Sharm El-Sheikh Understandings

Fact-Finding Committee is Announced

In an effort to bring an end to the tragic deterioration of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, due to the excessive use of force by Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilian protesters, the region’s leaders met on several occasions with other world leaders. The first meetings to take place since the start of the recent crisis on 28 September 2000 were held in Paris and hosted by President Chirac. Separate meetings were held by U.S. Secretary of State Albright, as well as by President Chirac and U.N. Secretary-General Annan, with both President Arafat and Prime Minister Barak in an effort to reach an understanding. The Paris meetings were followed by a meeting in Egypt hosted by President Mubarak. Although President Arafat and Secretary Albright traveled to that meeting, Prime Minister Barak did not attend and did not even apologize for not attending.

With the continuation of the violence and use of force, and in an attempt to stave off further deterioration and salvage the peace process, President Clinton exerted efforts to arrange for a Summit meeting of leaders that he would also attend. Those efforts led to the Sharm El-Sheikh Summit in Egypt with President Mubarak as the host. Attendees at the Summit included President Clinton, President Arafat, Prime Minister Barak, President Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, Secretary-General Annan and Mr. Javier Solana representing the European Union (EU). It was the first time for the Secretary-General and a representative of the EU to attend such a meeting on equal footing, which came about as a result of the insistence of the Palestinian side, which also insisted on Russian participation, however Russia was not invited to attend the meeting.

The following are excerpts from the text of President Clinton’s statement following the conclusion of the Sharm El-Sheikh Summit on 17 October regarding the understandings reached between the two sides at the Summit:

Our meeting has not been easy because the last two weeks have been so hard, a tragic and horrible confrontation costing many lives and injuries, threatening everything that we have worked to achieve between Israelis and Palestinians and throughout the region over the past seven years now…

…Let me summarize what has been agreed so there will be no misunderstanding. Our primary objective has been to end the current violence so we can begin again to resume our efforts toward peace. The leaders have agreed on three basic objectives and steps to realize them.

First, both sides have agreed to issue public statements unequivocally calling for an end of violence. They also agreed to take immediate concrete measures to end the current confrontation, eliminate points of friction, ensure an end to violence and incitement, maintain calm and prevent recurrence of recent events. To accomplish this, both sides will act immediately to return the situation to that which existed previous to the current crisis, in areas such as restoring law and order, redeployment of forces, eliminating points of friction, enhancing security cooperation and ending the closure and opening the Gaza airport. The United States will facilitate security cooperation between the parties as needed.

Second, the United States will develop with the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as in consultation with the United Nations Secretary-General, a committee of fact-finding on the events of the past several weeks and how to prevent their recurrence. The committee’s report will be shared by the U.S. President with the U.N. Secretary-General and the parties prior to publication. A final report shall be submitted under the auspices of the U.S. president for publication.

Third, if we are to address the underlying roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there must be a pathway back to negotiations and a resumption of efforts to reach a permanent status agreement based on the U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and subsequent understandings. Toward this end, the leaders have agreed that the United States would consult with the parties within the next two weeks about how to move forward.

On 7 November, the U.S. announced the composition of the "fact-finding committee" in accordance with the Sharm El-Sheikh understanding and congruous with the call in Security Council resolution 1322 (2000). Prior to the announcement President Clinton consulted with the Secretary-General and the leaders of both sides. The committee is to be composed of the following: former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, Chair, as well as U.S. Senator Warren Rudman, former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, EU High Representative Javier Solana, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjorn Jagland. The announcement of the committee was an important step for all. Although the Palestinian side preferred the addition of at least one member from Africa on the committee, it nevertheless believes that the committee, if given the appropriate opportunity, will be able to thoroughly report on all the realities of the past several weeks. This is something that is essential for the prevention of their recurrence and for allowing the two sides to move forward.