Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of Delegations:
I wish to express my delegation's gratitude to the Presidency of the European Union, the European Commission and the Secretariat of the EU for all their efforts in preparing for this 14th session of the GCC-EU Joint Ministerial Council. I wish also to welcome the new members on the European side whose participation in this dialogue will certainly enrich GCC-EU cooperation.
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is surely safe to say that international security and stability, which concern us all, as well as the achievement of our goal for a strategic partnership, are strongly linked to our ability to contribute in achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Our joint responsibility in this regard necessitates that we extend every possible effort to advance the peace process to ensure reaching its desired objective in the face of the visible and dangerous setbacks it has witnessed in recent months. In our opinion these setbacks in the peace process, and the ensuing rising tide of violence and extremism in our region, derive mainly from the path chosen by the Israeli Government. This path is clearly in stark contradiction with all agreed principles and foundations of the peace process, including those of the ‘roadmap’ and the American vision of two states living in peace and security side by side where decent living conditions for both Palestinians and Israelis could be provided. Peace and security cannot be achieved by unilateral Israeli actions that aim to create new realities on the ground and predetermine the issues of final status negotiations.
Yet this is exactly the path chosen by the Israeli Government in its expansion of settlements and the building of a wall that cuts up large areas of Palestinian lands. I am saddened to say that this irrational Israeli path has recently received public support from the United States, which was supposed to utilize its special relationship with Israel to make it adhere to the foundations of the peace process, not weaken nor destroy them. Even the Israeli announcement of the intent to withdraw from Gaza was not done by adhering to the Road Map but by ignoring and side-stepping it in an attempt to gain legitimacy for settlements in the West Bank, which threatens the pillars of the international legal system. If Israel were serious in its peace efforts, the decision to withdraw from Gaza should have been made under the supervision of the Quartet and in accordance with a balanced implementation of the ‘roadmap’. Israel's continued policies of oppression, assassinations, closures, boycott, demolition of houses, destruction of properties and the general humiliation of the Palestinian people can only serve the extremists on both sides by deepening the feelings of despair and paving the way for continued violence and bloodshed.
The GCC states stand ready today, as they always have, to fully support any efforts aiming at establishing the foundations of a just peace in the Middle East. In this context our governments supported the efforts of the Quartet for a balanced implementation of the ‘roadmap’. We wish that the recent meeting of the Quartet had produced a clearer and firmer stand to ensure such an implementation by both sides. Perhaps the best way for strengthening the Quartet's efforts is by institutionally combining the ‘roadmap’ and the Arab Peace Plan through unifying the efforts of the Quartet and the Arab League Peace Committee. The Arab Peace Initiative in our opinion contains more comprehensive elements regarding the final peace settlement, for it provides for peace not only between the Palestinians and the Israelis, but also between Israel and all the Arabs including Syria and Lebanon. The two plans complement each other perfectly. It behooves us to take advantage at the same time of the efforts by civil societies on both sides of the divide to convince their respective public opinion of the desirability of peace. It is an opportunity that should not be dissipated.
As we assert our deep conviction that our region badly needs reforms, which aim to achieve good governance and respect for people's rights, we are deeply concerned when voices are heard suggesting a tradeoff between this need for reforms and the need for peace. Although they are both related, each of these needs is valued on its own merit. We should not utilize the pressing need for reforms to postpone or ignore the equally pressing need for peace, nor should we escape to the future to avoid the responsibility towards overcoming the obstacles facing the peace process. The other side of the coin is equally valid: reforms should not be held hostage by developments in the peace process. We were committed to the path of reforms before the so-called Greater Middle East Initiative was launched. In spite of the current difficulties in the peace process, our reform efforts are continuous and cumulative in their effects.
Our political leadership is keenly aware of the necessity of continuing the reform efforts to meet the needs of our citizens by achieving good governance and equality to all citizens in the eyes of the law. These reform efforts will continue through calculated steps regardless of any internal reservations or external pressures. Reforms for us are not mere slogans or formulas imposed upon us from without. Our societies are not laboratories for experimentation or stages for adventurous schemes. These reforms are for the benefit of our citizens, and it is they who are the true arbiters of their government's efforts. Providing investments, the transfer of technology, the signing of free trade agreements and supporting our efforts to join the World Trade Organization are all needed at this time to create the proper environment for our own programs of modernization and ensuring their speedy achievement. These are the areas where the advanced West can truly help the process of reforms. If we believe that there are universal values, then the best way the advanced Western countries can influence their spread and acceptance is to provide the example worthy of emulation, and the avoidance of the perception of double standards and imposed dictates. This is the only way to build credibility and trust that are sadly lacking in the Middle East due to past experiences. We recognize the more balanced policies of the European countries towards the just settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the efforts to remove the obstacles to peace, and these policies are duly appreciated.
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I hope that our next meeting would be held under more promising conditions regarding the peace process. The time is ripe for peace if only we have the will to stand firm against those whose interest seems to be to continue the conflict.