The Palestinians have been deprived of their inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination and statehood, for more than 60 years. Israelis live with an ever-present sense of insecurity. There is only one way to address such legitimate rights and fears: a peace agreement that results in an end of occupation, an end of conflict, and the creation of a State of Palestine living side-by-side in peace with the State of Israel.
The Israeli and Palestinian leaders re-launched bilateral negotiations a year ago at Annapolis. They agreed to try to reach a peace treaty by the end of 2008. I regret that this goal appears unlikely to be achieved. However, the parties have succeeded in creating trust and a framework where none existed only two years ago. We must not diminish that achievement. I commend the commitment made by President Abbas and Foreign Minister Livni at Sharm el-Sheikh earlier this month to continue talks into next year, and to seek a full and final settlement. This process must resolve the permanent status issues of Jerusalem, settlements, borders, refugees, security and water.
My biggest concern in the immediate period ahead is the situation on the ground. I strongly call on Israel to cease settlement activity, remove outposts, open Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, and refrain from unilateral actions in Jerusalem, such as demolitions and evictions, which alter the status quo. I recognize Israel’s security concerns. But the improved environment of security cooperation must lead to an easing of closure in the West Bank, in order to increase stability and to bring about a much-needed boost to the Palestinian economy.
The situation in the Gaza Strip also remains of major concern. I call for immediate measures to ease the near-blanket closure of Gaza, which leads to worrying deprivations of basic supplies and undermines human dignity. And I unreservedly condemn rocket fire. The way forward is for all parties to respect the calm brokered by Egypt. I call on Israel to allow sufficient and predictable supplies to reach the population, to ensure access for humanitarian workers, and to facilitate stalled UN projects. I also call on Hamas and, indeed, all Palestinian factions to work urgently to reunify the Gaza Strip and the West Bank within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority.
We have seen many difficulties in the past year. But it has been a crucial time in setting the stage for peace. Two thousand nine must be the year that these preparations bear fruit. Let us all work constructively, tirelessly and consistently for a just, lasting, comprehensive, and urgent settlement of the question of Palestine.