An International Non-governmental Organization (NGO) Meeting on the Question of Palestine, held in Cairo from 25 to 26 April, concluded by stressing the continuing and unfulfilled responsibility of the United Nations and the international community for a just resolution of the issue, based on establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Al Quds or East Jerusalem as its capital.
The meeting, convened under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, answered a long-standing request by the international community and Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, for the holding of such an event in the Middle East region. It was attended by 73 NGOs (including 21 observers) and seven NGO coordinating committees, as well as by representatives of 35 Governments, a delegation from Palestine, three intergovernmental organizations, and seven United Nations bodies.
The central theme of the meeting was: "The question of Palestine: the international responsibility 50 years later". At the opening session, a statement was made by Sayed Abu Zied, Assistant Foreign Minister of Egypt. A message from Secretary-General Kofi Annan was delivered by Chinmaya Gharekhan, Under-Secretary-General and United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories.
The opening session was also addressed by Ibra Deguene Ka (Senegal), Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee; Mohamed M. Sobeih, Permanent Representative of Palestine to the League of Arab States; Don Betz, Chairman of the International Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine (ICCP). The invited experts made presentations in two panels, which were followed by discussion.
In the first panel, entitled "The international responsibility 50 years later", speakers drew on the historical consequences of the political developments since the adoption of the partition resolution. They discussed the recent political developments in the peace process and stressed the need for international protection and support of the Palestinian people.
The speakers were Mahdi Abdul Hadi, Director of the Palestinian Society for the Study of International Affairs; Khaled Muhie Al-Dein, member of the Egyptian Parliament; Zahawa Galon, Board Member of the Israeli Meretz Party; and Ahmad Saad, Member of the Israeli Knesset.
The second panel focused more specifically on NGO issues. Under the general theme "NGO support for international efforts to promote a comprehensive, just and lasting solution of the question of Palestine", participants discussed NGO action to apply international instruments to the question of Palestine, including the Fourth Geneva Convention; NGO campaigns against settlements; and NGO campaigns for East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Speakers on the second panel were Fiona McKay, a lawyer with Redress, a London-based NGO; Gabi Baramki, First Vice-President of the Palestinian Council for Justice and Peace; Pierre Galand, Secretary-General of the Belgo-Palestine Association and representative of the European NGO Coordinating Committee; K.M. Khan, member of the Indian Parliament and Chairman of the Asian NGO Coordinating Committee; Victor Makari, representative of the North American NGO Coordinating Committee; and Nouri Abdulrazak, Secretary-General of the Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization.
In addition to the panels, two workshops were held for NGO participants. The first focused on NGO action in support of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The second discussed cooperation with Palestinian and Israeli NGOs and the coordination of international campaigns.
Most interventions focused on the dismal state of the peace process and the serious economic situation in the Palestinian territories. They expressed frustration that the international community, including the United Nations, had not been able to bring about a just settlement of the question. A number of speakers stressed the need for the Palestinian leadership to proceed with declaring an independent Palestinian state and for NGOs to develop activities in support of such a move.
The participating NGOs adopted a Final Statement, as follows:
"We urge serious consideration of holding additional NGO events in the region next year, particularly in Palestine. The NGOs are prepared to assist in the preparation and publicity, well in advance of the meeting, to ensure broad distribution and strong attendance.
"We note that we have met in the fiftieth year of the dispossession of the Palestinian people and we honour all those who have suffered during this one-half century of injustice and occupation. We affirm that the question of Palestine is, fundamentally, about the struggle for land and the fulfilment of the inalienable Palestinian right to an independent state with Al Quds or East Jerusalem as its capital.
"The Declaration of Principles, signed in September 1993, and most recently re-affirmed in United Nations General Assembly resolution 52/52 of 1977 raised hope for stability and peace in the region. It is almost five years later and it is clear that the policies of the present Israeli Government have undermined any confidence and trust in the current process. We call upon the Israeli Government to fully implement the Oslo agreements.
"We remain committed to the full implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions as our common platform. We are deeply concerned that their non-implementation and the lack of meaningful progress in the negotiations is producing levels of despair and frustration among the Palestinian people, which erodes hope and produces a climate for increased hostility. We believe that the situation on the ground in Palestine is very serious and cannot be ignored.
"The United Nations and the international community has a continuing and unfulfilled responsibility for a just resolution of the question of Palestine. Prior to the full implementation of United Nations resolutions on Palestine, we support the call for United Nations and international protection of the Palestinian people.
"Meeting in Cairo, we have reviewed the NGO Plan of Action adopted in August 1997 at the previous International NGO Meeting and find it to be relevant to our continuing work. We note that some progress has been made in specific areas of the plan, and we reaffirm our commitment to this plan as a common NGO plan of action. We urge all NGOs and the United Nations to cooperate in its implementation.
"The NGOs reiterate their commitment to a just and lasting peace based on self-determination for the Palestinian people. The objective of our efforts must be focused on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. In support of this goal, the NGOs re-declare their recognition of the state of Palestine in conformity with those announced by the Palestine National Council in its Declaration of Independence of 1988. We look to 1999 as the Year of the State of Palestine and will work with our constituencies and the public to prepare them for the declaration of the independent state by the Palestinian Authority.
"We call upon all NGOs to undertake creative and informative ways of observing the 15th of May 1998. These commemorations should be shared with all NGOs via the regional committees and the ICCP.
"The NGO participants continue to support the initiatives of the Tenth Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly and will urge their respective Governments to implement its resolutions, in particular to convene a conference of the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the enforcement of the Convention in the occupied Palestinian territory, as well as to convene a meeting of experts to prepare for the conference. In order to achieve this goal, NGOs should enlist the assistance of legal organizations in their respective States.
"The NGOs assert that cooperation between Palestinians and Israeli NGOs is important to the securing of Palestinian rights. We encourage the Israeli NGOs to continue their efforts within Israeli society in building support for self-determination of the Palestinian people. Major efforts should be undertaken to enhance the coordination among NGOs in Palestine and Israel and to build new bridges of contact and cooperation among Palestinian and Israeli NGOs.
"The European NGOs will pursue their work of lobbying their national parliaments and Governments and the European Union institutions to suspend the Euro-Med and bilateral agreements as it relates to Israel until Israel complies with all its political and economic commitments signed with the Palestinian side. This includes a general boycott of goods produced in the Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.
"The NGOs call for an interregional NGO working group composed of those organizations focusing on the law to assist other NGOs with the legal aspects of promoting the self-determination of the Palestinian people and challenging Israel in its efforts to thwart this outcome. This should include a plan of action for the use of existing legal instruments and mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights and humanitarian law.
"We are encouraged by the NGO regional reports as presented during the conference. We will pursue the suggestions offered to utilize the facilities and assistance of NGOs based in Cairo as a liaison for networking.
"The NGOs emphasized the importance of information and publicity regarding Palestine being widely disseminated by every available means during this year. To that end, we call upon the United Nations, and in particular the Department of Public Information, to produce a professional video programme during 1998 on the issue of Palestine and the history of the Palestinian people in various languages and suitable for global viewing and distribution. The NGOs are ready to assist the United Nations in this project.
"The ICCP and the NGOs assembled for this international meeting express their appreciation to the Egyptian Government for hosting this meeting and to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights for their continuing assistance and cooperation."