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Benita Ferrero-Waldner

European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy

Statement on the situation in the Middle East

European Parliament Plenary
Strasbourg, 6 September 2006

Mr. President,

Honourable Members,

The conflict in Lebanon, the violence in the Palestinian Territories, the suffering of civilians in northern Israel: these past months the prospect of a comprehensive peace has seemed further off than ever.

Yet, paradoxically, these conflicts – and the misery suffered by ordinary Lebanese, Israelis and Palestinians – have once more brought to the forefront the need for a negotiated, regional solution. They are stark and cruel reminder that security and stability cannot be imposed unilaterally, without dialogue or diplomacy.

This is a moment of distress and suffering in the Middle East, but I believe also one of opportunity; an opportunity that we must seize. It is specifically by mobilising the very considerable resources of the EU – from the political and security to the technical, economic and financial – and by deploying them in close cooperation with the rest of the international community, that we may be able to pull the Peace Process back onto its feet.

Mr. President,
Honourable Members,

The EU is playing an unprecedented role. Europe is fully engaged with Lebanon and determined to play a strong role to support the implementation of UN Resolution 1701 and in finding lasting peace for the region.

EU Member States are making a decisive contribution to the expanded UNIFIL peacekeeping force in support of the rapid extension of the Lebanese government’s authority throughout Lebanon. The EU is at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to remove the continuing air and sea blockade of Lebanon.

From the outset of the conflict the European Commission has been active on the ground, supporting our partners and their people when they most needed us. Over the past six weeks the Commission has mobilised and coordinated an important European response to the urgent needs caused by the conflict:

  • From the second week of conflict, we have provided rapid humanitarian assistance. I was glad to learn that this Parliament has agreed to our request to mobilise further resources from the emergency reserve; this will allow ECHO to continue its action in support of essential early recovery, notably for water, sanitation and housing, bringing our total humanitarian support to over €50 million;
  • The Commission helped coordinate and supported evacuation efforts – including €11 million in support of evacuation of third country nationals caught up in the conflict;
  • On the ground, the Commission played an important role assessing the situation and setting up the first coordination exercise among donors. We are now working with the Lebanese Government, as well as with the UN and World Bank, to ensure that in the post-conflict phase this coordination will be led and informed by the Lebanese themselves;
  • Commission also responded to the environmental disaster and has supported the Lebanese government through the Community Civil Protection Mechanism to address the environmental damage.

We are now working to assess and address the needs to rebuild Lebanon; to restore its infrastructure and to promote economic recovery, social development and political cohesion.

At the Stockholm Conference last week I announced a package of €42 million to support early recovery until the end of this year:

  • €10 million for a Reconstruction Assistance Facility, ensuring rapid and effective identification, coordination and implementation of reconstruction and rehabilitation measures;
  • Another €10 million to meet in a flexible and transparent manner the urgent priorities of the Lebanese Government;
  • €4 million to support strengthening of the Rule of Law and the internal security forces,
  • €18 million to help revive the economy, create jobs and generate family income.

I believe the European Commission has shown that it is ready to act and act fast! In the past month, we have mobilised our staff, our instruments, and well over €100 million of Community resources to come to the aid of Lebanon and its people.

Mr. President,
Honourable Members,

The EU contribution to meeting specific and immediate needs is crucial to support the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701; to support a lasting settlement to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah that has for too long destabilised Lebanon and threatened Israel.

The Middle East needs a strong, sovereign, unified and politically independent Lebanon, able to consolidate the fragile peace that has returned and to contain the very real risk of spill over of tension that remains.

And the Lebanese population must also feel the tangible benefits of the cessation of hostilities. A Beirut-driven reconstruction process will help in strengthening the role of the Lebanese Government. For this and in order to start with the reconstruction phase, the lifting of Israel's air and sea blockade is essential, and I join again UNSG Kofi Annan’s call for its immediate removal.

Over the longer-term, the international community must remain engaged, with a focus on supporting institutional recovery and promoting Lebanese state-building efforts, including those undertaken via the national dialogue. That means pursuing the political, social and economic agenda already outlined in the EU Lebanon Action Plan. It is not an exaggeration to say that the measures we identified together before the conflict are now more important than ever.

We must also work collectively with our Lebanese counterparts to ensure that conditions for long term stability are met, including removing the ambiguity surrounding the disarming of Hezbollah (which can only realistically be achieved as part of a process of political integration) and clarifying the status of the Shebaa farms.

Mr. President,
Honourable Members,

We must not lose sight of the broader picture across the region. While international attention was drawn to Lebanon, the violence and suffering continued in the Palestinian territories, and Kassam rockets continued to fall on Israeli towns and villages.

In order to avoid further escalation we need a return by Palestinian militants to the ‘calm’ that held for most of 2005, the release of hostages, detainees and prisoners as well as progress on basic issues of movement and access, which hold the key to Palestinian economic recovery and to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. This should start with a rapid re-opening of the Gaza crossings, in particular the Rafah border supported by the EUBAM mission. The Commission is in principle ready to take further action to upgrade infrastructure and strengthen capacity on the basis of the Access and Movement Agreement of last November.

The context must be our long-standing aim of building up the institutions of a future Palestinian state, working with the Palestinian Authority. Which in turn means that the EU should be ready to respond pragmatically to the formation of a Palestinian national unity government. I repeat once more that we will engage with any government ready to work for peace by peaceful means.

We must not – and we do not - forget the plight of the Palestinian people. We have, via the Temporary International Mechanism, ensured access to clean water and sanitation in the Gaza Strip, kept hospitals and health care centres going through the summer and provided social allowance payments that have benefited more than 600,000 Palestinians.

But with continued political stalemate, closures, and frozen fiscal revenues the TIM can only provide temporary relief. We cannot go on like this for much longer. We must seek ways to improve access and movement, to get Israel to unblock the withheld Palestinian revenues, and to get the Palestinian Authority to ensure public order and security. We owe it to the parties, and they owe it to their own peoples.

Mr. President,
Honourable Members,

The rapid escalation of violence this summer produced no victory, only victims. We see once more the failure of military action to resolve the long drawn-out conflicts of the Middle East.

Yet the status quo – which includes the slow chipping away of the credibility of a two-state solution, continued occupation and endemic violence - is itself a recipe for instability. It is also a recipe for interference by third parties and radicalism, fuelled by injustices either perceived or real.

There is, then, really only one choice. We need to renew the political perspective upon which the Peace Process depends, including when it comes for example to our position on the primacy of the 1967 borders, and we must do everything possible to bring all the parties back to the negotiating table. By focusing on some concrete and pragmatic measures that can bring about some positive and tangible results, we can help to create the appropriate climate and facilitate a re-engagement between parties.

Decisive action is needed to get the parties back on the track to a negotiated peace. I have called for an early meeting of President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert; I hope they can address the issue of the hostages and detainees as well as the other pressing questions of violence, access and finances. It is also time for Israel and Lebanon to establish channels for dialogue, and for Syria to be brought back into the equation as they show readiness to do their part on the implementation of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. Iran, too, must take its responsibility and demonstrate its readiness to contribute to peace and stability in the region.

Many ideas have been floated on a comprehensive approach to peace in the Middle East. The Arab League initiative, in particular, deserves our full attention.

At the Gymnich meeting last weekend many voices called for greater EU leadership in the Middle East. I believe they are right: We have to turn the tragic events of this summer into an opportunity for a long term settlement of the still open conflicts in the region.

Our credibility, that of the Quartet and that of the UN, is at stake.

Thank you, Mr President.

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