Speakers Condemn New Israeli Restrictions on Jersualem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque as International Conference Opens
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN, 20 July — Against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the holy city of Jerusalem — sparked by the closure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the imposition of restrictions on worshippers following a recent violent incident — the fourth International Conference on the Question of Jerusalem opened in Baku this morning, with speakers voicing concern that such actions could drive the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious confrontation with dangerous repercussions.
The 2017 Conference, convened under the theme “Jerusalem and the international community: providing political and economic support”, aimed to provide up-to-date information on the situation in the city and explore ways to stimulate its resilient development. Representatives of States, civil society groups and other organizations shared a range of perspectives on the current escalation, while also underscoring the need to provide concrete support to the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem.
“There is no excuse whatsoever […] to justify this closure,” emphasized Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine to the United Nations, in his opening address. Condemning the three-day closure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as the restrictions imposed on worshippers by the Israeli authorities, he rejected as “abhorrent” the use of pretexts to violate the religious rights of Palestinians, which could turn the present conflict into a religious confrontation, deepening hatred and animosity between the parties. Jerusalem faced a dangerous situation as a result of those actions, he noted, proposing that the Conference draft and deliver a communiqué rejecting them. That, he said, would serve as a message from participants that Israel’s recent behaviour would not be tolerated.
Shahin Abdullayev, Ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, in delivering an opening address on behalf of the host country, described the question of Jerusalem as “one of the most important, albeit complex” parts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and stressed that its resolution should be at the centre of international efforts to establish a just and lasting peace in the region. In that regard, he called for a new status for East Jerusalem, which would establish it as the capital of the State of Palestine within 1967 borders. He also joined other speakers in underlining the particular importance of Al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, calling on the international community to pay special attention to that site and to take into account the views of the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.
Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, delivered an address on behalf of Secretary-General Antonío Guterres, recalling that 2017 marked 50 years since the start of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war that had resulted in Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. Today, the expansion of illegal settlements, continuing violence and the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip had increased the distance between Palestinians and Israelis and deepened mistrust and despair, he said, adding that the humanitarian and economic costs of the occupation could not be denied. In that context, it was “high time” to create the conditions for a return to direct negotiations, he said, urging the international community to support that effort by opposing the expansion of Israeli settlements, among other things.
Samir Bakr, Assistant Secretary General for Palestine Affairs of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), also expressed concern over Israel’s recent escalation. Warning that such actions would only exacerbate the situation and give it a religious dimension with dangerous repercussions, he urged the international community to hold Israel accountable. While the OIC was committed to providing unconditional support to the Palestinian people, and to reaching a fair, comprehensive solution to the conflict, their historic suffering in East Jerusalem every day necessitated — now more than ever — serious action commensurate with the challenges on the ground.
A number of delegates voiced their firm support for the Palestinian people and calling for a just, lasting and comprehensive solution based on the establishment of a sovereign, independent State of Palestine within the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side-by-side with Israel. Several speakers also sounded alarms over Israel’s recent actions in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as its continued settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in defiance of the international community’s wishes.
“We must step up efforts to ensure that Israel is held accountable for its illegal actions,” said Malaysia’s representative, noting that the Conference had gained even greater focus and significance in light of recent events. Israel’s provocative actions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque were both a violation of international law and of the rights of Muslims to perform their religious rituals in their holy places, without restrictions. He also expressed concern over Israel’s continuing attempts to amplify the Jewish character of Jerusalem by altering its demographic composition, character and legal status. Such activities were unacceptable and constituted an obstacle to a two-State solution, he stressed.
Turkey’s representative echoed concerns over the closure of Al-Aqsa, saying such actions exceeded any reasonable security concern. He called upon Israel to fulfil its obligations as the occupying Power in East Jerusalem, and to alter the restrictions it had imposed on worshippers, including metal detectors placed at the gates of Al-Haram al-Shariff.
Also speaking were representatives of Indonesia and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean.
The Conference will reconvene at 2 p.m. today, for its first plenary session.
SHAHIN ABDULLAYEV, Ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, delivered an address on behalf of the host country, recalling his country’s consistent support for the Palestinian people. Describing the question of Jerusalem as “one of the most important, albeit complex” parts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he stressed that its resolution should be at the centre of international efforts to establish a just and lasting peace in the region. In that regard, he called for a new status for the city that would establish it as the capital of the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders.
Underlining the particular importance of Al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in that context, he called upon the international community to pay special attention to that site. Commending Jordan’s custodianship, he emphasized the need to take the views of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem into account in that regard. He also called for the rapid resumption of negotiations and voiced support for efforts by the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in support of the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security.
MIROSLAV JENČA, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, delivered an address on behalf of Secretary-General Antonío Guterres, recalling that 2017 marked 50 years since the start of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war that had resulted in Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. Today, the peace process remained stalled amid the continuing negative trends that endangered the two-State solution. The expansion of illegal settlements, continuing violence and the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip increased the distance between Palestinians and Israelis and deepened mistrust and despair. In addition, with nearly half of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory dependent on humanitarian assistance and the Palestinian economy facing continued restrictions and declining growth, the occupation’s costs could not be denied.
“Ending the occupation and achieving a negotiated two-State solution is the only way to lay the foundations for an enduring peace — one that would allow both peoples to live in security and fulfil their legitimate national aspirations,” he said. Emphasizing that there was no place for a recourse to violence of any type in seeking a solution to the conflict, he said it was high time to create the conditions for a return to direct negotiations so as to resolve all final status issues, including the question of Jerusalem, on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions, mutual agreements and international law. While such efforts would ultimately depend on political will on the part of the two sides, the international community also bore a responsibility to support the process, he said, underlining that it must do all in its power to support Palestinian state-building, including by continuing to oppose the expansion of Israeli settlements.
Additionally, he continued, international partners must help to address the socioeconomic challenges confronting those living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory within the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, its 17 Sustainable Development Goals and its pledge to “leave no one behind”. Internal differences — which hindered Palestinian unity and impeded efforts to achieve a negotiated solution — must also be adequately addressed. Recalling that the United Nations country team on the ground had developed a new “Engagement strategy in East Jerusalem” several months ago, he said the United Nations was also collaborating with outside partners to overcome the current negative trajectory.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), Chair of the Conference, delivered a statement on behalf of Fodé Seck (Senegal), Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, describing Jerusalem as the “fulcrum” of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. “Whatever happens in this city not only has an effect on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but reverberates throughout the world,” he said, calling on the international community to wrest the issue of the city from the hands of radicals and fanatics, and turn it “from a topic of confrontation into one of cooperation” for the benefit of its inhabitants, as well as those of the region and beyond. One way to accomplish that goal was to provide concrete support to the Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem, he said, noting that they suffered neglect by Israel, the occupying Power, and separation by the Israeli security wall from the rest of the occupied West Bank.
While providing up-to-date information on the current situation in East Jerusalem under occupation, he continued, the Conference would first and foremost explore practical ways to stimulate the city’s resilient development — through tourism and infrastructure projects, for example — and seek examples of how the international community, OIC member States in particular, could organize and deliver such support. The Committee, for its part, would continue to support the Palestinian people until they prospered in a free and sovereign State of Palestine living in peaceful coexistence with all its neighbours.
SAMIR BAKR, Assistant Secretary-General for Palestine Affairs of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, expressed concern that Israel’s recent escalation of the conflict in Jerusalem, including its recent closure of Al-Aqsa Mosque and aggressions against those praying there would only exacerbate the situation and give it a religious dimension with dangerous repercussions. He urged the international community to hold Israel accountable, pointing out that, as the occupying Power, it continued its attempts to isolate Jerusalem’s Palestinian population and to obliterate the city’s Islamic character. Calling upon the Security Council to commit itself to implementing its relevant resolutions, he emphasized the OIC’s commitment to providing unconditional support to the Palestinian people and to reaching a fair, comprehensive solution to the conflict. However, the “historic suffering” faced by the Palestinian people in East Jerusalem every day necessitated, now more than ever, serious action commensurate with the challenges on the ground, he stressed.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine to the United Nations, recalled the General Assembly’s decision to establish 2017 as the year to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and people, as well as the Security Council’s recent adoption of resolution 2234 (2016), calling for an end to Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Jerusalem faced a particularly dangerous moment due to Israel’s recent activities — which had culminated in the closure of Al-Aqsa Mosque in contravention of the Geneva Conventions and other international laws — and “there is no excuse whatsoever […] to justify this closure”. Condemning those actions, he said they restricted the religious rights of the Palestinian population. He also rejected the “abhorrent” use of pretexts in that regard, voicing concern that such actions would turn the present conflict into a religious confrontation, deepening hatred and animosity between the parties.
Recalling that President Mahmoud Abbas had repeatedly indicated his willingness to engage with both the European Union and the new United States Administration towards a meaningful political process leading to the creation of a sovereign State of Palestine, he said Israel had not demonstrated similar resolve. Indeed, the extremist elements of Israeli society were more interested in perpetuating the one-State situation, also known as apartheid, he noted. While Council resolution 2234 (2016) condemned as the illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said, the Israeli Government’s continuing expansion sent a signal to its people that it was not ready or willing to withdraw.
Regarding the current escalation around Al-Aqsa, he proposed that the Conference draft and deliver a communiqué rejecting the closure of holy sites under any circumstances, and calling for the removal of all hindrances, including magnetic instruments, aimed at those seeking to pray inside. The communiqué should also seek guarantees that Israel would not repeat such behaviour and that the historic status quo would be maintained without any change. Such a document would serve as a message from the participants that Israel’s recent behaviour would not be tolerated, he said.
Mr. RAMÍREZ (Venezuela), Conference Chair, spoke in his national capacity, recalling that his country had recently completed its term on the Security Council, where the issue of Palestine still appeared to be blocked. After 10 years of silence, the Council had, in late 2016, adopted a resolution on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Calling on participants to seize the opportunity presented by the Conference to send a further message in that regard, he agreed that the recent escalation had produced a very dangerous situation on the ground. Blocking worshippers from Al-Aqsa was completely unacceptable, he said, underlining Venezuela’s support for the State of Palestine’s proposal to draft a message to that effect.
HUSNAN BEY FANANIE (Indonesia), outlining his country’s long-standing support for the Palestinian people, emphasized the inviolability of their inalienable rights – including the right to self-determination and to establish an independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. While the road to the fulfilment of the Palestinian dream of nationhood had regrettably often been met with disappointment, “neither disappointment nor frustration not failure is an option”. To accept the present stalemate was to accept the proposition that Palestinians should not enjoy the same political rights and privileges as others, he said, stressing that such a position was inconsistent with history and common sense. “We must move forward by doing the right thing,” he said, stressing that the time had come when Israel must end its intransigence and its negative policies and invest in the quest for peace. The path forward lay in a broad-based international effort that would examine all aspects of the challenge in the Middle East, he said, urging all States to explore avenues to ensure the success of such an effort.
ROSLAN ABDUL RAHMAN (Malaysia) said the Conference gained even greater focus and significance in light of recent events. In view of efforts by certain parties to diminish the focus on the broader issue of the question of Palestine, the meeting was critical to ensuring that the issue continued to command the attention of the international community. Condemning the 14 July closure of Al-Aqsa Mosque in the strongest terms, he said Israel’s provocative action was both a violation of international law and of the rights of Muslims to perform their religious rituals in their holy places without restrictions. He also voiced concern over Israel’s continuing attempts to amplify the Jewish character of Jerusalem by altering its demographic composition, character and legal status, underlining that such activities were unacceptable and constituted an obstacle to the two-State solution.
Renouncing any attempt to attain international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, he said that question must not be considered in isolation from the peace process since it was a fundamental element of any final, just and comprehensive settlement of the conflict. While the present Conference was a manifestation of support for the Palestinian people, “we must do more”, he said, adding that States must no longer be detached from or apathetic to developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. “We must step up efforts to ensure that Israel is held accountable for its illegal actions,” he stressed, urging States to exert diplomatic, economic and political pressure to that end.
BILAL QASEM, Vice-President, Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, expressed concern about the unprecedented escalation that had led to the closure of Al-Aqsa and the prevention of worshippers from exercising their religious rights. Condemning the escalation, he expressed support for a sovereign and independent State of Palestine within the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital, urging the international community to take resolute action against escalation.
ERKAN ÖZORAL (Turkey), noting that the 50-year-long Israeli occupation of Palestinian land remained a major source of instability in the region — and widely exploited by extremist groups — said an independent and sovereign State of Palestine within the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital was the only way to realize a just, comprehensive and lasting peace. The lack of diplomatic balance between the two sides could only be remedied through further recognition of the State of Palestine by countries beyond the 137 that had already done so, he said, underlining the need to avoid provocative steps in violation of Security Council resolutions on the status of Jerusalem.
Emphasizing that the three-day closure of Al-Haram al-Sharif following an incident on 14 July exceeded any reasonable security concern, he urged Israel to fulfil its obligations as the occupying Power in East Jerusalem and to alter its related restrictions, including the placement of metal detectors at the gates of Al-Haram al-Sharif. Palestinian reconciliation was another crucial dimension to the issue, he said, emphasizing support for Palestinian unity and recalling that his country had recently delivered three shipments of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Turkey had also contributed $500,000 to the United Nations Emergency Fund to address Gaza’s deepening electricity crisis, he said.
For information media. Not an official record.