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In Oslo lecture, UN envoy examines causes, solutions to Middle East crisis

In Oslo lecture, UN envoy examines causes, solutions to Middle East crisis

Delivering a lecture in the Norwegian capital, where an effort to bring peace to the Middle East began a decade ago, a top United Nations envoy said today that even though the “Oslo process” was at a standstill, its basic principles remained valid while an international consensus was building around new precepts and mechanisms that could lead to a sustainable accord between the two parties to the crisis.

“Ten years later the process of Oslo has collapsed; the institutions it gave birth to are shattered and almost destroyed, and the spirit that fuelled it is being drowned out by violence, recriminations and distrust,” said Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. His remarks came in the lecture entitled, “The Current Crisis in the Middle East: Causes and Solutions,” which he delivered at an annual event hosted by the Nobel Institute.

The essential elements of peace – including trust and dialogue – were currently being systematically dismantled, he said. Defining acts of violence had eroded the remnants of trust between the parties and in that atmosphere, dialogue had faltered. At the same time he noted, the living conditions of the Palestinians had collapsed, and the Palestinian Authority institutions had sustained fundamental damage.

"We are left with two peoples wracked by violence, a situation in which there is not only no dialogue between the parties and their governments, but where dialogue has been replaced by hatred and fear," he said. "Unless we exit from the current violence - and quickly - the future for both peoples will be untenable."

Offering a ray of hope amid this grim analysis, Mr. Roed-Larsen said there was a deep international consensus - shared by a majority of both peoples, if not their leaders - on how the conflict must end. During negotiations in Taba last year, "we saw the parties come extraordinarily close to finding a viable compromise," he said.

"That these talks failed was, tragically, a consequence of mismanagement, dysfunctional leadership, and a lack of time - a consequence also of mistakes made by those of us in the international community who sought to help the parties reach their conclusion," he said. "But it was not - emphatically not - a rejection of peace by either side."

Mr. Roed-Larsen underscored that basic principles on which the Oslo process was based remain valid. Those were: land for peace, based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338; the end of occupation; total rejection of violence and terrorism; the need for security for both parties; and Israel's right to exist in security.

In the year since Taba, he noted, "the international community has begun in its own right to articulate the principles that we believe can - no, must - form the shape of any sustainable agreement between the parties."

It was widely agreed that peace required providing Israel with real and permanent security guarantees and the Palestinians with real and permanent independence, while removing Israeli settlements, reforming Palestinian institutions, and restoring the Palestinian economy and infrastructure, Mr. Roed-Larsen said.

He added that there was also a growing consensus around the mechanisms for reaching those principles, which, he stressed, "are in effect the opposite of Oslo." Those include "a consensus about where the conflict must end, and this must be agreed up front before anything else can be done," he said. Secondly, in departure from the principle of bilateralism, the principle for an end of the conflict must be introduced by the international community. And thirdly, he emphasized, "any and all agreements must be guaranteed by the international community."

"What we need now, however deep our distress and pain, is to summon the will to turn our vision into a concrete reality that touches the deepest aspirations of both peoples," Mr. Roed-Larsen said. "As we did in Oslo in 1993, we again need to animate the spirit of peace."