Speech/statement | Date: 10/12/2003
After a long period of virtual standstill, the Middle East peace process is now showing signs of progress. There is a new Palestinian government in place. We hope that the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will soon engage in a constructive dialogue, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jan Petersen said at the opening of the meeting. (10.12.03)
Foreign Minister, the Chair of the AHLC, Jan Petersen
Opening statement at Ad Hoc Liaison Committee Meeting
Rome, 10 December 2003
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Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to this informal meeting of AHLC donors and partners in Rome. I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Italian government and to Foreign Minister Frattini for providing the venue and the excellent facilities for the meeting here in the Palazzo della Farnesina. I also want to say how much I appreciate the presence here today of the ministers of the Palestinian Authority and the President of the World Bank. I look forward to having the Foreign Minister of Israel join us a little later today.
After a long period of virtual standstill, the Middle East peace process is now showing signs of progress. There is a new Palestinian government in place. We hope that the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will soon engage in a constructive dialogue, and that Israel will give the new Palestinian government the necessary political and physical room for manoeuvre. It is extremely important that the Egyptian government continues to display leadership and to work with Palestinian groups in order to establish a cease-fire to which Israel should also be a party. There is a strong commitment in the international community towards supporting the peace efforts, as shown, among other things, by the UN Security Council’s endorsement of the Road Map. There is also renewed activity by civil society and fresh contributions such as the Geneva initiative and People’s Voice. These welcome steps are valuable support for the Road Map. We all wish to see the realisation of President Bush’s vision: two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
We now expect both parties to show leadership and courage, and to fulfil their obligations according to the parallel and phased approach envisaged in the Road Map. Let me mention some of the most urgent and indispensable requirements.·
The Palestinian leadership must make a strategic choice to fight violence and terrorism. In order for peace to take hold there must be visible, credible and determined efforts on the ground to confront all those engaged in terror.·
The Palestinian reform process must continue. The results of the process so far have been uneven, and there is still more to be done, especially in the judiciary and security domains. We are encouraged by the fact that Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has made reform a priority for his government, with elections as a top priority.·
Israel must halt military operations, including the assassination of Palestinian militants, remove outposts and progressively withdraw from re-occupied areas in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel must also comply with international humanitarian law, stop building the security barrier on Palestinian territory, grant humanitarian organisations full access and take every possible measure to protect civilians.
The AHLC was established to ensure the efficient use of development assistance in our common endeavour to contribute to the establishment of an independent and democratic Palestinian state. What we see today is an impressive demonstration of the continued support of the international community in a situation with little progress in the peace process and with serious difficulties in the delivery of aid in the Palestinian Territory. But I must say that I sense an increasing impatience in the donor community that both parties would do well to take into account.
The UN will give us an update on the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territory. Donor assistance can alleviate the immediate suffering of the Palestinians, but it cannot offer a solution to the fundamental long-term problem, which is political in nature. Only normalisation of the economy can bring growth and development. During the summer, when the political process moved forward, there was some economic progress. Unfortunately this momentum was lost, but it was a clear illustration of the positive economic impact that a credible political process can have.
While Israel has an undeniable right to defend itself in proportion to the threat posed by terrorist attacks, the Israeli policy of closures and curfews is a major obstacle to sustainable economic development. The security barrier further curtails the economic viability of many local communities and restricts the free movement of people, goods and services in the West Bank. This adds seriously to the hardship experienced by much-tried Palestinian communities. These policies have also severely impeded donors’ ability to deliver assistance to the Palestinian Territory and has significantly added to the cost of donors’ efforts. If this does not change, donors will have to reconsider their commitments and priorities in the Palestinian Territory. I am encouraged by Foreign Minister Shalom’s recent invitation to donors to co-operate more closely and by the fact that he will be here with us today. I hope this marks the beginning of an improved environment for aid delivery in the Palestinian Territory.
During our meeting the Palestinian Authority will present their socio-economic stabilisation plan, which will be a good basis for prioritising short-term and medium-term development needs and for promoting a co-ordinated donor response. The plan underlines the importance of medium-term economic recovery in spite of the growing humanitarian needs. It is important that donors respond generously to this plan. Subject to parliamentary approval, Norway’s aim at this stage is to allocate approximately 63 million USD to the Palestinian Territory in 2004. This includes humanitarian assistance, the level of which will depend on developments on the ground.
Preliminary assessments put the total international assistance this year at USD 875 million, which is slightly lower than it was in 2002, but still an impressive effort. It is clear that it will be difficult to sustain this level of support if the two parties do not succeed in breaking out of the political deadlock in which they find themselves at present.
In spite of the high level of support, the Palestinian Authority will face unprecedented financial problems next year. We expect that the Palestinian Minister of Finance, Dr Salam Fayyad, will announce a need for budget support of USD 650 million – a sum that today may seem unattainable. Budget support to the Palestinian Authority has, in fact, fallen from USD 530 million in 2001 to USD 250 million for this year, despite the significant reforms that have taken place. But we must ask ourselves whether the Palestinian Authority can continue to exist, let alone reform, unless sufficient budget support is made available.
To deal with this considerable challenge, we as donors should be willing to look at possible mechanisms to ensure more sustained budget support to the Palestinian Authority. And the Palestinian Authority itself may also have to make difficult choices when it comes to salary and staffing levels. We note with satisfaction that the budget Dr Fayyad presented to the Palestinian Legislative Council last week shows a willingness to make tough choices in a very difficult situation.
The AHLC has been and should continue to be an important instrument in co-ordinating the international donor community’s efforts to support the implementation of the Road Map. I hope that we will be able to convene a formal AHLC meeting in the not-too-distant future. We need to demonstrate that assistance to the Palestinians and reform of the Palestinian Authority continue to have full, high-level support.
Finally, let me remind you that a satisfactory economic situation for the Palestinian community can only be fully obtained if the parties, with our assistance, are able and willing to proceed towards negotiated peace.
I wish you all a successful and productive meeting.
Thank you for your attention.