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Anförande vid den internationella Madridkonferensen om Mellanöstern

Anförande vid den internationella Madridkonferensen om Mellanöstern, Madrid +15, Spanien

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

15 years ago here in Madrid a light of hope was lit for the world and the Middle East.

Momentous changes, and deliberate diplomacy, brought the prospect of peace to the ancient lands of Abraham.

The years since then have certainly been difficult. The light of hope has often been seen as fading - sometimes as faltering altogether.

When we gather here it is to discuss the lessons learnt from these 15 years - but to do so in order to be able to start moving forward again.

It is not difficult to see the problems we are facing in the region. They are certainly not restricted to the absence of peace - or to the absence of a peace process - between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Iranian issue can be neglected by no one. And we all have a profound interest in the stability and political progress of an Iraq trying to build a fully fledged and stable democracy. Economic, political and social issues are pressing across the region.

But there is little doubt that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of particular importance. Peace here would facilitate progress throughout the region and across its entire agenda of major challenges.

In broad terms, we all know what the solution one day will have to be.

Two states living side by side in peace and security within internationally recognised borders. Indeed, there is now a universal commitment to the principle of a two-state solution.

I am convinced that the longer we delay starting to move decisively forward, the greater are the risks that the challenges one day may seem insurmountable.

There was once perhaps a belief that time was working in favour of peace. That is far less certain today. There might be forces building up across the region that one day could challenge the very foundations upon which peace will have to rest.

Indeed, Kofi Annan recently cautioned that tensions are "near the breaking point". A report from the EU Institute for Security Studies - looking at the prospect for the decades ahead - even warned of what it called the risks of "a systematic breakdown" of the entire region.

Time, then, is of the essence. To wait and do nothing might well be just waiting for things to get even worse.

The long-term security of Israel will be a function not only of the reconciliation between it and the Arab world but also of the viability of the future Palestinian state. There is no way in which Israel can be secure if surrounded by areas under occupation, with populations living in anger and despair sometimes opting for extremism.

The first imperative for moving forward is to avoid going backwards.

Palestine must not renege on agreements and understandings reached in the past, nor on its own commitment to building a state based on democracy and the rule of law. The renunciation of all forms of terrorism, as well as the use of violence to settle internal disputes, is fundamental.

Israel must truly honour in deeds, not only in words, its commitment to stop new settlements on occupied lands and to abolish those established in violation of international law. This applies throughout Palestinian territories, not excluding East Jerusalem. The end of occupation is a necessity for Israel itself - and policies must be conducted accordingly.

The second imperative is to start moving forward.

The cease-fire in Gaza must be extended to the West Bank. The freedom of movement in the occupied territories must be dramatically improved. Prisoners must be released. Economic relations must be normalised. Security cooperation must be strengthened. The political dialogue must be deepened.

Nothing of this should be impossible. All of this is urgent.

The third imperative must be to move through these urgent steps towards peace. Not only towards a peace process - time might simply not be there given the forces that might be building up - but towards peace itself.

The essence of that peace will be the building of a Palestinian state with internationally recognised borders, contiguous territory and a viable economy. Nothing else will bring peace to the region. We are talking about a territory that - Gaza aside - will soon have a population density higher than Bangladesh.

The 1967 borders constitute the basis for any agreement that must be concluded. And Israel must understand that no other nation in the world - except Palestine itself - has a more fundamental interest in the viability and stability and democracy of that state of Palestine than Israel has.

Peace must come primarily from the region. We know that the basic outlines of the peace to come already today have broad public support in all the lands between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

But we in the international community must and can help and assist. A revitalised Quartet is of the greatest importance in order to provide political leadership. And we in the European Union are ready to play a significantly more important role.

We Europeans face mounting strategic challenges in our near abroad. From Kabul to Khartoum we feel the tremors of rising tensions. Clouds are gathering also on our immediate Eastern horizon. Signs of escalating fracture in Africa are increasing.

We need far more of a concerted strategic debate on the challenges ahead.

And we need more of a clear policy to help in addressing them.

But nowhere is this more important than when it comes to the conflict we will be discussing here in Madrid, today and in the days to come.

Let us bring back the light of hope.

Thank you!

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