The top U.N. Middle East envoy has called on Israel to make a full and complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and urged Security Council action to ensure the pullout is done correctly. The envoy described this a crucial moment in Middle East diplomacy.
The U.N. special coordinator for the middle east peace process Terje Roed-Larsen Friday brushed aside assessments that the so-called Road Map peace plan is dead. In a briefing to the Security Council, Mr. Roed-Larsen said he sees Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza as a real chance for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"I still do believe that the Gaza withdrawal, if carried out in the right way, can usher in a new era of peacemaking in the Middle East. I also continue to maintain that if such a withdrawal is implemented the wrong way it will lead to more violence, quite possibly bringing us to a new low in the dismal annals of the Palestinian-Israeli tragedy," he said.
Mr. Roed-Larsen described the right way as containing two main elements. "First, the withdrawal should constitute the end of the occupation of the Gaza Strip, not merely a military redeployment, and it must be recognized as such by the international community. In other words, the withdrawal should be full and complete and lead to the consolidation of Palestinian control over its territory and over the international crossings.
The second is that the withdrawal should be accompanied by the implementation of other Palestinian and Israeli obligations under the Road Map," he said.
The envoy said, however, that it is unrealistic to expect the parties to settle their dispute on their own. He urged the Security Council to intervene to stop the violence.
"The Security Council has, needless to say, the mandate and the responsibility to restore peace and security in this part of the world. And above all, it has the authority and legitimacy to intervene in a way that will ensure the consent of all parties concerned," he said.
Mr. Roed-Larsen said it is still too early to say what form an international security presence might take. He suggested that might be a topic for discussion by the so-called quartet, sponsors of the Road Map peace plan.
The quartet, made up of the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia, will gather at U.N. headquarters the first week of May.
After meeting with Secretary General Kofi Annan Thursday, EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana acknowledged that many observers have declared the Road Map dead. He said the quartet's mission would be to give the plan a new impulse, and to 'recuperate the trust of the Palestinian people'.