economic and social development and regional security.
We have the components for moving the peace process forward: the establishment of a political process, an economic process and new realities on the ground. I hope and trust that it will not be too long before I begin to see the dividends of a successful peace process on my future visits to the region.