2011 is clearly slated to be a critical crossroads in the Middle East peace process. By August, Fayyad’s Government is set to complete its two-year plan for Palestinian state-building. The agreed timeframe of the currently stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will also come to an end.
In other words, the time to seize the opportunity is now. Failing to do so will not merely result in yet another lost opportunity. The very prospect of a negotiated two-state solution is at stake. That is why we all must stand firm behind the stated goal of negotiating a framework agreement on permanent status and a subsequent comprehensive peace treaty, within the agreed timeline.
This was a main message voiced by the Foreign Minister of Norway during his visit to the region this month. As Chair of the Ad-hoc Liaison Committee, Minister Gahr Støre also expressed his confidence that the international donor community will do its share to make this happen.
At the AHLC meeting here in New York last September, we were greatly encouraged by the World Bank conclusion that the Palestinian Authority stands ready to establish a state in the near future. We have no doubt that, at the upcoming AHLC -meeting in April to be convened by Norway and hosted by the EU in Brussels, major donors will recommit to help the Fayyad Government bring the state-building project to completion by the August deadline.
But come September 2011, we will need to see a substantial breakthrough on the political track. The bottom-up approach to Palestinian state-building is in itself not sufficient. Questions will arise in earnest concerning its sustainability beyond 2011 if a decisive top-down push is not brought to bear.
If the Palestinian state-to-be is to break out of its structural donor dependence, it needs political and economic conditions to do so. The restricted access to resources and markets in Area C and East Jerusalem – as well as to foreign markets – is a major barrier to economic growth in the private sector. This potential must be tapped to fuel the drive towards independence.
The peace process is in a fragile state. Norway is deeply concerned, and so we call on the parties to urgently return to negotiations in good faith. Both sides know perfectly well what they have to do – and what they must not do – to enable a conducive environment for negotiations.
For one, maintaining security for all is key for the parties to build confidence and trust in each other as partners in peace. Moreover, it is imperative to refrain from actions that are illegal under international law and that are gradually eroding the ground on which the two-state solution is to be built. In this respect, we take note of the draft Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements tabled yesterday.
Current policies in the occupied Palestinian territory are simply not sustainable, and time is running out. If international donors lose sight of the two-state solution, it will no longer be possible to take their tireless support for granted.
Two decades after the Madrid Peace Conference, a real sense of urgency is overdue – and decisive action is hardly too much to ask for. Not only should the parties come back to the table; they must act rapidly to rescue the two-state solution.