Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

19 July 2001



Speakers reaffirm international community’s responsibility to protect Palestinians

MADRID, 18 July – Washington’s embrace of the Mitchell Fact-Finding Committee Report might be an indication of renewed American readiness to confront the settlements issue Council of Foreign Relations Fellow Richard Murphy said at the final meeting of the International Meeting on the Question of Palestine this afternoon in Madrid.

Mr. Murphy, also the Chairman of the Middle East Institute in Washington said the Report, which argued strongly that stopping settlement expansion must be treated as an essential confidence-building measure between Israelis and Palestinians, had been supported by the Administration. He cautioned, however, that the American record in confronting successive Israeli Governments over the settlements had not been one of success.

The Head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, Mahdi Abdul Hadi, said Palestinians and Israelis today were in the worse situation ever. They hated and distrusted each other because they had never accepted mutual recognition and they had little knowledge or understanding of each other. The Israelis were saying no to all of the Palestinian demands, but Palestinians needed borders and sovereignty. Sharon’s intent was to delay a Palestinian State for as long as he could.

Participants in this afternoon’s session heard expert panellists discuss the “road to peace” focusing on permanent status issues, including Palestinian statehood, and the role of the Co-sponsors, the United Nations, the European Union and other international actors. While there was general support for the Mitchell recommendations, there was concern that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s demand for seven days of complete non-violence before preparing to implement the recommendations was an attempt to avoid dealing with them altogether.

Statements in the discussion were also made by Knesset Member Yael Dayan and the Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States to the United Nations, Hussein Hassouna.

The Rapporteur of the Committee, Walter Balzan (Malta) read out a statement of General Remarks which called attention to the participants’ conviction that the Mitchell recommendations should be swiftly implemented as a whole. They also agreed that the excessive use of force by Israel, the closures and economic blockade, the incursions into Palestinian controlled areas and all other illegal measures of collective punishment against the Palestinian people must be brought to an end immediately. Special significance must be attached to the Committee’s call for a complete freeze in settlement expansion. Participants believe that an international presence must be established to protect innocent civilians and to monitor the implementation of agreements and understandings reached.

Closing statements were made by the representative of the Foreign Ministry of Spain, the representative of Palestine and the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Ibra Deguène Ka (Senegal).

The Meeting approved a motion by Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations in New York, to offer special thanks to the Chairman for whom this was the last meeting after five years of service to the Committee.

The two-day meeting, convened in Madrid from 17 to 18 July under the sponsorship of the Palestinian Rights’ Committee, was organized into three plenaries. While panellists ranged beyond the stipulated talking points, the first plenary focused on the Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Under that title, speakers reviewed the Madrid peace process, the Oslo accords and subsequent agreements and understandings, interim and permanent status negotiations – progress and obstacles – and recent development in the peace process. The second plenary was devoted to discussion of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. Experts discussed the security situation since September 2000; the need for international protection of the Palestinian people; international efforts at ending the crisis and restarting the peace process; Israeli settlements; and the state of the Palestinian economy. The subject of the third and last plenary was “the road to peace”.

In addition to the 14 Experts and Committee members, the meeting was attended by a representative of the Secretary-General. Representatives of 63 Governments also attended. The Spanish delegation was led by Foreign Minister Josep Piqué. Six United Nations agencies participated, along with 3 inter-governmental organizations and 37 non-governmental organizations. 27 representatives of the press, as well as special guests and members of the public were also in attendance. Expert panellist Rawya Shawa, Member of the Palestinian Council, was unable to participate due to Israeli travel restrictions. Her paper was made available to participants.

At 10 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday 19 June, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian meeting will sponsor a one-day session of the United Nations Non-Governmental Organization Meeting in Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Under the item, “Action by the international civil society in solidarity with the Palestinian people”, expert panellists will discuss mobilizing public opinion in support of the Palestinian people – efforts by non-governmental organizations, other civil society organizations and the media. They will also review action world-wide and development of action-oriented proposals and mechanism for their implementation.

The road to peace


MAHDI ABDUL HADI, Head, Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, Jerusalem, said there were no experts on the Palestinian question. He questioned whether the road to peace, as stipulated by the co-sponsors, was the right road for the Palestinians. The land for peace formula needed a serious commitment from the two parties with mutual recognition and accountability for all but that so-called recognition was based on deception, on real politik. Rabin had been made to believe that to be the only way to give the Palestinians autonomy. Arafat had been in a similar position as he could not miss the chance to have an independent state. Palestinians and Israelis today were in a worse situation ever. They hated and distrusted each other because they had never accepted mutual recognition.

The Israelis were saying no to all of the Palestinian demands, he said. Palestinians could not be governed by settlers. They needed borders and sovereignty. Why should Palestinians give up all the years they had spent struggling to retain their identity? he asked. Israeli society was divided with no clear vision on how to deal with “these ugly Palestinians”. Shimon Peres was destroying the Labour Party. Netanyahu wanted to go back to square one, to ignore all the understandings and agreements. Barak wanted to annex 20 per cent of the Occupied Territory and to build a synagogue on the site of Haram al-Sharif. Sharon carried it one step further by going himself to the Al-Aqsa mosque. There was no Israeli partner. Sharon’s intent was to delay a Palestinian State for as long as he could. Where was the Israeli sense of justice? Fifteen houses were destroyed in Jerusalem without one Israeli voice of dissent.

On the other hand, he said, the Palestinian house was also not in order. International legitimacy had not been implemented. The problem was not in Washington, Brussels or Amman. The young Palestinians committed suicide not because of religion but because of a position of despair. How could their situation be changed, how could they be given hope? he asked. Today the Israelis were even questioning recognition of Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. There was no decision in Washington on how to deal with the situation and Europeans were like perfume – one whiff and they floated away. The speeches in the meeting today and yesterday were reflections of statements made 50 years ago. He asked the participants to help him wake up the Israelis.

RICHARD MURPHY, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, New York; Chairman of the Middle East Institute, Washington, DC., said prospects were better that Washington would welcome partners from Europe to participate in the peace process than it had been the case during the 80’s and 90’s. Previously, Europeans were considered trespassers on the American peace process. The main driving force behind the peace process, however, continued to be the interaction of the parties themselves, assisted principally by the United States, Egypt and Jordan. The Mitchell Report was a useful contribution to the thinking of the American Administration. Washington had endowed it with an aura of authority. In fact, when asked if there was a fallback position, Secretary of State Colin Powell had said the Mitchell Report was plan A, B and C for the Middle East. It had everything needed to move forward: cessation of violence and hostility; confidence-building measures to restore trust and security cooperation and led to negotiations on final status. There were some skeptics, however, who said that the constant references to the Mitchell Report was an indication of the bankruptcy of United States policy.

He said, Washington’s embrace of the Report might be an indication of renewed American readiness to tackle the issue of settlements more frontally and not just keep referring to it as did the 1993 Declaration of Principles which described the settlements as a final status issue. The Report argued strongly that stopping settlement expansion must be treated as an essential confidence building measure between Israelis and Palestinians on the road to resuming negotiations. He cautioned, however, that the American record in confronting successive Israeli Governments over the settlements had not been one of success. History suggested that the settler movement could only be constrained by domestic forces within Israel, which were most effective when there was a clear prospect of advancing towards peace.

He was pleased to note the publication of more rounded accounts of Camp David. The commentaries of some of those involved disputed the conventional wisdom that Prime Minister Barak had made a surprisingly generous offer or that the Palestinian rejection of the offer revealed the basic Palestinian position was to destroy the State of Israel.

YAEL DAYAN, Member of the Knesset, Tel Aviv, said, she had a problem with the United Nations because it refused Israelis access to a videocassette it was holding in which kidnapped Israeli soldiers had been filmed. There were three families who did not know if their sons were alive or dead. If the United Nations had the answer, she asked that it should share that information. She said that many of the speakers had engaged in the soul searching and examining the roots of the situation. Who started the current situation was irrelevant. It was useless to assign blame because it changed from day to day.

There was a new element in the dialogue, she said. She felt that Israelis had been underestimated by some of the speakers. They did know about the occupied territories and about the settlements, but democracy that made them slaves to a system in which leaders change every four years or so. She had not voted for Sharon but over 60 per cent of the electorate had voted for him and she had to live with those results and to try to work from inside.

If tomorrow Israel stopped confiscation of land and started to evacuate settlements, what would be the next step for the Palestinians? she asked. The Palestinian should unilaterally declare a state, she said. The illusion of Camp David had given the right wing a terrible weapon. The Barak-Camp David connection had harmed all the parties. While there might not be other offers as generous as that put forth in Camp David, the totality of the offer, the take it or leave it aspect, had made it unacceptable. If there was agreement on the 1967 borders, there was always room for negotiation even though those borders were not good for Israel in terms of security. Jerusalem was a separate issue. If the last thing on the agenda after a Palestine State had been secured was the last square kilometre of the Temple Mount, she was sure that the two people would find some agreement. She thought a solution to the question was reachable and she hoped it was found before there was a new war. There would be separation between the two states at first but it would not take them as long as the Europeans to come together.

She asked what was meant by an international supervisory mechanism. What would they do there? she asked. What did the Palestinians wanted to be protected from? And who was going to protect the Israeli kids who went to dance on a Saturday night? She would like to believe that once the misery and suffering was removed, there would be no more terrorism but she found that a difficult concept. Religious fundamentalism had to be dealt with on all sides.

HUSSEIN HASSOUNA, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States to the United Nations, New York, said much had been accomplished and he personally believed that the Palestinians would reach their dream, whether through political or armed struggle. All those who wanted peace must join hands.

He said that since its creation, the League of Arab States had been the main forum for the formulation of an Arab common policy and the coordination of its member states’ policies regarding the question of Palestine. Over the years, the League had reaffirmed its adherence to international legitimacy in relation to the settlement of the Palestine question – in other words, to that body of United Nations resolutions, international conventions and agreements, rules of international and humanitarian law, as well as basic principles of humanity and justice which the international community considered applicable to the Palestinian question.

It was well established that Israel had no legal right to the occupation and annexation of the Palestinian and other Arab Territories which it had occupied by force since 1967, he said. The rectification of the situation required the reestablishment of the status-juris existing prior to the hostilities. It also entitled the Palestinian and other Arab peoples to resist the illegal occupation until it was brought to an end. He reviewed international laws pertaining to the principle of non-use of force, illegality of military occupation by force and inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by force.

He said, the Security Council had condemned on a number o occasions Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and its illegal settlement policy. It had further confirmed the application of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of Civilians in time of war. Respect for international legitimacy also rendered the Security Council duty-bound to ensure the implementation of its resolutions against Israel. The international community must be the guardian of international legitimacy and its ultimate protector in relation to the question of Palestine. The various actors of the international community must act collectively, each according to its role. That included the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the High Contracting Parties of the 1949 Geneva Convention, the non-governmental organizations and civil society.

NASEER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations in New York, said a protection force would provide a third party presence to ameliorate the situation for the sake of preservation of international peace and security. The main problem was the existence of serious doubt on the part of each side about the commitment of the other side to the goals to be achieved. Israel should offer 100 per cent territory as the starting point for the negotiations.

Regarding the Mitchell report, he said he did not understand the American position. He had thought the implementation of the recommendations would lead to ending violence and establishing the “quiet” that Sharon wanted. It did not stipulate that quiet would lead to the implementation of the recommendations. It was inconsistent with the report to demand an introductory stage of quiet regardless of who decided when there had been a week of quiet. He hoped that Israel was not trying to kill the Mitchell recommendations and was being aided by an American cover-up.

MIQUEL NADAL, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Spain, said that throughout the ten years that had elapsed since the Madrid conference the peace process had undergone a number of changes and there had been numerous subsequent agreements and understandings. The Palestinians had democratically elected the seed of what would become a viable Palestinian State. Israelis and Palestinian had just begun to address the most difficult issues. Even after the outbreak of the crisis the parties had continued to negotiate the issues.

He said his Government was aware that the partial steps were in themselves not enough. Only by preserving the global nature of the process would it be possible to find a solution. There was no alternative to peace. To maintain the current situation would give further impetus to the conflict. Neither party could believe that the solution must come at the expense of one over the other. There must be a just, global and lasting peace. There must also be an immediate and total implementation of the Mitchell recommendations. Every effort must be made to stop the violence which was unjust and unjustified wherever it occurred. A total freeze of the settlement policy was essential.

He went on to say that the Mitchell Report contained a wide range of confidence- building measures. It was a balanced package that required total implementation. The creation of an international mechanism of monitoring could contribute to the restoration of confidence of both the parties. There was no military solution to the conflict. He stressed the importance of international support for the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority.

NABIL MAROUF, General Delegate of Palestine to Spain, Representative of Palestine, said that the Israeli leadership continued the military escalation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as though it was determined to end the peace process and to go to war. The Palestinians, in defence of their rights, were waging a war for peace. There would be no end to the conflict without an end of Israeli occupation and the creation of a Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital. The situation threatened international peace and security. The international community should provide international observers. He had confidence that the international community and the international organizations would help to preserve the rights of the Palestinians.

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For information media - not an official record