Recently, we have seen developments in the Middle East that may warrant cautious optimism.
We are encouraged to learn about the recent cease-fire in the Gaza.
We condemn extremists who by continuous firing of Qassam missiles into Israeli territory try to undermine this cease-fire, and we commend the Israeli Government for not responding to these provocations.
Restraint and good-will shown by the Israeli Government are highly important. We applaud the fact that there seems to be constructive cooperation on the ground between the Israeli Defence Force and Palestinian security units in enforcing the cease-fire.
The parties have a responsibility to take all necessary means to break the cycle of violence. We expect them to explore all possible avenues to extend the cease-fire to the West Bank.
The parties must also bear in mind that no conflict is above international humanitarian law, and the security and the plight of civilians on both sides must weigh equally heavy.
But having said that, it should also be pointed out that Israel, as the occupying power, has a particular responsibility. The highest price today is being paid by the Palestinian civilian population and Israel has an obligation to address that fact adequately.
We also welcome the news that the Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit hopefully will be freed soon.
We hope that Prime Minister Olmert will follow up on his recent statements that as a gesture of good will Israel will release a number of Palestinian prisoners.
Let me in this regard particularly emphasize the need for the immediate release of the 36 members of the Palestinian Parliament and Cabinet that are presently in Israeli custody. It is absolutely unacceptable that duly elected representatives of the Palestinian people are being held imprisoned and they should be set free without delay regardless of other developments.
We look forward with anticipation towards a successful completion of the efforts towards forging a new national coalition Cabinet on the Palestinian side. We fully support President Abbas’ endeavours toward that end.
President Abbas enjoys both Palestinian as well as international legitimacy and stands firm on basic norms on international relations.
He underlines that the platform of any Palestinian government must reflect the three principles set out by the Quartet: acceptance of previous governments’ agreements, renunciation of violence and terror and recognition of Israel’s right to exist. If President Abbas succeeds in creating a Palestinian government we should not be slow to react, but be ready to resume the international assistance and to work with the new government.
Norway, as Chair of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee is prepared to reinforce the international efforts to financially support a new Palestinian administration. We look forward to a fruitful cooperation with the other donor nations and international institutions as well as the parties on this issue.
It is important that the Palestinian people see an immediate effect and that the hardships on innocent civilians be eliminated to the largest extent possible. The single most important measure to normalise the situation for Palestinians would be to abolish the closure regime.
Norway therefore urges Israel to lift closures and allow normal imports and exports, and to let people move as freely as possible through entry and exit posts.
While Norway recognises Israel’s security concerns, we cannot accept the construction of the separation barrier on occupied land on the West Bank. Nor can we accept the continued construction activities in the Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
The building of the barrier, the construction in the settlements and the development of a separate road net for the settlements are in conflict with international law and create facts on the ground that are detrimental to a contiguous and viable Palestinian state, and thus, to a peaceful solution to the conflict. We must emphasize strongly that none of Israel’s unilateral measures must prejudge a final solution of presently unresolved questions.
Our goal is two viable states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security within internationally recognized borders. At this critical juncture we must join forces and do our utmost to make this vision come true.