MARK DAVIS: 10 years ago you seemed optimistic about the prospects of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

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How would you describe the situation today and your personal response to it?

TERJE ROED LARSEN, UN MIDDLE EAST ENVOY: I think the situation right now is best described as paradoxical. On the one side we’ve had major diplomatic breakthroughs and on the other side the bloodshed and the misery on the ground has been getting worse and worse over the last 2.5 years.

If we don’t get the diplomatic arenas, for the first time in history it shows that there is nearly a universal support for the so-called two-state solution that is establishing a state of Palestine living peacefully side by side by the State of Israel, both states universally recognised by the world.

For the first time in history also a Likud prime minister, the leader of the Likud party, has accepted that as well as the US President and these are major good news because the only solution to this conflict is this very two-state solution.

MARK DAVIS: Oslo, of course, had all the signs working in its favour as well and that ended in dust. There was a great disappointment of what came out of Oslo ultimately. Why will this peace plan be any different, realistically?

TERJE ROED LARSEN: Actually this peace plan is a continuation of Oslo and it builds on Oslo because the Oslo Accords was also a road map, it was not a peace agreement. It was a road map for how the Palestinians and Israelis should move forward predominantly by establishing the Palestinian Authority, have elections for a council, their equivalent to a parliament, to establish a cabinet with ministers, etc.

And actually all these institutions, the institutions of Oslo, are still there, alive and kicking and actually the new Palestinian Prime Minister springs out of these institutions and they are still recognised by the Israeli side as their counterpart and the same goes for the international community. So the road map is, in a way, a second Oslo and builds on Oslo.

MARK DAVIS: Cease-fires can be agreed upon, but on core issues, is there any real common ground? We’re not seeing it at the moment on the substantial dismantling of the settlements or on the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Is there commitment at this core level – is it surmountable? It doesn’t appear to be?

TERJE ROED LARSEN: There is a common ground up to a point in the sense that both prime ministers, Prime Minister Abu Mazen, or Mahmoud Abbas, has committed the road map and has committed himself to implement it. They have, the Palestinians, some reservations about it but they have committed themselves to the implementation and Prime Minister Sharon has said the same – Israel has reservations but has committed himself to the road map and what is called President Bush’s vision, namely the establishment of the state of Palestine in the year 2005.

So in that sense there is common ground. And the Israelis have also started removing so-called unauthorised settlement outposts, but there is in the road map also clear provisions from freezing all settlement – for freezing all settlement activity. But we have to move towards that point and this road is going to be very difficult, very dangerous and probably bloody, but we can’t keep ourselves kept hostage to terrorists and terrorism.

MARK DAVIS: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is no particular fan of yours, or of the UN for that matter. What’s your opinion of him? Is he capable of delivering on the principles of this plan?

TERJE ROED LARSEN: We have to look at Mr Sharon’s words and his actions and he has spoken very courageous words, particularly in saying that he is for the establishment of a Palestinian state and committing himself fully to President Bush’s so-called vision which calls for the end of the occupation which started in 1967 – actually recently he, for the first time, he used several times the word ‘occupation’.

However, there has also recently been disappointments and I think the whole international community are very, to say the least, sceptical about the assassination attempt of Dr Rantisi, the Hamas leader in Gaza, and also a series of so-called extrajudicial killings done by the Israeli defence forces recently. This has caused a universal negative reaction in the international community. And what I do hope is that Israel will now refrain from that kind of action.

At the same time it should be said that Israel in many ways is in a you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t situation. If Israel loosens up the security grip they have in the West Bank and Gaza, it might lead to new suicide attacks. If they keep the security system, it will lead to more suffering by the Palestinian people. And this is why the international community can play such a significant role. I do not believe at all that it would have been possible for the parties in bilateral negotiations to achieve something like the road map, not even the goals which are stated in the road map. This could only be done by key players in the international community.

MARK DAVIS: How long can either side afford for this situation to go on? I mean, apart from the human cost, for the Palestinians at least, I’m imagining this is devastating to their economy. How long do we have before a solution needs to be crunched through?

TERJE ROED LARSEN: I think both sides there, we have to be aware of, has suffered terrible losses. All in all about 3,000 people have been killed and many thousand injured. About a fourth of them Israelis and three-fourths Palestinians. So there is an incredible pain which both parties has taken over a long time and I think this is the very reason why we are now seeing that they both are going back to the table simply because there is a threshold here, a pain level, and I think we’ve reached that pain level.

MARK DAVIS: Terje Roed Larsen, thanks for joining us.

TERJE ROED LARSEN: Thank you, it was a pleasure being with you, thank you.

Terje Roed Larsen – Interview