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Source: Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
24 May 2000



United Nations International Meeting
in Support of a Peaceful Settlement
of the Question of Palestine and the
Establishment of Peace in the Middle East


Athens
23 and 24 May 2000







Contents

Paragraphs
Page
I.
II.
III.
IV.
Introduction
Opening statements
Plenary sessions
Closing sessions
1 - 5
6 - 15
16 - 52
53 - 56
3
3
6
16
Annexes
I.
II.
Final statement
List of participants
17
20





I. Introduction


1. The United Nations International Meeting in Support of a Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine and the Establishment of Peace in the Middle East was held in Athens, on 23 and 24 May 2000, under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and in accordance with the provisions of General Assembly resolutions 54/39 and 54/40 of 1 December 1999.

2. The Committee was represented by a delegation comprising Ibra Deguène Ka (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee, who acted as Chairman of the Meeting; Ravan A.G. Fârhadi (Afghanistan), Vice-Chairman of the Committee, who acted also as Vice-Chairman of the Meeting; Walter Balzan (Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee, who acted as Vice-Chairman and Rapporteur of the Meeting; André Erdos (Hungary) and Nasser Al-Kidwa (Palestine).

3. The International Meeting consisted of an opening session, three plenary meetings and a closing session. Plenary I focused on the final status negotiations and Palestinian statehood; plenary II considered international support for a just and peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine and the establishment of a lasting peace in the Middle East; and plenary III highlighted the role of civil society in support of the peace process.

4. Presentations were made by 15 experts from different regions, including Palestinians and Israelis. Each plenary meeting included a discussion period open to all participants. Representatives of 43 Governments, Palestine, three intergovernmental organizations, two United Nations programmes and agencies and 35 civil society organizations, as well as special guests of the host country and representatives of the media, universities and academic institutes attended the International Meeting.

5. The main points of the discussion were highlighted in the Final Statement of the International Meeting (annex I).

II. Opening statements

6. The opening session was addressed by George Papandreou, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece. He pointed out that Greece had consistently supported the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, even at a time when the international community was somewhat reluctant to come forth on the issue. Greece continued along these same lines because it had always believed in coexistence and had always maintained that all countries in the eastern Mediterranean should share a brighter future. He also emphasized Greece's support and respect for United Nations resolutions and European Union guidelines in all matters related to the peace process, in particular the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian institutions present there.

7. Mr. Papandreou expressed his Government's hope that the ongoing talks between the parties would bring about a complete agreement by September 2000, and that such an agreement would provide for a viable, independent Palestinian State while giving Israel a sense of peace and security. He added that such an agreement should lay the foundation for partnership between the two States, as a firm guarantee of peace and prosperity for all. He also reiterated the importance his Government attached to the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, essential for the achievement of a comprehensive solution, and he expressed satisfaction at the Israeli decision to withdraw from southern Lebanon. Greece had always made every effort towards the promotion of the Middle East peace process. One recent example he cited was that of the fourth meeting of the Athens Dialogue on Peace and Cooperation in the Middle East, held in Athens in September 1999. This meeting, in which Palestinian and Israeli personalities had participated, had offered the appropriate atmosphere for a genuine and friendly exchange of views, in a spirit of mutual tolerance and understanding.

8. A message from the Secretary-General of the United Nations was read out by his representative, Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In his message, the Secretary-General noted that the Meeting was taking place at a particularly sensitive and difficult stage of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The parties were making a determined effort to overcome decades of suspicion and animosity. They were addressing issues of paramount importance, including refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders and the sharing of water resources. They were attempting to build bridges of trust, partnership and understanding. The Secretary-General emphasized that the United Nations continued to play an active role in supporting that process, in particular by helping to lay the economic and social foundations for a viable peace. Those efforts had focused on developing Palestinian infrastructure, enhancing institutional capacity and improving the living conditions of the Palestinian people. Also, for more than half a century UNRWA had provided humanitarian assistance and essential basic services. The Secretary-General called on donors to provide UNRWA with the resources it needed to keep up with the growth and rising needs of the refugee community. The Secretary-General noted that donor countries, in particular members of the European Union, also played a key role in supporting the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian nation-building in general, providing a vital source of confidence in the transitional period.

9. The United Nations was also supporting the peace process through the efforts of Mr. Terje Rød-Larsen, who served as United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the Secretary-General's Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority, and worked closely with the various parties in the region in order to provide them with political support, and to coordinate United Nations assistance in the areas of development and peacekeeping. The Secretary-General noted that the parties had made considerable progress, yet the situation on the ground remained worrisome and contained the seeds of further trouble, and he encouraged the parties to move boldly ahead and not to be discouraged by the obstacles they would face along the way. Succeeding in a task of such historic proportions would require both sides to show great patience, good faith and readiness to make hard decisions. He expressed his hope that the parties would be able to make further headway and arrive at the final settlement agreement in accordance with the agreed timetable. He further expressed his hope that the parties would do everything in their power to preserve the accomplishments of the peace process and continue to recognize their shared interest in a comprehensive, just and lasting peace based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).

10. Ibra Deguène Ka, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, emphasized that Security Council resolutions 242 ( 1967) and 338 (1973) provided the framework for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East and the attainment by the Palestinian people of its rights as required by international law. He reiterated the United Nations' permanent responsibility for the question of Palestine until it was resolved in all its aspects in accordance with international legitimacy. He recalled that the Committee had been a consistent supporter of the current peace process, since the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference. The Committee had been further encouraged by subsequent agreements and steps towards their implementation.

11. At the same time, Mr. Ka expressed the Committee's great concern over the aggravation of the situation on the ground, and urged the parties to do their utmost to achieve meaningful progress in the negotiations, on both interim and permanent status issues. Such progress was now more important than ever, in view of the fact that permanent status negotiations had already been adversely affected by the continued lack of headway on interim issues, such as the third Israeli redeployment from the West Bank, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the opening of the northern safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In conclusion, he called upon the co-sponsors of the peace process, Governments, as well as the intergovernmental and civil society organizations to redouble their moral, political and material support to the Palestinian people in the realization of their legitimate aspirations.

12. Emil Jarjoui, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and representative of Palestine, called upon the United Nations to continue to live up to its permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until it was effectively resolved in all its aspects. He urged the co-sponsors of the peace process to undertake reinvigorated efforts to give the Middle East peace process the necessary push towards a just, comprehensive and lasting solution. He also emphasized the need for the European Union to play a more decisive role in the process, especially in the political sphere. Mr. Jarjoui said that the peace process was moving at a very slow pace, and that in the year since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had taken office, there had not been serious progress or any substantive change in the overall situation. He said that the situation on the ground remained tense, citing the recent unrest in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which he described as a reflection of the frustration of the people with a process that had promised much but produced little.

13. Mr. Jarjoui continued that, despite the obstacles, the September deadline for achieving a final settlement was still an attainable goal. The Palestinian side remained committed to the existing agreements and would do its utmost to reach a final settlement by that date. What was now required were serious decisions by the Israeli side on final status issues. At the same time, the international community must uphold long-standing positions with regard to the peace process and the rights of the Palestinian people in line with international law and relevant United Nations resolutions. The United Nations Millennium Summit in early September would be a natural deadline for the participation of Palestine as a full State Member of the United Nations.

14. Statements were also made by representatives of some Governments. The representative of South Africa delivered a statement on behalf of President Thabo Mbeki, who was also Chairman of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries. He said that the Movement's commitment to support the full restoration of all the rights of Palestinian people dated back to 1961 and remained constant. He also reiterated the view of the Non-Aligned ministers that the September 2000 deadline for the attainment of the final settlement should be fully respected. The representative of Indonesia said that the situation on the ground continued to be a major impediment to the peace process, and urged all parties to refrain from acts that would prejudice the outcome of the negotiations. He also said that assistance to the Palestinian people should be sustained and intensified in order to be able to transform the region from one of conflict and poverty to one of peace and prosperity.

15. Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, reminded participants that the Agency would be celebrating its 50th anniversary during the current month. And while 50th anniversaries were considered "golden anniversaries", there was nothing particularly golden about UNRWA's condition or the condition of the people it worked for, now numbering 3.7 million. Explaining that the Agency was $40 million short in pledges towards meeting its budget requirements for the year, Mr. Hansen urged donor countries to provide the resources that would allow UNRWA to remain in existence. If the money was not made available, the Agency would not be able to survive longer than the middle of October of that year.


III. Plenary sessions


Plenary session I
Final status negotiations and Palestinian statehood


16. Speakers in the plenary reviewed the interim period, and discussed prospects for the solution of the final status issues and Palestinian statehood.

17. Salah Bassiouny, Ambassador, Chairman of the Cairo Peace Society and member of the International Alliance for Arab-Israeli Peace, said that the way in which Israel was currently negotiating with the Palestinian Authority demonstrated continuous negative actions towards peace. Citing various examples, he said that since the Government of Mr. Barak had come to power, it had permitted over 3,000 new settlement constructions in the West Bank. It had suspended negotiations on the Syrian track as a result of its unacceptable interpretation of the depository of the late Prime Minister Rabin that clearly stipulated withdrawal to the 4th of June lines. And at the same time as it had announced its decision to withdraw from Lebanon, it had continued raids against that country to cover its de facto defeat by the Lebanese resistance. All these actions raised the question of whether the Israeli Government was sincerely committed to achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace.

18. He continued that agreement on the framework of the final status agreement should have been concluded two weeks prior to the Athens Meeting. That had not happened, and against that failure, three negative developments stood out: the proposed map for the Palestinian State; the proposal to accept Abou-Dis as the capital of the Palestinian State, leaving the future of East Jerusalem to be negotiated at a later stage; and the refusal to accept the right of Palestine refugees to return. He characterized any further deferral of those crucial issues as a ticking time bomb. Mr. Bassiouny described the goals and the initiatives of the two organizations he represented and expressed his hope that the outcome of the Athens Meeting would be a message to the Government of Israel to change its current course in the negotiations,. as well as a message of support to the Palestinian Authority .

19. Ayelet Ophir, Board member of B'Tselem and founder of the Movement against Administrative Detention, Tel Aviv, said that no serious and comprehensive solution could take place without there first being change--possibly more profound and slower than the political solution--in the emotional positions held by Israelis towards Palestinians and by Palestinians towards Israelis. Whether or not there was justification for the actions taken during the war of 1948, which Israelis referred to as the war of independence, she said that it was important that Israeli children learn about the history of the people who had been living on the same land longer than the Israelis and who would be living alongside Israel for many years to come. The problem stemmed from the way national memories were used as educational tools. She explained that every national memory must obliterate the memory of the "other" in order to ensure political and cultural success. As long as each side perceived itself as the true and single victim while denying the victimization of the other, Israeli children would not be able to cope candidly with their being perpetually linked with their Palestinian neighbours. And in order to realize the objective of taking the "other" into account, the cooperation of the political and educational institutions of the Palestinians was also required.

20. Regarding the issues of refugees and the right of return, Ms. Ophir said that these were among the few issues over which Israeli society was almost totally united, the majority opinion being that the return of the 1948 refugees to their homeland must not be allowed. Recognition and financial compensation were possible, she said, but return to the homes of their fathers and grandfathers would remain a distant and unrealized dream. She added, however, that despite all the obstacles, it was still possible to find rays of light and events that showed that Israelis and Palestinians could live together as neighbours. In order to achieve this goal, the two sides must exchange fear for curiosity, fanaticism for judicious flexibility and bitter memories for great hope.

21. Geoffrey Aronson, Editor of the Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories, Foundation for Middle East Peace, Washington, D.C., expressed the view that most of Israel's leadership, including Prime Minister Barak, had despaired of reaching an all-encompassing final status agreement, either in September or at any time in the foreseeable future. Instead, Israelis and Palestinians had resurrected a plan for an extended interim agreement which could accommodate both the Palestinian desire for a state and Israel's desire for territory beyond the June 1967 borders. That conclusion was based on the fact that no amount of goodwill, no building upon the achievements of the interim period and no increase in trust between Israelis and Palestinians could bridge the gap on the main elements of a final status agreement, particularly land, settlements and refugees.

22. He recalled that the idea of postponing or establishing timetables for implementation measured in decades was not only an Israeli idea. Some Palestinians also believed that a partial resolution of certain final status issues, along with the postponement of certain other issues, was the most realistic policy for negotiators. Such a scenario would mean that the Palestinian State would claim all of the West Bank and Gaza while having de facto control of approximately half of it, and that Israel would annex 10 to 20 per cent of the West Bank. He added that such an arrangement need not exclude either security cooperation, or reasonably peaceful relations between Israel and Palestine. Finally, the ownership of the remaining 20 to 30 per cent of the disputed area remaining under effective Israeli sovereignty would be negotiated in an "interminable" peace process.

23. Sotiris Roussos, Coordinator of the Centre for Mediterranean and Middle East Studies, Athens, said that the goal of the final status negotiations should be to create a peace dividend or a viable peace, one that ensured economic development and prosperity for the people. If the main socio-economic problems in the region were not addressed, no peace could succeed. The keyword of the final status negotiations should be partnership. The creation and build-up of a partnership between Palestinians and Israelis and of a larger partnership between Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians was essential, but such a partnership could only be "fruitful" if it were created on equal bases.

24. Citing examples of the importance of partnership, Mr. Roussos mentioned issues of great importance to Israel, such as security, noting that nobody could guarantee the security of Israel without the cooperation of the Palestinians. He opined that Israel could not have a secure environment while surrounded by Palestinian poverty and unemployment. Likewise, Israel's wish to achieve economic integration into the regional economy could not be realized without normalization with other Arab countries or without the prior establishment of a lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Water resources were another example that Mr. Roussos gave to illustrate his point about the need for partnership. Israel's point of view was that it should take full control of the management of water resources, because it had better technology and know-how, whereas the Palestinian point of view was that water resources should be equitably managed according to needs, population and the situation of both areas. He emphasized that Israel must realize that it could not manage water resources without partners. After all, nobody could manage the water resources of the Jordan Valley without the cooperation of Jordan, as draining on one bank of the Jordan River would have tremendous effects on the other bank of the river. There was no alternative to partnership.

Plenary session II


International support for a just and peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine
and the establishment of a lasting peace in the Middle East


25. The participants discussed ways to intensify international support for a just and peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine and assessed the role of the United States and the Russian Federation, the United Nations' and European involvement, as well as the role of the international donor community and intergovernmental organizations.

26. Markus Kaim, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany), pointed out that the Madrid Peace Process had been dominated by the United States, which had substantially fostered the Arab-Israeli negotiations by preparing a framework for the meeting of the parties or by suggesting their own bridging proposals. It had also played a crucial role in implementing the accords reached, either by providing the necessary financial means or by offering political and security-related guarantees. He stressed that the United States was the only player that had the political power and necessary capacities to urge the regional parties to compromise and to enhance security in the region, not only for Israel, but also for the oil producing monarchies in the Arab-Persian Gulf.

27. The United States preferred a role as facilitator, which kept the political costs at a marginal level. This was demonstrated during the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in times of a Labour Government in Israel. Sometimes, the United States had to act as a broker, becoming closely involved in bilateral negotiations, offering bridging proposals and guaranteeing accords reached or arbitrating between the parties. It also emerged as a stabilizer in the region, either integrating other powers, like the European Union, into its Middle East policy approach, or containing the influence of others, like France, China or the Russian Federation. Also, the United Nations had been marginalized in an effort to structure the regional order in accordance with the United States' interests. At the same time, the United States was containing the influence of radical groups which were promoting terrorism in the region. Its policy of "dual containment" was aimed at stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the region and reducing the influence of States which might pose a threat to the peace process or to Israel in particular. To secure stability in the region, the United States felt it crucial to develop economic interdependence and to raise the standard of living, especially in the West Bank and Gaza. He said that the United States had also assumed the role of a security guard in the region, securing the qualitative edge of Israel's military capabilities and implementing the "dual containment" policy towards Iraq and Iran. He expected the United States to support only those Israeli Governments which were ready to make concessions in the peace process, to continue support for Yasser Arafat and to promote economic support for the Palestinian self-administration.

28. Alexandre Zassypkin, Chief of the Middle East Peace Process Desk at the Middle East and North Africa Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, emphasized that the achievement of a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, including a just solution of the Palestinian problem, had for long been one of the priorities of Russian foreign policy. As a co-sponsor of the Madrid Peace Conference, Russia believed in active mediation to draw the parties closer to one another in their search for mutually acceptable solutions. He stressed that the co-sponsor role should be objective and unbiased, creating an atmosphere of confidence between the negotiators. At the same time, objectivity implied taking clear stands towards the legitimate demands of the various parties. This meant that the Palestinian problem must be resolved so that the Palestinian people could exercise their legitimate national rights, including the right to self-determination and the establishment of a State of their own. Another essential element was the restoration of Syrian sovereignty over the entire Golan Heights and the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from those areas. Still another important element was the drawing up of adequate security arrangements covering all aspects that might potentially threaten regional stability and relations between Israel and the Arab States.

29. Mr. Zassypkin expressed his hope that the scheduled plans on the Palestinian track, including completion of the third phase of the redeployment and the conclusion of the framework of the agreement, could be carried out. He said that the lack of real progress in the Israeli-Palestinian talks negatively affected the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He pointed to the importance of resuming bilateral negotiations on the Syrian-Israeli track and emphasized the importance of ensuring the proper implementation of Security Council resolution 425 (1978) regarding the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon.

30. Jannis Sakellariou, member of the European Parliament, gave participants an overview of European involvement in the promotion of peace in the Middle East, which had begun in the early 1970s with an attempt to form a united European position on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1980, the European Community had issued the Venice Declaration, emphasizing the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and declaring Europe's obligation to play a special role in the achievement of Middle East peace. Nevertheless, he added that special role was never realized, owing to United States pressure to avoid a European position that contradicted the Camp David Treaty, and owing also to Israel's resistance--which continues up to the present day--to an independent European role in the Middle East.

31. More recent European efforts to play a role in Middle East peacemaking had included the Barcelona process and the appointment, in 1996, of a European Union (EU) special envoy to the Middle East Peace Process. He explained that the Barcelona process, which was complementary to the Middle East Peace Process but separate from it, was the EU's most important effort to contribute to peace and development in the region. He noted, however , that the problems that had plagued the peace process have also inevitably contaminated the Barcelona process. The appointment of an EU Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process had resulted in improved coordination of the policies of EU member States in terms of the preparation of common positions and the development of European initiatives aiming to promote progress in the peace negotiations. He stressed, however, that the "real situation " gave the Special Envoy a marginal position in the negotiations, because neither the United States nor Israel accepted a larger EU role. In conclusion, Mr. Sakellariou said that task-sharing in the Middle East meant that the United States made the policy and the European Union was permitted to pay for the results.

32. Abdulaziz Abougosh, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of Coordination with Palestine of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), emphasized that for the OIC, the question of Palestine, which was at the core of the Middle East problem, was also the foremost cause of the entire Muslim world. The creation of the OIC served also to coordinate efforts for the protection of the Holy Places and ensure resolute action for their liberation and restitution to Palestinian sovereignty. A high-level Al-Quds Committee of the OIC had studied the situation with regard to the city, followed up on the implementation of all relevant resolutions and maintained contact with other international organizations to help safeguard the city. He said that throughout its existence, the OIC had taken positive and practical stands to support the struggle of the Palestinian people. It was doing so in the awareness of the importance of Palestine, the Holy Land, for the faithful worldwide, of the significance of its human and cultural heritage and the fact that the Israeli aggression constituted a threat to world peace and security.

33. He expressed the OIC's support for the Middle East peace process based on the Charter of the United Nations and the relevant resolutions and the land-for-peace principle, which presupposed Israel's withdrawal from all the occupied Palestinian and other Arab territories, including Jerusalem. He noted, however, that hopes had faded away, in the light of the numerous problems to implement accords regarding the transitional period, such as the third redeployment, the opening of the northern safe passage, outstanding financial and economic issues, the return of the displaced Palestinians and the release of Palestinian prisoners and detainees. Israeli positions on maintaining its settlements in the Occupied Territory, the annexation of part of the Palestinian territory to Israel, its control over Jordanian and Egyptian borders, as well as its extreme stand on Jerusalem and Palestine refugees were contrary to the letter and spirit of the Madrid Peace Process. He criticized Israel's persistent aggression against Lebanon and the Lebanese people. In conclusion, he stressed that the Palestinian people had accepted all relevant United Nations resolutions, had made a historic territorial compromise by accepting Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), agreeing to establish a Palestinian State only in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Any further dismemberment of Palestinian territory would not guarantee the minimum national prospects for Palestinians and would severely undermine their belief in the credibility of the peace process.

34. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, expressed congratulations to the Lebanese people on behalf of the Palestinian people for achieving the withdrawal of Israel from occupied South Lebanon, adding that he hoped this step would lead to other Israeli withdrawals from occupied Palestinian and Arab territories, and describing such withdrawals as the sine qua non for the establishment of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

35. Speaking about the role of the United Nations in the peace process, Mr. Al-Kidwa reaffirmed the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards Palestine, adding that, after all, it was this international body that had partitioned Palestine, thus giving it a clear legal, political and moral responsibility towards the question of Palestine until all aspects of the issue were resolved. Focusing mostly on the role of the United Nations since the beginning of the current peace process of Madrid and Oslo, Mr. Al-Kidwa said that since the beginning of that process, there had been a strong Israeli campaign aimed at neutralizing the United Nations. Israel's argument was that peace had been achieved, negotiations were taking place and accordingly the United Nations should not get involved. That position, which received strong United States support, was opposed by the Palestinian and Arab side, as well as by other important groupings such as the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, all of which maintained that peace had not yet been established, and that the peace process and the partial agreements that had been reached were no substitute for international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions. Such resolutions, even when not implemented on the ground, represented the ultimate protection network for the Palestinian people.

36. Mr. Al-Kidwa continued that, in reaction to the policies of the Government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the international community had decided to take certain additional steps. Their convening of the 10th emergency special session of the United Nations under the formula "Uniting for Peace" was an exceptionally important step, because it was for the first time in 15 years that the General Assembly had invoked such a complex procedure, one which had been originally invented by the United States to circumvent the Soviet influence in the Security Council. Among other recent important steps taken by the United Nations was the decision of the General Assembly at its 52nd session to accord Palestine certain rights and privileges, which until then had been the exclusive rights and privileges of Member States. The international community would never have done this had it not been convinced that Palestine was either a State or at least a State in formation.

37. Mr. Al-Kidwa said that the potential steps in the future were directly linked to the deadline agreed upon by the parties with regard to the conclusion of the final settlement between them. Emphasizing that the September deadline was a firm one, he expressed his hope that the negotiation process would by that point have resulted in a final settlement so that the Palestinian side could take certain steps such as acquiring membership at the United Nations. Nevertheless, he added, should the parties fail to reach such an agreement, the Palestinian side would still intend to request full membership in the United Nations.

Plenary session III

Civil society in support of the peace process


38. Participants examined the contribution of people-to-people diplomacy to building bridges of understanding and trust, the role of academic institutions as well as the media, and initiatives by the international NGO network in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

39. Samia Khoury, President of Rawdat EI-Zuhur Women's Organization, Jerusalem, pointed out that the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, with their ups and downs, had brought no hope for any progress in the peace process. Also, the Government of Mr. Barak had not been able to deliver anything. She said that civil society yearned for peace, but not at any cost. It was the civil society organizations that were active in advocacy for justice and peace, and in
monitoring human rights violations. Looking at the reality after the signing of the Oslo accords, she expressed the view that civil society was not convinced that those accords had the components that would bring about a peace that could guarantee justice to the Palestinian people. Israel continued to be intransigent with regard to the basic issues, like borders, prisoners, settlements, water, refugees and Jerusalem. Palestinian and Israeli NGOs should work on a parallel line with the Palestinian Authority to expose the violations by the Israeli occupying forces. That should be complemented by concerted efforts to develop democratic procedures and empower civil society.

40. According to her assessment, although a number of people-to-people initiatives had been advanced for building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians, the number of people involved was minimal and their impact had not been felt. Also, the cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian human rights and peace movements was often considered futile in the light of the intransigence of the Israeli Government. To change the basic attitude of the Palestinian people towards the Israelis it was mandatory for Israel to withdraw from all the territories occupied in 1967 and to admit the injustice it inflicted upon the Palestinians. Only such a drastic change would produce results and people-to-people programmes would be the natural outcome of peace. Palestinian and Israeli civil society organizations should play a bigger role in influencing their Governments to work sincerely and democratically to bring about changes that would help the people to see the advantages of peace and stability in the region.

41. Michael Hindley, political consultant from Lancashire and former member of the European Parliament, told participants that people needed to develop a more realistic view of what the European Union could and could not do, rather than view it as a form of deus ex maquina that could solve all their problems. There was an abiding myth, he added, that the EU, as distinct from its member States or from the United States, was a neutral body. This was not true.

42. Speaking about NGOs, Mr. Hindley noted that the rise of western liberal NGOs was almost in direct proportion to the disillusionment with the political process in the West, and that, therefore, the existence of NGOs was implicitly and explicitly a criticism of the political process. In the Palestinian territory, however, the establishment of the Palestinian Authority had dramatically changed the situation for NGOs. The relationship between NGOs and the emerging state was a competitive one that was fraught with difficulty, he added. Mr. Hindley also suggested that Palestinian NGOs might play a constructive role in helping the emergence of a more mature form of advocacy, as opposed to the current passionate expression of righteous and aggrieved indignation, which was no longer convincing.

43. Soyata Maiga, lawyer and Vice-Chairman of the Bar Association of Mali, Bamako, stated that the Middle East conflict and the question of Palestine in particular were a major and continuing source of concern for Africa. The Organization of African Unity had declared the situation in the Middle East a serious threat to Africa's independence, security and unity. National and subregional associations in solidarity with the Palestinian people had been established which had included in their platforms relevant activities, information and awareness-raising campaigns. She said that Africa abounded in very active civil society organizations that were sometimes well ahead of Governments and played vital roles in democratic achievements. Some of those organizations played major roles in the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts. She noted, however, a lack of interest in the question of Palestine owing to a lack of information or an understanding of its complexities and difficulties.

44. She pointed out that it was pressure from the international community, including NGOs, that forced Israel to make concessions in the peace process and demanded continued vigilance and pressure to persuade Israel to implement already concluded agreements. The involvement of civil society , including that of Africa, was crucial and Palestinian leaders should devise and implement an adequate communication strategy. Advantage should be taken of the particular features of African society, combining traditional and modern mechanisms for the settlement of conflicts, and involving, most particularly, women in all stages of the process. She invited African NGOs to include the Palestine question prominently in their platforms, to develop microprogrammes with the media, carry out facilitation missions to the Arab and Israeli communities, develop cultural exchange programmes with Palestinian and Israeli organizations, establish appropriate twinning programmes, and the like. Established organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council and others should lead that process, in order to consolidate practical action in support of the Palestinian people, based on relevant and up-to-date information.

45. Jeroen Gunning, researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Durham, United Kingdom, spoke about the various problems confronting international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) in their work. He pointed to the somewhat contradictory relationship of INGOs to Islamist institutions, saying that Islamists held positions theoretically irreconcilable with the notion of secular democracy championed by many INGOs. Yet there was no denying that Palestinian Islamist societies were generally authentic grass-roots organizations, mobilizing people and providing services, mostly without discrimination, where they were most needed. He added that not supporting such institutions would be a betrayal of the civil society ideal.

46. Mr. Gunning also pointed out that one area in which INGOs could become more active was that of educating the Israeli public. Taking into consideration the fact that Israeli policy-making was sensitive to Israeli public opinion, INGOs, being neither Israeli nor Palestinian, had a unique opportunity to make a difference. They could target ordinary Israelis who failed to understand the Palestinian case out of ignorance or as a result of believing their State's propaganda, and try to emphasize that working with and for Palestinians did not mean they were against Israelis or their needs.

47. Zelmys María Domínguez Cortina, Board member, Organization of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America (OSPAAAL), and researcher, Center for African and Middle Eastern Studies (CEAMO), Havana, said that the Cuban people, organized in the widest spectrum of social organizations, professional associations and NGOs, had always been resolute supporters of the Palestinian people's rights. She spoke about the various Cuban civil society organizations that supported the rights of the Palestinian people, focusing on the work of two such institutions, CEAMO and OSPAAAL. Moreover, the Cuban media continuously promoted public awareness not only of the realities in the Middle East region, but also of the viewpoints of Cuban scholars in that regard.

48. The Arab-Israeli conflict had always been among CEAMO's main research topics and the object of multiple publications, conferences, courses and lectures. Furthermore, one of the most recent and important initiatives undertaken by OSPAAAL was the organization, in Athens in 1999, of the International Conference of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, for its Right to Self-Determination and Independence. A Final Declaration and an Action Plan had been approved at the conclusion of the Conference, serving as tangible proof of the solidarity with the Palestinian cause advanced by the work of those organizations.

49. Na'ama Carmi, Council member of Meretz, Tel Aviv, suggested two areas of activity in which academia could contribute: by informing the peace process and assisting politicians in modifying and fine-tuning alternatives in negotiations; and by studying and developing programmes that would promote peace, understanding and coexistence between rival peoples, such as the Israelis and the Palestinians. The adoption of a rational politics, she said, would entail acknowledging that it was better to solve conflicts by negotiation than by force and to reach solutions that met the interests of both sides. Academia should contribute to the peace process by making politics more rational and moral. She described some research projects being carried out at Tel Aviv University, such as gauging trends in Israeli public opinion, maintaining databases on Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, teaching conflict-resolution themes and fostering interrelationships and cooperation with other institutions. However, she deplored the fact that the results of this research were usually not made accessible to the public and were not sufficiently made of use by the politicians. As a remedy, academia should develop its public relations expertise so as to become accessible to the media and the politicians.

50. She criticized academia for not doing enough in the area of study programmes, such as common projects between Israeli and Palestinian universities. The opportunities offered by the Internet should be widely used to advantage, to establish contacts between Israeli and Arab students which would lead to lively exchanges of views. Intellectuals should fulfil their duty as citizens by becoming involved in public affairs and perform their special duty of informing the public with the fruits of reason.

51. Nikolas Voulelis, Managing Director of the Athens News Agency, said that the most important role played by Greek civil society in support of the peace process was that of the media. In general, the Greek media had followed their international counterparts in the coverage of international conflicts, such as that of the Middle East. In recent years, however , the reawakening of nationalism in the Balkans and the political realignments in Greece had led to the development of national stereotypes and attitudes over alliances and solidarity on a purely "fanatical" religious basis. This had resulted in an across-the-board downgrading of the support of Greek public opinion for the Palestinian cause.

52. Mr. Voulelis continued that the entire structure, role and tremendous influence of the media--especially the electronic media--in the world today derived from the interdependency between political power, economic power and the power of the owners of the mass media, who decided whether they were going to shape a climate of tolerance or intolerance vis-à-vis a people, a country, a religion or a minority. What was now required was the contemplation of ways by which to shape a public opinion based on principles of peaceful coexistence, understanding, tolerance and respect for the rights of every people, nation or minority.

VI. Closing session


53. Walter Balzan, Rapporteur of the International Meeting, introduced the Final Statement of the International Meeting (see annex I).

54. Angeliki Laiou, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, expressed the hope of the host Government that the fruitful, constructive and genuine exchange of views that had characterized the two-day Meeting would promote further dialogue between the parties to the Middle East conflict. The peace process was not only about land, borders, Jerusalem or refugees, it was imperative to build a culture of peace which would constitute the main guarantee for a sustainable peace. She emphasized the importance of a comprehensive, just and lasting solution of the Middle East conflict for the whole Mediterranean region. Greece welcomed any initiative that promoted peace and security in the region.

55. Emil Jarjoui, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and representative of Palestine, emphasized that every Palestinian was looking forward to the independence day of the Palestinian State. It would be the starting point for a better life of the future Palestinian generations and put an end to the unjust situation where a whole people was dispersed as refugees all over the world. He reiterated the importance his delegation attached to the participation of Palestine in the United Nations Millennium Summit as a full Member State.

56. Ibra Deguène Ka, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, highlighted the importance that, during the two-day Meeting, members of the international community, including United Nations Member States, intergovernmental and civil society organizations recommitted themselves to supporting the peace process. He expressed appreciation to the civil society organizations, academic institutions, the international NGO network and the media for playing a major part in focusing world attention upon the plight of the Palestinian people, thus galvanizing support from different corners of the globe, and maintaining the momentum of support. He pointed out that the goals of the international community would not be fulfilled until a viable settlement agreement supported by both sides was found - a solution that would enable Palestinians, Israelis and all other peoples in the region to begin the process of relearning to live side by side, respecting one another's differences while embracing common aspirations of harmony and cooperation .



ANNEX I


Final Statement


1. The United Nations International Meeting in Support of a Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine and the Establishment of Peace in the Middle East was held in Athens, on 23 and 24 May 2000, under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Participants in the Meeting included international experts, eminent political personalities from Greece, representatives of Governments, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations system entities, the Palestinian Authority, civil society organizations and representatives of the media.

2. The Meeting was convened by the Committee with the aim of promoting intensified political and other action by Governments, intergovernmental and civil society organizations for the attainment by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights and in support of the Middle East peace process. The Committee expressed the view that it was important to promote international support for the success of the peace efforts and that, at this crucial juncture, the international community should spare no effort in pursuit of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine, and in the quest for peace and stability in the entire region of the Middle East.

3. The Meeting was held against the background of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on interim and permanent status. The participants emphasized that the agreement on permanent status issues -- Palestine refugees, the status of Jerusalem, settlements, borders, sharing of water resources -- should be based on the norms of international law and international legitimacy. It was noted that the current phase in the negotiations was crucial and constituted a turning point for the peace process. The participants expressed concern that yet another target date for the conclusion of a framework agreement had been missed. In the light of this, the parties were urged to do everything in their power to preserve and solidify the accomplishments of the peace process and to make an effort to achieve a final settlement agreement by September 2000. The participants also stressed the urgency of reaching an agreement on interim issues, namely the third Israeli redeployment from the West Bank, the release of Palestinian prisoners, the opening of the northern safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the operation of the Gaza seaport, and economic issues.

4. As the peace process continued to experience difficulties and the situation on the ground remained volatile, meaningful progress was needed in the negotiations on both interim and permanent status issues. In this regard, it was emphasized that the permanent status negotiations had been adversely affected by the lack of real headway on interim issues. This situation required the immediate attention of the co-sponsors and of the international community.

5. The participants were also of the view that, for the peace process to succeed, the parties should strive to create, in the negotiations, an atmosphere of genuine commitment to the guiding principles of the peace process, as laid down in the bilateral agreements signed to date. The participants noted in particular that, in recent months, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had been offset on a number of occasions by Israeli actions on the ground and Israeli Government statements which were incompatible with the spirit and the letter of the peace process.

6. The participants reviewed the various aspects of the permanent status negotiations and the question of Palestinian statehood. In this context, they reaffirmed that the Middle East peace process is based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and the principle of land for peace. The participants stated that the impending declaration of Palestinian statehood was a natural and inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, independence and sovereignty. The international community was again called upon to support this right of the Palestinian people and spare no effort for making it a reality.

7. The participants discussed the role played in the peace process by the co-sponsors, the United Nations system, Europe, the international donor community and intergovernmental and regional organizations, and stressed that the role of all those institutions in supporting the Middle East peace process remained crucial.

8. The participants reiterated the permanent responsibility of the United Nations with respect to all aspects of the question of Palestine, until a satisfactory settlement based on relevant United Nations resolutions and international legitimacy is reached and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are fully realized.

9. The participants noted the important role played by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in rendering varied humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees for over 50 years. In that connection, they strongly urged the international donor community to continue to support the vital activities of the Agency and contribute generously to its budget in order to allow UNRWA to maintain the level of services provided to Palestine refugees.

10. The participants appreciated the contribution by the members of the European Union to the peace process. The EU's political support and large volume of economic assistance were viewed as vital to the efforts aimed at rehabilitating and developing the Palestinian economy.

11. The international donor community, for its part, remained an important supporting factor in laying the foundations for the viability and sustainability of the Palestinian economy and society. It was reaffirmed that the donor community's assistance was of great importance to the Palestinian people, particularly during the difficult transitional phase. The role played by international donors would become even more critical in the period following the establishment of a Palestinian State.

12. The participants acknowledged the important role played by civil society in the process of transition to Palestinian statehood, as well as in building and developing Palestinian institutions. They also noted that non-governmental and other civil society organizations were making a determined effort to help the parties overcome decades of animosity and suspicion in order to build bridges of trust, understanding and partnership.

13. The participants expressed gratitude to Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, for the message addressed to the Meeting, for his consistent support of the rights of the Palestinian people and his unrelenting personal efforts in the search for peace and stability in the Middle East.

14. The participants also welcomed the statement made on behalf of H.E. Mr. Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority, and expressed appreciation for his strong commitment to a peaceful solution of the question of Palestine.

15. The Chairman of the Committee, H.E. Mr. Ibra Deguène Ka, and the delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People had the honour of being received by H.E. Mr. George Papandreou, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, who stressed the importance of supporting the Middle East peace process and the rights of the Palestinian people.

16. The participants expressed gratitude to H.E. Mr. George Papandreou, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, and to the Government of Greece for hosting the Meeting and for the assistance and support extended to the United Nations Secretariat in its preparation.

Athens, 24 May 2000



ANNEX II


List of participants


Speakers


Mr. Abdulaziz Abougosh
Assistant Secretary-General
Director of Coordination with Palestine
Organization of the Islamic Conference
Jeddah

Mr. Geoffrey Aronson
Editor, Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories
Foundation for Middle East Peace
Washington, D.C.

Mr. Salah Bassiouny
Ambassador, Chairman, Cairo Peace Society
Member of the International Alliance for Arab-Israeli Peace
Cairo

Ms. Na'ama Carmi
Council member of Meretz
Tel Aviv

Ms. Zelmys María Domínguez Cortina
Board member, Organization of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America
Researcher, Center for African and Middle Eastern Studies
Havana

Mr. Jeroen Gunning
Researcher, Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Durham
United Kingdom

Mr. Michael Hindley
Political consultant
Lancashire, United Kingdom

H.E. Mr. Emil Jarjoui
Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization
Representative of Palestine
Jerusalem

Mr. Markus Kaim
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Friedrich Schiller University
Jena, Germany

Ms. Samia Khoury
President, Rawdat EI-Zuhur Women's Organization
Jerusalem

Ms. Soyata Maiga
Lawyer
Bamako

Ms. Ayelet Ophir
Board member, B'Tselem
Founder of Movement against Administrative Detention
Tel Aviv

Mr. Sotiris Roussos
Coordinator, Centre for Mediterranean and Middle East Studies
Athens

Mr. Jannis Sakellariou
Member of the European Parliament
Brussels

Mr. Nicolas Voulelis
Managing Director, Athens News Agency
Athens

Mr. Alexandre Zassypkin
Chief of the Section, Middle East and North Africa Department
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
Moscow

Delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the
Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People


H.E. Mr. Ibra Deguène Ka
Permanent Representative of the Republic of Senegal to the United Nations
Chairman of the Committee and Head of Delegation

H.E. Mr. Ravan A.G. Farhâdi
Permanent Representative of the Islamic State of Afghanistan to the United Nations
Vice-Chairman of the Committee

H.E. Mr. Walter Balzan
Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations
Rapporteur of the Committee

H.E. Mr. André Erdös
Permanent Representative of the Republic of Hungary to the United Nations

H.E. Mr. M. Nasser Al-Kidwa
Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations

Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations

Mr. Peter Hansen
Commissioner-General, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

Governments

Afghanistan, Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Chile, China, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Non-member States maintaining permanent observer missions at Headquarters

Holy See, Switzerland

Entities having received a standing invitation to participate
as observers in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly
and maintaining permanent observer missions at Headquarters

Palestine

Intergovernmental organizations

International Organization for Migration
Movement of Non-Aligned Countries
Organization of the Islamic Conference

United Nations organs, agencies and bodies

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Information Centre, Athens

Civil society organizations

Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization, Cairo
Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, Athens
Centre for Mediterranean and Middle East Studies (Institute of International Relations), Athens
Coalition of the Left and Progress, Athens
Committee of Solidarity with Arab People, Nicosia
Egyptian Solidarity Committee, Cairo
European Anti-Poverty Network, Athens
European Centre for Environment and Development Studies, Athens
European Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine
Foundation for Mediterranean Studies, Athens
Greek Committee for International Democratic Solidarity, Athens
Greek Council for Refugees, Athens
Hellenic Committee of Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Athens
Hellenic National Youth Council, Athens
Info-Prod Research (Middle East), Ramat-Gan
Institute of Inter-Balkan Relations, Athens
Institute of International Economic Relations, Athens
International Federation of Medical Students Association, Athens
International Institute for Nationality, Athens
Jordan Medical Aid for Palestinians, Amman
LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, Jerusalem
League of Hellenic-Egyptian Friendship, Athens
Lions Club Argyroupolis "Dioskouri", Athens
Muslim World League, Makkah
Palestine Red Crescent Society, El-Bireh
Palestinian Centre for the Right of Return, Athens
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Gaza
Panteon University, Athens
Rawdat El-Zuhur Women's Organization, East Jerusalem
Shadow United Nations, The Hague
Socrates-Greek-Albanian Institute for Art, Research, Studies, Cultural and Development, Athens
Solidarity International for Human Rights, Washington, D.C.
Soroptimist Union of Greece, Athens
World Federation of Trade Unions, Prague
World YMCA - YWCA of Greece, Athens
Young Europeans for Security - Greek Section, Athens

Media

Agence France-Presse
Almasry International newspaper
Athens News Agency
Athens News newspaper
Avgi newspaper
Carrer Azis Express
Eleftherotypia newspaper
Era 1 - TV channel
Era/Ertz - TV channel
Imerissia newspaper
IRNA News Agency
Journalist Organization Labraki
Kathimerini newspaper - International Herald Tribune
Kontra newspaper
Marie Claire magazine
NBM Ltd.
Women's News Agency "Info Femmina"

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