Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: SARAJEVO ( BiH )
Straw: Palestinian summit 'constructive'
LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Tuesday a conference on Palestinian reform was "comprehensive and constructive" despite the inability of Palestinian leaders to attend in person.
Straw said the session provided "a number of assurances" about the Palestinian Authority's desire to end the violence and bring about reforms in its administration of the Palestinian territories.
"We've emphasised to the Palestinians, who readily accepted this, that a peaceful state of Israel in which the citizens of Israel need to go about their business, their daily lives, in peace and tranquility is absolutely essential if there is to be a peace process, a far-reaching process leading to a separate and independent state of Palestine."
Afif Safieh, the Palestinian representative in London, said he was encouraged by the "enthusiasm" of the international community, including the United States, for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Palestinian officials in Gaza and Ramallah could participate in the conference only by video because the Israeli government refused to allow them to travel to London.
A top Palestinian leader told the conference the Israeli occupation was stalling reforms in the Palestinian Authority.
"The Israeli occupation is responsible for hindering and creating all forms of obstacles in front of the reform process," said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.
"We believe that the international community didn't do enough in order to assist the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian society to take the path of reform. If they want real reform, they should remove ... the tanks and forces from our streets, villages and towns and refugee camps, and the Palestinian society by itself will be able to accomplish all the aims of the reform plan."
Rabbo said the Israeli travel ban "represents the real condition under which the Palestinian people are living and Palestinian leadership is functioning."
But Straw said it was necessary for the Palestinians to implement improvements in civilian administration of the territories "notwithstanding the great difficulties."
And Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief and one of the diplomats attending the session, said reform has to happen if there is to be peace in the region.
"The reforms of a Palestinian state is fundamental," said Solana. "There will not be global peace in the region unless the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is solved."
But Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem the conference "is not likely to have any positive effect because the real need is a genuine reformation in Palestinian society, and I just don't think that it's going to happen ... by sending people abroad or talking through video conferences."
He added: "It is possible today from Ramallah to give instructions to stop the showing of the videos and programs that call little children to become suicide bombers. (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat can do that on the spot, he can call the leaders of Fatah and Tanzim, he can call them on the phone.
He can make a video conference with them and tell them to stop murdering innocent people, Israelis and people of all nationalities. That he can do right away. He doesn't have to go to London."
Sha'ath and Justice Minister Zuheri Surani participated by video conference from Gaza, while Finance Minister Salem Fayyad, Trade Minister Maher el Masri, Tourism Minister Nabil Kassis and Rabbo took part from Ramallah.
The Madrid Quartet -- the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia -- has drafted a road map that calls for declaring a temporary Palestinian state in 2003 with negotiations on a final status agreement and permanent borders by 2005.
Straw said the Quartet committee on Palestinian reform would meet again in the week of February 10.
In Israel, there was also criticism of the Israeli government's decision to block the Palestinians from travelling. Yossi Paritzky, a senior Shinui Party Knesset member, said the decision would cause more harm than good.
Paritzky said television pictures of empty chairs at the conference would give the Palestinians a propaganda victory.
Israel announced that the Palestinians would be prohibited from travelling to London as part of a package of new restrictions after twin suicide bombers set off blasts in Tel Aviv on January 5, killing 22 people.
The British government, from Prime Minister Tony Blair down, appealed to the Israelis to let the Palestinians travel, but Israel refused.
In addition to representatives of the Madrid Quartet, representatives of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia also attended.
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