Switzerland has offered to provide support for next year’s presidential, parliamentary and local elections in the Palestinian territories.
Speaking at the United Nations in New York, ambassador Peter Maurer appealed to both Israel and the Palestinians to ensure free and democratic elections.
“This is a crucial step in the anchoring of democracy in institutions and for the legitimacy of the future president of the Palestinian Authority,” said Maurer on Tuesday in front of the UN General Assembly.
“It is therefore all the more important that these elections should conform to international standards.”
He added that Switzerland was willing to provide support not only for the presidential election on January 9, but also for the parliamentary and local elections which are scheduled to take place in 2005.
He said the election of a new president following the death of Yasser Arafat and the appointment of a new Palestinian government would create an opportunity to resume negotiations on the creation of a future Palestinian state.
Following Arafat's death earlier this month, the Swiss foreign ministry said it would continue to work with the international community to help achieve an independent Palestinian state.
Maurer, who took up office as Swiss ambassador to the UN in New York in September, called on the Israeli government and the Palestinian authorities to take steps to rebuild confidence in the region.
“The Palestinian Authority should do everything in its power to combat terrorism, which cannot be justified for any reason or cause,” he said.
“But it is equally important that the daily suffering that the Palestinian people endure as a result of the occupation should be rapidly and significantly alleviated.
“Strict respect of international humanitarian law by both parties is an absolute requirement.”
Maurer pointed out that the building of new Jewish settlements in the occupied territories was in contravention of the “road map” peace plan and breached international law.
He also reminded the General Assembly that the International Court of Justice in The Hague had declared Israel’s West Bank security barrier to be illegal.
The ambassador added that Switzerland would in due course be informing the UN of the results of consultations held with “all interested parties” on respect for human rights in the region.
The UN mandated this task to Switzerland, which is the depository state of the Geneva Conventions, in July.
Maurer said Switzerland backed Israel’s plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip, but only as long as certain conditions were met.
He stipulated that the withdrawal should be coordinated and implemented with the support of the Palestinian Authority, should not result in the transfer of residents to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and that Israel should help with the reconstruction of Gaza.
“Withdrawal from Gaza only makes sense if it is part of the global vision that is capable of satisfying the legitimate aspirations of both the Israeli and the Palestinian people,” stressed Maurer.
The diplomat also reminded the UN of Swiss efforts to promote dialogue through the Geneva Accord, an unofficial peace plan launched in Switzerland a year ago.
swissinfo with agencies
Yasser Arafat, the former president of the Palestinian Authority, died on November 11, aged 75.
He was buried in Ramallah on the West Bank.
Rawhi Fattouh is acting as interim president.
The Swiss-backed Geneva Accord was officially launched in December last year.
The initiative was brokered during two years of secret talks and covers many divisive issues between Palestinians and Israelis.
The agreement outlines a plan for the division of Jerusalem and the creation of a Palestinian state, and covers the issues of Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlements.
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