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Conférence internationale de la société civile à l'appui de la paix israélo-palestinienne (Bruxelles, 30-31 août 2007) - Plénière I, séance d'ouverture - Communiqué de presse Français
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Source: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP)
30 August 2007



General Assembly
GA/PAL/1060

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


SECRETARY-GENERAL OPENS CONFERENCE WITH PRAISE FOR CIVIL
 
SOCIETY ROLE IN EFFORTS FOR ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE
 
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)


BRUSSELS, 30 August -- International efforts to achieve a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would prove close to impossible without the active support of civil society groups, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this morning in a message read by Angela Kane, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs.

Addressing the opening session of the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace at the European Parliament in Brussels, he said civil society actors were helping build bridges between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, strengthening institutions and providing critical humanitarian and other assistance.  In every aspect of their work, they were contributing towards a just solution to the decades-old conflict.

The continued occupation of the Palestinian Territory prolonged hardship and injustice for millions of Palestinians, yet it had also failed to ensure the security of Israeli civilians, he said.  However, while recent efforts to get the Palestinians and Israelis back on the negotiating track were encouraging, movement on the political front could not obscure the dire humanitarian situation on the ground.  The unsustainable division of the West Bank and Gaza had grave humanitarian and political implications.

Opening the Conference, Paul Badji ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, recalled that last June marked 40 years of the Israeli occupation, noting that civil society organizations had helped attract public and media attention to the reality of the longest military occupation in modern history.  That effort should not be abandoned, considering that Israel's expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank continued in violation of international law, often neglected by major media organizations and rarely noticed by the public.

He said Israel had failed to fulfil its obligation to dismantle settlement outposts as required in the very first phase of the Road Map.  It had further expanded existing settlements, while constantly demanding that the Palestinian side fulfil its obligations as a precondition for even starting negotiations.  The Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice concerning the separation wall in the occupied West Bank and around East Jerusalem had never been heeded since it was issued nearly three years ago and, for the past four decades, the occupying Power had essentially disregarded its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.  The human rights of the civilian Palestinian population were routinely violated as they frequently became victims of Israeli military operations in their towns and villages.

The Committee strongly condemned any activities indiscriminately targeting civilians, either by the Israeli army or by Palestinian groups firing rockets at Israeli towns, he said.  The Committee had called upon the parties to resume without delay the political process aimed at establishing a viable and contiguous Palestinian State in the Territory occupied since 1967, comprising the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  Civil society, for its part, continued to help the Palestinian people cope with the daily hardships, and bring to the forefront of world attention the urgent need to resolve the conflict.

Edward McMillan Scott, Vice-President of the European Parliament, said it was regrettable that some news organizations had published reports labelling the event as anti-Israel.  “Today marks the opening of my inquiry into the role of parliaments in the Middle East peace process.  I am not anti-Israel or anti-Palestine, but I am pro-democracy and pro-dialogue,” he added.

He stressed that there was no better venue than a conference to negotiate on peace and security, on future developments and on the peaceful coexistence of Israel and a Palestinian State, within secure borders, without violence and on the basis of good-neighbourly relations.  “A Palestinian State with sustainable borders would also bring Israeli citizens greater security and stability.  The fact that their barrier now almost encircles Bethlehem and Jerusalem is not propitious for peace,” he added.

Also during the opening session, participants heard a message from President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority as well as a statement by the Chairman of the European Coordination Committees and Associations for Palestine and Representative of the International Coordinating Network for Palestine.

The Conference then went into its first plenary -- entitled “The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and civilian response” -- during which participants heard presentations on the impact of the occupation on the ground; findings by the European Parliament delegation on its visit to the region; humanitarian emergency and action by the international community; and action by civil society organizations working in the Territory.

Following a series of workshops involving various resources persons, the Conference will hold a second plenary at 3 p.m. tomorrow, entitled “Civil society support for a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, to be followed by the closing session.

Statements

PAUL BADJI ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said in a welcoming statement that the Conference was being held in difficult circumstances, given that the Palestinian people continued to live under great uncertainty and the Israelis in conditions of insecurity in their own country.  If that situation continued on that path it would only ensure more bitterness and frustration, further widening the gap between the two sides and putting paid to any hopes for peace.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a central part of the continuing turmoil in the Middle East and peace would continue to elude the region if the international community allowed it to continue to fester.  The parties must be helped to restart negotiations towards a two-State solution.

ANGELA KANE, United Nations Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, read out a message from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, saying the Conference reflected the deep and enduring desire of people across the world for a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The continued occupation of the Palestinian Territory prolonged hardship and injustice for millions of Palestinians, yet it had also failed to ensure the security of Israeli civilians.

Saying he was encouraged by recent efforts to get the Palestinians and Israelis back on the negotiating track, he welcomed the Arab peace initiative, the appointment of Tony Blair as the Quartet Representative, the decision by President George Bush to convene a Middle East peace meeting and the decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas to meet regularly.  Hopefully, the internal challenges facing both would not deter them from moving forward with discussions on the political horizon.

However, movement on the political front could not obscure the dire humanitarian situation on the ground, he cautioned.  The unsustainable division of the West Bank and Gaza had grave humanitarian and political implications.  Conditions in Gaza had become particularly acute, demanding the urgent reopening of border crossings for commercial and humanitarian deliveries.

Once again encouraging both parties to demonstrate a true commitment to peace through a negotiated two-State solution, he called on Israel to cease settlement activity and the construction of the barrier, ease Palestinian movement and implement the Agreement on Movement and Access.  For their part, Palestinians should make every effort to end violence by militant groups and make progress on building robust institutions.  The United Nations would continue to support international efforts to end the occupation and achieve a two-State solution.

“This work is not easy, but it would prove close to impossible without the active participation and support of innumerable civil society groups and individuals in Israel, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and around the world,” he warned.  Civil society actors were helping build bridges between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.  They were strengthening institutions and providing critical humanitarian and other assistance.  In every aspect of their work, they were contributing towards a just solution to the decades-old conflict.

EDWARD MCMILLAN-SCOTT, Vice-President of the European Parliament, recalled that in 2005 he had chaired that institution’s largest-ever observer mission to the Palestinian presidential elections and to the subsequent parliamentary elections in January 2006.  The democratic process had not been well served since then by the international community’s response to technically perfect elections.

Noting that he was related to T.E. Lawrence, and sharing his legendary kinsman’s ability to be a friend to both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, he said any conference dealing with the Middle East was bound to arouse sensitivities and the present Conference was no different.  It was regrettable some news organizations had published reports labelling today's event as anti-Israel.  “Today marks the opening of my inquiry into the role of parliaments in the Middle East peace process.  I am not anti-Israel or anti-Palestine, but I am pro-democracy and pro-dialogue,” he added.

He said last summer's events had fundamentally altered international perceptions of Israel and its neighbours.  Now the United States was once again preparing to slip away, leaving an unreliable Iran to pursue its appalling agenda in the region.  “So we Europeans must encourage all moves designed to bring the objective of a two-State solution closer.  There has been too much suffering in the Middle East; too many opportunities have been missed.   Too much attention had been paid to the process of peace -- and too little to the product.”

He stressed that there was no better way to negotiate on peace and security, on future developments and on the peaceful coexistence of Israel and a Palestinian State, within secure borders, without violence and on the basis of good-neighbourly relations, than at a conference.  “A Palestinian State with sustainable borders would also bring Israeli citizens greater security and stability.  The fact that their barrier now almost encircles Bethlehem and Jerusalem is not propitious for peace,” he concluded.

Mr. BADJI, reiterated in his opening statement the Committee’s appreciation to Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament and the Conference of the Presidents, for accepting its request to hold this year’s Civil Society Conference on the regional assembly´s premises.  Holding the event in the European capital carried great significance for the Committee because it attached great importance to the role played by the European Union, Europe as a whole and parliamentarians in promoting support for peace in the Middle East.  The Committee also appreciated the efforts of the International Coordinating Network on Palestine (ICNP), in its role as the Steering Committee of the 2007 Conference, to establish a network of local and regional initiatives to mobilize worldwide support for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Turning to the Committee´s relations with civil society, he said its Bureau periodically held consultations with civil society representatives, the most recent of which had been taken place in Rome last March, on the sidelines of the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace.  In May, the Committee had held a Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, following the two-day United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, which had generated lively discussions on the role of civil society, with the participation of eminent personalities.  The Public Forum had been able to draw on South Africa’s historic experience and raise practical ideas to be applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The report on those two events was available on the website of the Division for Palestinian Rights of the United Nations Secretariat.

He said lawmakers and their organizations could be instrumental in consolidating the democratic process and institution-building in the Territory under the Palestinian Authority, in strengthening political dialogue between the parties, and in applying principles of international law to efforts to resolve the conflict.  The Committee would therefore continue to involve parliamentarians, including members of the Knesset, the Palestinian Legislative Council and representatives of inter-parliamentary organizations in its international conferences and meetings.  Members of the European Parliament were called upon to participate more actively, including as speakers, in future Committee meetings and to contribute their expertise, ideas and initiatives to the international dialogue.

Recalling that last June marked 40 years of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, he noted that civil society organizations all over the world had organized a wide range of activities.  They had helped attract public and media attention to the reality of the longest military occupation in modern history.  In Brussels, the European Coordination of Committees and Associations and the Association Belgo-Palestinienne (Belgium-Palestine Association) had taken the lead in organizing a series of major events.  ICNP had also taken a leadership role in mobilizing and coordinating peaceful activities worldwide -- a very good example of the important role civil society could play in raising awareness and educating public opinion.

That effort should not be abandoned, considering that the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank continued in violation of international law, often neglected by major media organizations and rarely noticed by the public, he stressed.  Israel had failed to fulfil its obligation to dismantle settlement outposts as required in the very first phase of the Road Map.  It had further expanded existing settlements, while constantly demanding that the Palestinian side fulfil its obligations as a precondition for even starting negotiations.  The Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice concerning the separation wall in the occupied West Bank and around East Jerusalem had never been heeded since it was issued nearly three years ago and, for the past four decades, the occupying Power had essentially disregarded its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The human rights of the civilian Palestinian population were routinely violated as they frequently became victims of Israeli military operations in their towns and villages, he said.  The Committee strongly condemned any activities indiscriminately targeting civilians, either by the Israeli army or by Palestinian groups firing mortars and rockets at Israeli towns.  A large majority of the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, lived in poverty with no prospect for economic recovery or development.  The problem was exacerbated by the continued closure of crossing points and other forms of movement restriction, resulting in Gaza’s isolation.  The isolation of the Gaza Strip, the continuing Israeli incursions into Palestinian population centres and the humiliating system of checkpoints throughout the West Bank had also contributed to the polarization within the Palestinian society.

Concerted action must be taken soon to avoid the disintegration of the very foundations of a future Palestinian State that had been created over the past decade, he stressed.  The Committee had called upon the parties to resume without delay the political process aimed at establishing a viable and contiguous Palestinian State in the Territory occupied since 1967, comprising the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  The international community, including the Committee, stood ready to support any tangible steps towards a solution of the question of Palestine.  Civil society, for its part, continued to play an important role by helping the Palestinian people cope with the daily hardships, and bringing to the forefront of world attention the urgent need to resolve the conflict.

He said ending the occupation, establishing a Palestinian State on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, and enabling Palestine refugees to exercise their right of return were the very basic principles for negotiations on a lasting final status settlement.  Any modification could only be made through negotiations between the parties and not unilaterally or through outside interference.  In that context, the Committee aligned itself with the conclusions adopted by the Council of the European Union at its meeting on 23 July, in which it said, “Settlement activities in and around East Jerusalem, as well as in the rest of the West Bank, and the ongoing construction of the barrier on Palestinian land, which are against international law, are of particular concern.  The EU will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders other than those agreed by the parties.”

LEILA SHAHID, General Delegate of Palestine to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg, read a message from Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

He said the Conference was being held amid the most difficult and dangerous circumstances as the Middle East was undergoing great tension and violence.  It had become clear to all, and the international community was ever more convinced that the Palestinian problem was the root cause of the difficulties in the Middle East.  The only way for the region to enjoy the blessings of security and stability was to find a just solution to that problem on the basis of the internationally recognized resolutions.  “Continuing to turn our backs on this question, which affects the lives of approximately 10 million Palestinians in all parts of the globe and has consequences for the lives of hundreds of millions more in the Middle East and throughout the world, will only exacerbate the situation and keep the region mired in violence and conflict.”

For that reason, all lovers of justice, freedom and peace were expected to work energetically to end the daily suffering of the Palestinian people, he said.  That suffering resulted from the repeated incursions into Palestinian towns and villages, accompanied by the destruction of infrastructure, lands, property and houses, the confiscation of land, the continued construction of the racist separation wall on West Bank land, the building of more settlements and expansion of existing ones, and the isolation of occupied East Jerusalem and the imposition of unjust laws designed to Judaize it.  “This is in addition to paralyzing economic life in our land, cutting off communication and depriving our people of the most basic of human rights to freedom of movement and travel by setting up more than 550 permanent and mobile checkpoints that have turned the West Bank into a group of isolated cantons, while over 11,000 Palestinians, including elected representatives and municipal council members languish in prison, and targeted assassinations continue,” he pointed out.

The existing situation in Gaza resulting from the “coup” by Hamas and its militias must not be taken as a justification for not engaging in efforts to achieve a just and comprehensive settlement, he stressed.  The Palestine Liberation Organization was the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, who yearned for freedom and longed to live in dignity in their own homeland, free of occupation.  They wondered why a selective policy and double standards were applied to their just cause, particularly as far as the internationally recognized resolutions were concerned.

He reaffirmed the historic, permanent and well-established responsibility of the United Nations to find a solution to the Palestinian problem in full accordance with international law, international humanitarian law, the relevant internationally recognized resolutions and signed agreements.  “We deeply appreciate the valuable effort represented by the convening of this meeting at the headquarters of the European Parliament, regarding it as a clear indication of the joint concern of the United Nations and the European Union to encourage the peace efforts and to move them forward,” he concluded.

PIERRE GALAND, Chairman of the European Coordination of Committees and Associations and Representative of the International Coordinating Network for Palestine, said human rights and other non-governmental organizations were extremely critical of the Palestinian authorities, as much the Hamas Government as that of President Mahmoud Abbas.  Consternation and anger were running extremely high among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.  All the current leaders carried the grave responsibility of having failed to save the unity that had existed previously and of having diverted the fight for self-determination into a fratricidal struggle.  They could not have acted in a more disastrous way and the consequences were catastrophic, not only for the people of Palestine and their future prospects but also for the Israeli people.

He said that Israeli leaders had torpedoed all the propositions and peace initiatives, those of the United Nations as well as the Oslo agreements and the Quartet proposals.  The great project of two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side with Jerusalem as a bridge was seriously compromised with tragic consequences, firstly for the Palestinian people, then for the Israelis, but also for peace, security and cooperation in the whole region.  The inactivity of the United Nations, the prevarications and lack of vision of the United States, the absence of political courage on the part of the Europeans and the weakness of the Arabic voice were among the many ingredients that had led to the present impasse.

The European Coordinating Committee for Palestine wished to work with all Israeli and Jewish citizens in the world who favoured a just and durable Middle East peace, he emphasized.  To condemn the Israeli Government's illicit acts was not to be against Israel, rather, it was to call on Israeli democrats to contribute towards ending 40 years of occupation, and to compel the Security Council and the international community to take the initiatives that could lead to the resolution of the conflict.

He said the Committee would work with its Palestinian and Israeli partners and all international defenders of human rights and peace activists to:  end 40 years of occupation; obtain the proclamation of a Palestinian State; obtain the liberation of the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; and gain recognition of the right of return for all Palestinians.  It demanded the destruction of the wall, which was an instrument of apartheid and occupation; that Europe suspend its arms trading with Israel as long as the occupation continued; and that it firmly maintain the embargo on products from the settlements.

It supported the “Boycott Divestment Sanctions” call of Palestinian civil society; supported the actions of Israeli conscientious objectors and anti-colonialist pacifists, who bravely confronted their Government in its war of occupation on Palestine; and called on the Palestinians to resume their negotiations on a Government of National Unity.  It asked the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the Inter-Parliamentary Union to act immediately to ensure:  the lifting of the blockade against Gaza; the release of all democratically elected Palestinian Members of Parliament arrested by the Israeli army; and an end to the construction of walls and the extension of colonies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Before opening the first plenary session, the Chairman introduced the Committee’s delegation to the Conference:  Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations; Hamidon Ali, Permanent Representative of Malaysia; Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine; and Wolfgang Grieger, Secretary of the Committee.

He also introduced the speakers making presentations during the plenary session, who would focus on the impact of the occupation on the situation on the ground; findings by the European Parliament delegation on its visit to the region; humanitarian emergency and action by the international community; and action by civil society organizations working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

Moderating the session, Phylis Bennis, Co-Chair of the International Coordinating Network for Palestine, said it was more important than ever for civil society to work closely with international diplomatic actors.  Traditional diplomatic moves were controlled by one country that was ensuring their failure while the European Union had been sidelined.  Participants should keep in mind that human rights must be the basis for diplomatic efforts by civil society organizations and examine what they could do in working with diplomatic actors.

Plenary I

WASEEM KHAZMO, Communication Adviser, Negotiations Affairs Division of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Ramallah, said the Conference came at a time of high hopes raised by the contacts between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, which diverted attention from the real issue -- Israel’s policies designed to erode the viability of a future Palestinian State.

He said the experience of Palestinians was that Israel intended to take as much of Palestinian land as possible while taking as few Palestinians as possible.  Around 85 per cent of Palestinians lived on 18 per cent of the 22 per cent granted to them under the Oslo accords while Israel entrenched its control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip by increasing the number of settlers.  The Oslo process had actually led to the Israelis cordoning off segments of the Palestinian population while taking more and more of their land and resources.  In some places the wall drove deep into Palestinian territory.  It was not merely a matter of the quantity of land taken, but also its quality, as it sat on the most valuable water aquifers as well as agricultural land and territory earmarked for development.  The wall also had a devastating effect by totally isolating some 250,000 Palestinians and cutting them off from their arable lands, employment, schools and social services.  If the wall was allowed to stand, there would be no viable Palestinian State.

Regarding Jerusalem, he said Ramallah, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem constituted what was known to Palestinians as metropolitan Jerusalem.  Those communities were most interdependent and the area contributed to about 35 per cent of the Palestinian economy.  While the area was very accessible, Israel was enacting a policy on the ground of totally severing it from other Palestinian areas by creating concentric rings of settlements.  It was also building additional settlements to ensure the Palestinian territory was not contiguous.

DANNY RUBINSTEIN, Member of the Editorial Board of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, said that, even if the wall followed strictly the line of the pre-1967 border, it would still not be justified.  The two peoples needed cooperation rather than walls because they must be neighbours.  The principle of two States for two peoples was the only alternative to one State for two peoples.  Israel today was an apartheid State with four different Palestinian groups:  those in Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israeli Palestinians, each of which had a different status.

He said since the disengagement from Gaza and the dismantling of its settlements, it was clear that Israel could survive without the settlements and without East Jerusalem because it had done so even before 1967.  However, it could not survive the right of return because there were about 4 million Palestine refugees wishing to return to their property.  The right of return was a “red line” for Israelis just as the denial of Jerusalem was a red line for the Palestinians, who could otherwise even the wall.

CLARE SHORT, Member of the British Parliament for Birmingham, recalled her recent visit to the Occupied Territories with a delegation from the group War on Want, which had spent a day with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  The agency had briefed them on the way in which the wall, the closures, the settlements and the separate system of settler roads were imprisoning the Palestinians.

The next day, she said, the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions had taken the delegation around East Jerusalem, showing them how the combination of formal and informal settlements and systematic house demolition was encircling East Jerusalem and how that constrained, displaced and ethnically cleansed the Palestinian population.  According to the Committee, Israel had demolished 18,000 Palestinian homes since 1967 and each demolition was a war crime.  It was understood that the Committee had pledged to rebuild all the demolished homes in this fortieth year of the occupation.

She said on the delegation's third day, they had been hosted by Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, a partner of War on Want in Palestine.  They had been briefed on how the closures had destroyed the local economy and how growing numbers of Palestinians were forced to work for the Israeli settlements to produce agricultural and other goods exported largely to the European market, to which Israel enjoyed privileged access.  Illegal settlements were another element of the new apartheid system in which the European Union and the United Kingdom colluded fully.

NADIA HILOU, Member of the Knesset, said there was no denying that civil society in Israel was less active today in promoting peace and justice for the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  One cause of that was the reduced freedom of movement and therefore more limited contact between the two populations for reasons of security.  In addition, Israelis in general -- including those committed to promoting peace and justice -- were less optimistic than in the past.

There were several reasons for that, she said, including disappointment with the results of the unilateral Israeli withdrawals from southern Lebanon and Gaza.  The withdrawals had been viewed by many as an indication of goodwill and willingness to give up territory for peace, but both had resulted in a worsening of border security both in the north and the south.  Many Israeli moderates had also become disillusioned with the consistent weakening of pragmatic Palestinian forces, a process for which, however, Israel might be partially blamed.

Despite the setbacks, she said, civil society was still active and an ever-growing number of Israelis realized that the only long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem was a two-State one.  Though massive demonstrations were a thing of the past, public protests still took place in Israel and there were many behind-the-scenes activities, for example, over the suffering of the many Palestinians whose territories were separated from Israel by the security wall and the military checkpoints throughout the West Bank.  There were constant demonstrations along the wall -- some of them violent -- and many Israeli women monitored the conduct of soldiers at the checkpoints, trying to prevent extreme violations of human rights through the well-known Machsom Watch.

The part of Israeli civil society that was committed to peace and justice had not given up, but continued to struggle, though possibly in different ways, she concluded, noting that the Labour Party had elected her to its national list -- not to a place reserved for Arabs, but to one set aside for women.  That had enabled her to play a key decision-making role on the political level, in addition to her activities as part of civil society.

KYRIACOS TRIANTAPHYLLIDES, Member of the European Parliament and Chairman of the Delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council, recalled that Hamas had just won a legislative victory when the delegation had visited Gaza four months before.  That victory had been followed by an international boycott and the formation of a Government of National Unity in March.  The boycott had brought about a financial crisis, exacerbated by Israel's withholding of the Palestinian Authority's tax and customs revenues, as well as a worsening security situation.

The delegation's visit had taken place against the background of the kidnapping of Alan Johnston and Gilad Shalit as well as the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinian prisoners and elected officials.  Palestinian leaders had complained about being forced to buy water from their own occupied land, unpaid salaries, the creation of some new refugees every day, the confiscation of Palestinian land and the siege of Gaza.

He accused the international community, the United Nations and the European community of having missed the opportunity to promote peace in the region.  Had they done so in time, what had followed could have been avoided.  The delegation would propose another visit with the aim of persuading the two Palestinian sides to reconcile before making efforts to return to negotiations with the Israelis.

RAYMOND DOLPHIN, Jerusalem-based consultant on access issues for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said the agency tracked the effect of the wall and other barriers on the economic well-being of Palestinian and its humanitarian situation.

Israel's settlements and outposts were the cause of its policy of closure, he said, noting that the settlements were spread out all over the Palestinian Territory.  However, they were not the full extent of Israeli infrastructure in the Occupied Territory, which also included military installations.  With the new route of the wall, about 16 per cent of that territory would be annexed.  Roads, earth mounds and other obstacles were designed to prevent Palestinian vehicular movement and create physical obstacles for Palestinians.  In the absence of a peace process, there had been an increase in the number of facts on the ground.

In the ensuing discussion, participants raised the issues of the absence of learning materials following their banning by Israel; the aid-dependent status of Gaza owing to the closure regime; ever-increasing restrictions on the freedom of movement; the need for civil society action, including a boycott of Israel based on its human rights violations; the need for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah; how civil society could get institutions like the United Nations and the European Union to take action; the need for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel;  the hypocrisy of agreements that failed to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations; and the illegality of settlements under international and Israeli law.


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