Roadmap to peace in the Middle East
Delivered in Plenary - June 18th 2003
A few weeks ago we saw the publication of the long-awaited U.S. Road-map to peace in the Middle East, a document fully supported by the rest of the international community, including the Quartet of the US, EU, Russia and the UN.
No-one should underestimate the significance of this initiative at a time when, despite the violence on both sides, a rare opportunity for moving forward has presented itself. There is increasing acceptance amongst Arabs of the desirability of a negotiated solution, whilst Prime Minister Sharon himself has talked of the damage to Israel's economy and society of the continuing violence and the impossibility of permanent occupation and Israeli rule over 4 million Palestinians.
Only the extremists, it seems, are afraid of peace. Whatever the origins of the Middle East conflict, there is increasing recognition amongst Arabs that Israel is here to stay, whilst Jews around the world can see that Israel's long-term security is best served by recognition of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people of their own state by 2005.
President Bush was understandably reluctant earlier in his Presidency to become involved in the minutiae of negotiations which led nowhere and wisely gave both sides a chance to see where they stood. He has now taken the right step at the right time to show his personal commitment to a lasting peace. For the first time in many years a solution is in sight. That opportunity must not be wasted.
The roadmap is specific on a number of points, not least an immediate cessation of violence on both sides, a initial freezing of settlements with an eventual dismantling and a willingness on the part of the Palestinian Authority to face-up to its historic responsibility and rein-in the men of violence. Israel, for its part, now that it has accepted the roadmap, must give Prime Minister Abbas the chance to show his commitment to the process.
If the Palestinian Authority is arresting those who continue to attack Israeli civilians there will be no need for helicopter gunship attacks in Palestinian civilian areas. Nothing would be worse than for this process to be held- up because of reprisal killings bythe Israeli government if the Palestinian Authority is genuinely committed to peace. Israel's agreement today to end "track and kill" operations of senior political figures from Islamist groups is to be welcomed. I welcome the brave decision on Monday by the EU Foreign Ministers to issue an ultimatum to Hamas to implement the Roadmap or face serious financial consequences. Already their military wing is a classified terrorist organisation and their despicable and tragic policy of recruiting suicide bombers must be repeatedly and universally condemned. Nevertheless I am pleased Hamas are starting new truce talks with Abbas.
I agree with Commissioner Patten that the future Palestinian state must be territorially contiguous and viable and not peppered by Israeli settlements whilst clearly the "right of return" needs delicate handling. A generous financial package of compensation to those who lost property might be the answer. Imaginative thinking is also needed on the final status of East Jerusalem.
I would also like to personally thank the Commissioner for his total and transparent collaboration with the Working Group on scrutiny of EU Funds to the Palestinian Authority and which is now up and running and will reach its conclusion next year.
It is worth noting that, unlike Iraq, the Quartet is an example of how a Common European Foreign and Security Policy based on unanimity can actually work. Iraq, by contrast, has shown us that a Single, majority-voting policy, much less one that is communiterised, is wholly unrealistic and will result in division and animosity. In the meantime, there is much work for the European Union to do to convince both sides in the Arab-Israeli dispute that peace is the only real option available.