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Clear consensus for Quartet’s efforts to settle Middle East crisis, Security Council told

Clear consensus for Quartet’s efforts to settle Middle East crisis, Security Council told

Kieran Prendergast briefs the Council
There is a clear consensus within the international community of support for the diplomatic Quartet’s efforts to reach a permanent settlement to the situation in the Middle East based on two sovereign states, living side-by-side in peace and security, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today.

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast recalled in a briefing to the Council that the principals of the Quartet – the United States, European Union, Russian Federation and UN – had last met on 20 December, after which US President George W. Bush expressed his strong support for the group’s efforts and a firm commitment to the road map towards realizing a vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security. Progress has been made in finalizing that plan, and the Quartet expects to present it formally to the parties following the elections in Israel on 28 January.

That road map sets out a three-phase plan for achieving a negotiated settlement and is premised on a recognition that progress is contingent on parallel steps by both parties in security, humanitarian, institution-building and political matters, Mr. Prendergast said. The first phase requires parallel implementation of a complete ceasefire, improved humanitarian conditions, promotion of Palestinian institution building and a halt all settlement construction. “The dismal situation on the ground makes it imperative that the Quartet finalize and then begin implementing the road map as soon as possible,” he said.

On the matter of Palestinian reform efforts, Mr. Prendergast said he was particularly encouraged by the rapid pace of financial reforms and noted that the Palestinian Authority had submitted an austerity budget for fiscal year 2003 to the Palestinian Legislative Council and was in the process of developing a robust internal auditing capacity, with the assistance of prominent international accounting firms.

On the other hand, the continuing lack of progress in advancing the issue of the rule of law was of concern, he added. The Palestinian legal community continued to challenge the legality of the Palestinian state security courts. The development of a robust and transparent judiciary was an important foundation for reform in other areas.

Much attention, Mr. Prendergast said, was now focused on the outcome of the Israeli general elections. Whatever Israeli government emerged would confront the reality of surging violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. The growing economic hardship on both sides posed another serious challenge. There was little hope on either side that the political stalemate that prompted, and continued to fuel the current crisis, would soon be resolved.

“Whatever the current difficulties, ultimately a lasting peace can only be achieved through a political process that takes fully into account the legitimate aspirations of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples,” Mr. Prendergast said. “We therefore remain convinced that the implementation of the road map of the Quartet will constitute a new beginning for the peoples of both societies.”