Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message to the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Middle East Peace, delivered by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General, United Nations Office at Geneva, in Paris, 12 July :
I extend a warm welcome to all those participating in the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Middle East Peace, held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. This Conference is a fine example of the evolution that has taken place in the relationship between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations -- a relationship that goes back to the Charter itself. Over the years, the United Nations has engaged increasingly actively with civil society in the search for solutions to common concerns. We look forward to an ever stronger partnership with you in the years ahead.
Your participation in this Conference reflects your resolve and commitment to contribute to the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. You are probably encouraged, as I am, by the progress achieved at the Sharm El Sheikh summit between President Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon last February. Now, the commitments of both sides need to be fully implemented. While the level of violence is still a source of great concern, the parties, on different levels, continue to meet and discuss critical issues. I strongly encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to continue on the path of dialogue, taking advantage of the present moment of opportunity to revitalize the Quartet Road Map.
The international community is strongly committed to the goal of two States -- Israel and a sovereign, viable, democratic and contiguous Palestinian State -- living side by side in peace and security, as stipulated in the Road Map and endorsed by Security Council resolution 1515 (2003). At its meeting in London last month, the Quartet reaffirmed its support for the Israeli initiative to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank, and for an orderly Palestinian takeover of that area. It emphasized the urgent need for the parties to work directly and cooperatively with each other, assisted by the Quartet's Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement, James Wolfensohn, with the support of international donors.
Despite some progress on the ground, the world community remains concerned about the continuing expansion of settlements, construction of the barrier in the West Bank, and acts of violence. The parties have been reminded repeatedly of their obligations under the Road Map, and of the need to refrain from actions that could prejudge the outcome of the final status negotiations.
The United Nations, for its part, will spare no effort in advancing the peace process and, meanwhile, continuing to help the Palestinians cope with socio-economic hardship.
In all efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East, the support of civil society is indispensable. We count on you to remain committed until the Palestinian people realize their aspirations for an independent State, and until Israel and all States in the region can live side by side in a peaceful and prosperous Middle East.
I commend the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for continuing to work closely with civil society on this crucial issue. Above all, I thank all civil society participants for their dedication to building bridges of understanding and reconciliation between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. In that spirit, I send you my best wishes for a successful conference.