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Middle East

Published on June 2, 2008
Interview given by M. Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, to the “Al Ayyam” newspaper (excerpts)

Paris, May 22, 2008

PARIS DONORS’ CONFERENCE/FOLLOW-UP

[*Q. – (…) Overall, are you satisfied with the way the various parties are implementing the decisions which came out of the Paris Conference?*]

THE MINISTER – The follow-up to the Paris Conference shows that the European Union and United States have made a major effort. Over $700 million has already been paid to the Palestinian Authority, which is remarkable and demonstrates the international community’s support for the plan to create a Palestinian State. I now call on the countries which haven’t yet disbursed their aid to do so swiftly and convert part of their project aid into budget aid.

I salute the reforms undertaken by Salam Fayyad. He’s succeeded in balancing the economic and budget constraints with the imperatives of social justice. This path must be pursued.

Israel must now do more to help the Palestinian Authority, especially when it comes to exercising its authority over its territory. For this, it is essential immediately to remove some significant checkpoints so that, in particular, the Palestinian police can do their job and the economy get going again. So the follow-up to the Paris Conference consists in getting through to the leaders the fact that conditions on the ground must change to allow the projects financed by this conference to be implemented.

The follow-up to the Paris Conference builds on the momentum created by Annapolis with the goal of signing a peace agreement before the end of 2008 and creation of a Palestinian State. (…)

BETHLEHEM CONFERENCE

[*Q. – You will be attending the Bethlehem conference. (…) How important do you think it is and what about its links with the Paris Conference? (…)*]

THE MINISTER – The Bethlehem conference is designed to follow on from the Paris conference. We had proposed that a time should be reserved for the private sector on 17 December. Salam Fayyad preferred, rightly, that a whole event be organized for it in Palestine itself.

I should like, through my presence, to pay tribute to and encourage the potential of the Palestinian private sector and draw attention to the imperative of improving the situation on the ground, particularly in terms of freedom of movement. I have met some highly talented Palestinian entrepreneurs who, despite all the difficulties, are managing to maintain an economic activity.

Finally, the Bethlehem conference will show that the Palestinian Authority’s reform and development plan includes many concrete projects which now have to be implemented through stronger Israeli-Palestinian cooperation and public-private partnerships.

I am encouraging French and European firms to come and do business in Palestine. It’s in their interest since there are real opportunities for them and it’s in the interest of peace since these activities create jobs and improve Palestinians’ daily lives. But let’s be quite open about this: to get 6, 7 or 8% annual growth in Palestine, the first condition is the end of the occupation.

POST ANNAPOLIS CONFERENCE

[*Q. – Six months have gone by since the Annapolis Conference, a lot of people are starting to lose hope in the possibility of obtaining an agreement before the end of the year. Do you share their pessimism?*]

(…)

THE MINISTER – If you look at the what’s happening on the ground, we have reason to be sceptical. Daily life is changing only very slowly; this is creating frustration and resentment. At the same time, the leaders are telling us that negotiations are providing a forum for discussing all the final status issues. I think that the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, the region and the whole world need a historic advance.

The method of taking things one step at a time is useful and France is contributing to the implementation of concrete projects, but there also have to be some decisive advances. As regards bringing the process to a successful conclusion, France is telling the Israelis and Palestinians: you aren’t alone, the courageous decisions you have to take are difficult but we’ll help you. (…)

ISRAEL/SETTLEMENTS

[*Q. – France, the United States, the Quartet and the whole world continue to say that the settlement process is an obstacle to peace and should be stopped, however, Israel is responding negatively by pursuing her settlement activities. Does this mean that the world has no power to stop her? (…)*]

THE MINISTER – Israel’s expansion of the settlements is one of the main obstacles to peace. France, like in fact the United States and the whole international community, is officially asking Israel to stop all settlement activity to show her genuine commitment to the creation of a viable Palestinian State and peace in the Middle East. (…)

So, what can we do? While I am over there, I shall go to Hebron to see for myself the settlement activity and meet the Knesset members who proposed the "evacuation-compensation" bill to emphasize the importance of Israel freezing the settlement programme.

GAZA BLOCKADE/ATTACKS ON CROSSING POINTS/EXTRA-JUDICIAL EXECUTIONS/EUBAM

[*Q. – Do you think the Gaza blockade policy, after a year of total blockade, is doomed to failure?*]

THE MINISTER – The Gaza blockade has to stop. The strategy is doomed to failure. The population is suffering and the situation is morally untenable. It has to end.

The rocket firing must stop. Terrorist attacks on the crossing points causing civilian victims are unjustifiable. Similarly, Israel must stop the extra-judicial executions which are against international law. Restored calm will create the conditions for finding practical solutions for reopening the crossing points. The European Union has already said it was ready to restart the EUBAM mission in Rafah. France is ready to consider any proposal with this end in view.

MARWAN BARGHOUTI

[*Q. – You met Marwan Barghouti’s family during your recent visit, how important do you think he is?*]

THE MINISTER – I did indeed want to meet Mr Barghouti’s wife to express France’s sympathy to her and tell her that France was keen to see his release. He has played a constructive role particularly in encouraging Hamas to comply with the Peace Process principles. I hope he can go on playing it. To create a surge of confidence among the general public, France thinks that a larger number of prisoners, particularly elected representatives, women and children have to be released. (…)./.

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