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Middle East Quartet backs ‘substantive and serious’ meeting set for later this year

Middle East Quartet backs ‘substantive and serious’ meeting set for later this year

Quartet principals at today's meeting
The international meeting on Israeli-Palestinian peace scheduled for later this year in Washington should be “substantive and serious” so that the two sides can finally end their conflict and devise a durable two-state solution, members of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet said today after a meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Following a briefing by their recently appointed Representative, the former British prime minister Tony Blair, on the latest developments in the region, the Quartet issued a statement in which they expressed support for the Washington meeting proposed by United States President George W. Bush.

“Principals discussed the meeting and agreed that it should be substantive and serious, providing support to the parties in their bilateral discussions and negotiations in order to move forward urgently on a successful path to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that will unite all Palestinians,” the statement said.

The statement from the Quartet – which comprises the UN, the European Union, Russia and the US – noted that the aim of the Washington meeting is to bring together key members of the international community, especially in the Middle East, to mobilize their support behind recent peace moves.

“The Quartet expects the meeting to affirm its support for the two-state solution based on a rejection of violence and its support for progress by their parties in their bilateral discussions. The meeting should also review progress that has been made toward building Palestinian institutions and discuss innovative and effective ways to support further Palestinian reform.”

Speaking to the press after today’s Quartet meeting, Mr. Blair said there was a feeling in the region that “things are moving again,” although he stressed that it was tempered by recognition that it was important to not be overly optimistic. Nevertheless, “there is a reinvigoration of the political process.”

The statement noted the ongoing talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the formation of teams on the two sides “to discuss the core issues that are essential to progress,” and the parallel steps by the parties to build confidence and improve conditions on the ground.

Mr. Blair briefed the Quartet on his two recent trips to the region, focusing in part on the need help develop a functioning Palestinian economy and institutions of governance that could form the foundation of a formal state.

Quartet members agreed Mr. Blair should work closely with the Palestinian Authority to develop a multi-year agenda for economic and institutional development, and they called on the international community to provide the necessary financial support.

The Temporary International Mechanism was extended until 31 December and the statement voiced hope that before then a mechanism would be set up to provide for direct international assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

It also expressed urgent concern over the humanitarian conditions inside the Gaza Strip, where major crossing points into the small territory – which is home to 1.4 million people – have been largely closed for months.

Last week Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who hosted today’s meeting, called for Israel to overturn its decision to interrupt the provision of essential services, such as electricity and fuel, to Gaza, saying it contravened its international humanitarian and human rights obligations towards the civilian population.

In response to questions today, Mr. Ban reiterated his concerns about the situation in Gaza and said it was crucial that UN humanitarian agencies continue their work without hindrance.

Quartet members today also noted their grave concern over the continued rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and “recent efforts by Hamas to stifle freedom of speech and the press.”

Today’s meeting was attended by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado (representing the current Portuguese presidency of the EU).

After the meeting, the Quartet members held an iftar – the evening meal for breaking the fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan – with members of the Arab League follow-up committee for the Arab Peace Initiative to consult on the next steps in the process.