EXPERTS GIVE CANDID ASSESSMENTS OF UNITED NATIONS EFFECTIVENESS IN OVERCOMING
STATUS QUO AS INTERNATIONAL MEETING ON ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE CONTINUES
Breaches of Resolutions Should Not be Tolerated, Says China
Urging Security Council to Grant Early Approval for Palestine’s Full Membership
(Received from a UN Information Officer)
The discussion brought together five pre-eminent panellists: Abdullah Abdullah, Head of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s Political Committee, from Ramallah; Christine Chanet, Chairperson of the Human Rights Council’s Fact-finding Mission on Israeli Settlements and Member of the Committee against Torture, from Paris; Nawaf Salam, Lebanon’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York; La Yifan, Deputy Director-General of the Department of International Organizations and Conferences in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Mohammed Loulichki, Morocco’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.
Mr. ABDULLAH, noting China’s stepped-up engagement in the peace process, including through the four-point proposal presented by its President, said the peace effort launched by Secretary of State John Kerry of the United States faced a “near stalemate”, owing to Israel’s declared position. The United Nations had been dealing with the issue since 1947. Reviewing in detail the history of that engagement, he said that, with the start of the occupation, the Security Council had declared inadmissible, by resolution 242 (1967), the forcible seizure of territory. Thereafter, Israel’s actions in violation of that principle had since been considered by the General Assembly or the Security Council through the adoption of numerous resolutions.
Unfortunately, none had been implemented, he continued. That had led to the conclusion that the United Nations had become irrelevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that no force could stop Israel from violating the United Nations Charter, the Organization’s resolutions or international law. That “sidestepping” of the United Nations had been reinforced after the Madrid Conference, when the United States had become the dominant figure in ushering in the Middle East peace process, he continued. However, that had not stopped the United Nations from considering violations of, or aggression by, the Government of Israel against the Palestinians. In fact, several investigative commissions had been established to consider the violations, and the International Court of Justice had also done so, in 2004.
More recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council had established its fact-finding mission to assess the impact of settlements on all aspects of Palestinian life, he said. Those bodies were reporting to the United Nations, but, unfortunately, no action was taken. When finally President Mahmoud Abbas had decided to apply for full membership of the United Nations, the Palestinians had faced resentment and rejection from the United States and Israel. The former had done its utmost to “spoil” the application, even taking punitive measures against the Palestinian National Authority. Israel, for its part, had approved more settlements, issued more restrictions and turned a blind eye to the escalation of settler violence. Moreover, it had stopped remitting tax revenues to the Palestinians. Nevertheless, those measures had not deterred the Palestinians, he said.
In light of the geopolitical situation, the United Nations must be in the forefront of peacemaking, he emphasized. It had already “set the stamp for how the peace process could proceed” through its resolutions, which included, in 2003, its endorsement of the road map, which specifically called for the cessation of settlement construction. On the other hand, Israel claimed that it wanted to negotiate without preconditions, while stating that neither Jerusalem nor refugees nor settlements nor the Jordan Valley were negotiable, as they were bases of military protection for Israel against outside attack. Above all, Israel wanted the new Palestinian State to recognize it as a home State of the Jewish people. Warning that a frozen peace process was as much a danger to the Israelis as to the Palestinians, he emphasized: “We have to extend a hand to Israel; there is a future for both of us.” However, peace could only be achieved through justice and security, and there could only be security if there were rights.
Ms. CHANET recalled the establishment in March 2012 of the independent, international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. Last July, the Council President had appointed three experts, who would be guided by the principles of “do no harm”, independence, impartiality, objectivity, transparency, confidentiality, integrity and professionalism.
The mission had addressed many requests for cooperation to the Government of Israel, but had received no answer, she said, adding that alternative arrangements had had to be made. To obtain direct, first-hand observations, the mission had held a series of meetings in Geneva and Jordan. It had also issued a public call for written submissions and had received 62. It had learned that Israeli journalists, academics, politicians, lawyers and other members of civil society who criticized the settlements were discredited in Israeli public discourse.
Turning to the facts identified by the mission, she said that a simple look at the map showed that the “mesh of constructions and infrastructures is leading to creeping annexation, preventing the establishment of a contiguous, viable Palestinian State and undermining the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”. As for the prevailing military occupation, she noted that article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibited the occupying Power from transferring its own civilian population into the occupied territory, pointing out that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court considered that a war crime. Palestinian ratification of that Statute “may lead to accountability for gross violation of human rights laws and serious violations of international humanitarian law”, she said.
In addition to the violation of the Palestinian right to self-determination represented by the settlements, she said, they also had to face violence by Israeli settlers, and some Palestinians had seen their houses demolished and their lands declared part of a military zone. The daily life of women, men and children was also problematic, as the settlements had been established for the “exclusive benefit” of Israeli Jews. They were maintained and developed through a system of total segregation between the settlers and the rest of the population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she said, stressing that the system’s checkpoints and strict military controls undermined freedom of movement and impeded access to places of worship, property and natural resources, especially water.
She went on to stress the existence of discrimination in daily life, citing the distinct legal systems applied separately to Israeli settlers and Palestinians. The latter were routinely subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention, including administrative detention, she said, noting that, in 2012, approximately 4,100 Palestinians had been in military detention, of whom 143 were between the ages of 16 and 18, and 21 under 16. From the time of their arrest, the detainees faced multiple violations of their rights to liberty, security and fair trial. Sixty per cent of Palestinian children served their sentences inside Israel, she added.
To change that, the mission had put forward several recommendations, among them: calling on Israel to cease all settlement activity without preconditions; urging it to ensure prompt remedy for all Palestinian victims of human rights violations; having Israel end violations linked to the presence of settlements, and ensuring full accountability for all settler violence; and ending the arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinians.
Calling on all Member States to abide by their obligations under international law, and assume their responsibilities in their relations with a State breaching those norms, she also emphasized that private companies must assess the human rights impact of their activities and ensure that they did not have an adverse impact on the Palestinian people. Member States must take appropriate measures to ensure that businesses in their respective territories, or under their respective jurisdictions, conducted their activities in or related to the settlements, in full respect of human rights throughout their operations.
Mr. SALAM, discussing the Security Council’s role in Palestine’s application for statehood, said he had presided over the Council during that period. Explaining that there were specific criteria defining statehood under international law, he said they included: a permanent population whose inalienable rights were recognized by the United Nations; territory — in this case, Gaza and the West Bank — whose final borders could be subject to mutually agreed adjustment, although the fact that they had not been confirmed was no impediment to statehood; and the existence of proper institutions for self-government.
In the case of Palestine, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Peace Process had concluded that its governmental functions were now sufficient for a functioning State Government, he said, adding that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had confirmed those conclusions. Another criterion was that the applying entity must have the capacity to enter into relations with other States, he said, adding that it was evident that Palestine had missions and embassies operating in more than 100 countries. The Council also considered whether membership would violate previous agreements, he said, pointing out that the basis for Palestinian statehood preceded any Palestinian-Israeli agreements and could not be in violation of them. In fact, Palestinian statehood was rooted in General Assembly resolution 181 (1947), often labelled Israel’s “birth certificate”.
He went on to describe the many Security Council meetings held to consider that question, including at the ambassadorial and expert levels. The application had been referred to the Council’s Committee on the Admission of New Members, he said, adding that the Council had not rejected the application, although, it had not put it to a vote. The Council’s report had concluded that the Committee had been unable to make a unanimous recommendation, he said.
As for the events unfolding since, he said, the General Assembly had eventually resolved the issue, and the question of Palestinian statehood was no longer a question, but was now moot, or in plain language, obsolete. Hopefully, the Council, which was mandated to look into it, would consider the question favourably, tasked as it was with the duty, under the Charter, of helping a newborn State of Palestine, or any newly admitted State or observer, to put an end to occupation and secure its independence.
Mr. LA expressed regret that many of the hundreds of resolutions adopted by the United Nations on the question of Palestine had not been implemented, either fully or effectively, and that the peace process had stalled. Stability and the humanitarian situation had also eroded and the path to Palestinian statehood remained difficult. Looking forward, he outlined several challenges to be tackled by the United Nations. They included: resuming peace negotiations at an early date and making substantive progress; establishing an independent State of Palestine on the basis of United Nations resolutions, the principle of land-for-peace and the Arab Peace Initiative, which was key to the two-State solution and to solving the conflict; and settling the issue of Palestinian statehood.
Recalling that Palestine’s application had won understanding and respect following its admission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), he said the General Assembly had granted it the status of non-member observer State, although the Security Council had not reached agreement on its full membership. He emphasized that peace and development went hand in hand, that a military approach was not the way out of the conflict, and that violence for violence’s sake would not benefit either side.
Given the major changes in the region, the urgent need to settle the conflict had become more prominent than ever, he stressed. To promote the just, peaceful and proper settlement of the Palestinian issue was in the interest of all the people of the Middle East and in line with the wishes of the entire international community. The Security Council should send delegations to the region in order to gain a better understanding of the situation. It should also approve at an early date Palestine’s application for full United Nations membership.
He went on to urge the Organization to continue its work in the humanitarian and development areas, and to help strengthen Palestinian governance. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and others had made positive contributions, and the world body should consolidate its internal resources to form synergies among all its entities in order to better assist the Palestinians. Hopefully, this twentieth-anniversary year since the signing of the Oslo Accords would be marked by positive contributions, he said.
Mr. LOULICHKI, noting that his delegation currently held a seat on the Security Council, called for a revival of collective international engagement towards a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On Jerusalem, he stressed the importance of transforming a hybrid city into a bi-national one of bridges and cooperation and peace between the two sides, and among religions presently represented there.
Recalling that yesterday’s debate had centred on a one-State solution versus a two-State solution, he said increasingly influential figures from both sides were now saying it was time for the former. The vision of two States was the culmination of decades of war and negotiations, but reality and war had initially led to the dismissal of the two-State vision, and Israel alone had been established. Yet, Oslo and subsequent negotiations had led to the possibility of a practical two-State solution, although it was unfortunate that an absence of political will and visionary leadership had prevented a positive outcome.
The Palestinians could not be accused of not being a genuine partner for peace, he said, pointing out that it was the United States that had sponsored the two-State vision and added momentum to the idea around the world, thereby giving rise to genuine hope that efforts by the Obama Administration would lead to resumed negotiations and to the promised political solution. Yet, the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, combined with Israel’s lack of engagement, had triggered pessimism about the two-State solution. Admitting failure would mean that the United Nations and the international community had been unable to deliver on a promise made 56 years ago to the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians.
Failure to reward the painful compromises made by the Palestinians with a solution based on United Nations resolutions would be a blow to the credibility of the United Nations, he warned. As for the appeal of a one-State solution, he said that, firstly, both sides had contemplated the idea, “so why not try it?” There were other reasons, but it was not a realistic solution because neither side was ready to accept it when walls had been built and land expropriated, causing resentment and frustration to grow.
Another issue was “political realism”, he said, explaining that neither side could impose the idea on the other. Palestinians would not remain a minority and Israelis were not ready to lose the Jewish identity of their State, so the idea of one State remained “intellectually attractive, but basically unrealistic, and ultimately unachievable”. Thus, there was no alternative than sticking to the two-State solution and trying to implement it as quickly as possible, he emphasized. The alternative was extremism and chaos.
Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, said in the ensuing discussion that the fastest way to get to a one-State solution was to have a two-State solution. The problem was the Israeli authorities; as long as there was no independent State next door to them, they would never treat Palestinians as equals. Discussion of a one-State solution was merely an academic exercise reflecting frustration with the political stalemate, he said. Once there was an equal State next to Israel, the door would open to a new historical relationship. For example, no one would have thought reconciliation between Germany and France conceivable.
The foundation of an independent Palestinian State must be laid before the doors would open to a new relationship, he emphasized. Anything less would be a continuation of the Palestinian people’s subordination, whether inside the Green Line, in East Jerusalem, or inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
YIFAT BITTON, Associate Professor of Law from Israel, said she understood Mr. Mansour’s comment, adding that Israelis might be willing to discuss a two-State solution, if only because a one-State solution frightened them.
Other panellists also agreed, saying a two-State solution was the most durable one “at the end of the day”. The idea should be promoted and widely accepted internationally, particularly in Israel and the United States.
Also speaking were representatives of Ecuador, Comoros and Brazil.
The United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace will reconvene at 3 p.m. today to conclude its work.