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Source: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP)
11 July 2012

“International efforts at addressing the obstacles to the two-State solution –
the role of Asian and Pacific governmental and non-governmental actors”

Bangkok, 10 and 11 July 2012


The United Nations Asian and Pacific Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, examined the consequences of the illegal construction of Israeli settlements and the wall on the Palestinian land; their impact on the rights of the Palestinians and on the prospects for the fulfilment of the two-State solution; as well as the ways in which the international community, particularly the Asian and Pacific countries, the civil society and the parliamentarians, could contribute towards the lasting settlement of the question of Palestine. Representatives of Governments, intergovernmental organisations, civil society and the media, together with expert speakers from the Asian and Pacific region – Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – as well as from Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, shared their expertise at the Meeting.

In the opening session, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his message to the Meeting, stressed that Israel’s continued settlement activity was contrary to international law and its Road Map commitments. He pointed to the escalation of violence between the settlers and the Palestinians and to the devastating impact of the Gaza blockade, stressed the importance of Palestinian reconciliation and called on all actors to act collectively to help steer the situation towards a historic peace agreement. The Chairman of the Committee urged the countries of the Asian and Pacific region to play a bigger political role to match their growing economic clout, stressing that together with intergovernmental organizations and the civil society, they had much to contribute towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and called on those Governments that had not done so, to recognize the State of Palestine. He furthermore thought the Security Council should be encouraged to travel to the region to witness the situation on the ground, and the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on settlements should be dispatched without further delay. The representative of Thailand said the Governments, intergovernmental organisations and the civil society shared the responsibility to help the parties resolve all the outstanding issues through negotiations which had to be based on the principle of a two-State solution, as defined by the Road Map, relevant United Nations resolutions, and the Arab Peace Initiative. The Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, representing Palestine, said that due to the construction of settlements and the wall, the prospects for a two-State solution were rapidly getting narrower. If negotiations with Israel would not resume in due time, the Palestinians were planning to request the United Nations General Assembly for raising its status to that of an Observer State, he shared. A number of representatives of Governments and intergovernmental organisations expressed messages of support for the Palestinian State within 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital, and condemned Israeli policies such as the building of settlements and the wall, and continued unlawful imprisonment of Palestinians, including women, children and parliamentarians.

The Meeting then reviewed the expansion of Israeli settlements since the Oslo Accords to the present day, as well as the construction and the adverse consequences of the wall in the West Bank. It was noted that in the first seven years since 1993, when the peace process first began and there were 180,000 settlers, their number more than doubled - as if the peace process had given Israel a “green light” to build and expand. Today, there were 600,000 settlers and an entire maze of restrictions that led to near-complete Israeli physical control – close to 60 per cent – of the West Bank. There were also more invisible aspects, such as the permit regime and a dual legal system – civilian law for Israelis and Israeli military law for Palestinians. The settlement project imposed hardship on the Palestinians, violating their human rights. Israel was confiscating some of their best agricultural areas and natural resources and strategically vital land – in spite of the fact that it was clearly illegal in international law, violating the Fourth Geneva Convention, as reaffirmed numerous times by the United Nations bodies - the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council.

The wall, now about 62 per cent complete, was built mostly on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. If completed, it would be 700 kilometres long, which is double the length of the Green Line, and would cut off 9.4 per cent of the West Bank, with all of East Jerusalem being on the western, or Israeli, side. Since the barrier cut so deeply into the West Bank, some of the most important Palestinian agricultural areas became inaccessible to them. Presently, approximately 7,500 Palestinians were caught between the Green Line and the wall, requiring permits to live in their own homes. To access their fields, health centres and schools, they had to pass through checkpoints and gates. If the building went as planned, nearly 30,000 Palestinians would be in that situation. The construction of the wall was also linked to the settlements: if it went as planned, 71 of 150 settlements in the West Bank would be encircled, and about 400,000 of the 500,000 West Bank settlers would be on the Israeli side and effectively annexed to Israel. Furthermore, the wall was increasingly separating East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, effectively redrawing Jerusalem’s geographic realities. More than 80,000 East Jerusalem residents were now cut off from their own city. Again, these actions were in defiance of international law: the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion stated the wall was illegal and had to be dismantled; the General Assembly in its resolution called on Israel to comply with the opinion.

The participants felt settlement building was one of the greatest obstacles to the fulfilment of the vision of two States, noting that the settlement project was solidifying Israeli control over the Occupied Territory and ensuring that under any future diplomatic arrangement, Israel would retain possession of vast and strategically important tracts of the Palestinian Territory. In none of Israel’s proposals was there a suggestion to completely scale back the settlements. In fact, Israel has succeeded to separate the peace process from the settlements, and was, rather than complying with international law, pushing to have the Palestinians “somehow accommodate these illegal settlements” through so called “land swaps”, instead of the 1967 borders. According to some participants, settlements were in fact intended to ensure that a genuinely sovereign Palestinian State never emerged in the Occupied Territory. There was agreement that settlements were illegal under international law, they were built on confiscated Palestinian land, and they were making a possibility of a future viable Palestinian State less and less likely.

Regrettably, not much action to change the present situation could be expected from the Israeli society in the near future, according to an Israeli participant. Brainwashing, which included a whole campaign of dehumanizing and demonizing the Palestinians, enabled the occupation to endure without any doubts in the minds of Israelis especially as life was good and quite safe in Israel. The Israeli public was oblivious to the occupation, including the social protests which completely ignored it. The widespread US support to Israel, including diplomatic and military, was also identified as one of the main obstacles to change the status quo.

In spite of the grim realities on the ground, the participants felt there were nevertheless a number of things that could be done to steer the situation towards a solution. Some optimism was expressed as to the reversibility of the settlement project. In particular, an Israeli expert thought that settlements were removable and could be evacuated in order to create the Palestinian State – as long as Israel was willing to do it. Many settlers would evacuate willingly in return for a generous compensation by the Government. A small minority might oppose evacuation, perhaps even violently, but the State of Israel would be “strong enough to deal with such resistance”. The expert also said, on a positive note, that more than 60 per cent on both sides supported the two-State solution along well-known parameters: a non-militarized Palestine based on 1967 lines with mutual land swaps and East Jerusalem as the capital and “Jewish Jerusalem” as the capital of Israel; detailed security arrangements; a fair and agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem; and mutual recognition and agreement on the end of claims and conflict – which were also the parameters of the Geneva Initiative.

The Meeting identified different areas and levels at which action could be taken. At the governmental level, the countries of the Asia-Pacific region that have not yet done so should recognize the State of Palestine and establish full diplomatic relations with the Palestinian sovereign entity. They should also consider imposing sanctions – either against settlement products or against Israel itself - to force Israel into compliance with international law. Diplomatic efforts should be made at every opportunity, and individual countries and groups of countries should exert pressure on the Security Council to live up to its Charter responsibilities. A passage of a Security Council resolution calling for a two-State solution based on the previously mentioned parameters, would be helpful. Doubts were expressed, however, that the Security Council would give the matter the time and energy it required; the participants felt the Council’s inclination was to manage the conflict rather than resolve it. Governments could also get the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to adopt a common position in support of the immediate establishment of a Palestinian State. Finally, the region must be more responsive to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians, including by contributing to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and to capacity building of the Palestinian Authority.

Possible involvement of new players that could change the dynamic in the peace process was also discussed. The participant from Japan shared that young parliamentarians in Japan felt their country should step up its presence in the peace process. In particular, Japan could become an honest broker in the Middle East, as it had no colonial history and no special relationship with any communities in the region, was essentially free of religion, had no connection with the Holocaust and no interest in the sale of weapons. At the same time, the issue was relevant to Japan’s interests, as its economy was totally dependent on Middle East oil and therefore depended on that region’s stability. Japan was also one of Palestine’s largest donors. The participant thought Japan would be a good candidate to join the Middle East Quartet.

The participants stressed the importance of civil society action. There was hope due to the resilience of the Palestinian people that kept opposing the occupation, protesting against land grabs, the policy of administrative detention etc, and had won some battles. There was hope in the youth – the Palestinian Territory and the Arab world as a whole had a very young population, determined to fight for their rights. There were currently many solidarity movements around the world; one of them was the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement which has seen some real successes. In this connection, it was important to make the Palestinian question relevant to the ordinary population in the region so that they would mobilize and support these movements. The participants called upon civil society actors to use their voices to mobilize, drawing inspiration from the historical experience in the Afro-Asian region when people rose against what looked like immovable forces - colonialism, racism, discrimination, apartheid – and achieved change. Governments should support the boycott of imports from and exports to the illegal Israeli settlements. Such moves would be important steps on the way to mustering a critical mass of global support for a lasting settlement and the establishment of a Palestinian State.

The peace campaign in Israel was important and had to be bolstered. Israeli public had to understand the link between the occupation and their situation, leading to a change in their Government’s policies; this would happen if Israel was to pay for the cost of the occupation. Also, if the “old and new” Arab world reintroduced the Arab Peace Initiative and emphasized once again that peace with the Palestinians meant for Israel full normalization with the entire neighbourhood and beyond, then the message for the Israeli public would be very clear. It was also important to work towards making the occupation relevant to the American people so that they act and change the policies of their Government. The role of the media was stressed, as a medium to help the people make the connection, as well as to keep the attention focused on the Palestinian question which should be in the headlines until it is resolved. The social media, in particular, had the capacity to influence large sections of the population, particularly the youth, and should be used as a tool to reach out to them. The importance of restating the truth, as many times as the falsehood was asserted, was also stressed. Finally, the participants insisted that certain parameters had to be respected in the peace process: the viability of a future Palestinian State would require land and other natural resources, and clear sovereign borders. It was the duty of the international community to ensure that none of those elements were forgotten or compromised.

In the closing session, the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations shared the frustration of the Palestinian people at the current situation, noting that presently, the two-State solution was still in their national programme; however, that could change, if no progress was made. He laid out the main elements of the Palestinian strategy to end the occupation, which included national reconciliation; popular resistance against the occupation; and moving into the international area as the State of Palestine, through requests for membership in the United Nations and its agencies. He also announced that there would be an exchange of diplomatic representation between Palestine and Thailand as of 1 August 2012. The Chairman of the Committee closed the Meeting by reasserting the Committee’s support of the Palestinian leadership’s efforts to become a member of the United Nations and its specialized agencies, and its intention to continue to advocate for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

***Note: This Summary attempts to provide an overall picture of the deliberations of the Meeting, without singling out individual expert presentations in the plenary sessions. A detailed report summarizing each statement and presentation will be published by the Division for Palestinian Rights in due course.

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