Réunion africaine des Nations Unies sur la question de Palestine à Rabat/Séance d’ouverture et première séance plénière - Le statut de Jérusalem - Communiqué de presse Français
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The United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine will convene again tomorrow, 2 July, at 10 a.m., to hold its second plenary session on Jerusalem as a permanent status issue in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
TAÏB FASSI-FIHRI, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco, Representative of the Host Government, welcomed participants to Rabat and expressed Morocco’s pride in being part of the African continent and the African Group, which, he said, had taken pioneering positions in favour of the aspirations of the Palestinian people. His country aspired to further mobilize that Group to increase its efforts in that regard.
He said that the condemnation of the international community of Israel’s intransigence and illegal practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory must go hand in hand with an unswerving position to put an end to those practices, which had only resulted in hate and hostility.
Peace would only be attained through a final, just and comprehensive settlement on the basis of Israel’s withdrawal from all occupied territories as per relevant United Nations resolutions and mutual agreements, he said, adding that there would be no peace unless there was a viable Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The City now was endangered by settlements, confiscation of property and discrimination that was part of a strategy aimed at isolating the City from its Palestinian environment. There were also actions that threatened Islamic sites in the form of so-called archaeological digs and the inclusion of Palestinian monuments on the list of Israeli heritage, contrary to humanitarian law and the recommendations of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
He said that His Majesty King Mohammed VI, as the Chairman of the Al-Quds Committee of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and effective member of the Arab Peace Initiative, continued his unwavering endeavours to bring Israel to respect the character of Jerusalem, assist Palestinians and other Arab residents, and promote plans to rehabilitate East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian State.
The future of Jerusalem could not remain hostage to the use of force and a unilateral approach, and could not be the subject of temporary solution, he said, adding that the Palestinian people under the Palestinian Authority drew strength from the legitimacy of the cause. He called for support for them and for a spirit of reconciliation and union so that they could achieve their aims in all the occupied territories.
In that context, he called for the immediate lifting of the blockade of Gaza to put an end to a humanitarian catastrophe. He wished the Meeting full success in its effort to crystallize a practical approach to mobilizing more support for the Palestinian people to achieve a climate of peace and stability for all the peoples of the region after decades of tragic hostilities.
BADER AL-DAFA, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General, thanked the Government of Morocco for hosting the Meeting, noting that it occurred during a time of tension and uncertainty in the region, with proximity talks complicated by ongoing crises on the ground. To move towards direct negotiations, he stressed that positive actions were needed on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.
He reiterated the call for swift implementation of a new Israeli policy on Gaza and an end to the blockade, and he called on Hamas to enforce an extended ceasefire, to move forward with the Egyptian reconciliation proposal and to release Corporal Gilad Shalit.
He expressed concern over new settlement construction in Jerusalem, which he said continued to undermine trust and cause unrest, calling for settlement construction, as well as measures that discriminated against Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to stop. Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem should be reopened in accordance with the Road Map facilitated by the Middle East Quartet, he said. “Jerusalem remains a permanent status issue and a way should be found for the city to emerge as the capital of both Israel and a future State of Palestine, with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all”, he said, calling also for more progress in facilitating free movement in all of the West Bank and reaffirming support for the Palestinian Authority’s State-building initiative.
ZAHIR TANIN, Head of the Delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, expressing appreciation for Morocco’s support to the Palestinian people, said that any agreement that did not encompass making East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian State would not lead to sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace. For that reason, the Committee fully aligned itself with the international position that rejected Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem.
A negotiated agreement on the status of Jerusalem, he said, should include internationally agreed provisions aimed at ensuring the freedom of religion of its inhabitants, as well as permanent and unhindered access by peoples of all religions and nationalities to its holy sites. He maintained that Israel’s practices in East Jerusalem, including demolitions of homes, evictions, land expropriations and residency-rights revocations, were clear violations of article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. He called on the High Contracting Parties of the Convention to act against those violations.
All West Bank land, as determined by the pre-1967 demarcation lines, was to become the future Palestinian State’s territory, he said, and any modification to that principle could only be made through agreements between the parties. He maintained, moreover, that the announced moratorium of settlement activity was not sufficient to conducting negotiations on permanent status issues, particularly since East Jerusalem had been explicitly excluded from the moratorium, as shown by recent developments.
Turning to Gaza, he reiterated the Committee’s position that the siege of Gaza amounted to collective punishment by Israel of the 1.5 million Palestinians living there and must be lifted, and that the assault on the Free Gaza Flotilla demanded an impartial and credible investigation.
Noting progress in the Palestinian Authority State-building plan led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, he expressed the Committee’s full support for the initiative to build international backing for Palestinian statehood at the end of the plan in August 2011. In that context, he called on African States and the entire world community to be prepared to recognize the State of Palestine based on 1967 borders, once statehood had been declared. In that effort, he said, much could be learned from the quest for decolonization, independence and sovereignty experienced by African States, as well as their paths to economic independence and sustainable development.
He called on the international community to support the current proximity talks by encouraging both Israel and the Palestinians to build mutual trust in order to proceed to direct negotiations on all outstanding issues. Given the fragile state of the talks, he said that violence, incitement, settlement expansion and other provocative acts needed to be avoided at all costs. The Committee, he pledged, would continue to work for the end of the occupation and the realization of the two-State solution.
AHMED QUREI, Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said that it was important to attempt to understand the views of both sides concerning the Holy City and that a satisfactory solution to what had been an intractable problem must be reached. Otherwise endless and disastrous conflict was inevitable.
At the moment, he said that catastrophic Israeli policies and practices were targeting the land, the inhabitants and the Muslim and Christian holy places, with massive transportation projects linking Jewish settlements, which continued to expand, and a series of projects to Judaize the City and create tourist destinations at the expense of other religions’ historical sites.
The “belt of large colonial settlements”, stretching from Ramallah in the north to Nabi Musa in the east and south to Bethlehem would create a fait accompli that would stymie Palestinian independence, “guaranteeing that the map of the future would be drawn in blood”, he said, adding that the occupation had already stolen 88 per cent of Palestinian land in Jerusalem itself and planned to expand the municipal limits by hundreds of kilometres.
He warned that an “impending catastrophe” would be brought about by excavations under the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, efforts to rebuild the Temple claimed to have stood on their site and ongoing efforts to turn Jerusalem into an entirely Jewish city.
He said that all those policies and practices were in flagrant violation of international law and United Nations resolutions, which regarded East Jerusalem as part of the territory occupied in 1967 and rejected any unilateral change in status. The lack of consequences for its violations had only emboldened Israel to persist.
Outlining the Palestinian position on Jerusalem, he said that the City was the centre and heart of historical Palestine, for which Palestinians would accept no substitute as their capital. Muslim and Christian holy places could not be the subject of negotiations under any circumstance, nor would any alterations to them be accepted, and a future Palestinian State should alone be responsible for their protection and maintenance, he stressed. It was, however, possible to discuss making all of Jerusalem, both its eastern and western halves, an open city, subject to negotiated arrangements.
He said that the Israeli position was already well known through the repressive policies, as well as statements by Israeli leaders that had become increasingly arrogant and racist in the conviction that Jerusalem would remain unified under the sovereignty of Israel and the rule of occupation.
He added that the Israeli position allowed for only token withdrawals from the City’s Arab neighbourhoods, which only distorted the situation and invited further conflict. Similarly, the Israeli proposal to defer discussion of the status of Jerusalem, following the establishment of a State with provisional borders, was a recipe for continued conflict and confirmed suspicions that the temporary state of affairs could become permanent.
“ Jerusalem is the key to peace”, he said, “but it is also the key to war and perpetual conflict.” There could be no solution without first solving its problems. The international community must, accordingly, take a clear position that it was willing to strongly back with uncompromising measures, founded on international law that included “the right of people to self-determination in their liberated homelands, free of the forces of evil, destruction and occupation”.
The Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, of behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), thanked Morocco for hosting the Meeting and the Committee for its efforts on behalf of the Palestinian people. He said that the current actions of the Israeli Government were undermining the two-State solution. He called on Israel to respect international humanitarian law and the Road Map, to end its creation of a fait accompli on the ground, cease all other unilateral actions and help create a climate for serious and credible peace negotiations based on the Arab Peace Initiative.
He called for action by the Security Council to counteract new settlements in Jerusalem and alteration of holy sites, which the NAM had condemned. He warned of grave consequences if the status quo continued. He also called on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, and for support to the Palestinian Authority to build its institutions and more coordinated efforts to relaunch the peace process and ensure a Palestinian State.
The representative of China said that a just and equitable solution in the Middle East must be found through peaceful negotiations on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions, the principle of land for peace, the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative. He welcomed proximity talks but said that the attack on the flotilla had hindered the building of mutual confidence. He called for the lifting of the Gaza blockade and for responsible negotiations with the Palestinians towards the creation of a fully sovereign State. A just and lasting solution must be found for Jerusalem and settlement activity must end. He expressed his country’s readiness to support a long-lasting peace in concert with Africa and the rest of the international community.
The representative of Turkey applauded the efforts of Morocco in support of the Palestinian people and as head of the Al-Quds Committee, which his country had also hosted recently. The current climate required constant vigilance and concerted action, he said, asserting that there was no more room to manoeuvre for those who would deny Palestinians their rights. The only thing missing was strong political will on the part of the Israelis to work for a just and lasting solution. The leadership of the Palestinian Authority was now doing valuable work, but a unity government must be formed.
He said that the Holy City of Jerusalem had to be transformed from a city of conflict to one of tolerance as it had been in the past, and steps to unilaterally alter the City must be rejected. He also called for the end of the blockade on Gaza, and called on Israel to apologize and settle damages for the attack on the aid flotilla that had killed eight Turkish nationals in international waters.
The representative of the League of Arab States reiterated its condemnation of the attack on the Gaza aid flotilla and called for the establishment of a fact-finding mission on the incident. He said that the Meeting came at a time of unprecedented threats to the Palestinian character and holy sites in Jerusalem, including tunnels, large-scale settlement activities and displacement.
Such actions, he said, undermined endeavours towards a just and lasting peace in the Middle East through the two-State solution, which required Israel’s withdrawal to the borders of 1967, as proposed by the Arab League. The League was working to stop efforts to Judaize Jerusalem, which would never work. He called on the media, non-governmental organizations and all African and other international actors to work to preserve the Holy City.
The representative of Kuwait reiterated that the United Nations must play its role in bringing about a just peace in the Middle East and stopping the illegal aggressions of Israel. Partial, temporary solutions were not a solution; lasting, comprehensive solutions would only come from adherence to Security Council resolutions and previous agreements.
He said that the practices leading to the creation of an Israeli fait accompli in Jerusalem must be stopped through even greater support from friends of Palestinians on the African continent, who remember how they had shaken off the yoke of colonialism. He pledged his country’s support to the Palestinian leadership and praised Egypt’s support to Palestinian reconciliation, and thanked Morocco for its efforts in support of Jerusalem and Palestinians as well.
The representative of Mauritania, praising Morocco’s role on the Al-Quds Committee, as well as the work of the Committee, said that a helping hand must be given to the Palestinian people in the face of Israel’s aggressive and immoral practices that sought to obliterate the character of Jerusalem. He pledged his country’s continued support to ending the occupation of Palestinian territories and to work for a just and long-lasting resolution of the status of Jerusalem in that context.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates thanked organizers and the host country of the Meeting, and said he recognized the difficulties of the Palestinians because of Israel’s violations of their human rights and the threats to Jerusalem. His country had supported the Palestinian people in many different ways and worked hard for the establishment of an independent State and for Palestinian reconciliation.
He commended the Palestinian Authority for its work and said peace was only possible through a comprehensive agreement following the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative. He called for an end of all of Israel’s illegal practices and for a credible investigation into the attack on the Gaza aid flotilla. He expressed hope that the Meeting would result in concerted action that put an end to Palestinian suffering.
The representative of Jordan, expressing appreciation to the Committee and the host country, voiced his country’s opposition to Israel’s policies in Jerusalem, calling for the international community to become mobilized to end those policies and to bring about a just and lasting peace and the realization of the aspirations of the Palestinian people. His country had acted on behalf of the Palestinians many times, he said, including bringing the case before the International Court of Justice to remove the separation wall.
Plenary I: The status of Jerusalem
ALBERT AGHAZARIAN, Professor of History in Jerusalem, said that the people who were determining the course of affairs in the Jerusalem were bureaucrats who had no concept of the Palestinian people. As someone of Armenian origin, he was grouped together with that non-group. He commented that often the colonized fall in love with the colonizers, often in the way they both termed enlightenment.
There were many views of Jerusalem and the changes it was going through, he said, even for oppressed Palestinians who could go from enthusiasm to jealousy to competing for scarce resources and scarce building permissions. They must stay constricted in areas that had not yet been assigned to Jews, as well as being cut off from the West Bank. Many got drunk on consumerism as a result, he said.
He predicted that in the future, narrow accords on Jerusalem would be rejected, because of the linkages of many areas to it. Occupiers were always rejecting the fact that they were the oppressors; they justified their actions as enlighteners. Palestinians were caught between stifling geography and the geography of resistance and had not yet had a chance to tell their own story, even though satellite television was readily available. In that context, borders and frontiers must be differentiated, he said: A border was a wall and a frontier provided an opening. It all amounted to a matter of interpretation.
DANIEL BEN SIMON, Member of the Israeli Knesset for the Labour Party, said there was a way to be both pessimistic and optimistic about the current situation. He personally was optimistic because he had been born in Morocco, where he had learned tolerance and friendship. He still kept that spirit. He hoped that Morocco could take back the dominant role it had previously held in Middle East politics.
He said that he had made the difficult move from journalist to politician to try and promote peace, joining the coalition of the current Government for that purpose, although not much had been achieved so far. In the next few months, however, the Government would have to tell the world where it was going. Israelis were not happy with the current Government, having had hopes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be better than during his first term and make the kind of progress that, paradoxically, only a proven conservative could make.
The Labour Party was now considering various options in pursuing the peace process, he said. There had been a major positive development – the dominant Israeli parties now supported two States for two peoples and the debate about it was over. He felt, therefore, that a Palestinian State would be established within five years. The major issue now was what would happen to 300,000 settlers and the settlements, and what would happen after the end of the freeze of settlement activity in September. Mr. Netanyahu had the power to effect a major change.
In addition, the United States was back in the picture, and its influence was crucial. It was necessary for President Barack Obama to be forceful, however, and to come to the area persistently. If he did not do it, Mr. Netanyahu might not be able to overcome the Likud and other forces on the right. Mr. Obama was particularly important because, in order to make peace, Israel had to feel strong and secure and the last few months had made Israelis feel more insecure because of the hostility directed at them worldwide.
He said that he felt that Jerusalem would remain a united city that would be the capitals of both Israel and a Palestinian State. He hoped that Mr. Obama’s stronger entry into the picture would help in that area as well.
ABDELOUHAB MAALMI, Professor of International Relations at University Hassan II in Casablanca, considered whether the religious character of Jerusalem, a holy city for three faiths and the spiritual capital of humanity, could transform it from a place of confrontation to conciliation, which could actually help unfreeze the stalemate on negotiations towards the establishment of a Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace with Israel.
For that reason, he stressed the importance of Jerusalem to Muslims. He said that even if they prioritized Mecca and Medina, they ascribed a special importance to Jerusalem as the name, meaning “Holy”, would attest. Muslims were as ready to die for Al-Quds as for those other cities. The importance came from references to the City in the Koran – not mentioned by name – in relation to the sons of Israel, David and Solomon, and especially to the famous narrative of the nocturnal voyage and ascension of the Prophet Muhammad. The Sunna also mentioned that voyage and both sources indicated the direction of Jerusalem as the original direction of prayer.
In addition, he said that the period between the Arab conquest of Jerusalem and 1967 greatly magnified the holy status of Jerusalem, which could be seen in the mystical literature of the centuries of the Crusades. There was, in consequence, a deep fear that Israel would wipe away the Palestinian heritage of Jerusalem, and that was why UNESCO was turned to. The city was subsequently listed not only as part of humankind’s cultural heritage but one that was in danger.
Given the strong attachment of both Muslims and Jews to Jerusalem, and problems caused by the exclusive policy now based on only one religion, he advocated that religion become a lever to help politicians negotiate. An inter-religious dialogue should allow talks on the basis of the pertinence of the division of Jerusalem as a means to obtain peace. If the religious dimension was ignored, there was greater risk of turning over the issue to extremists.
There already existed Muslim dialogue on the issue with the Vatican, but dialogue with Jews had lagged behind and remained fragile, he said. Morocco, he suggested, as a country of tolerance, could have a great role in such an initiative. In addition, the meetings of Imams and Rabbis for Peace, the first of which had taken place in 2005, could be supported for that purpose.
THABO CECIL MAKGOBA, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Cape Town, said that, as a South African and a person of faith outside the region, his experience told him that the only way to bridge the decades-old, violent divisions over Jerusalem was dialogue. Because of the many different meanings of Jerusalem for many different people, however, effective dialogue on the topic required careful use of language.
The key to such dialogue, he said, was granting everyone the dignity to tell their stories, in their own terms, and to be heard respectfully and begin to trust one another. Trust, after all, was needed to move from “conversation to implementation”. Implementation was needed urgently to, for example, protect the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan from the King’s Garden archaeological park project.
He said that the language of faith could also enrich the political dialogue over Jerusalem, when, for example, every person was regarded as having eternal significance. Win-win solutions and loving the enemy were also possible through the language of faith. From his experience with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, moreover, he learned that true dialogue ensured that the weakest, most marginalized voices were heard.
In conclusion, he quoted the Palestinian Kairos, a document of faith from churches across the board that, he said, beautifully summed up the religious, cultural and political significance of Jerusalem through evocation of messianic predictions of the Prophet Isaiah. That vision, as well as the recognition that the City was today inhabited by two peoples of three religions, must be the basis of any political solution.
JOHN B. QUIGLEY, Professor of Law of Ohio State University, said that Jerusalem was part of the territory of Palestine, which was constituted as a state by the Versailles conference at the end of World War I. Because Jerusalem was not recognized as part of Israel, which itself seceded from Palestine in 1948, it remained Palestinian territory.
He said that the Covenant of the League of Nations had organized Turkey’s territories in the Arab world as states that would first be administered by France or Great Britain to be brought to independence over time. Accordingly, treaties on the disposition of Turkey’s Arab territories — the Treaty of Sevres, and its successor Treaty of Lausanne — referred to “States” detached from the Ottoman Empire in certain provisions. In that vein, he cited British officials from the interwar period who had also referred to Palestine as a state.
The subsequent Jewish majority in the City, by the 1920s, had not created a legal basis for changing its status, he maintained. He referred to his forthcoming book, The Statehood of Palestine: International Law in the Middle East Conflict, for a detailed discussion of the legal status of Jerusalem in the interwar period.
He said that the relationship of Jerusalem to Israel, upon its creation in 1948, was problematic because the United Nations General Assembly, by resolution 181 (1947), had suggested that Jerusalem be part of neither a Jewish nor an Arab state in Palestine, but rather a separate entity, or “corpus separatum,” to be administered by the Trusteeship Council. For that reason States that had recognized Israel had not recognized Israeli sovereignty over either West or East Jerusalem and declined to locate embassies there when Israel had declared the City its capital. He pointed out that the United States and the United Kingdom only maintained consulates-general there with limited jurisdiction.
When Israel had occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, the Government had merged it with West Jerusalem, telling the United Nations that the action had not amounted to a claim of sovereignty over East Jerusalem but had merely been an administrative measure and furnished a legal basis of the protection of holy places, he said. The world Organization, however, had condemned Israel for a de facto annexation. In 1980, Israel’s Knesset had declared a united Jerusalem the capital, despite continued United Nations objection, and the Security Council had expressed “alarm” at an Israeli statement that East Jerusalem was not occupied territory in 1990.
Israel had never spelled out a legal basis for its claim to any part of Jerusalem, he said, adding that the international community continued to view the status of the City as unresolved, citing a Canadian case in which a man had not been permitted to have “ Jerusalem, Israel” printed in his passport as his place of birth. If Jerusalem was not part of Israel, he said the only logical conclusion was that Jerusalem — in its entirety — was part of the state of Palestine as formulated under the mandate.
Bilateral negotiations on the status of Jerusalem would obscure the legal issue, he said. He preferred the approach proposed by the General Assembly in 1980, in the form of an international peace conference that would be committed to following international law in all issues relating to Israel and Palestine. “At the present state, it is critical that the international community ensure that a resolution of the status of Jerusalem is achieved that accords with international legality”, he said.
MARKUS KAIM, Head of the Research Division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, said that the principle position of the European Union on Jerusalem was related to the critical stance that the member countries had towards Israel’s attempted annexation of the City. The Union felt that settlement activity, in particular, undermined prospects for a peace agreement.
He said that the European Union’s opposition to the separation barrier stemmed from the fact that it cut off parts of the West Bank and, like the settlements, created facts on the ground that could rule out negotiations, as well as creating humanitarian problems that increased extremism. There had been deep concern, in addition, over the conditions of life for Palestinians in Jerusalem, both because of substandard conditions in Palestinian areas and constricted areas allowed for them to build.
The European Union also strongly supported the development of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, and looked sceptically at archaeological excavations because of their effect on religious sites. In all those areas, the Union had become more critical towards Israel, but there had been little consequence on the operational level, due to what could be seen as a lack of a coherent European Union foreign policy. Again and again, policy was characterized by the lowest common denominator.
In addition, he noted a growing feeling of discomfort in European capitals in their non-alignment with United States foreign policy. He also noted the strong trade links between Europe and Israel and that a robust, day-to-day framework for dialogue existed in many areas. The European Union, therefore, would probably accept any outcome of permanent status negotiations and also accept the status quo, in an operational way, despite their criticism of Israel.