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16 February 2010
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New YorK
SERIOUS CONCERN VOICED AT PROLONGED PARALYSIS OF PEACE PROCESS,
AS INTERNATIONAL MEETING IN SUPPORT OF ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE CONCLUDES IN MALTA
Situation in East Jerusalem, Gaza Also Worrying; Hope Expressed
to Retain Temporary Settlement Freeze By Israel, Extend It to East Jerusalem
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
Qawra, Malta, 13 February – The United Nations conference, having assumed the task of considering the urgency of addressing the permanent status issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, did not hesitate to wade into that difficult terrain, managing to produce in the end some fresh ideas, unbound by the constraints of intergovernmental diplomacy.
Concluding remarks framed by the organizers of the Meeting – the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM) – voiced serious concern about the prolonged stagnation and impasse of the peace process and full support for its revival. They emphasized that developments on the ground played a crucial part in creating a climate conducive to a resumption of the political dialogue and successful negotiations.
In that vein, the organizers reiterated that Israeli settlements and the separation wall had been built on occupied Palestinian land, and that the demolition of houses and evictions of Palestinian residents was illegal under international law. They hoped that the 10-month settlement freeze declared by the Israeli Government would be comprehensive, extended to East Jerusalem and retained indefinitely.
They expressed alarm at the rising number of violent acts and brutality committed against Palestinian civilians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, the widespread destruction of public and private Palestinian property and infrastructure, and the internal displacement of civilians. They expressed deep concern about the situation in East Jerusalem, and most were gravely concerned over the crisis in Gaza, resulting from the prolonged Israeli blockade.
The organizers were of the view that national parliaments and inter-parliamentary organizations had a special role to play in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian political process, and they encouraged their closer cooperation with Israeli and Palestinian lawmakers, the United Nations, and the Committee. They noted the valid recommendations made during the Meeting to strengthen parliamentarians’ role in contributing towards a resolution of the question of Palestine.
Presentations by Experts
Concerning the role of parliamentarians and inter-parliamentary organizations in supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace and stability in the region, GEORGE VELLA, Member of Parliament in Malta and Chairman of the ad hoc Committee on the Middle East of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, said that parliamentarians and inter-parliamentary organizations had long been seized of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and made appeals for peace to this 60 year-old problem. He said he was sad to say that the situation on the ground had not changed one iota; if anything, things had gone from bad to worse, and prospects for the immediate future were anything but promising. But that definitely did not mean that parliamentary diplomacy had failed or that one should forget further efforts down that path.
He said that the so-called “permanent status issues” needed urgent and undivided attention. However, changes on both sides of the divide should be kept “up front on our political screen”. Over the years, the issue had also gained a very strong and important psychological aspect. After years and years of fighting to regain their freedom, Palestinians felt forgotten, neglected, dejected, dispossessed, downtrodden, subjugated, and humiliated, knowing full well they did not have, nor would they ever have, the military power to defend their cause. Continuing, he said that they had the brains and capacity to stand up intellectually and diplomatically to anybody. But he also noted the collective chagrin and despair of generations of Palestinians who had lived the humiliation and deprivations of occupation, and that many had lost faith in conventional diplomacy.
The Israelis, on the other hand, were scarred by the memory of persecution throughout history, and, precisely because of that, had welded together, and invested heavily, to ensure their very existence, by anchoring it firmly through allegiances, compromises, financial investment, political positioning, mutual support, perspicacity, and military prowess, and by making it their sacred duty to keep reminding the whole world, and humanity in general, about the humiliations and the sufferings they were forced to endure, as recently as up to 65 years ago.
Persecution, he added, was written in large indelible letters across the minds of all Jews. That concept, with all its connotations, not least a strong reactionary determination for survival, motivated and explained all their past and recent political actions and decisions. It was a defensive mechanism ingrained in their psyche.
He said it was the clash of those two sides, labouring under the weight of that heavy psychological baggage, which got heavier with the passing years, that hope of ever finding a solution gradually dwindled. That frame of mind was not doing any of the conflicting sides any good, and was one of the root causes of the never-ending spiral of retribution and escalation. What each side needed, first and foremost, was the reassurance that one’s rights would be assured, guaranteed and respected. And the only global actor with enough vested authority in a position to offer such guarantees and reassurances was, strictly speaking, or should be, the United Nations.
Political heavyweights like the United States, the European Union, and the Russian Federation, wielding powerful diplomatic, political, economic, peacemaking and peacekeeping skills could also be effective and credible guarantors of promises made and pacts entered into by feuding parties, following talks leading to conciliation. That was the untapped potential of the Quartet, which, unfortunately, “up to now has punched well below its weight”. Hopefully, the new American leadership would not wane, despite the difficult political landscape.
The answer as to what belonged to who had been answered ages ago in numerous Security Council resolutions, bilateral agreements, and, more recently, the Road Map, he said. Various international parliamentary forums, including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, provided ample opportunities for both sides to engage in fruitful dialogue. Parliamentary delegations had shuttled between their respective parliaments and the region in the hope of better understanding the situation on the ground and engaging in dialogue with the concerned parties. The situation today, however, was not conducive to strengthening parliamentary diplomacy.
He said that parliamentarians from the Israeli Government had repeatedly threatened that they would no longer participate in parliamentary forums discussing the issue, as they described those discussions as “Israel bashing sessions”. Parliamentary diplomacy was also shackled because of the number of Palestinian members of parliament held under arrest, and kept incommunicado, by the Israeli authorities in Israeli prisons. Other Palestinian members of parliament faced difficulties obtaining permits from the occupying authorities to leave the country and attend such meetings.
“Without sounding defeatist or giving the impression that one should give up on parliamentary diplomacy, one has to admit that through these channels not much has been achieved,” he said, adding that the situation was bleak. The Israelis were pushing on regardless with their agenda, convinced that they were acting within their rights, and defying the good advice of their closest allies. The Palestinian political class was divided, and the Palestinian people were either harassed and oppressed, bereft of their God-given right to be free in their own land, or languishing in the inhuman conditions imposed on Gaza.
Had it not been for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, Hamas would never have had reason to exist, he said. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land continued to strengthen support for Hamas and other extremist organizations like Al Qaida, which claimed that the Palestinian issue was one of the prime motives behind their militancy. The dithering Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, was unfortunately unable to rally behind him the confidence of the whole Palestinian people, and regrettably, was no match for the defiant, provocative, Benjamin Netanyahu.
He said that the Israeli leader was making declarations about future permanent Israeli occupation of still-disputed territories, and speaking of future rights of Israeli authorities to keep a presence on the borders of the future State of Palestine, to control what went through, as if those were a done deal. Such declarations, backed by concrete actions such as the continued construction of settlements in East Jerusalem, despite the imposition of a partial 10-month freeze on construction in West Bank settlements, were anything but conducive to trust and credibility. The irony was that, whereas the political leaders were taking those entrenched positions, the civilian populations on both sides of the divide were clamoring for peace.
The United Nations Security Council had so far been “toothless” in taking any corrective measures on parties indicated in the “damning” Goldstone Report as having committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and outright breaches of the Geneva Convention. If the United Nations refrained from taking punitive action against transgressors, from whichever side, “then we are back to the law of the jungle where might is right, and all talk about human rights is a sheer waste of time”.
During the present Meeting, the pitiful state of the peace process had been made clear, as had the intolerable present state of affairs. Participants had heard about the urgency of addressing the issue and its various components. They had also once more realized the magnitude of the challenge facing them. Yet, “it is evident that conventional diplomacy up to now has not achieved much, and the pity is that there is no Nelson Mandela of the Middle East anywhere on the horizon”.
Short of that, he said, the onus fell on the shoulders of the international community, which, through its time-proven methods and interventions around the globe, through the United Nations, had provided peacebuilding and peacekeeping missions on the ground, which controlled the escalation of violence and did the necessary policing to protect civilians. It was not enough for the Secretary-General to state that it was vital to achieve a sovereign State of Palestine; everyone agreed upon the final status, and parliamentarians would continue to do their utmost to help achieve the desired results.
However, it was up to the international community to shoulder the responsibility and wield the diplomatic and other coercive measures as its disposal to ensure the observance of international law, respect for international conventions, and the return of the rule of law, with full respect for human rights, human dignity, and the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms, by one and all.
SULEIMAN GHNEIMAT, former Member of Jordan’s House of Representatives and Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, said that parliamentarians in the Mediterranean – representing more than 500 million people – believed that they could play a basic role in the promotion of conventional diplomacy in search of permanent and just solutions to these issues that influenced their region. Peace was necessary, not only for the stability of the region, but also as a humanitarian right of all those living in the region. He asked that the members of the Israeli Knesset, who were participating in the Meeting on their own account, deliver a message to their colleagues upon their return of the importance of continuing the commitment of the peace process to enable Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side in peace, prosperity and reciprocated security.
He emphasized that the peoples of the Mediterranean region deserved that all possible efforts were exerted to achieve peace through a faithful endeavour to reach the desired results on the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese tracks. To his Palestinian colleagues in parliaments, he said he was obligated to provide all support and assistance to facilitate and encourage all efforts for advancing peace. He hoped the Quartet representatives would carry the message of peace and earnestly seek to achieve it. He encouraged them not to lose hope and to work together to pressure all those concerned on both sides to avoid failure because there would be no peace in the world if peace was not achieved in the Middle East. He saw in the United States a fair mediator acceptable to all parties of the dispute.
Peace talks had been frozen because the Knesset did not want to continue them. But he urged the parties to keep hope alive, as failure would be a disaster. In closing, he recalled telling a friend that he was preparing a statement for this conference. The friend had told him to spare his time and effort; that he was “blowing in a bag with many holes”. Mr. Ghneimat said he had told him there was still hope and peace lovers were still numerous. He asked his friend to pray that it would be possible to mend the holes of the bag because “it is the only bag we have; and when we mend it, we achieve peace”.
WILLIAM CASEY, Senior Representative of Nova Scotia and former Member of the Canadian Parliament, offered a specific proposal of a two-State solution based on the United States. There was a conflict; there had to be a resolution. And that resolution was a two-State solution. There were parallels between the situation at hand and the “North American Two-State Solution”. At one point, all of North America was a disputed territory, rife with violent attacks and bloody insurgencies by both sides. “Americans” attacked many regions of Canada, including Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. In turn, “British Canadians” attacked many locations in the United States. There were many parallels with the Middle East.
He said that the parties negotiated a mutually acceptable location for the border. Its final path had several aberrations in it to accommodate the concerns of both sides. In fact, negotiations continued on a number of specific locations. It was the longest undefended border in the world, and many lessons had been learned about how to manage it. It was still a work in progress. As security, trade and other issues evolved, so did the relationship. That would be so with any resolution between Israelis and Palestinians, and the North American experience might provide ideas for structures to deal with change. However, if one side or the other had tried to impose a border, the Canada-United States two-State solution would have failed.
After the North American border location was determined, thousands of British settlers had to make a choice; either become United States citizens or move back across the new border to Canada, he said. The North American situation did not have a similar situation to Jerusalem and its complex problems, but it did have a process to deal with disputed boundary locations. The International Boundary Commission was established to maintain the boundary, and part of its mandate was to define the boundary location when it was in question. That was an ongoing process, and the Commission was one part of an approach that had been successful in adjudicating differences. That could be a model for a fluid situation such as Jerusalem.
Another parallel, he said, was the difference in size. The United States was 10 times bigger than Canada, with an economy 10 times greater, and a military, “who knows -- but we get along”. That was because of safeguards, trade agreements and so forth, which were built in, even though one was vastly more powerful than the other. Also, although there was a controlled border between Canada and the United States, the two countries shared a common economy to the benefit of both. Dispute settlement mechanisms were built into the trade agreements to allow a fair resolution of issues as they arose. Those institutions and dispute settlement mechanisms could be used as a model for the Israeli-Palestinian two-State solution.
As for the role of parliamentarians in that exercise, a small committee made up of Palestinian, Israeli, Canadian and American parliamentarians could be established to compare the two-State solution in North America to the one proposed for the Middle East. If members of parliament were engaged in that way, then public awareness would be raised further and the level of understanding would be improved. “Who knows, you may make progress.” He said he had not meant to simplify that very complicated issue, but he thought it was worth considering.
A parliamentarian, during the brief discussion that followed, claimed that Israelis had ridden “rough-shod” over all instruments and agreements. The participant wanted to know exactly “what are we doing as parliamentarians?” Another parliamentarian, from the region, suggested that parliamentarians could make proposals and international organizations could ensure that the question of Palestine was put on the agenda. Still another asked what she should go back and tell her people. “Israel wanted us to vegetate, neither alive, neither dead, to stay on the land, even forbidden a tomb,” she said. As a young parliamentarian, she beseeched the seasoned experts to advise her.
SAVIOUR BORG, Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, read out the concluding remarks from organizers of the Meeting.
Mr. VELLA added that it had been a useful gathering. A comprehensive picture had been sketched of the situation on the ground. Parliamentarians had promised to push forward the suggestions. It was important for them not to act in isolation and solely in their own parliaments, but to act together at the regional level and in a manner that would ensure greater achievement. The meeting had also been informative. The permanent status issues were treated with equal importance, though, at times, it seemed one must top the agenda; at other times, another appeared more important. There was no question but that the situation was bleak, and the Obama Administration was gradually becoming powerless to turn it around. There was no time to waste.
TAYSEER QUBA’A, Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian National Council, reiterated that all the Palestinians wanted was 22 per cent of the land, even mountainous, non-arable land. They had accepted that because they genuinely desired peace. “Let’s be candid,” he said. “We are tired of bloodletting; each and every house is full of the pictures of martyrs. We want peace for our children”. Although Israel was armed to the teeth with the most sophisticated American weaponry, it was impossible for it to use the law of the jungle and wreak havoc in the region; wars did not solve problems.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said he had wanted to have a conference that highlighted what was unfolding in Jerusalem, with extremist settlers “pushing the envelope and taking us and taking the region and possibly humanity – taking us in areas we don’t know”. The situation could lead to a religious war; no one knew where that would end. So, he thought about having a conference on Jerusalem – not only to listen to speeches by each other, but to shoulder the collective responsibility of doing whatever it took to prevent such an eventuality from unleashing in that city. His counterparts from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean suggested that the conference be expanded to include all final status issues.
He said that those requests had been accommodated, but many speakers nevertheless had spoken eloquently in the past two days about what was happening in Jerusalem. He was interested in working step by step to ensure that important leaders in parliaments in the Mediterranean region rose up to what was needed to avert catastrophe in Jerusalem. That could explode the whole region. He was being told by many delegates from the Old City in Jerusalem that they were encountering thugs and drug pushers, making life at night a nightmare, in an attempt to make Palestinian families think about leaving. Maybe clubs and community centres could be set up. The point was to stand shoulder-to-shoulder now, hand-in-hand, to do what was necessary to avoid such a catastrophe. The situation would be further evaluated back in Committee in New York.
In the meantime, the lessons would be drawn from the narratives of the political situation, provided by the key players in this conflict, he said, adding, “We are sick and tired of failed experiments and efforts and sessions of negotiations; there is nothing we have not negotiated. We know what the solutions are. We need to find ways to open doors, to put an end to the tragedy of our people”. Perhaps, President Obama needed the help of all in articulating the situation. “Perhaps we can open the doors for advancing our cause,” he concluded.
LOUIS GALEA, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Malta, described the statements by many, including himself, who had worried about the futility of the situation, the paralysis. But, he said, “we have embraced the dream, we have worked for it, and we intend to keep working for it.” The process just ended was different from an intergovernmental dialogue, where, as Mr. Casey had said, leaders were not completely free to engage, bound as they were by processes of intergovernmental diplomacy. However, it was important for diplomacy to forge ahead, to evolve. Someone needed to replace the logic of violence and hatred, the logic of injustice with the logic of justice and development. There needed to be actors creative and dynamic in exploiting the process of diplomacy. People made peace, and people needed to work for peace. He believed strongly in that bottom-up approach.
He said that Israel had not enjoyed one day of peace in many, many years. Terror, on the other hand, had never been a tool of liberation. It was important to continue to work together on inter-parliamentarian diplomacy to advance intergovernmental dialogue. The hopes that were born with the orientation of the new American diplomacy must not be allowed to remain stillborn; they must be nurtured.
The Chairman thanked all participants for an extremely useful and engaging conference.
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For information media • not an official record