SETTLEMENT GOODS, 'DE-OCCUPATION' GAIN TRACTION AT CLOSE OF BANGKOK MEETING
‘Come and Negotiate’, Says Palestinian Observer; If Not Soon, No Force
On Earth Could Stop Power of Palestinian People to Accomplish Their Objectives
The Director-General for Multilateral Affairs of Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, Hasan Kleib, said the settlements issue had emerged as the biggest obstacle to the two-State solution, followed by the illegal construction of the wall in the West Bank, the continued blockades of Gaza, and the unjust detention of Palestinian political prisoners.
He urged diplomatic efforts at every turn, calling on individual States and groups of countries to press the Security Council to undertake its Charter responsibility. Intra-Palestinian reconciliation was also crucial. For its part, Indonesia trained thousands of Palestinians in various fields, including in the economy and good governance. The region must be more responsive to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians, including by contributing to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and parliamentarian and civil society participation must be bolstered.
Ending the occupation — or de-occupation — was a prerequisite for a peaceful solution, he said, but having served twice on the United Nations Security Council, he had reason to doubt that it would give the matter the time and energy it required. It seemed the Council’s inclination was to manage the conflict, not resolve it. Recalling its 1980 resolution 465 urging Israel to cease settlement building and dismantle them, he said the Council had apparently forgotten about that text. If it did not implement its own resolutions, “what do you expect?”
Joining Mr. Kleib for the meeting’s third plenary, which mainly considered diplomatic recognition of Palestinian statehood by the Asian and Pacific region and the role of civil society and parliamentarians in promoting the two-State solution, were Walden Bello, Member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, Manila; Abdelaziz Aboughosh, Ambassador of Palestine to Malaysia, Philippines and Brunei Darussalam, Kuala Lumpur; and Nick Ferriman, Vice-Chairperson, Palestine Solidarity Campaign Thailand, Bangkok.
Mr. Bello said that for more than six decades, the legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people for statehood had been thwarted by Israeli military force, backed by United States military aid and pro-Israeli diplomacy. The intransigence on the part of Israel and its main backer had been the central cause of instability and conflict in the Middle East.
Describing actions by Israel to obstruct the formation of a Palestinian State, he said that while the United States loudly called on Israel to halt settlement building, it did nothing to stop it. Not only did the United States fail to cut off military aid to Israel, but the Obama Administration had, in fact, increased it, by $680 million in 2012. With a blank check for military aid from Washington, it was no wonder the Israeli leadership paid no attention to the Washington Administration’s faint calls to stop expanding the illegal settlements.
With the Netanyahu Government blocking the peace process, the Palestinian people had felt compelled to take their case for statehood to the United Nations, he said. The United States knew the peace process was “frozen” owing to Israeli intransigence, but it opposed the Palestinian United Nations initiative. Owing to the United States’ arm twisting, France and the United Kingdom said they would abstain, thus depriving Palestinians from getting the nine of the 15 votes required at the Security Council for the motion to prosper. But even if they received that number, the United States’ President threatened to use his veto.
He thought it was safe to say “the Israeli tail is wagging the American dog”. President Barack Obama’s promise to get the peace process moving had not been kept, largely because he feared losing the Jewish vote. The most solid Palestinian allies had always been the developing countries, most of which had themselves struggled for independence, knowing that without a State of their own, their people would remain powerless. That was why they had a special mission to assist the Palestinian people.
It was good news that more than 130 States now recognized Palestine as a State, he said. For those Governments in the Asia-Pacific now extending recognition, the next step was the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the Palestinian sovereign entity representing both the West Bank and Gaza. Work could also begin to get the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to adopt a common position in support of the immediate establishment of a Palestinian State. Finally, he said he supported the suggestion to get Governments to support a boycott of imports from and exports to the illegal Israeli settlements. Such moves would be important steps on the way to mustering a critical mass of global support for a lasting settlement and the establishment of a Palestinian State.
Mr. Aboughosh said that despite the geographical distance between Palestine and South-East Asia, their relationship could be traced back to the mid-sixties. It manifested itself in various ways, including through military assistance and training courses; a decision by some countries in the Asia-Pacific region not to have diplomatic relations with Israel; and the Oslo Accords and the return of the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership and other members to the Palestinian Territory, which had been a turning point in the recognition of Palestine and the establishment of its embassies in various countries of the region.
He highlighted those Asian countries that had recognized the Palestinian diplomatic move towards statehood: Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, India, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, China, Cambodia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Maldives, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Nepal, Timor-Leste, and Thailand. Asian countries that did not have diplomatic recognition of Palestine were Japan, Republic of Korea, Myanmar and Singapore.
Mr. Ferriman, speaking on behalf of a “small group” of civil society, said unfortunately many Palestinian supporters had come to view the United Nations as an obstacle to the resolution of the conflict, with the Security Council being the main impediment. In fact, unconditional support was needed for the Palestinians — for the 1.5 million locked in the Gazan enclave, for the 3 million confined to homes in the West Bank, the 4 to 5 million rotting in camps throughout the Middle East. Putting “naked self-interest before the common good” had to change.
He believed that any institution, including the United Nations, that did not act with the consent of civil society acted illegally. The United States and United Kingdom were deeply implicated in the occupation, providing moral and military support to Israel. What Israelis were doing to the Palestinians mirrored what the Americans had done to other indigenous peoples. It was a “toxic triad”.
He reviewed the history of the Security Council and United Nations, decrying an “Anglo-American alliance”, and pointed to what he called the “supremacy” of the Charter over all legal and other documents. There was nothing fair, just or democratic, for example, about the United Nations partition plan of November 1947. It had been the result of pressure and arm-twisting by the United States and, in fact, violated Article 1 of the United Nations own “constitution” concerning the self-determination principle. Then, the Americans backed away from the partition plan, because 56 per cent of the land was “not enough for the Zionists; they wanted all of it”. So, the United States reversed course on the two-State solution.
The question of sanctions on Israel was raised by a number of speakers in the discussion that followed, including the possibility of their imposition by the Japanese Government. It emerged that the word “Palestine” itself had become like “a red rag to a bull” for the United States, which, said the speaker, would resist any pressure to change the status quo.
Several advocated for non-violent resistance, saying time was of the essence. In particular, concern was expressed about the unending settlement construction. There were also comments and questions about whether the Indonesian Government would be able to take on board as many countries as possible to support an international boycott at the State level to pressure Israel. Along with the combined purchasing power of the Arab world, that would be an effective tool.
Panellists pointed out the possibility of unilateral sanctions. In Indonesia’s case, since it did not have diplomatic relations with Israel, that was not possible because its national Constitution was against occupation. The point was also made that there was a national security exception to World Trade Organization rules, which would cover most political considerations. So, perhaps the argument that the Japanese Government could not impose sanctions on Israel was not valid. The Philippines, said a panellist, had not considered sanctions, owing to the “United States factor”. The country had established diplomatic relations with Palestine, but it had to support Palestine’s initiative to become a United Nations member. Questions also arose about what the Palestinian side was doing to get its own house in order, as well the economic loss to a future Palestinian State from years of occupation.
In brief national statements, representatives of Pakistan and India expressed unswerving support for the Palestinian struggle and concern that unless the conflict was resolved in a just and fair manner, in accordance with Security Council resolutions, Middle East peace would remain elusive.
The Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, announced that there would be an exchange of diplomatic representation between Palestine and Thailand as of 1 August: Abdelaziz Aboughosh would become the first Ambassador of Palestine to Thailand.
He said that when the Palestinians sought recognition of their statehood, they sought something that already existed: “our State exists and 132 countries recognize that”. Unfortunately, he said, that State was under occupation. The objectives of the Palestinian people were well known. Although they had not accomplished them, they had not changed their mind nor abandoned the struggle. He did not agree with previous speakers who had said the Palestinian people had to face reality on the issue of the settlements. There were so many turns and ups and downs in the struggle that “it’s not going to be over until it’s over”.
For sure, he said, the situation was very difficult. Twenty years after Oslo, the objective had not been accomplished, and now the settlement enterprise had become huge and was threatening the possibility of the two-State solution. There was a debate raging now among the Palestinian people and their leadership as to whether to continue with the two-State solution or entertain a one-State solution. If conditions allowed for the two-State solution, then it would remain in place, but if conditions did not, then the leadership and people would decide on another political platform.
“We are not there yet”, he said, adding, however, “We are approaching a moment, it’s a historic moment, we are at a crossroad — either collectively we will find a way to bring Israel into compliance with its obligations under international law and its Road Map obligations to stop the main obstacle to pursue peace with us, which is settlement activities, or something else is going to happen”.
He said there was a global consensus that the settlements were illegal, but if there were no consequences, there was no incentive for Israel to change its behaviour. President Mahmoud Abbas was trying in every way to demonstrate his interest to negotiate, but the Israeli side was refusing to show flexibility. The United States only advice to the Palestinians was to return to negotiations. They did so, but to repeat what had failed in the past and expect different results was an exercise in futility. It was up to the Palestinian people to face that reality, to carry the torch and try to open new ways of breaking that impasse.
When they asked a country to recognize the State of Palestine, they were asking the country to invest in peace, in the “actualization of the end game”, he said. Palestinians had built State institutions; everyone, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the United Nations knew they were ready, not only to end the occupation, but to have a State that would not be a failed State but a successful one “from day one”. The goal was to convince the United States to go along with the rest.
“We want to negotiate the six final status issues with Israel … because peace will not take place until those issues are negotiated and a peace treaty is reached,” he said. But, Palestinian independence as an expression of self-determination was not negotiable. “If we do not succeed soon in having a breakthrough in the peace process, other strategies will impose themselves whether the Palestinian leadership likes it or not.”
How long could the Palestinian people wait before they “explode in the face of our occupier in the way we did in the first Intifada?” he asked. The last card in their hands was to move into the international arena, to drag every Israeli general or official into the courts. If forced to do it, they would. Those tools were not available in 1987. The Palestinian leadership was saying “come and negotiate”, but stop the settlement activity because not only was it illegal, it was becoming so dangerous that even if a peace treaty was reached, it might be impossible to implement. If nothing happened soon to open the doors to negotiation, there was no force on the face of the Earth that could stop the power of the Palestinian people to accomplish their objectives.
Closing the session, the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Abdou Salam Diallo, said that in the course of the two days, it had become obvious that the Palestinian leadership could not agree to re-starting serious negotiations while the Israeli Government continued to expand illegal settlements on Palestinian land. The same was true for the separation wall it was building, mostly in the occupied West Bank. Participants had commended the firm position by the international community to see a Palestinian State constituted in the 1967 borders, with minor adjustments, agreed in negotiations between the parties.
Experts had pointed to the serious legal implications of Israel’s occupation policies, he said, noting their warning that the credibility of the Fourth Geneva Convention was being eroded by Israel’s ongoing violations. The construction of the separation wall challenged the authority of the International Court of Justice, they said, stressing that no member of the international community should be allowed to place itself above the law.
The experts also deplored that condemnation of Israeli policies in the United Nations and other forums had not stopped settlement expansion, he said. Concrete action by the international community was crucial and, in particular, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention must live up to their obligations. They suggested a number of possible measures, including boycotts of settlement products and larger sanctions.
Pending resumption of direct negotiations, participants had called upon all countries to recognize the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders, he said. Clearly, the Palestinian people were prepared to have their own State. The Palestinian Rights Committee supported the efforts of the Palestinian leadership to become a member of the United Nations and its specialized agencies, and it would continue to advocate for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.