"…The Madrid conference 15 years ago did not create peace. But it gave hope. And it lead towards peace. Against a background of a Gulf war it brought key regional parties together. What started in Madrid had lasting effects on the political map of the Middle East.
"As we look at the region today, the picture is even gloomier than the one we were facing 15 years ago. To meet these challenges we need to set a regional agenda. We need to repeat the method of Madrid….
"For various reasons some parties to the wider Middle Eastern conflicts are absent from our gathering. I believe we should recall that a perquisite for peace is that we make all parties stakeholders - that we seek to engage countries as well as key groups.
"Key to the Madrid method is engagement.
"We should recall that engagement does not mean tolerating obstructionism and extremism. We reject violence and terrorism. We expect countries and groups of the region to live up to their international obligations and to abide by international law. We object to occupation and illegal settlements.
"Engagement means exploring opportunities for a new path towards peace and security for the people in the Middle East.
"As always, there will be those who fear change and moderation, those who seek to bring engagement to an end. The history of the Middle East is full of such examples. The challenge will be to deny them the right of veto when peaceful and constructive approaches become a viable possibility.
"…The important legacy of Madrid 15 years ago was not a comprehensive peace accord. It was rather the creation of an enabling environment. The rest of the 1990s saw progress and breakthrough. A spirit of negotiations. The Oslo Accords. Peace between Israel and Jordan. Close to peace between Israel and Syria. And despite dire set backs, real steps forward between Israelis and Palestinians.
"Then the atmosphere changed around 2000 - and today, as we enter 2007, and despite the Road Map and different plans, we can hardly speak of a viable peace process.
"15 years later another war is waging in Iraq…. One after another, separate conflicts in an extended Middle Eastern region are increasingly linked together - from the Horn of Africa all the way to Afghanistan. Each conflict needs to be addressed on its own merits.
"But in addition we need to take a regional approach. We should hold open the scenario of a new formal regional conference, supported by the international community. We need to take account of new dimensions such as increased religious influence, Iran's role and ambitions, the fight against terrorism and the issue of nuclear proliferation….
"I still believe that the Israeli Palestinian conflict continues to be a key challenge to achieving peace throughout the Middle East. We need to break the cycle of violence. Here too, there is no military solution. It can only be political. It is crucial that the parties engage in dialogue. Dialogue is not a sign of weakness. Dialogue is the difficult and brave choice, as Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat demonstrated after Oslo on the lawn of the White House.
"It was a brave act of President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert to come together last month. But to preserve this potential new start the people they represent must see the benefit in terms of commitment to concrete follow-up of results.
"Here in Madrid we are pledging to lend our support. In the present context, the countries in the region are the main stakeholders. But so are also the Quartet and other international actors. The true role of the Quartet should be to weigh in and provide a real effort to support and even initiate a process…. And if the Quartet is unable to do that as a group, then each part should not refrain from engaging. That challenge goes in particular to the European Union.
"Today the situation in Palestine is dramatic. And it may pass from bad to worse. I hear Palestinian friends say that the international community should lift the siege. Let me be clear; speaking for Norway, we have no desire to see Palestine under siege. We stand by the vision of a viable Palestinian state, and we pledge our support to assist you in getting there. We wish to see success in the Palestinian attempt to agree on a political platform that would open the road to greater internal unity and real negotiations for peace. We stand ready to respond.
"But if there is to be any such process, let us be realistic: The United States has to engage and promote a new dialogue and a new way forward. And Israel has to do its part to lift restrictions on the Palestinians and deliver tangible outcomes of political talks and pledges. Israel has the obvious right to safeguard its security. But Israel's peace and security is directly linked to the prospects of Palestinian peace and security.
"…The method of Madrid is about engagement. There must be a diplomatic process with rights and obligations for every conflict. To halt violent extremism, we must engage all parties, including non state actors in dialogue and responsible engagement. Failing to do so would leave the initiative to extremists and to those who refuse compromise. Groups cannot be eradicated by military force or eliminated by decree.
"They too need to be engaged and held responsible.
"Norway is committed to working hard together with its partners in and outside the region to make peace in the Middle East a reality. We maintain a dialogue with all countries and key groups that need to be engaged in regional efforts to reduce conflict and violence. The road to renewed political efforts towards peace and security for all can only be found through strong commitment to engagement in dialogue. The brave and difficult choice…."
(for the entire speech, please see: http://odin.dep.no/ud/english/news/speeches/minister_a/032171-090747/dok-bn.html)
* Jonas Gahr Støre is Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway; member of the Labour Party; former Secretary of State; and former Chief of Staff, Office of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (2000-01). This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 January 2007, www.commongroundnews.org
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