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Source:
11 May 2007


General Assembly
GA/PAL/1054

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


CIVIL SOCIETY FORUM MEETS IN PRETORIA
 
Speakers Agree Role of Civil Society Central to Palestinian Cause:
Activists Urged to Mobilize, Pressure Governments to End Occupation

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)


PRETORIA, 11 May -- Sounding a strong collective call to action, a broad cross-section of civil society gathered in Pretoria for a United Nations-backed Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, and stressed the urgent need for Governments, intergovernmental organizations and peace advocates to press for the immediate resumption of the political dialogue between the two sides, and for renewed efforts to keep that dialogue focused on ending the occupation and alleviating the suffering of the Palestinian people.

The day-long Forum, convened by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, featured academics, activists, writers, former-Government negotiators and civil society experts on the situation in the Middle East.  It was held one day after the United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, which had devoted a large portion of its work to finding new and creative ways to mobilize civil society -- in Africa and beyond –- to generate greater awareness of the Palestinian struggle.

Opening the Forum, which was held at the University of Pretoria, Committee Chairman Paul Badji ( Senegal) said that a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be impossible without informing and mobilizing public opinion, and civil society organizations, including the media, were at the forefront of that effort.  Their non-violent actions, bringing together Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, “is the best example of fighting for peace by peaceful means,” he said, urging civil society actors to intensify efforts, in their respective fields, to alleviate hardships of Palestinians, mobilize national and global public opinion and engage their respective national decision-makers to support efforts aimed at a peaceful solution of the conflict.

During the morning session, which focused on public perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, policy and the role of academic institutions and think tanks, many parallels were drawn between the current situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and South Africa under Apartheid, with speakers recalling the massive international opposition to the minority white Government, and wondering why it was so difficult to generate that kind of support for the Palestinian people.

Some suggested that because the media was “crafting” rather than “reporting” on events in the Middle East, Western countries, especially the United States, were not being shown the real picture.  Others suggested it was because anti-Palestinian lobbies and the media routinely “demonized” Palestinians.  But one speaker suggested that some struggles had been successful without international mobilization, noting that the world community had become engaged in South Africa’s struggles “fairly late in the game” and that Northern Ireland had recently ended centuries of tension with Great Britain without much worldwide hue and cry.  He also urged the Forum not to get too carried away with “media perception and demonization”, because such views vanished surprisingly quickly, when there was vocal, credible and unified leadership disseminating the message. 

The focus turned to the role –- or lack thereof –- of a vocal national Palestinian movement in the Occupied Territory similar to South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC).  While some suggested that such a movement, which could generate regional and global support, would counter the “CNN view” of the situation, others stressed the importance of such a movement “at home” towards engendering a sense of ownership of peace negotiations and other decision-making processes. 

One expert said that he was among many Palestinians who were troubled that those groups that were best able to use the lessons of the ANC had not been the Fatah Party but Islamist groups.  There were no secular nationalist groups that had been able to learn the lessons of South Africa’s resistance movement.  He urged Palestinians to take matters into their own hand and to create a national movement on the ground, and set the stage for achieving a sustainable peace with their brothers in Israel. 

In the afternoon session, which focused on ways African civil society and worldwide initiatives support a peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, experts highlighted specific lessons the solidarity movement with the Palestinian people could take from the South African struggle; and the importance of building strong coalitions and mobilizing first citizens, then governments and finally the international community, in the form of the United Nations, to bring about a final settlement.

One expert described the context of the Palestine debate today, particularly in light of the United States-led war in Iraq and that country’s stated desire to “remake” the Middle East.  Indeed, the Palestinian Territory was being doubly occupied:  Israel was occupying the land, and the United States was using that occupation to promote its aims in the region.  She said the international civic effort against the occupation was not about “standing with the Palestinians and against the Israelis”, rather, it was about standing for justice.  It was about standing for international law and human rights.  It was about standing for the United Nations rather than the United States as the guarantor of international order.

Another expert urged the Forum to look to the Palestinian people for mobilization. They could not, for instance boycott Israeli goods.  They had no industry of their own and were dependent on those goods, as well as humanitarian assistance.  It was very difficult for Palestinians to mobilize around their own erasure, she said, adding that the Palestinian Government could not be counted on either, because it was a Government under occupation.  Indeed, even President Abbas, who had been democratically elected, had to apply for travel permits.

The morning panel was moderated by Roelf Meyer, renowned consultant on global peace processes, and featured the participation of Amajd Atallah, President of the Strategic Assessments Initiative, Washington, D.C., and Vasu Gounden, Executive Director, African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, Durban.

In the afternoon, the panel was moderated by L.S.T. Pekane, South Africa’s Representative to the Palestinian Authority, and the experts were: Phyllis Bennis, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, D.C.; Diana Buttu, former Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Liberation Organization/Palestinian Negotiating Team and former Communications Director to President Mahmoud Abbbas; and Gideon Levy, Columnist Ha’aretz, Tel Aviv, who described a childhood largely unaware of the truth behind the lie of occupation.

Counsellor Khorombi Dau, Speaker of the Pretoria City Council, opened the Forum, and closing statements were made by Zola Skweyiya, Minister for Social Development of South Africa, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations in New York, and Victor Camilleri, Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Opening Statements

In an opening statement, Counsellor KHOROMBI DAU, Speaker of the Pretoria City Council, said that 40-years of occupation was far too long to stop thinking about lasting peace and finding a negotiated solution to the conflict.  He called on members of civil society to restore the faith of the Palestinian people -- and the people of the world -- that a peaceful solution could be found.

South Africa was seriously concerned about the situation on the ground and Israel’s ongoing collective punishment of the Palestinian people.  “We cannot stand silent,” he said, stressing that no country would be immune from the very serious consequences of continued violence, tension and unrest in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the wider Middle East region.   South Africa called on the international community to fully support the new Palestinian Unity Government, as well as for the full implementation of relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, towards a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict.

Welcoming the participants, PAUL BADJI ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that a substantial part of the Committee’s work programme was dedicated to coordination and cooperation with civil society.  Most recently, it had held consultations with representatives of civil society organizations following the United Nations Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which had been held at the Rome Headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) this past March.

During that productive exchange, the Committee and civil society representatives had briefed each other on the current and future work, with much of the discussion focussed on the upcoming 40-year anniversary of the six-day war and the subsequent occupation by Israel of Palestinian and other Arab territories.  He said that he had been impressed by the amount of energy and determination that was being put into the various activities planned around the world on 9 June.  He was sure that that would be discussed at today’s Forum as well.  He added that there had also been much interest in the upcoming annual United Nations Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, expected to take place under the auspices of the Committee.

He said that the Public Forum follows the United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, which concluded yesterday after two days of intense discussions, noting that a number of the participants in the Forum had attended that event.  The participants had reviewed the difficult situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  They had examined, from an African perspective, ways of consolidating and enhancing current international peace efforts, and they had also considered how African States contributed to those efforts through their action in national and intergovernmental mechanisms.

The Meeting’s discussions often touched on the role of civil society in many aspects of the question of Palestine.  Resolution of that conflict would be impossible without informing and mobilizing public opinion, and civil society organizations, including the media, were at the forefront of that effort. Their non-violent actions, bringing together Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, “is the best example of fighting for peace by peaceful means,” he said. Less noticeable, but no less important, was the everyday work done by civil society organizations to help ordinary Palestinians cope with the difficult conditions of occupation, he added.

That assistance also preserved and strengthened human links between Israeli and Palestinian societies, laying the groundwork for the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.  He said that the Committee highly appreciated those and other initiatives by civil society in support of the Palestinian people and would encourage civic actors and activists to intensify their efforts in their respective fields, with a view to alleviate hardships of Palestinians living under occupation, mobilize national and international public opinion and engage their respective national decision-makers to support global efforts aimed at a peaceful solution of the conflict.

Morning Session

After the opening of the Forum, Moderator ROELF MEYER, renowned consultant on global peace process, introduced the panellists and experts on civil society movements.  The participants were expected to touch on public perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the South African experience in reaching a solution through negotiation, and the impact and educational responsibility of academic institutions and think tanks.

AMAJD ATALLAH, President of the Strategic Assessments Initiative, Washington, D.C., opened his presentation summing up several of the key themes that had emerged during the two-day African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, including the disturbing pictures painted by many of the participants of the unbelievably difficult and dehumanizing conditions in the Occupied Territory, and the fact that the crux of the issue was, without a doubt, the 40-year occupation of Palestinian lands.

He went on to say that there could be no discussion on the issue of advocacy in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and without conceding that there had not yet been a systematic effort by Palestinians or Israelis to promote an end to Israel’s occupation or to end the “state of belligerence” between Israel and most of the States in the Middle East.  At the risk of oversimplifying this complex issue, maintaining such a sustained effort would be the role of the United States.

“It would simply be impossible for Israel to indefinitely continue occupying territories it took in war in 1967 without the political, economic and military support of the United States,” he said, adding that other hindrances included the collapse of the Palestinian national movement, the failure so far of the American Jewish community to provide a counterweight to the minority voices that tended to dominate the American political landscape, and the failure of both American Arabs and Jews to launch a coherent unified counterstrategy on their own.

Simply put, advocates on all sides had not yet tried in a comprehensive and systematic manner to promote freedom, self-determination and peace as United States national interests.  “In my own experience, the worst thing an advocate can do is concede defeat before actually trying,” he said.  He then outlined a potential model for such efforts that included, among others, the launching of coalitions that would demand support for a peace agreement and policies that would end support for steps that hindered such an agreement, as well as a grass-roots campaign in the United States to demonstrate that it was in United States interest to end the conflict caused by the occupation.

On the impact and responsibility of academic institutions and think tanks, VASU GOUNDEN, Executive Director, African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, Durban, said there was no doubt that such institutions had an impact on conflict, as well as conflict resolution.  As for the responsibility of such institutions, he noted that the key challenge was to understand the uniquely distinct roles played by those agencies that “reported the truth and the facts”, and those that reported the positions of either side of a specific situation.

Both were equally important, as it was essential to have advocates for a particular cause to present their views in a clear and concise manner, just as it was for “middle ground” actors to truthfully and accurately portray “the full picture”.  He recalled his first visit to Gaza, where he had arrived with the “CNN version” of the area seared into his memory, only to discover that people were “not running around throwing rocks and shooting guns,” but actually trying to go on about their daily lives under very difficult circumstances.

So with that in mind, he said it was the responsibility of think tanks and academic institutions to get first-hand information and present it -- even in advocacy –- in a clear and concise manner.  “We have too few institutions prepared to straddle the middle ground and present alternatives to wider society,” he added.  On the situation in the Middle East and the relevance of South Africa’s experience, he said that one of the critical issues was that there had been an almost total international rejection of the Apartheid regime.  That was certainly not the case on the situation in the Occupied Territory, there was almost no consensus on the way forward.

He said that it was also important to generate more civic action on the ground in the Middle East to drive public opinion.  That was where think tanks and academia could play a role.  Those institutions could also play an important role by showing negotiators on both sides that negotiations and dialogue did not mean selling out, he added.

Stepping out of his role as moderator, Mr. MEYER reminded the Forum that, although he had been introduced as a “renowned negotiator,” he had also been a high official and Chief Negotiator in the South Africa’s Apartheid Government.  He said that South Africans were steadily trying to complete the changes that had begun in the 1990s.  He noted that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been created only after the political settlement had been reached.  If the Commission had been set up first, he was practically certain that there would have been no settlement.  It had been important that South Africa had set the course for its future before delving into its past, he said.

He said that at the beginning of negotiations in South Africa, the white Government had made strong calls for minority rights.  There had even been proposals for a rotating black/white presidency.  The negotiations had broken down over that and other constitutional issues in 1992.  That stalemate lasted until the then-Government had accepted the paradigm shift and had backed the principle of individual rights over “group rights” and exclusivity.  He also noted that the negotiations also went a long way towards promoting tolerance, respect and trust among the participants, which began to spread to the wider society.  The talks had also engendered an ownership of the process that had been crucial to its ultimate success, he added.

Discussion

When the floor was opened for discussion, speakers highlighted the importance of building a strong Palestinian civil society, which could raise awareness -- particularly among the American public -- about the reality of life under occupation.  A Palestinian diplomat urged the Forum to remember that the media today was not just reporting the facts but largely creating them.  He also raised the important issue that think tanks were often privately funded and, if certain issues were not considered “important enough” and advocates of those issues could not raise the money needed for fund studies or research on such issues, they would get very little attention.

Another speaker drew the parallel between the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and South Africa under the former Apartheid regime.  She wondered why there had been no broad international outcry about the situation of the Palestinian people.  One speaker suggested that there were some struggles that had been successful without international mobilization.  He pointed to the recent breakthrough in Northern Ireland where centuries of tension had ended without much worldwide hue and cry.  He also called on the Forum not to get too carried away with media perception and demonization, because such views withered away surprisingly quickly, when there was vocal, credible and unified leadership disseminating the message.

One speaker said that the Palestinian national leadership, particularly the role of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), remained “largely enigmatic”, while another said the call for a “negotiated solution” left a huge gap as to what was supposed to happen between now and the hopefully successful conclusion.  The Palestinian national leadership needed to fill in those gaps and lay out the way forward for the international community.

In response Mr. ATALLAH said that he believed that there was global consensus on the emergence of a Palestinian State, but that there was a complete disconnect between the global consensus and international policy.  He went on to say that while it was clear that the United States position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue was centred on strategic concerns, he believed that the same time that the United States stance and its unflagging support of every Israeli regime undermined its strategic interests and goals. The United States was constantly embroiled in conflict in the region because of its stance, and thus, ironically, it could never consolidate its strategic interests.

On Palestinian national unity, he said he was among many Palestinians who were troubled that those groups that were best able to use the lessons of the ANC had not been the Fatah Party but Islamist groups.  There were no secular nationalist groups that had been able to learn the lessons of South Africa’s resistance movement.  He urged Palestinians to take matters into their own hands, and to create a national movement on the ground and set the stage for achieving a sustainable peace with their brothers in Israel. 

Mr. GOUNDEN also stressed the importance of mass mobilization for national unity that could lead to international action.  He said that here had been an “aura” around the ANC at the time, and everyone had to recognize that that was just not the case for PLO now.  He also stressed that the interest and role of a superpower could not be discounted in any conflict situation.  With that in mind, he said that often nothing happened until there was a “global coincidence” or an event which either caused a change in leadership or worldwide paradigm shift.  When that occurred “you have to move fast to seize that opportunity”, he said, adding that that was what had happened in South Africa.

Afternoon Session

The Forum’s second expert panel, moderated by L.S.T. Pekane, South Africa’s representative to the Palestinian Authority, focused on ways in which African civil society could join forces with the wide activist community to support a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well s mobilization for international protection of the Palestinian population and legislative and political advocacy.

PHYLLIS BENNIS, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, D.C., said she was particularly pleased to discuss in South Africa the situation of the Palestinian people.  She added that Africa’s experience with colonialism and Apartheid –- and solidarity -- could provide some insight into the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The solidarity movement with the Palestinian People could take from the South African struggle the importance of building strong coalitions and mobilizing first citizens, then Governments and finally the international community, in the form of the United Nations, to bring about a settlement.

She went on to describe the context of the Palestine debate today, particularly in light of the United States-led war in Iraq and that country’s stated desire to “remake” the Middle East.  In the actions of the United States – its disregard for international law, its occupation and destruction of Iraq, its threats to take action against neighbouring Iran –- one saw the “drive for empire, which was not dissimilar to the urges of empires of old”, she said, stressing that the Palestinian Territory was being doubly occupied:  Israel was occupying the land, and the United States was using that occupation to promote its aims in the region.  Indeed, the United States saw a heavily weaponized Israel as its de facto military outpost and base of operations in the Middle East.

So, returning to the lessons learned from the struggle against Apartheid, she said that ordinary people were the most important factor in the mobilization effort, because they operated on the basis of principle in ways no government ever would.  People on the streets could demand and win changes in centres of power that changed history.  She drew attention to the events planned in June to mark the fortieth anniversary of the six-day war.

The international civic efforts against the occupation were not about “standing with the Palestinians and against the Israelis”, she said, stressing that it was rather about it was standing for justice.  It was about standing for international law and human rights.  It was about standing for the United Nations rather than the United States as the guarantor of international order.  She said that once people and Governments were mobilized, then the United Nations could play the role it almost never got to play:  stopping the scourge of war.

DIANA BUTTU, former Legal Adviser to the PLO/Palestinian Negotiating Team and former Communications Director to President Mahmoud Abbbas, described her personal experience growing up Canadian, though Palestinian, living outside the Occupied Territory.  She said that she lived such a sheltered existence, that she never even heard the world “Palestinian” until she was 16 years old and visited the region.  Turning to the situation today, she said that there were almost “too many fires to put out”.  And that situation -- whether to call for action against human rights violations, or call for the wall to be torn down, or the call for the return of refugees -- had stymied attempts at mass mobilization on the ground.

She said that the key issue around which all actors should be mobilizing was Israel’s attempt to replace one people with another, chiefly through its expansion of settlements.  “The rest of the elements are details, not small ones, but details,” she said.  At the same time, she stressed that the lack of a strong voice of Palestinian leadership in the past had also hindered mobilization.  She also noted that many Palestinians, who had to live under Israeli occupation, and had to constantly apply to Israel for permits to go to work or visit relatives, were too fearful to mobilize against Israel.

She urged the Forum not to depend too much on the Palestinian people for mobilization.  They could not, for instance, boycott Israeli goods.  They had no industry of their own and were dependent on those goods, as well as humanitarian assistance.  It was very difficult for Palestinians to mobilize around their own erasure, she said, adding that the Palestinian Government could not be counted on either, because it was a Government under occupation.  Indeed, even President Abbas, who had been democratically elected, had to apply for travel permits.

GIDEON LEVY, columnist for Ha’aretz, Tel Aviv, described a childhood largely unaware of the truth behind the lie of occupation.  He said that it was only in 1987, during the first intifada, that he started to see the truth.  He had since learned that Israel seemed never to learn lessons without violence.  Israel would never have eased its hold on Lebanon, for instance, if the body count over the years had not begun to rise.  And make no mistake, he said, that each and every Israeli was involved in the occupation, either because of “blindness” or ignorance.

One of the main responses to that attitude was perhaps to be found in the Israeli media, which was, in most circumstances, remarkably determined to get at the truth.  But when it came to the occupation, the media’s blithe dismissal of the situation was “criminal”.  He said that even his own newspaper, Ha’aretz, one of the bravest in the Middle East, had recently run an editorial on the territories with the word occupied in quotes, as if only a few people referred to Arab lands as “occupied territories”.  He also said that Israeli news agencies never put stories about the conflict in context.  Newspapers generally heavily reported every rocket attack, but rarely told the public that such attacks were most often in response to Israeli actions.  What was even worse was that the media was censoring itself.  He added that the final decision would be made in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Discussion

When the floor was opened for comments, one speaker stressed the difficulties international grass-roots organizations had making contacts with activist in the United States because of the “crushing influence” of the Jewish lobby.  The “destructive relationship” between the United States Government and that lobby had made discussion of the issue virtually impossible, and that could mean that the answer to mobilizing civil society to end the occupation lay outside the United States.  She urged the Forum to remember, in that regard, that international civil society led the United States in the fight against apartheid, not the other way around.

She also shared the views of several speakers that it was also difficult for civil society actors to operate in the Occupied Territory because there was no Palestinian Government or leadership that dominated the political terrain.  Another speaker said that the “dark, pessimistic” mood in the room cried out for more creative and innovative initiatives that might lead to a solution.  Among others, he said that, while everyone was focused on the United States, perhaps pressure could be put on the United Kingdom and Canada to help drive the peace process and perhaps reinvigorate the United States Government on the issue.

Ms. BENNIS said, however, that the situation was very dark and that the challenges inside the Palestinian Territory and the wider international community were more critical than they had ever been.  She said that international civil society should pressure Governments and the United Nations to act, but the final decisions would not be made by Americans or any of the people who had mobilized for support.  The debate about what the final options would look like was very important and should continue, but the final decision would have to be made by Israelis and Palestinians.

Ms. BUTTU reiterated the constraints of mobilizing civil society in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  She also said that, while the mood was very pessimistic, she sensed a tipping point coming.  But Mr. LEVY said that he saw no hope on the horizon.  There would be no progress until the occupation ended, he said.  And as for the difficulties in getting the message out, he noted that the recent “silly” kidnapping in Gaza of the BBC journalist Alan Johnston, had only made matters worse.  “It’s like shooting yourself in the foot,” he said, stressing that now there were practically no Western journalists in the Gaza strip.

Closing Session

Dr. ZOLA SKWEYIYA, Minister for Social Development of South Africa, on behalf of the Deputy Secretary-General, African National Congress, said that the Forum had provided an excellent opportunity for the people of Africa to consider ways in which they could bolster their support for the cause of the Palestinian people.  Though many miles separated them, the people of Africa knew, like the Palestinian people, the struggle of reclaiming history and culture from people trying to erase and dehumanize them.  The people of Africa knew, perhaps more than others, the challenges of fighting against colonial rule, poverty and depravation.

There was a powerful sense of the value of solidarity on the continent and so it was appropriate that Africa would want to extend a hand to the Palestinian people and participate in the search for ways to mobilize broad international action on behalf of their ongoing struggle.  South Africa believed wholeheartedly in the right to self-determination.  To believe otherwise would be to accept the notion that some people were deserving of less than others.  The Meeting had made plain that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict required a comprehensive solution, one which addressed not only political issues, but the social and economic aspects of more than half a century of occupation.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations in New York, said that he had been moved and inspired during his visit to Soweto this morning.  Images of Gaza had flashed through his mind during the visit.  He said that the visit had made clear that suffering was not the monopoly of one people.  It was universal, he said.  As for the discussions during the Public Forum, he said that the Palestinian people would be able to benefit from the experience of South African civil society.

From those actors, he called for lessons on how a movement could be built in the United States to pressure that Government to change its stance on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The same was true for Europe.  He drew attention to a small group that gathered to protest the construction of the wall every Friday in the village of Bi’lin.  It was his understanding that Palestinians at that gathering were usually outnumbered by Israelis and international activists.  He encouraged South Africa to consider sending activists to join that demonstration and spread the word that a vocal non-violent resistance was building inside the Occupied Territory.

He went on to urge Israel to negotiate with President Abbas.  All Arab nations had also agreed to negotiate with Israel.  If Israel was really ready to end its “fear” of the Palestinians -- which was really a manifestation of the twisted logic of all occupiers -- it would seize those opportunities to help move the peace process forward.  If Israel missed the opportunities, he said to his friends in civil society, “we are heading for very rough times”.  That was why the Palestinian people needed civil society to waste no effort to generate international momentum to change the situation on the ground.

VICTOR CAMILLERI, Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that this had been a very productive day and that the Committee was fully committed to further expanding its cooperation with civil society.  And while that would be a challenging task, once difficulties such as differences in working methods, objectives and means at one’s disposal were overcome, the mutual benefits would be quite significant.  He thanked the participants and experts for their contributions to the Forum.

Meeting Round-Up

Representatives of 58 Governments, 4 intergovernmental organizations, 5 United Nations agencies and funds and some 20 civil society organizations attended the two-day United Nations Meeting on the Question of Palestine, which was convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestine People, at the Sheraton Hotel Pretoria.

The Meeting was divided into three plenary sessions, featuring the participation of 15 experts.  Plenary I focused on the situation on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  Plenary II considered international efforts aimed at achieving a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace; and Plenary III focused on African solidarity with the Palestinian peoples’ aspirations for independence and statehood.

The participants adopted a final document expressing the view that an independent State of Palestine could benefit from the experience of African States in their quest for decolonization, independence, sovereignty and ending apartheid, as well as the experience of Africa on the path to economic independence and sustainable development.  They also stressed the important role played by African States in wider efforts aimed at the resumption of the political process and the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In this context, the participants called for enhancing Africa’s contribution to the Middle East peace process and encouraged increased African action in regional and international formats.

Opening the Meeting, Essop Pahad, Minister in the Office of President Thabo Mbeki, urged the international community to give unconditional recognition to and engage in dialogue with the newly established Palestinian Unity Government; support the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative -- recently reaffirmed by Arab leaders in Riyadh -- lift all restrictions on that Government; and take appropriate action to address the dire humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinian people.  The situation on the ground demanded inspired and creative leadership on the part of the Palestinian and Israeli leadership, as well as the sustained commitment of the international community, particularly those with strategic or other interests in the region or ties to regional players.

Committee Background

The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was established by the General Assembly resolution 3376 (XXX) of 10 November 1975.  By that resolution, the Assembly mandated the Committee to recommend a programme to enable the Palestinian people to exercise its inalienable rights as recognized by General Assembly resolution 3236 (XXIX) of 22 November 1974.

In its first and subsequent reports to the Assembly, the Committee has stressed that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, must be based on the relevant United Nations resolutions and the following principles:  the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and from other occupied Arab territories; respect for the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized boundaries; and the recognition and exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination.  Each year the Assembly has renewed the Committee’s mandate and requested it to intensify its efforts.

The Committee is composed of the following Member States:   Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Cyprus, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine.  Observers to the Committee are Algeria, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, China, Ecuador, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Nicaragua, Niger, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Viet Nam and Yemen.  Palestine, African Union, League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference are also Observers of the Committee.


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