ALI HALIMEH, Delegate-General of Palestine to Ireland, in response made at the morning meeting, said that he appreciated the losses suffered in the holocaust but he too had lost his parents as a result of Israeli aggression.
Palestinians, he said, were demanding justice and freedom for their peoples. Early on, the Palestine Liberation Organization had built bridges with the African movements and in particular those in Southern Africa, allowing both sides to better appreciate each other's struggle. That move was particularly intelligent considering the cordial relationships between Israel and the African countries. Israeli attacks on Egypt in 1967 and occupation of Egyptian, Palestinian and Syrian territories had caused African countries to reconsider their relationships with Israel. African states had, within their limited capabilities, supported the Palestinian cause at international forums, exerting pressure on those who traditionally supported Israel, and sometimes being subjected to international pressure from certain western countries.
He said the African independence struggle had inspired Palestinians. African leaders with their knowledge in conducting negotiations could help in building bridges between Israel and the Palestinians. Their expertise in the mechanisms and political philosophy used to end decades of conflicts would be helpful to both Israelis and Palestinians. African Heads of State had championed the Palestinian peoples right to self-determination, and the African countries support at the United Nations to the Palestinian question had helped to isolate Israel, both politically and diplomatically. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) had granted the PLO Observer status, and the question of Palestine appears on the agenda of all the OAU meetings. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian President and Chairman of the PLO, was always welcomed at the OAU summits and received as a Head of State. The media in most African states has been largely sympathetic to the Palestinians and has provided a great deal of favourable coverage.
Arab countries had to encourage their legislative institutions to form a pressure group with the African parliamentarians to travel to the Middle East to extend their experience to both Israelis and Palestinians in conflict resolution. The Palestinians had the greater responsibility to consolidate their ties with the African people and share their experience and means of resolving difficulties. African efforts to support a peaceful settlement should culminate by establishing an African-Mediterranean partnership. African countries should benefit from Arab trade and finance, which in turn, would provide a component for future stability in the entire area. Peace in the Middle East was an essential component for peace and stability in Africa. Many African countries, particularly those in the North, shared cultural, religious and economic ties with Middle Eastern states. Efforts by the African continent to salvage peace in the Middle Fast were essential.
JOEL PETERS, Professor of International Relations, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, said he would be presenting the Israeli perspective on an international peacekeeping. The concept raised considerable controversy but it was no longer unreasonable to think about an enhanced role for an international mission in the occupied territories. Both Israelis and Palestinians had lost confidence in the prospect for peace. They needed the international intervention to restore that confidence. Any way of making peace work could not be carried out unilaterally. The work for a mandate was ongoing.
It must not deal only with the technical aspects but with the conflict environment as a whole. Key component was regaining confidence of the Palestinian public. An international presence could go a long way in that regard. International intervention should not be seen as a substitute to fill a political void. It required a convergence of Palestinian and Israeli expectations and to address the concerns of both sides. Its mandate could not be seen as ignoring the interests of one side at the expense of the other. Legitimacy could not be imposed. An international peacekeeping force must work with the Palestinians and Israelis and serve as a liaison.
He said such a force could not be United Nations-led but rather needed to be a multinational force. The International community needed to also be attentive to Israeli concerns and needs. If carefully planned and judiciously introduced, international intervention can make a valuable contribution to the stabilizing of the current situation, and help move Israel and the Palestinians back along the path to a peaceful settlement and the realization of the vision of a two-state solution to their conflict.
BALEKA MBETE, Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa, said that for a country like South Africa, which had emerged only ten years ago from centuries of strife, racial division, major inequalities and hatred, Parliament was one of its most valuable institutions for nation-building and reconciliation. Even the pre-1994 apartheid Parliament had played a role in the process to settle the conflict. Although parties from the oppressed sections of South African society could have refused to associate with the apartheid Parliament, they chose to use the opportunity to advance the goals of the negotiation process. While the National Party could have sabotaged the process, they chose to provide guidance on how to get them out of power.
She stressed that the South African Government favoured a peaceful negotiation on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions. In July 2001, the National Assembly had sent a multi-party fact-finding commission to Israel and the Palestinian Territory. It had urged both parties to stop the violence and negotiate. It also recommended the development of dialogue among the Palestinian, Israeli and South African Parliaments through exchanges between the presiding officers and members of Parliament. The mission further recommended that international parliamentary bodies be utilized for mobilizing support for the resolution of the Middle East conflict.
The exchange of positive perspectives on promotion and protection of the rule of law and raising public opinion on a culture of rights must be a standing item on the agenda of international parliamentary organizations, she said. Relevant parliamentary Committees could promote specific approaches in favour of protecting Palestinian rights. Participants in today’s meeting could return to their parliaments and communicate on a more informed basis and urge their Governments to assist the Palestinians, especially the women and children in the refugee camps. As a presiding officer of the National Assembly she favoured the discussion of more details on how to assume a larger international role and to see how they could help. South Africans were willing to assume their international obligations, she said.
EDWARD ABINGTON, Political Consultant to the Palestinian Authority and former United States Consul-General in Jerusalem, said time was running out for a viable two state solution but there could be an opportunity to break the cycle of violence. The Palestinians, despite serious objections, had cautiously welcomed Sharon’s disengagement plan provided certain conditions were met. The Palestinian Authority was close to financial collapse and its control over the lives of average Palestinians had been seriously eroded. The withdrawal was an opportunity that should be taken advantage of. All of the main parties – the Palestinian Authority, regional parties and the international community – agreed the Israeli disengagement plan represented a chance to break the current stalemate. To succeed, however, the unilateral Israeli proposal should be implemented multilaterally, with a strong Palestinian partner. The Israeli presence in all its forms must be removed. There must be stability in Gaza brought about through the efforts of the international community and a revitalized Palestinian partner as well as linkage to the Road Map in a way that led to resumed final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Continuing he said the timeline needed to be shortened. There must be a commitment to a ceasefire among Palestinians, and between Palestinians and Israelis before the withdrawal. A political accord among the Palestinian factions in Gaza to end violence must be reached and all Palestinian factions should be brought into the political process. The Quartet and other interested parties saw restructuring Palestinian security services as an essential step for restoring stability to Gaza and the rule of a central Palestinian authority. Egypt was taking a leading role and other countries are willing to contribute in tangible ways, including the United States, Jordan and several European countries. For Gaza to survive economically, Gazans must be able to export. Other requirements for success included the deployment of an international force to protect the civilian population, monitor border crossings and prevent chaos during the transition; participation of a robust international role in making the disengagement process work (the United States was incapable of carrying the entire political burden); and linking Gaza to the West Bank.
Israeli disengagement would remove internal movement restrictions in Gaza and in part of the northern West Bank, but Palestinian economic recovery depended on a radical easing of internal closures throughout the West Bank, the opening of Palestinian external borders to commodity trade, and sustaining a reasonable flow of Palestinian labor into Israel. Clearly and realistically, easing internal Israeli closures throughout the West Bank must be accompanied by a credible Palestinian security effort. As long as Palestinian violence persisted, Israel was not likely to significantly ease the closure. A reinvigorated program of Palestinian reform must accompany the closures. The political risks for Sharon were obvious but for the Palestinians the stakes were even higher. If disengagement was wisely implemented and linked to a wider political process, it could make a real difference
VLADIMIR CHAMOV, Head of Section, Middle East Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said the search for a settlement of the Arab-Israeli could succeed only if the sides themselves showed the political will to reach a mutually acceptable compromise on the basis of a balance of interests. Neither side - Palestinian or Israeli - could impose a solution.
He regretted the requirements of the Road Map were not being fulfilled. The international community was facing a total collapse of the peace process unless urgent steps were taken to radically improve the situation. The situation stemmed from an inability to reject the use of force but there had been some encouraging signs in recent weeks. Since the operations in Rafah, Israel has undertaken no further large-scale activities in the Occupied Territory and no major terrorist acts on the part of Palestinians seemed to have taken place. He welcomed Arab leaders’ contribution to establishing a new atmosphere. Under certain conditions, the Sharon plan could play a positive role but it should be part of the Road Map plan for a Middle East settlement. The parties must also refrain from taking action that would prejudge the outcome, such as Israel’s “separation wall”.
Lasting peace could be reached only through direct negotiations. Unless such negotiations resume, it would hardly be possible to speak with any certainty of any final status parameters. The Geneva Initiative could serve as a basis for final status negotiations, because it took into account the understandings reached at Camp David and Taba. The present situation demanded immediate reciprocal steps by both sides to defuse tension. Among other things, the blockade against Yasser Arafat, the legitimately elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, must be lifted. The circumstances demanded concrete action from the Palestinians also. The Russian Federation was profoundly interested in achieving a comprehensive and just settlement and strengthening security and stability in a strategically important region not far from its own southern borders.
HAROUB OTHMAN, Professor of Development Studies, University of Dar es Salaam, and Chairman of the Zanzibar Legal Services Centre said that at the time when the PLO was established, the African ferment for independence was raging. One of the most positive developments to have emerged in the Middle East after the Six Day War was the appearance of Palestinians’ open resistance against occupation. One might disagree with some of the tactics adopted by the Palestinians in their struggle, but everybody understands what they were fighting for. The struggles now were universal in character and have international dimensions.
Prior to the 1967 war, he said, most African states considered the Palestine Question as a problem of the refugees. Several states had established strong ties with Israel, which employed resources extended to it by the United States and some western powers and its technical personnel to offer infrastructural and community development projects and military and security institution building in Africa. The war opened Africa’s eyes, and they saw Israel as a pawn to mitigate imperialist schemes. Several solidarity organizations mushroomed in the continent to mobilize public opinion in support of the Palestinian people. The Palestine Liberation Organization had been granted observer status at the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and now the African Union.
One of the main problems in the Middle East was United States power, he said. What the United States refused to see clearly it could hardly hope to remedy. The sooner Palestinians and the international community realized that were not just confronting Israel but also the United States, the better. The United States was not a ‘neutral’ and ‘impartial’ power in the Middle East.
He said the immediate post-Oslo period had seen the immobilization of solidarity action with the people of Palestine. The new situation demanded new methods of solidarity. He called for suspension of diplomatic relations with Israel; boycotting of Israeli goods; mobilization of public opinion against Israeli crimes in Palestine; revival of solidarity committees with Palestine; and pressure on the Israeli Government to allow Yasser Arafat to move freely. Finally, there must be pressure on the Israeli Government to agree to peace.
AZIZ PAHAD, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of South Africa, Foreign Minister said his Government had been happy to hold the Meeting because it had provided an opportunity to share information. Participants had been exposed to the reality of what had been happening in the Occupied Territory. It had been said that dialogue was difficult because some people were not listening but those who did not listen did not like the message they were getting. Since the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, the Palestinians had been unable to find genuine partners in the Israeli Government. No amount of violence could destroy the Palestinian determination for self-determination. The region and the neighbours had accepted the two state solution. The international community should not get involved in the argument of a one- or two state solution while Palestinians were dying every day. He supported building an international solidarity movement over the cross-section of society to force Governments to act decisively. It would be able to expose the situation in Gaza and the diabolical scheme of the building of the wall.
He cautioned Governments and civil society against being influenced by the campaign to demonize the Palestinians. It was important to have a common one objective that was fundamental to finding a long-term solution. Security could not be determined by walls or violence. Moreover, criticism of the Israeli Government was legitimate. The solidarity movement must go forward more confidently and not be bulldozed by the false concept that criticism of Israel was anti-Semitic. How long would the international community allow Israel to violate international law with such impunity? he asked. Any Security Council action believed to be a criticism of Israel was vetoed by some Permanent Members.
The finding of the International Court of Justice would provide an opportunity to take steps to prevent violations of international law. The international community must also break the deadlock of the Road Map. He hoped the United Nations would take more decisive actions. International opinion must be mobilized. In the discussions of the Meeting, a basis of a framework for action had evolved. In July it would be put on the agenda of the African Union Summit meeting in Addis.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said there were many similarities but also clear differences between the South African and the Palestinian experience. The Palestinian people was under occupation. The proposal for a democratic Palestinian State was not new. Since the middle seventies and especially since 1988, a programme for a two-State solution based on the pre-1967 borders had enjoyed the overwhelming support of all sectors of the Palestinian population. The problem was not a lack of clarity on the Palestinian side but that the concept had not been accepted by the mainstream. Some Palestinians wanted the Government to abandon the two-State solution but the alternative was extended pain and agony for years to come. He warned that the possibility of a two-State solution would not remain open forever. At some point the Palestinians would have no choice but to choose a different approach.
He emphasized that the construction of the wall represented a crime against the Palestinian people and, once completed, made the two state solution physically impossible. He had confidence that the International Court of Justice would abide by international law and its advisory opinion should be followed by the parties and all United Nations Member States. The international community had to be more serious in dealing with the situation and Israeli violations of international law. Specific legal actions against settlers, settlements and their products had to be identified.
Regarding violence he said the crux of the issue was foreign violations -- Israeli crimes against the Palestinians. He stressed that the first suicide bombers had acted only after 27 years of Israeli occupation. His Government was against the targeting of civilians. Apart from that, the right of the Palestinian people to defend themselves was guaranteed by international law and they would not give it up. Their choice, however, was a peaceful settlement based on the pre-1967 borders. The international community had supported the just cause of the Palestinian people. The problem was the United States’ automatic protection of the Israelis and appeasement by a few states in Europe. Palestinians wanted to uphold international law. The settlements were illegal as was the wall. His Government supported a two-State solution based on pre-1967 borders and it would resist any attempt to make the disengagement plan a replacement for the Road Map.
PAUL BADJI (Senegal) Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in closing the meeting, said that during the last two days, the experts had provided a comprehensive overview of the current situation on the ground and looked into ways to preserve the hard won achievements of the peace process and use them in the present difficult situation. Following a review of the work of the Committee, he thanked all who had participated. He said the Committee was especially grateful to President Thabo Mbeki for his address to the Meeting.