UNITED NATIONS LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN MEETING IN SUPPORT OF ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE OPENS IN MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY
Secretary-General urges agreement on permanent status issues, calls for actions jeopardizing Palestinian statehood to cease
“Actions that prejudice the outcome of the process must stop, including Israel’s continued settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which is illegal under international law and which contradicts the Road Map,” Mr. Ban said in an opening statement delivered by Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs.
Under the theme of “the urgency of realizing a two-State solution,” the two-day Meeting, convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, discussed broad global action to resolve the conflict based on the vision of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security, with Latin American and Caribbean Governments and non-governmental actors having a role in that effort. It took place as a growing number of Latin American and Caribbean nations were formally recognizing the State of Palestine.
Mr. Ban strongly condemned the recent deadly bomb attack in West Jerusalem and said all expressions of violence must stop. He also called on Israel, to further open border crossings into Gaza, where the situation was unsustainable, and to further improve economic and security conditions in the entire Occupied Palestinian Territory by reducing obstacles to movement, halting military action and giving the Palestinian Authority access to Areas A and B.
The Secretary-General lauded the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to establish viable State institutions, which were an integral part of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s two-year state-building programme launched in August 2009. A way must be found for Jerusalem to emerge as the capital of both Israel and Palestine, with arrangements for holy sites acceptable to all. It was also important to respond to the Palestinian people’s legitimate call for reunification and to find a just solution to the prolonged plight of Palestinian refugees.
Indeed, serious efforts were needed to break the current deadlock and bring both sides back to the negotiating table as soon as possible to reach a long-overdue resolution to the conflict, he said. “The status quo is untenable, particularly at a time when so many throughout the region are pursuing freedom and dignity through non-violence – a reawakening also being felt among Palestinians,” he said.
Luis Almagro, Uruguay’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, underscoring Latin America’s sincere support for the peace process, said the region’s Governments, at the close of the Latin American Alliance for Peace in the Middle East Forum, held in San Jose, Costa Rica from 11 to 12 March 2011, had signed a Declaration officially recognizing Palestine as a sovereign, independent State. Uruguay was a strong supporter of Palestine and the two-State solution and believed that Palestine met the definition and criteria for statehood set forth in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States.
There could be no peace in the region without the creation of two States – Israel and Palestine - living side by side, and Uruguay had taken concrete steps to strength trade, cultural and social ties with both nations, Mr. Almagro said. For example, during its Chairmanship of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) - South America’s largest trading bloc – Uruguay signed a free-trade agreement with Israel that entered into force one year ago. In addition to recently recognizing the State of Palestine, Uruguay had installed diplomats there and was implementing a bilateral framework agreement.
He stressed the importance of recognizing the Fayyad socioeconomic development and state-building plan, particularly in the light of the region’s vast socioeconomic disparities, which were exacerbated in the Occupied Palestinian Territory by the conflict. In the last few years, Uruguay had adopted an open policy toward Middle Eastern countries, opening diplomatic missions in several capitals in the region. Despite its small size, Uruguay was determined to bring goodwill and contribute to the peace process.
In a keynote address, Saeb Erakat, a Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said that in recognizing the State of Palestine, Uruguay and other Latin American and Caribbean countries were rejecting Israel’s claim to the territory it acquired by force in 1967. Their stance also brought clout to the diplomatic process to resolve the conflict, and others in the region should follow in their footsteps. “Through your principled and courageous support of a just solution, you can continue to serve the interest of peace, help create global momentum for a solution and give our people much-needed hope,” he said.
Moreover, they should lead the way by boycotting imported goods made in Israeli settlements, which were inextricably linked to violations of international humanitarian law, he said. Vineyards in settlements were grown on stolen Palestinian land and irrigated with stolen Palestinian water. Fully, 82 per cent of Palestinian land and water was illegal taken by the settlements. By importing such goods, third parties unwittingly gave Israel incentives to retain and even expand those settlements. It was imperative that the billions of dollars traded annually between Israel and MERCOSUR did not help them in that process.
That was particularly important as Palestinians suffered great hardship, as evidenced in their scant $2,000 gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, versus $30,000 per capita in Israel, he said. Today, some 500,000 Israeli settlers lived in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and their numbers continued to grow. Israel’s continued colonization of Palestinian land had fully undermined the credibility of the peace process to the point where the two-State solution could cease in the near term to be a practical option for the Palestinians. To make matters worse, the current Israeli Government did not even recognize the 1967 borders as a baseline for discussion nor had it put forward any proposal for a comprehensive peace.
Still, evolving conditions on the ground were creating important opportunities for a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace, he said. As Palestinian institutions and public services had been substantially strengthened in recent years, across the Arab world people were demanding Government accountability and respect for their basic rights and dignity, leading to rapid change few thought possible. Arabs, contrary to the goals of Osama Bin Laden, were effecting regime change without violence. Those recent events were proof that human rights and people’s dignity could not be ignored without consequence. Moreover, people worldwide were increasingly speaking out about Israel’s illegal policies toward Palestinians, offended by its injustice and inhumanity.
Western nations had an important choice, he said. The system that begun in 1916 when the Arab world was divided up by British and United States colonizers, was being dismantled and it could no longer survive. Arabs no longer needed autocratic, theocratic systems of Government, which had created Osama Bin Laden; they needed democracy. It had been easier thus far for many in the West to favour autocratic rule in the Arab world, but the international community should not tolerate dictators nor close their eyes to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territory, the worst form of state terror, particularly if it wanted to defeat Osama Bin Laden and other extremist forces.
Mr. Erakat, in opening remarks that preceded his keynote address, said achieving peace in the region based on a two-State solution was not a question of each party being able to relieve his guilty conscious over the suffering of the other side. Strategically, it was the best option and all its aspects were doable. “I believe negotiations are over between the Palestinians and Israel,” he said. Concerns over borders, refugees, settlements and other pertinent issues had been dealt with and now was the time for decisions.
He implored Latin American and Caribbean countries that had not done so to formally recognize the State of Palestine based on 1967 borders, which was required under international law. “Being a friend of Palestine does not mean that you’re an enemy of Israel, on the contrary,” he said, adding that peace had no religious, cultural or political boundaries, and that no one, particularly Israel, should be scared of the democratic winds sweeping the Arab world. Anyone who claimed Arabs were against democracy was a racist. He looked forward to forging good relations with Latin American civil society as well. “What can we contribute to positively impact the outcome in the Middle East? This is the question leaders and intellectuals should ask,” he said.
Echoing, Mr. Erakat’s sentiment, Abdou Salam Diallo, Committee Chairman, said the Meeting was taking place at a critical time, marked by profound political transformation throughout North Africa and the Middle East that highlighted the urgency to break the continuing Israeli-Palestinian stalemate which had stalled direct two-way talks for months. Latin America and the Caribbean had an important role to play in realizing the two-State solution, he said, lauding the recent San Jose Declaration and calling on other regions to formally recognize the State of Palestine to help the Palestinians fulfil their aspirations of independence and sovereignty.
Following Mr. Erakat’s remarks, representatives of other Governments took the floor to express their views. The representative of Namibia said his country, which had been formerly occupied, wanted Palestinians to be able to create their own independent, sovereign State as Namibia had. Palestinians deserved to live in dignity and peace, not in settlements. After achieving its own independence, Namibia had formally recognized the State of Palestine, he said, commending Latin American nations that had also recognized it. He condemned all actions that impeded durable peace in the region, stressing that Israel must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt its commitment to peace. Achieving a just, lasting comprehensive settlement to the conflict was crucial for regional stability, based on relevant Security Council resolutions, the Quartet road map and the Arab Peace Initiative.
The representative of Ecuador said that, in accordance with Ecuador’s new constitution, which condemned foreign occupation and honoured the principles of international law, his Government had on 24 December 2010 recognized Palestine as a free, independent State based on 1967 borders. Ecuador had supported all relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, condemned the use of force against Palestinians, and supported the efforts of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to preserve the population configuration of Israelis and Palestinians in the region, which had been altered by Israel’s separation wall.
The representative of Cuba condemned Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, destruction of Palestinian homes and the ensuing hardship suffered by the Palestinian people. He regretted that repeatedly peace plans had failed. A few weeks ago, the Council failed to approve a draft resolution on Israeli settlements because the United States had vetoed it. Cuba had always been faithful to its position of solidarity with the Palestinian people. It voted in favour of the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on Israel’s separation wall as well as General Assembly resolutions on the Palestinian question. She was encouraged by the growing number of nations recognizing Palestine. Through their resistance and willingness to overcome their differences, Palestinians would finally manage to create their own State, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
In the ensuing discussion, Mr. Erakat fielded questions about the future dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis and the role of Latin American Governments in helping to forge stronger, more balanced economic ties between Israel and Palestine once the two-State solution had been achieved, taking into account the vast economic disparities between the two.
In response, Mr. Erakat said two-way negotiations were over. They were never the real objective, but a means to an end. In the most recent negotiations, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators had exchanged maps outlining specifically what terrain each side would give up and receive from the other in exchange. Now was the time for decisions.
Regarding future economic ties, he said it was difficult for the Palestinians to plan because they were under occupation. MERCOSUR countries could help by not importing products made in the Israeli settlements and by asking Israel to stop controlling and stealing Palestinian land and water. They could also implore Israel to freeze all settlement building. The problem was Israel’s policies and actions were aimed at permanently altering the physical and demographic landscape of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and replacing Palestinian communities with Israeli settlements.