LONDON - The London Conference to Promote Palestinian Reforms opened with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair saying terrorists' aims are to derail the fledgling peace process.
Blair said now is a moment of opportunity. The global vision for the Middle East is a secure Israel and a Palestinian state. We all want a solution for both states, he said.
The comments came only four days after the Tel Aviv suicide bombing that claimed the lives of five Israelis.
Blair, who had organized the conference, was flanked by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on the one side and by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on the other.
Blair said the one lesson learned is that the peace process doesn’t simply happen by will. The day-to-day details must be worked out for it to succeed. He said he hopes the conference would help achieve that.
'We are entitled to an independent state'
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said he hopes the London conference would serve as a preface to another meeting on the roadmap, which would solve all issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Both sides must take advantage of the current atmosphere and opportunity offered by the conference, Abbas said.
He said only three days ago Israeli citizens had fallen victim to a terror attack. The Palestinian Authority condemned the act and stressed that extremists were trying to undermine the peace process by acting against democracy, which the Palestinians are so eager to adopt, he said.
“The Palestinians proved they are able to adopt the principles of democracy, and that they are entitled to an independent state with intuitions ruled by law,” Abbas said.
He said he believes his people have conveyed a message to the world and its neighbors that they are ready to cooperate on security matters.
He said the authority has already deployed forces on the ground and is prepared to act with Israel and everyone else.
Abbas reiterated his hopes the conference would be followed by another meeting to deal with the roadmap plan, where issues such as a final status agreement, refugees, and future borders between Israel and the Palestinians would be discussed.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke of his sense of optimism and said he would continue working with Israel and the authority to seize the current opportunity.
Annan praised Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his "courage” in leading the disengagement plan, but stressed that it is a “fragile” process
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is also attending the conference, said General William Ward, the American envoy to the Middle East is expected to arrive in the region shortly. Rice termed the disengagement plan "historic,” but said a Palestinian state without territorial contiguity would not be successful. The U.S. has been stressing the term "territorial contiguity" recently.
Israel not invited to conference
While critics of the conference contended the British are only interested in photo opportunities, Blair said the conference would have substance.
However, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who had already criticized the absence of Israeli representatives at the conference, said, "they are summoning us the way a disobedient student is summoned to the principal.”
In an interview with British newspaper "The Independent," Abbas said, “we have an opportunity, and it would be irresponsible if we, the Israelis, and the world, would allow it to slip away.”