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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
15 December 2008


General Assembly
GA/PAL/1108

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



UN LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN MEETING ON ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE PROCESS

CALLS FOR HALTING SETTLEMENT EXPANSION, DISMANTLING OF WALL IN WEST BANK

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)


SANTIAGO, 12 December -– Participants in the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace held at the Headquarters of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile, on 11 and 12 December 2008, called on Israel to cease settlement expansion in the West Bank, including in and around East Jerusalem; dismantle the separation wall, in keeping with the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice; and lift the siege of the Gaza Strip.

The two-day Meeting, organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and hosted by the Government of Chile, gathered international experts, Government officials, representatives of the United Nations system, and civil society to discuss ways of consolidating and synergizing current international peace efforts, and to analyze how Latin American and Caribbean States could effectively contribute to those efforts.

The plenary sessions focused on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; international efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine; the impact of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; the effects on Palestinian communities of the construction of the separation wall in the West Bank; and the need to strengthen Palestinian Authority institutions.  Also discussed were the efforts initiated at the Annapolis Conference and the permanent responsibility of the United Nations in the peace process.

This afternoon’s plenary session examined the support for the rights of the Palestinian people through the United Nations system, civil society initiatives in the region, and actions taken by Latin American and Caribbean States within intergovernmental mechanisms and bodies.

The Concluding Remarks of the Organizers, presented by the Rapporteur in the closing session, called for an end to the confiscation of Palestinian land and the destruction of Palestinian homes, the abolishment of the system of checkpoints and closures in the West Bank, and the restoration of normal economic and social activity.  Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem should be allowed to resume their legitimate functioning, the organizers added.  A critical condition for achieving a permanent settlement of the conflict was putting an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  The Palestinian people should be allowed to establish its sovereign and independent State there, with East Jerusalem as its capital, added the Concluding Remarks.

In the closing session, Juan Pablo Lira Bianchi, Director General for Foreign Policy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile, suggested the creation of a Group of Friends of Peace between Palestinians and Israelis, which would work towards a peaceful solution for the establishment of a sovereign, free and viable Palestinian State, by promoting strict compliance with United Nations resolutions.

On the sidelines of the Meeting, the members of the Committee’s delegation met this morning with the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet Jeria, who pledged to support the work of the Committee and join efforts with other countries in the region to advance the cause of a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including within the framework of the Arab-Latin American Summit to be held in Doha.

Statements by Panellists

FARID SUWWAN, Palestinian Ambassador in Argentina, said that Latin American and Caribbean nations and their regional bodies and blocs, such as the Organization of American States (OAS), Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), might be in a privileged position to contribute to a lasting peace settlement, given that the region was beginning to acquire growing political and economic relevance in the international arena.  Mr. Suwwan said that a State that defined its citizenship by religious affiliation was something completely strange in Latin America, and therefore, most countries in the region could approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a perspective exempt of preconceived cultural prejudices, as those existing in other parts of the world.

The Road Map and other documents indicated the route to follow.  The main mistake had been not establishing preventive or dissuasive measures in case of non-compliance of the different stages, and not setting guarantees for the compliance of agreements and the implementation of statements and intentions, said Mr. Suwwan.

Countries in the Latin American region should urgently assume a position of greater weight and protagonism in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that might be done through different lines of action to strengthen the Palestinian economy and reinforce public awareness and solidarity as a means of peaceful resistance to the occupation of the Palestinian Territory, he stated.  Other steps included bolstering the role of the Latin American and Caribbean nations in the negotiation process, and denouncing Israel’s breach of international and humanitarian law.

FARID KAHHAT, Professor of Political Science at the Catholic University of Lima, referred to public perception on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Latin America through the analysis of public opinion polls and the role of Latin American representatives in the United Nations.  Two international surveys on Latin American views of the conflict, conducted in the United States, Mexico and Peru, had revealed how the way the questions were posed had determined the poll results.  The apparently strong support for Israel at 49 per cent in the United States in one poll had dropped to 21 per cent in the other, he explained.

Mr. Kahhat recalled the role played by Latin American representatives to the United Nations General Assembly when it had approved resolution 181 on the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine to create two States, one Arab and one Jewish.  Thirteen Latin American nations had voted in favour, six had abstained and one had voted against.  Considering that the total number of votes in favour of partition had been 33, the votes from the region had been crucial for the approval of the resolution.  Since then, however, the relevance and role of Latin America in the General Assembly had diminished gradually and significantly, as had the influence of the General Assembly as a decision-making body on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.

There was a paradox in the exclusion of Hamas as a legitimate counterpart, because it did not unconditionally recognize the right of Israel to exist, although Israel already existed as a State and there was nothing Hamas could do about it, while the expansion of Israeli settlements and construction of the separation wall could eventually impede the creation of a viable and independent Palestinian State, said Mr. Kahhat.

IBRAHIM AL-ZEBEN, Palestinian Ambassador in Brazil, highlighted the fact that Latin America, with millions of Arab and Jewish descendents, could serve as an ideal scenario for a process of understanding and reconciliation among Palestinians and Israelis.  Latin America should become more involved in the peace process by sending delegations or special envoys who might bridge the sides in the conflict.  Brazil had already taken this step, he said.  Political leaders and civil society, as well as the Catholic Church in Latin America, could begin promoting activities and encounters between the Arab and Jewish communities in their countries, and denounce the violence and promote the observance of international law. 

Mr. Al-Zeben said that the official attitude of Latin American and Caribbean Governments had generally been notoriously pro-Israeli and timidly pro-Palestinian.  In the 1980s, two Latin American embassies had actually been established in occupied Jerusalem, a mistake that had been fortunately reconsidered and recently corrected.  Latin America should revise its past policies towards the area, and some countries in the region were already moving in that direction.  The initiative of Latin American countries, in which Chile had been at the forefront, of establishing diplomatic missions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was commendable, Mr. Al-Zeben said.

Costa Rica, a small Central American country and one of the founders of the United Nations, had also provided an example to follow, by establishing diplomatic relations based on General Assembly resolution 181, recognizing the Palestinian State that had never been created.  When criticized by its adversaries for that decision, Costa Rica had simply said it had been complying with international law.  It was time for all countries that had voted in favour of resolution 181 to recognize the second State, Palestine, and grant it its birth certificate, Mr. Al-Zeben said.

ARLENE CLEMESHA, Professor of Arab Culture of the University of São Paulo and member of the Institute for Arab Culture in Brazil, stated that Latin America and the Caribbean had been incapable of converting their verbal support to the Palestinian cause in concrete and effective actions. 

Latin American nations continued to sign free trade agreements with Israel and purchase weapons and advanced technology from Israel, and their universities established cooperation agreements with Israel and were proud of the academic and intellectual exchange with Israel, she remarked.  In most cases, she added, none of that was based on the intentions of Governments in the region, but rather under corporate pressure.  She said Brazil was importing state-of-the-art technology, communications and security equipment developed by Israel to feed its own war industry against the Palestinian people.

The region was witnessing a process of renewed civil society action in defence of Palestinian rights, be it educational, activist or lobby.  There was a trend towards going from street activism to institutional initiatives, armed with resources and holding more than one strategy for action, said Ms. Clemesha.  Civil society in the region was in line with the main strategy for action of world civil society, which was a non-violent strategy of calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel to demand that it comply with its international obligations, she added.

LISA KAUFMAN, member of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum and of Peace Now in Jerusalem, spoke of the need to work now on the reconciliation of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, even before the parties arrived at a peace settlement.  In a protracted conflict marred with acts of violence, arriving at a peace treaty became more and more difficult, and might be very much delayed, she said.  “The real challenge for us is to insert as many elements as possible of reconciliation now, in real time, while hostilities are going on, in order to contribute towards peace building,” she said.

Ms. Kaufman stated that, in a post-conflict situation, the leaders of the fighting parties were supposed to launch reconciliation processes and institute mechanisms to that end.  That was not realistic in earlier stages, so it was left to civil society organizations to take such responsibilities upon themselves.  “Peace treaties are signed between leaders, not peoples.  History shows us that only half of them are fully or partially implemented within five years. [...] The more people are involved and are being prepared for what’s to come, the greater the chances for its success.  In a protracted conflict, where people of the sides involved are in close proximity and even mixed with each other, it is very important to build peace bottom up,” she stressed.

While peace negotiations had stumbled, groups and individuals on both sides were reaching out to one another, participating in joint activities and cooperating in peace, justice, development, environment, education and humanitarian projects, she noted.  Through those actions, they were already promoting reconciliation indirectly, in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities, she said.  However, the asymmetry of the situation between Israelis and Palestinians had an effect on those efforts, and it was making it more challenging to work together on equal terms.

Concluding Remarks of Organizers

1.                The United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace was held at ECLAC Headquarters in Santiago, on 11 and 12 December 2008, under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  Participants in the Meeting included internationally renowned experts -- including Israeli and Palestinian -- representatives of United Nations Members and Observers, parliamentarians, representatives of the United Nations system and other intergovernmental organizations, representatives of civil society and the media. 

2.                The objective of the Meeting was to foster greater international support, including by Latin American and Caribbean States, for the efforts at advancing the Israeli-Palestinian political process and achieving a solution to the conflict based on a shared vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.  Participants discussed ways of consolidating and synergizing current international peace efforts, and considered how Latin American and Caribbean States could effectively contribute to these efforts through their action in national and intergovernmental mechanisms.

3.                Participants noted that the year 2008 marked 60 years of Palestinian dispossession, or the Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had been forced to leave their homes and properties as a result of the Arab-Israeli hostilities in 1948.  They observed that, 60 years later, the Palestinian people were still deprived of their inalienable national rights, including the right to self-determination and to their own independent State on all of the Palestinian Territory occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem.  The Palestine refugees registered with United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) today number over 4.6 million.  They have yet to claim their inalienable right of return and remain in limbo in neighbouring Middle East countries, until a just and lasting solution to end their plight has been achieved.  Participants reiterated the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine until it is resolved in all its aspects, in accordance with international law.

4.                Participants welcomed the level of engagement by major stakeholders, including from Latin America and the Caribbean, demonstrated at and after the Annapolis Conference and Paris Donors’ Conference of 2007, that led to the resumption of permanent status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and substantial support for the Palestinian Authority and its economic reform and development programme.  They deplored the fact that the stated goal of reaching a permanent settlement by the end of 2008 had not been achieved.  At the same time, they expressed their firm conviction that there was no alternative to continuing the negotiations and to strengthening international support for the process, as there was no alternative to a two-State solution.

5.                Participants felt strongly that the negotiations had to be buttressed by tangible improvements in the situation on the ground.  Most immediately, violence from either side, including Israeli military attacks, destruction and acts of terror, had to stop and extremists from both sides restrained.  Settlement expansion, including in and around East Jerusalem, had to cease completely, as had the confiscation of Palestinian land and destruction of Palestinian homes.  The separation wall must be dismantled, in keeping with the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice.  The siege of the Gaza Strip needed to be lifted and the humanitarian situation drastically improved.  The complex and vast system of checkpoints and closures in the West Bank had to be abolished and normal economic and social activity restored.  Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem should be allowed to resume their legitimate functioning.

6.                Participants emphasized that a critical condition for achieving a permanent settlement of the conflict was an end of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem.  The Palestinian people should be allowed to establish, on this Territory, a sovereign and independent State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and should be able to exercise their inalienable rights. 

7.                Participants expressed serious concern about the situation on the ground, especially regarding the humanitarian consequences for the Palestinian population in Gaza as a result of the Territory’s closure.  They noted that the six-month period of calm in Gaza and southern Israel had been observed for most of the time, but has recently been disrupted.  Participants strongly encouraged the parties to maintain it and to extend it to the other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  They expressed their alarm, however, that it had not lead to a recovery of the situation in Gaza, since Israel had not lifted the almost complete closure.  They felt that any future improvement of the situation in and around Gaza was very much dependent of Israel’s political will and readiness to normalize life in the Strip.

8.                Participants called upon the Palestinian leadership, the leaders of all factions and all Palestinians to unite in support of President Abbas, his Government, and resolve their political differences peacefully.  Participants encouraged a comprehensive national dialogue supported by confidence-building measures to start a process of regaining national unity and reunifying Gaza and the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.  It was of paramount importance that the various Palestinian organizations and factions put the national interests and aspirations of the Palestinian people above all partisan concerns.  Participants firmly believed that the unity of the Palestinian people was an essential condition for achieving a viable solution of the question of Palestine. 

9.                Participants expressed serious concern that Israel, the occupying Power, was not abiding by its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention to provide protection to the civilian population under occupation.  The applicability of the Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, had been repeatedly confirmed by the Conference of the High Contracting Parties, as well as by the United Nations General Assembly, Security Council and the International Court of Justice.  Participants also underscored the illegality of the continuing settlement expansion by Israel and called for freezing, immediately, all settlement activity and dismantling all settlement outposts. 

10.            Participants recalled the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, which clearly stated that the construction of the wall was illegal under international law, and insisted on its removal.  They emphasized the need for a more serious action by the international community challenging the presence of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Participants noted that the mandate of the United Nations Register of Damage caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory should be fully supported and implemented without delay.

11.            Participants agreed that a negotiated solution to the issue of Jerusalem, based on international law, was absolutely central to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and fundamental for a lasting peace in the whole region.  They expressed serious concern that the Israeli policies and actions in East Jerusalem included the issuance of demolition orders against Palestinian properties, the forcing out of Palestinian Jerusalemites from the city, and the severing of the city from the rest of the West Bank through the expansion of settlements and the construction of the separation wall.  In this connection, they stated that the status of Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory could only be resolved through negotiations and in full accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions.

12.            Participants expressed the view that the political process towards achieving a two-State solution could benefit from the experience of Latin American and Caribbean States in their quest for independence and sovereignty, as well as the experience of the sub-continent on the path to economic independence and sustainable development.  They further stressed the important role played by Latin American and Caribbean States in wider efforts aimed at the continuation of the political process and the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In this context, they called for enhancing South and Central America’s contribution to the Middle East peace process, and encouraged increased action in regional and international forums.  The role of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States at the United Nations, especially in the Security Council and General Assembly, was accorded special attention, as was the role of the national parliaments and parliamentarians in supporting a peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

13.            Participants were apprised of the various initiatives of civil society in the region in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and commended their representatives for their determined efforts to help Palestinians on the ground and Palestinian refugees elsewhere to cope with the consequences of occupation.  They encouraged the sizeable Arab and Jewish communities in Chile and other countries of the region to stay engaged and collaborate with the worldwide movement of civil society organizations to end war, violence and occupation.

14.            Participants reiterated that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could only be found in accordance with international law and based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002) and 1515 (2003), and all other relevant United Nations resolutions.  The Arab Peace Initiative remained an important element for advancing peace in the region and should be seized upon.  The continued support of the international community was crucial for advancing the negotiations, namely, a consistent and sustainable effort by the Quartet and the regional partners with both parties.  The hope was expressed that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would continue uninterrupted in the immediate period ahead.  Participants encouraged the incoming United States Administration to attribute highest priority to the Middle East peace process and engage the parties without delay.

15.            Participants expressed their appreciation and gratitude to the Government of Chile and ECLAC for hosting the United Nations Meeting, and for the assistance and support extended to the Committee and the United Nations Secretariat in its preparation and conduct.
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For information media • not an official record

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