Vienna, 9 June 2004 - Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner received the Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi, renowned for her active commitment to promoting peace and women’s rights, for talks in Vienna. Ferrero-Waldner expressed her pleasure about this meeting and commended Ashrawi on her efforts aimed at promoting peace in the Middle East. The Foreign Minister stressed the huge importance of the civil society on both sides in fostering the progress of the peace process and in this connection particularly emphasised the role played by Ashrawi in her capacity as Secretary-General of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH).
"Austria remains committed to its pledge to undertake every effort aimed at arriving at a peaceful solution to the conflict on the basis of direct talks between the parties to the conflict and the formation of an independent Palestinian state", the Foreign Minister pointed out. In connection with the adoption of the Gaza Disengagement Plan by the Israeli government, Ferrero-Waldner recalled the EU’s position, stating that the Union continues to regard the roadmap as the most appropriate basis for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. In this spirit the disengagement plan could therefore only represent a first step in the process aimed at the implementation of the roadmap.
Another item on the discussion’s agenda were the development policy activities launched by Austria in the Palestinian territories. Ferrero-Waldner drew particular attention to the importance of the work undertaken by the Austrian Development Cooperation programme, pointing out that "in 2004 the Austrian Development Agency is making available support worth EUR 2.8 million to the people in the occupied territories". In this connection, the Foreign Minister underlined that Austria was not only giving humanitarian assistance but was also active in the fields of water supply, health and education, pointing out that "we think that one of our particular strengths lies in assisting the Palestinian civil society in its quest for democracy and peace". Ferrero-Waldner also cited concrete examples of Austria’s participation, mentioning inter alia the support Austria is giving to the completion of the water desalination plant in Deir Al-Balah and a centre for chronic diseases in Ramallah, the only one of its kind in the occupied territories.
At the meeting with Hanan Ashrawi, Ferrero-Waldner also extended an invitation to the Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath to visit Austria.