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Calmy-Rey Meets Abbas, Qurei, Abed Rabbo, and Khatib, Swiss FM Pledges Continued Support to Geneva Initiative

Palestine Media Center , 05.02.05

Following a meeting with visiting Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas thanked Switzerland -- the sponsor of the unofficial Palestinian-Israeli Geneva initiative -- for its continued support for peace in the Middle East and the democratic process in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).
Speaking at a press conference after talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Calmy-Rey, Abbas said both sides had discussed the ongoing negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.
The newly-elected President of the Palestine National Authority (PNA) said discussions had also covered the Geneva Conventions, of which Switzerland is the depository state, and the application of human rights in the region.
Calmy-Rey on her part told reporters she hoped the Israelis and the Palestinians would refer to the Geneva Accord, a Swiss-backed unofficial peace plan, during next week’s summit between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Egypt.
The unofficial Geneva Accord was co-authored by Yaser Abed Rabbo, member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and former Minister of culture and information, and by Yossi Beilin, former Israeli minister of justice in Ehud Barak’s government, and head of the Yahad party.
The accord had the support of the government of Switzerland and was signed with much fanfare from the press and the international community in Geneva on December 1st, 2003.
To date, Switzerland has contributed SFr3.5 million, with a further SFr2 million promised for 2005, to support the initiative.
Meets Palestinian PM, Visits Hebron and Bethlehem
Earlier on Thursday, the Swiss foreign minister discussed the intended unilateral plan for Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei.
The Swiss government emphasized the need to ensure that “humanitarian aspects are not ignored,” she told reporters after the meeting, swissinfo reported.
“Mr Qurei gave me a detailed account of the current situation and called for an end to the construction of the [Israeli] security barrier and the building of homes in Jewish settlements,” she said.
During her meeting with Qurei, she also underlined that Switzerland was giving logistical and financial support to the Geneva Accord and would continue to do so.
The Swiss foreign minister also held talks with the Palestinian planning minister, Ghassan Khatib, to examine joint development projects.
“The Palestinians thanked Switzerland for its support and cooperation,” she said.
Calmy-Rey laid flowers at the tomb of the former Palestinian leader, Yaser Arafat, in the presidential compound (Muqataa) in Ramallah.
She also visited a training center for Palestinian detainees in Ramallah that has received SFr2 million ($1.66 million) from the Swiss government.
Earlier in the day, Calmy-Rey visited the southern West Bank city of Hebron where she held talks with the city’s governor, Arif al-Jabari and also visited the offices of the United Nations observer mission, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), which mediates between the two sides and is supported by Switzerland.
She paid tribute to a Swiss worker at the mission who was killed in an attack almost three years ago.
During a visit to Bethlehem, Calmy-Rey met the director of the Swiss-funded Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ).
ARIJ, which was founded in 1990, aims to give the Palestinian people maximum control over their natural resources.
Struck by Palestinian Economic Problems, Wall
Calmy-Rey expressed concern over the “disastrous” economic situation in the Occupied Territory and promised Swiss support to the Palestinian people.
Speaking in occupied east Jerusalem on Friday night, Calmy-Rey said she had been struck by the Palestinian economic problems.
“I saw checkpoints, expanding Israeli settlements, but for me the main impression was of the disastrous economic situation and the sense that (Palestinian – Israeli) dialogue must resume as quickly as possible,” the foreign minister said.
The Swiss top diplomat said she had seen the Apartheid Wall Israel is building on occupied Palestinian land during her journey from Jerusalem to Ramallah.
She added that this had brought home “its implications for the daily lives of the Palestinian population.”
Calmy-Rey added that improvements in the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian civilian population as well as in the economic and security situation “were essential if peace were to be established.”
“There are very high expectations of Switzerland, as the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions,” she said.
Referring to the spread of the illegal Jewish settlements in the OPT, she said that, “if one compared a map of the area in 1947 with a current map, one would understand better this sense of urgency.”
Pledges Continued Support for Geneva Initiative
During a meeting on Thursday with the Palestinian advocates of the Geneva Initiative at the Palestine Media Center (PMC) in Al-Bireh, Calmy-Rey pledged that her country will “continue to support the Geneva Initiative.”
The meeting was attended by Yaser Abed Rabbo, co-author of the Initiative and member of the PLO executive committee and members of the Initiative’s Steering Committee, in addition to Palestinian current and former cabinet ministers and lawmakers.
In a separate meeting, Abed Rabbo briefed the visiting diplomat on the measures taken to calm the situation in the OPT as a prelude to the resumption of the peace process, the risky repercussions of Israel’s Wall, the continued expansion of Jewish settlements and the continued Israeli military aggression.
He indicated to Calmy-Rey that Ariel Sharon’s unilateral plan to re-deploy the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) and illegal Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip is intended as an “alternative” to the peace process and the “roadmap” in order to exchange the disengagement from Gaza for a permanent occupation of the West Bank.
Refugee Problem ‘Existential in Nature’
Ahead of her visit she said in an interview: “We continue to support the Geneva Initiative, which is rooted in the larger framework of our commitment to the Middle East peace process. There is no doubt that [this initiative] has significantly contributed to re-dynamising the debate – both local and international – about the need for a comprehensive negotiated peace agreement based on clear parameters,” she told swissinfo.
She said the Initiative pushed Israel to react.
“It is also clear that launching the Geneva Initiative pushed Israel to react by announcing its willingness to withdraw from Gaza and four West Bank settlements. The new Palestinian president has recently met the Israeli initiators of this proposal.”
Replying a question about Palestinian refugees, she said: “The refugee question should not be considered in isolation; it must be dealt with in the context of a negotiated, comprehensive and equitable solution … The Geneva Initiative represents one possible solution that would meet these requirements.”
She described the refugee problem as “existential in nature.”
“For both sides, the refugee problem is existential in nature, from the point of view of their respective national projects. Thus, one can say that it will probably not be possible to solve the refugee question in a lasting way other than in the context of a global solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict,” she said.
Israeli Prime Minister Sharon had slammed the Initiative (Thursday, November 27) as “damaging and embarrassing for Israel, it’s a mistake to put on such a show and at the same time jeopardize a program which is the only one that can bring a solution,” Sharon argued, in reference to the UN-adopted “roadmap.”
Geneva Initiative authors confirm that the plan complements the “roadmap” and provides a blueprint for stage three of the Quartet-drafted peace plan.
Calmy-Rey kicked her visit to the Middle East in Israel and the OPT on Thursday.
In her interview with swissinfo, Calmy-Rey said a major goal of the visit was to talk to Israelis and Palestinians about issues including the Israeli intended pullout from Gaza Strip.