U.N. Chief Exhorts Israeli Leadership to Resume Trading Land for Peace


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Israel on Wednesday to recommit itself to the principle of trading land for peace and declared that much of the world holds the Jewish state accountable for the impasse in Middle East peacemaking.

“The great majority of the member states of the United Nations . . . regard Israel as having been responsible, directly or indirectly, for provocative acts that undermine goodwill and spark hostilities,” Annan said in a speech here. There is “no viable alternative” to the current land-for-peace formula, he said.

The comments by the courtly diplomat were the strongest since he began a regional tour last week to press for progress in the stalled peace negotiations. And they came on the eve of a visit to Israel by U.S. mediator Dennis B. Ross, who also will try to break the deadlock in the talks.


Speaking to the Israel Council on Foreign Affairs, Annan urged the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to work for a permanent peace settlement with the Palestinians and fulfill its obligations under existing interim accords. He also asked Israel to halt construction of Jewish settlements, land confiscations, home demolitions and other acts that “take from Palestinians . . . their very dignity.”

“The great mass of world opinion, including many countries that are sympathetic to Israel and to the Israeli dilemma, genuinely feels that Israel is doing a great deal of disservice to its cause and its standing by persisting with these practices,” Annan said.

In response to Annan’s call for follow-through on the land-for-peace principle, an Israeli official retorted that the Jewish state has received only violence in exchange for giving the Palestinians parts of the West Bank.

“Unfortunately, in the years since the [1993] Oslo agreements were signed, we have been giving land and getting not peace but terror in return,” said David Bar-Illan, a senior Netanyahu aide. “I don’t think anyone has any doubt who is responsible for that terror.”

Annan said later that he is aware of Israel’s concerns that the Palestinians are not doing enough to fight violence by militant Islamic groups in areas under their control. “Both sides have to do their work,” he said.

Annan is scheduled to leave the Middle East today, just before Ross’ arrival. During his visit, Ross is expected to present a new U.S. proposal that calls for the Israelis to withdraw from an additional 13.1% of the West Bank in exchange for Palestinian commitments to crack down on the extremist groups. On Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet rejected the figure as unacceptable, but the government later softened its position slightly.


Bar-Illan said the government might be willing to cede more contiguous West Bank land to the Palestinians than previously suggested in order to persuade them to accept a smaller total figure. He also said that Israel might be prepared to turn over a little more than the 9% of total West Bank land it has previously described as an upper limit for the troop pullback.

But Bar-Illan said that any such increase in scope would be minimal and contingent on Palestinian agreement to other Israeli demands. “The threshold of double digits won’t be reached at this stage,” he said, denying media reports that Netanyahu is now willing to offer the Palestinians a withdrawal of about 11%.

In recent weeks, Israel has mounted an intensive campaign to head off any new U.S. initiative, fearing that a public presentation would create undue pressure on Israel to go along. U.S. officials have said it is unclear when their plan will be made public, although many of its elements have been widely reported.

The Palestinians now have full control of 3% of the West Bank and civil authority over an additional 24%.