U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has said Yasser Arafat should be released immediately from the restrictions on his freedom of movement imposed by Israel. But in return, Mr. Annan says the Palestinian leader should crack down hard on extremist groups in areas under his control.
The Secretary General's remarks came at the opening session of a U.N. committee concerned with the situation of the Palestinian people. Mr. Annan did not seek to blame one side or the other for the escalation of violence, instead making clear both Israel and the Palestinians have to take responsibility.
"In the past sixteen months, the situation on the ground has deteriorated to unprecedented levels. The death toll now exceeds 1,100, with up to 20,000 injured on both sides, the overwhelming majority Palestinians. We have seen too much suffering. The deadly spiral of violence must stop. The parties should move away from confrontation and recriminations, and return to the negotiating table," Mr. Annan said.
In an effort to get the talks going again, the Secretary-General made a number of proposals, first among them was the release of the Palestinian leader from what he called "virtual house arrest."
"The Palestinian leadership faces very great challenges. The destruction of the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure will only increase the difficulty it has in meetings both its political and its security commitments. Certainly, the virtual house arrest imposed on President Arafat should be lifted," Mr. Annan said.
Mr. Annan referred to two proposals outlined by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and CIA director George Tenet to move the peace process forward. The Tenet plan addresses the security concerns of each side, which must be met for a cease fire to hold. The Mitchell proposal is a comprehensive formula designed to move the peace process forward, with the ultimate goal of guaranteed security for Israel and a legitimate Palestinian state. Mr. Annan has said they should be combined and be adopted entirely by both sides.
"The urgency and gravity of the situation is such that preconditions that can all too easily be thwarted by extremists should not be allowed to become barriers to further progress. It is therefore vital that all aspects of Tenet and Mitchell should be advanced as a package," Mr. Annan said.
Mr. Annan also addressed humanitarian concerns. He said that the violence of the past year and a half has had a "catastrophic" effect on the Palestinian economy. He also noted that more than half of the Palestinian people live below the poverty line, adding emergency humanitarian relief is now a top priority of the U.N.