WITH TWO-STATE SOLUTION ‘INCREASINGLY AT RISK’, COMMON OBJECTIVE OF COMPREHENSIVE PEACE
IN REGION MORE REMOTE, SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS ASIAN AND PACIFIC MEETING
Prospects for Peace ‘Not Great’, Says Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister,
Warning Anyone Betting on Change in Position of Israeli Government to Think Again
In a message to the United Nations Asian and Pacific Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, the Secretary-General warned that the peace process had been for some time at a “dangerous standstill”. The only way to avoid more suffering and violence was through negotiations aimed at resolving all permanent status issues through negotiations.
The two-day Meeting, organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People to encourage broad international action, including by Asian and Pacific States, for achieving a peaceful two-State solution, will look at obstacles and opportunities on the road to peace. From the regional perspective, it will consider how Asian and Pacific States could contribute to resolving the conflict through their action in national and intergovernmental mechanisms.
Mr. Ban said intensive efforts between the parties were ongoing to avoid renewed deadlock and keep alive the prospects for a two-State solution. However, recent actions on the ground had not contributed to a conducive environment. Israel continued settlement activity, contrary to international law and its Road Map commitments, and violence between settlers and Palestinians had escalated.
Moreover, he said, settlements and their infrastructure, in combination with the separation wall, severely restricted Palestinians’ movement and hampered economic development. Since the beginning of the year, 370 Palestinian structures had been demolished in the West Bank and some 600 people had been displaced.
The situation in Gaza also remained unstable, as the devastating closure entered its sixth year, he said, noting that more than 80 per cent of families depended on humanitarian aid. Lifting those restrictions would help rebuild self-reliance and sustainability of the Gazan economy, he added, calling on Israel to take measures towards that goal.
He condemned the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel and called on Israel to show maximum restraint. He expressed his disappointment that voter registration in Gaza had been suspended, as he was convinced that progress on reconciliation remained fundamental to peace and a unified Palestinian policy was central to a two-State solution.
Abdou Salam Diallo, Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee, said: “Israeli settlements have compromised the peace process from day one,” noting that the settler population had “exploded” to half a million people today from a handful in 1967. A vast military-security apparatus and a 700 kilometre-long separation wall protecting the settlements kept Palestinians out of 40 per cent of the West Bank. “Clearly, the declarations and actions of the current Government of Israel point to a continuation of these unlawful policies,” he said.
Unfortunately, Mr. Diallo said, the international community had achieved very little so far to modify the Israeli Government’s approach. The two-State solution still had a chance, but even the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, had recently warned the Security Council about a “one-State reality”.
Condemnations without action elicited “barely a yawn” and confirmed the Israeli Housing Minister’s remarks: “They need to condemn, we need to build”, Mr. Diallo said. He urged the countries of the Asia and Pacific region to play a bigger political role in the situation to match their growing economic clout. Governments, intergovernmental organizations and civil society had much to contribute towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict based on the two-State solution. He called on the Governments of the Asia and Pacific region which had not done so to recognize the State of Palestine.
He said the Security Council should also be encouraged to travel to the region to witness the situation on the ground, and the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on settlements should be dispatched without further delay. He added that peace would not hold until Gaza and the West Bank were reunited, and progress on that track needed the support of all.
Pichet Wangtepanukhor, Adviser to the Foreign Minister of Thailand, said the Meeting was an opportunity to hear how the Asian and Pacific countries could contribute to Israeli-Palestinian peace. The impact of the conflict was felt both within and beyond the region, and it had created divisions within the international community on how best to achieve a lasting peaceful solution. The road to peace in the Middle East had been both difficult and costly. Yet, doing nothing or maintaining the status quo was unacceptable, and the hostilities must stop. There was a moral obligation to end all forms of violence and a shared responsibility to help the concerned parties to achieve a peaceful resolution. All outstanding issues surrounding the conflict — settlement issues, the economic blockade, the separation wall, among others — must be resolved through effective dialogue and negotiations.
It was incumbent on the parties to seriously and constructively engage in direct talks with renewed energy, positive gestures and a commitment to peace, he continued. Negotiations must be based on the principle of a two-State solution, as defined by the Road Map, relevant United Nations resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Mr. Wangtepanukhor said Thailand had fully supported the conflict’s peaceful resolution, contributing annually to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and offering job training and skills enhancement to Palestinians and populations from States in the region. Although countries might differ politically in the context of the conflict, Thailand urged all, especially in the Asia and Pacific region, to cooperate on humanitarian and development issues, and renew their efforts to alleviate the Palestinians’ plight. Civil society had an important role to monitor the situation on the ground and provide assistance to the Palestinians. Indeed, they helped to fill the gap left by Governments and international organizations in the peace process.
Riad Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, discussed the deliberations last week of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee concerning the inclusion of the Church of Nativity as an endangered site on the world heritage list. To his disappointment, that had been met by immediate and automatic opposition by certain countries. It showed that certain States had taken a “total negative and automatic” position to anything related to the Palestinians. But, in the end, a decision had been taken, through a vote, to include the Church.
He next drew attention to last week’s meeting of the Palestinian Cabinet, which had discussed payment of last month’s salaries to some 170,000 Palestinian civil servants. The Government could not pay their salaries because the economy was strangled by so many restrictions imposed by the Israeli military occupation, he said. That had made it impossible to develop their own economy sufficiently to provide, not only services to its people, but also their salaries. The siege on the Palestinians had a financial aspect, and countries that had promised financial support had not delivered. As a result, it had been possible to pay only some salaries for last month, and it was unclear what would happen at the end of this month.
He also discussed the construction of the separation wall in “total defiance” of the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice rendered on 9 July 2004. That opinion had determined that the wall was illegal under international law and that Israel must dismantle it and make reparations for the damage it caused. The Court had also expressed that the wall could amount to a “de facto annexation” of land, which violated Palestinians’ legal and national rights, including the right to self-determination. Once complete, the length of the wall would be double that of the Green Line, and more than 80 per cent would have been constructed inside the occupied West Bank.
A special committee of the Israeli Government, last week, Mr. Malki said, had concluded that Israeli action did not represent an occupation and that its settlement construction was legal. The decisions of the committee were “not really binding”, but were welcomed by the “right-wing” Government. Everyone was trying to build on its conclusions, namely, that settlement construction was legal and that the legal system in the West Bank should be changed, as should the decision by the High Court of Justice to allow Israelis to settle anywhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He said Israel must not “pass untouched” when it violated international law.
Unfortunately, he said, the prospects for peace were “not great”. Conditions had changed on the ground during the so-called peace process, since Madrid 20 years ago and the Arab Peace Initiative 10 years ago. “We have to stop lying to ourselves that there are negotiations, because there are no negotiations,” he said. The Israeli Government wanted to maintain the status quo to manage the conflict for years and years. The prospects for a two-State solution were “getting narrower” more rapidly every day. The Palestinian delegation would go the United Nations again, hopefully before September, to ask the General Assembly for status as a Member State. Anybody betting on change in the Israeli Government position should think again, he said.
Statements by Representatives of Governments
The representative of Egypt said his country was a partner in the peace process and believed the resolution of the conflict would lead to economic prosperity. He supported an independent Palestinian State within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and considered that the Israeli military occupation and settlements were illegal and constituted a major obstacle to peace. Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, he referred to the declaration from a ministerial meeting on 4 May, which expressed grave concern about the critical human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the ongoing impasse in the peace process. The text stressed that the current dangerous impasse was the result of Israeli impunity and intransigency, which continued to obstruct a peaceful solution. The Movement was convinced that the realization of Palestinian self-determination and statehood would advance peace. It was also gravely concerned about the situation of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, including at least 300 children, women and elected officials, and condemned the unlawful conditions in which they were being held in both the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.
The representative of Malaysia said the Palestinian cause must not be forgotten when the world’s attention was skewed towards other regional developments. It was crucial to raise public awareness of the Palestinian struggle and work closely with domestic and international parties, beyond racial, religious and political bounds, to ensure that their struggle was finally rewarded. Advocacy and awareness programmes organized by the Palestinian Rights Committee were great examples of mainstreaming the plight of the Palestinians. Tragically, Israel continued to commit crimes of indiscriminate violence and collective punishment with impunity. Malaysia was gravely concerned at the continued destruction and devastation of the Palestinian population by the occupying forces. In that, it was important for Governments, non-governmental organizations and individuals from Asian and Pacific States to continue to help reduce the pain and suffering of the Palestinians. Malaysia had consistently supported the cause, including through its assistance to UNRWA. It believed the two-State solution was viable, and it accepted Palestine as a legitimate State and urged all countries at the Meeting to accept it as the 194th Member State of the United Nations.
The representative of Namibia said little progress had been made in several decades, but the Palestinian people had never given up their identity and attachment to their homeland, nor had they lost sight of their struggle. The Meeting was taking place at a time of “anger, war and wanton destruction” in the Middle East. In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the world witnessed harassment and indiscriminate killing, with illegal settlements and construction of the separation wall seriously threatening the viability of a future State of Palestine. For too long, the Palestinians had suffered at the hands of the Israeli Government. For years, its practices had been characterized by systematic human rights abuses, punctuated by, among others, extrajudicial killings. Everyone was entitled to self-determination and had the right to return to the motherland. Detention, deprivation of basic health services, separation of families and lack of appropriate education must be addressed immediately by the international community, especially the members of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process. As long as the Palestinian people were deprived of their fundamental rights and freedoms, and as long as their land was illegally occupied by Israel, peace in the Middle East would remain “only a pipe dream”.
The representative of Morocco said the Arab-Israeli conflict was the essence of the problems in the Middle East. On that basis, Morocco called on the international community to work tirelessly to enable the Palestinians to achieve their legitimate ambitions. The two-State solution was realistic and could be implemented. Similarly, no one doubted the will and determination of the Palestinians for peace, coexistence and coordination. Thus, it was Israel’s duty to show goodwill and take into account the aspirations and rights of the other party. Israel could not pretend it was showing its will to negotiate a two-State solution while taking unilateral actions, which made achieving that solution more difficult, if not impossible. Israel, especially since the cessation of direct negotiations, had continued to annex by force more and more Palestinian land, in a flagrant violation of international law and international humanitarian law. The Arab world was experiencing fundamental changes, with a clear message that should motivate a lasting solution guaranteeing the right of the Palestinian people to an independent State. He stressed the Quartet’s responsibility for starting effective negotiations, and called on the international community to ensure Israel’s compliance with its decisions, and on non-governmental organizations and civil society to play their important role.
The representative of Bangladesh said a durable and sustainable solution to the conflict must be a collective objective. Member States should pledge their commitment to that goal and throw political and economic support behind it. He was concerned about the destruction in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in and around East Jerusalem of property, homes and economic institutions in contravention of international law. He called for maximum restraint with regard to the policy of closures and restrictions on the movement of people and goods. To achieve a durable solution, the prolonged and illegal occupation of Arab territories must first be addressed. The best guides for achieving the two-State solution were the Fourth Geneva Convention, relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, the land-for-peace principle, the Madrid terms of reference, the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative. He reiterated Bangladesh’s longstanding position that the continued illegal occupation was the root cause of the violence, unrest and destabilization in the region.
The representative of Turkey said finding a just and lasting solution had always been imperative for establishing security and durable peace in the Middle East. Fundamental changes in the region had made the need for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more urgent than ever. However, Israeli policies, particularly settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, blocked all efforts towards a permanent peace. That not only obstructed the peace process, but also realization of the two-State solution. The international community must be firm in rejecting that illegal and unacceptable stance, and continue to raise the matter in international forums, compelling Israel to abandon its expansionist approach. The situation of Palestinian prisoners also deserved urgent attention. More than 4,500 Palestinians were in Israeli prisons, including more than 300 administrative detainees, some of whom did not know the allegations against them. The continued imprisonment of 26 elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council was also a significant concern. He also condemned Israeli attacks in Gaza, saying such retaliatory moves were unacceptable. A blind eye could not be turned to such tragedy, and there could be no permanent peace and stability in the region without a return to normal daily life in Gaza.
The representative of China agreed with several previous speakers that the Palestinian situation was at the core of the Middle East issue. Both the Palestinians and Israelis should seek to resolve their dispute through political and diplomatic approaches leading to Palestinian independence on the basis of previously agreed principles and accords. China was deeply worried about the protracted stalemate of the peace talks as the Middle East was undergoing complex and profound changes. The international community should pay more attention to the possible negative impact on the region of the Palestinian issue and strive more rigorously to promote the peace talks. Against that backdrop, China called on Israel to lift the Gaza blockade and to take effective measures to improve the living conditions and humanitarian situation. It also urged Israel to cease arbitrary arrests of Palestinians and release those in custody. China attached great importance to the Palestinian issue and supported their just cause to pursue their legitimate national rights, on the basis of the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital. It also supported its membership at the United Nations and in other international organizations.
The Meeting will reconvene at 3 p.m. today to continue its programme.