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UN Envoy: Narrow 'Window of Opportunity' Now Open for Mideast Peace - 2003-12-13

The U.N. Middle East envoy is describing recent developments in the region as a window of opportunity for peace. However, the envoy is warning that another breakdown of peacemaking efforts could lead to chaos.

Senior Middle East envoy Terje Roed Larsen told the Security Council Friday that a number of factors give cause for optimism. He pointed to a marked decline in Israeli military operations, an extended lull in major Palestinian terrorist attacks, the formation of a new Palestinian government, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's expressed desire to meet his Palestinian counterpart to start peace talks.

"Once again, we have a narrow window of opportunity, one in which the parties need to take positive steps to truly put the peace process back on track," he said.

Mr. Roed Larsen praised the two civil initiatives underway in the region, calling them indications that Israelis and Palestinians can work together to constructively bridge their differences. He also had warm words for Egypt for its tireless efforts in working with the Palestinian Authority to secure a cease-fire.

But in comments to reporters afterward, the envoy warned that a failure of these efforts could lead to a return to what he described as 'the dark valley of violence'.

"The alternative is, to use an Arabic expression, fawda, it is chaos. I fear that if hopes once again are shattered, and this fragile new peace process does not succeed, then the alternative may be chaos and massive violence, maybe on an even worse scale and of a worse type than what we've seen so far," he said.

Mr. Roed Larsen pointed to Israel's security barrier as a particular irritant, noting that Secretary-General Kofi Annan had described construction of the wall as a 'deeply counterproductive act'.

The envoy's optimistic assessment came on a day when Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, on a visit to Washington, hinted that Prime Minister Sharon might soon unveil a proposal for removing some Jewish settlements.

Mr. Shalom expressed hope that a meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei could be held in the near future, without preconditions.