12 February 2010
General Assembly
GA/PAL/1146

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

Urgency of Addressing Permanent Status Issues Central to International Meeting


in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, Under Way in Malta


Secretary-General Underlines Serious Challenges

To Quest for Palestinian Statehood, Security for Israel


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)


QAWRA, Malta, 12 February ‑‑ “Confidence begets confidence; stability begets stability; security begets security; peace begets peace,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today in a message to the International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, urging solid support for a resolution of the decades-old conflict.


Convinced that permanent status issues, including Jerusalem, borders, refugees, security, settlements and water, would be resolved only through negotiations, the Secretary-General beseeched the parties to respond positively to calls for a resumption of political talks and then work concertedly for quick, meaningful results, in a message delivered by his representative, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco.


Setting a realistic tone for the two-day Meeting, organized jointly by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM), the Secretary-General acknowledged the persistence of daunting challenges in the shared quest for Palestinian statehood and self-determination, security and recognition for Israel, and lasting peace in the region.


He welcomed Israel’s efforts to resume talks, but said a return to negotiations was seriously hampered by developments on the ground.  He cited, in particular, continued settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially significant in East Jerusalem, where settlement infrastructure was being expanded and consolidated while Palestinians were being subjected to evictions, demolitions and revocations of residency rights.


“A way should be found, through negotiations, for Jerusalem to emerge as the capital of two States, with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all,” he said.  He reviewed the Palestinian Authority’s reforms, deemed unacceptable the ongoing blockade of Gaza, and condemned renewed rocket fire from the enclave into Israel.


Pedro Núñez Mosquera, Chairman of the Delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, emphasized the urgency of addressing the five permanent status issues ‑‑ borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and water ‑‑ as part of a renewed negotiation process.  On borders, any changes to the 1967 lines could only occur by mutual agreement.  Concerning Jerusalem, a sustainable settlement must include East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian State, he said.


According to the Committee, the announced 10-month settlement freeze in the occupied West Bank was “at best, partial and temporary”, and all settlements in occupied territory were illegal and seriously impeded efforts to relaunch the peace talks.  A durable solution to the refugee problem could only be achieved in the context of Palestinians’ inalienable right of return to the homes and property from which they had been displaced.  Finally, he stressed the importance of an early agreement on water, which respected the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to their own natural resources.


In another opening statement, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malta and Representative of the host country, Tonio Borg, said that the continuing impasse and prevailing low confidence between the parties, compounded by the continued dramatic developments on the ground, were a source of major concern to all.  Intense diplomatic activity had been directed at resumption of negotiations, but the desired breakthrough remained elusive.  He urged the international community to continue to actively engage with the parties directly and with regional partners, and within the Quartet, in support of initiating a meaningful process leading to a “clear endgame”.


He said that parliamentarians had a role in supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace and stability.  That was where the added value of meetings such as this one lay.  Not only were they an opportunity for Governments and institutions, but for representatives of legislators of Mediterranean States to discuss peace in the region.  The conflict in the Middle East concerned the entire Mediterranean region.  “We cannot simply pay lip service to the idea of a two-State solution without looking for opportunities to tangibly intensify contacts and creating the right climate for frank and constructive exchanges,” he said.


In a high-level segment this morning, the President of the Egyptian People’s Assembly, Ahmed Fathi Sorour, said the peace process was based on international legitimacy and grounded in past resolutions, agreements and principles.  But despite the various proposals and negotiations throughout the decades, the Israeli vision of the peace process had reflected a great deal of vagueness and intransigence.  Years of procrastination had ruined the efforts of many Governments.  Today, the Israeli Government wanted to start the negotiations from zero and sought to suppress agreements on issues negotiated by its previous Governments.


Offering a recipe to break the impasse, he said that negotiations should be held within a binding time limit, under the Quartet’s authority and in the framework of existing United Nations resolutions, international law and previous agreements and initiatives.  Settlement activities must be discontinued and confidence-building measures must commence.  Priority should be given to the borders issue; the refugee problem should be resolved as per the relevant General Assembly resolution.  Continued killing and homelessness resulting from a continuation of this crisis would only beget more violence, instability and terror on both sides of the Mediterranean.


The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State of Turkey, Cemil Çiçek, said the framework for the peace process was clear ‑‑ embodied in relevant resolutions.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict lay at the centre of all interrelated and complex problems of the Middle East, and at the very core of the conflict, lay the issue of Jerusalem.  A permanent solution required not only intergovernmental agreements, but mutual tolerance among the city’s different communities.  Without secure peace in Jerusalem, the chances of achieving sustainable stability in the region were “next to none”.


He said that the ongoing settlement activities, both in Jerusalem and the West Bank, constituted serious obstacles for peace.  And, thus, for negotiations to be relaunched, those activities must be totally halted.  As Palestinians continued to emphasize, cessation of settlement activity was not a precondition, but an obligation of the Israeli side, emanating from the Road Map.  A 10-month freeze fell short of meeting the expectations of the Palestinian side, as well as that of the international community and of Israeli obligations.


Opening statements this morning were also made by Rudy Salles, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean; and Tayseer Quba’a, Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian National Council.


Plenary I, on the state of the peace process, heard first from Sa’eb Erakat, Head of the Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization.  He asserted that the Palestinian side had not put a single condition on negotiations.  It did not demand any condition when it said Israel must stop settlement activities; that was an obligation emanating from the Road Map, and not a Palestinian condition.  “To Netanyahu we say:  there is a difference between dictation and negotiation,” he stressed.


Now, he said, proximity talks looked to be the most advanced tools of decision-making since the Palestinians and Israelis had exhausted negotiations.  It was indeed time for decisions, and those could not be made by negotiators.  But he wondered whether the talks would be open-ended or sealed with a time frame, whether they would begin with borders, and what he would do if he found out in four months that the Israeli Government was not willing to engage on borders.  “There will never be a Palestinian State without Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem being a single territorial unit,” he said.


A lecturer from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and former negotiator, Alon Liel, said that many in Israel felt that the peace process had crashed to the extent that the two-State solution looked impossible at the moment.  Even if the Americans managed to arrange proximity talks and enter a hotel and sit in one room, with the existing political map in Israel, “the gap is unbridgeable”, he added.  He acknowledged that with a broken heart, but did not see the possibility of a Palestinian State being created in the foreseeable future.  And he was not even speaking of Jerusalem or refugees, but about borders only, he said.


As for the situation on the ground, he said it was unacceptable, both in Gaza and the West Bank.  In fact, it was immoral and would only lead to more violence.  At the same time, for Israel, the creation of one State with Palestinians ‑‑ where they had voting rights and so forth ‑‑ was an even bigger nightmare than the two-State solution.  So he proffered to the conference that perhaps the Palestinians should propose that to the Israeli leadership today, adding:  “They’ll start shivering, I’m telling you.”


Also speaking today was Hesham Youssef, on behalf of Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the Arab League of States.


A brief discussion included a speaker on behalf of the United Arab Emirates and from the Egyptian Parliament.


The Meeting was scheduled to resume at 3 p.m.


Opening Statements


LOUIS GALEA, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Malta, said the Meeting followed on the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace in Cyprus in May 2009, which had, in fact, resulted in the present initiative.  During a recent encounter, a gentleman had told him to leave the existing paralysis alone, as trying to move anything might worsen the situation.  He was a “very big realist”, having been in politics for 40 years, but he had never given up hope, and encountering such a pessimistic view of the present situation made him very sad.  This Meeting should aim to add impetus and value to the efforts of more traditional players.  He knew a final resolution would emerge from intergovernmental diplomacy, but it was also increasingly recognized that parliamentary diplomacy was an important complementary tool.  Hopefully, discussions at the Meeting would foster a better understanding of the problems ahead and trace “some sort of framework” for further collaboration.


TONIO BORG, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malta and representative of the host country, said the Meeting could not have come at a more opportune juncture.  The continuing impasse and prevailing spirit of low confidence between the parties and disagreements over terms of reference over negotiations, compounded by the continued dramatic developments on the ground, were a source of major concern to all.  Intense diplomatic activity by the various actors had been directed at resumption of negotiations, but the desired breakthrough remained elusive. Thus, the international community should exert maximum efforts to actively engage with the parties directly and with regional partners, and within the Quartet, in support of initiating a meaningful process leading to a “clear endgame”.


He said that parliamentarians had a role in supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace and stability.  That was where the added value of Meetings such as this one lay.  Not only were they an opportunity for Governments and institutions, but for representatives of legislators of Mediterranean States to discuss peace in the region.  The conflict in the Middle East concerned the entire Mediterranean region.  “We cannot simply pay lip service to the idea of a two-State solution without looking for opportunities to tangibly intensify contacts and creating the right climate for frank and constructive exchanges”.


One year since Gaza, living conditions there remained deplorable, he said.  The situation in East Jerusalem remained another major preoccupation, together with expanding settlement activity, Palestinian house demolitions and revocation of residency rights.  As affirmed by the December 2009 statement by the Council of the European Union, the European Union, as the rest of the international community, had never recognized Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.  Genuine peace meant that a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two States.  Settlement activity through the territory occupied in 1967 was illegal and ran contrary to the Road Map.  In that regard, only concrete measures by the Israelis could lead to a resumption of negotiations.  It was also essential that the Palestinians continued to engage in earnest efforts to bring about resumed negotiations, and in that context, the Palestinian Authority’s state-building, despite the political impasse, deserved full support.


He added that the next two days would constitute a further step towards the desired goal of a comprehensive regional peace.  The Meeting in Malta should, apart from sending the right political signals, assure all those directly affected by developments in the peace process that their well-being remained at the fore of “our agenda”.  The peoples of both Israel and the Palestinian territories deserved no less, he stressed.


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement delivered by OSCAR FERNANDEZ-TARANCO, representative of the Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the meetings he had held with the Government, Parliament and civil society during his visit in April 2009 had convinced him of Malta’s determination to contribute to United Nations efforts to address issues of global and regional concern, including peace in the Middle East.  Daunting challenges remained in the shared quest to achieve statehood and self-determination for Palestinians, security and recognition for Israel, and lasting peace in the region.


The Secretary-General urged all parties to respond positively to calls for a resumption of political talks, and then work concertedly for quick, meaningful results.  Permanent status issues, including Jerusalem, borders, refugees, security, settlements and water, would be resolved only through negotiations, he said.


He welcomed Israel’s efforts and willingness to resume talks.  However, a return to negotiations was being “seriously hampered” by developments on the ground.  Regarding continued settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he called on Israel to adhere to international law and its obligations under the Road Map.  At the present crucial juncture, Israel should refrain from taking steps which had the potential to prejudge negotiations and create tension.  That was particularly important with respect to East Jerusalem, where settlement infrastructure was being expanded and consolidated, while Palestinian residents were being subjected to evictions, demolitions and revocation of residency rights.


A way should be found, through negotiations, for Jerusalem to emerge as the capital of two States, with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all, he stressed.


He welcomed the reform efforts of the Palestinian Authority, which sought to establish the economic, social and institutional basis of Palestinian statehood.  It was vital that the Palestinian Authority continue to advance that state-building agenda while striving to meet its other Road Map obligations in full, including an end to incitement against Israel.  He urged all donors, including members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, to enhance their political and financial backing of that vital endeavour.  He also encouraged the positive steps Israel had taken to ease movement restrictions and facilitate economic activity.  He also supported Egypt’s efforts towards the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank.


In Gaza, the protracted suffering by civilians was a source of tremendous concern, he said.  The continued blockade was unacceptable and counter-productive, destroying legitimate commerce and denying aid organizations and the United Nations the means to begin civilian reconstruction.  He condemned renewed rocket fire from Gaza, which indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilians.  The United Nations would continue to try to bring relief to Gazans, to promote dialogue, and to rally international support for a strategy that could deliver calm for Gazans and Israelis alike.  He would also continue to promote respect for international law and accountability for violations.


The Secretary-General said that clear parameters to end the occupation that began in 1967 and create a State of Palestine were contained in Security Council resolutions, the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.  Political will was required by the leadership on both sides, along with creative support by third parties.  The countries of the Mediterranean had an important role to play in building confidence between the parties, and within the overall subregional community of which they were an integral part.  “Confidence begets confidence; stability begets stability; security begets security; peace begets peace.  Let us, together, help the parties to resolve their decades-old conflict and forge a comprehensive, just and lasting peace,” he urged, offering wishes for a successful meeting.


RUDY SALLES, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM), said his was a regional intergovernmental organization with a membership of 25 Mediterranean countries, aimed at transforming the Mediterranean into a real bridge between all its shores.  He stressed that the Mediterranean must not be a dividing line.  In that context, he said the Assembly had only one ambition, namely, to improve the living standards for all its citizens and to achieve their pleasant coexistence.  The Assembly had become a recognized and respected actor in parliamentary diplomacy, and in December 2009, was granted observer status in the United Nations General Assembly.  The Parliamentary Assembly was involved in several sensitive dossiers in its region, from the Balkans to Cyprus.  It had also demonstrated its commitment to contributing to a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


He said that the present meeting was a continuation of three years of work on its Middle East dossier.  Following the events in Gaza in December 2008, the issue of the Middle East had become central to the Assembly’s activities; its bureau in 2009 had led a fact-finding mission to the Middle East to see first-hand the results of the military operation and to meet with key actors there.  The bureau had also convened meetings in Europe and sent a mission to the United States in December 2009, where it had held talks with senior officials of the United Nations in New York, including the Secretary-General.


PEDRO NÚÑEZ MOSQUERA, Chairman of the Delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the Meeting was aimed at advancing the Middle East peace process and highlighting the urgency of addressing the five permanent status issues ‑‑ borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and water ‑‑ as part of a renewed negotiation process.


He said that the Committee fully supported the establishment of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side within secure and recognized borders, as endorsed by the Security Council in resolution 1515 (2003), based on the 1967 borders.  The Committee reiterated that any changes to those borders could only take place by mutual agreement and not through unilateral action.  That was true for settlement expansion as much as for the separation wall, 85 per cent of which was being built deep inside the occupied West Bank.


The wall, he continued, was viewed as an indication of Israel’s intention to unilaterally determine the borders with a future Palestinian State, prejudging the outcome of permanent status negotiations.  The Committee considered it of utmost importance that the issue of borders, as a permanent status issue, be addressed in an urgent and comprehensive manner to avoid any de facto changes on the ground except those mutually agreed upon by the parties through negotiations.


Another pertinent permanent status issue was the question of Jerusalem, he said.  Settlement expansion continued unabatedly in East Jerusalem, which was explicitly excluded from the 10-month suspension of settlements construction.  He added that there were reports of approved construction of new settlement units, and according to the Israeli organization Peace Now thousands of housing units in settlements had been cleared earlier for construction during the suspension period.  In addition, the Israeli cabinet had approved a proposal to include West Bank settlements in the list of communities designated as “national priority zones”.


He said that the Committee considered that settlement freeze to be at best “partial and temporary, and it does not live up to the commitments undertaken by Israel under the Road Map or the Annapolis Joint Understanding, which unequivocally called for an end to settlement expansion, including the so-called “natural growth”.  The presence of all settlements in an occupied territory remained illegal under international law and seriously impeded efforts to relaunch peace talks.


The question of Palestine refugees remained another core permanent status issue, which could not be neglected in any negotiations on a peace agreement.  The problem of the refugees, whose status had been passed down from generation to generation over the past six decades, was a major element of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Its fair and just resolution was an essential prerequisite for peace, and a durable solution could only be achieved in the context of the refugees’ inalienable right of return to the homes and property from which they had been displaced.  The various refugee and resettlement compensation schemes advanced over the years, as well as the hard work undertaken by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), had always been meant as interim measures, and not as substitutes for the right of return.


He said that the fifth and final of the permanent status issues, which were the focus of this Meeting, was the question of water.  Water scarcity, inequitable water distribution and poor water management were at the heart of that problem.  In October 2009, the United Nations General Assembly had adopted resolution A/RES/64/185, which reaffirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people over their natural resources and called on Israel to cease all actions that threatened those resources.  The Assembly had also expressed concern at the widespread destruction by Israel of vital infrastructure, including water pipelines and sewage networks, in particular, in the Gaza Strip.  In November, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) had stressed that, without urgent action, the ground water situation in Gaza was at risk of collapse.  The Committee emphasized the importance of an early agreement on the issue of water, which respected the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to their own natural resources.


In closing, he said that the Committee was advocating the creation of a climate conducive to the resumption of permanent status negotiations between the parties and supported all efforts in that regard.  That required, first of all, political will and confidence-building measures, including a complete cessation of all acts of violence, destruction and acts of terror, as well as a complete halt in settlement activities and full implementation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access in both the West Bank and Gaza.  At the same time, the Committee remained concerned about the divisions among Palestinian factions and called for reinvigorated efforts by all parties to help reconcile their positions on the basis of the prevailing consensus on the need to achieve the two-State solution.


TAYSEER QUBA’A, Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian National Council, speaking on behalf of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the question was how to advance the peace process in the face of setbacks resulting from Israeli actions, which ran completely contrary to international resolutions and decisions.  It was time to free the Palestinian people from historical injustice.  They were a people that had faced for more than a century the ugliest manifestation of occupation and settlement in history, a people that had lived for thousands of years without the ability to exercise their inalienable rights, especially the right to life.  The ugliest form of Judaization was taking place in the holy city of Jerusalem, whose culture, demographics and historical features were being changed through the racist policies of the radical rightwing Israeli Government. All those unilateral acts by the Israeli Government were going to establish conditions on the ground that precluded any tangible or serious negotiations on the future of that holy city, which was “our eternal capital, no matter how long it took”.


He asserted that Israel wanted to put obstacles in the way of the peace process.  The policy of settlement and expansion was a cancer; continuous illegal settlements in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Occupied Territory were not going to achieve peace ‑‑ nor would the “apartheid wall”.  If Israel seriously wanted peace, it was difficult to explain why it was “looting” Palestinian lands and building illegal settlements.  Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu had said he would not give up the settlements, especially those being constructed in the West Bank, claiming that that was part and parcel of Israel’s land.  However, those settlements were seen by the United Nations, as well as the whole of the international community, as illegal, and must be removed.  That was the position of the European Union, and now, even the American Government.  New settlements ‑‑ evidence of the occupying Power’s greed and expansionary ambitions ‑‑ would not lead to lasting peace, he stressed.


Where was the United Nations? he asked.  What was its role, especially with respect to returning millions of Palestinians to their homes?  He noted that Netanhayu had said his Government would persuade 1 million Jews to come to Israel to live in those illegal settlements.  Real tangible peace would not be achieved unless Israel respected international legality and unless a binding Chapter VII resolution of the Security Council made it incumbent upon Israel to adhere to a peace solution on the basis of a completely independent Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital.  The United States had double standards when it came to Israel.  It had been transformed into a “raging volcano” in Iraq and Afghanistan, but was a sheep, content and peaceful, as far as Israeli policies were concerned, despite the latter breaking every international law and treaty.  Israel must be made to adhere to international law, international humanitarian law, and especially the Fourth Geneva Convention, and cease its policy of collective punishment and release thousands of courageous people, he said.


High-Level Segment


AHMED FATHI SOROUR, President of the Egyptian People’s Assembly, said that, as most of today’s Meeting’s participants were growing up, revolutions against colonialism had been breaking out throughout Arab lands.  He noted that colonialism had now ended in all Arab countries, except on the land of the Palestinians, thus leaving a deep wound in the heart of every Arab for six decades.  A people could not be extracted from their homeland.  Aggression and extremism would eventually be ended and the values of love and peace would prevail, he said.  The Palestinian cause, despite the difficulties, had become a humanitarian issue; the Goldstone Report had confirmed that.


He said that the peace process was based on international legitimacy, and grounded in past resolutions, agreements and principles.  But despite the various proposals and negotiations throughout the decades, the Israeli vision of the peace process had reflected a great deal of vagueness and intransigence.  Years of procrastination had ruined the efforts of many Governments.  Today, the Israeli Government wanted to start the negotiations from zero and sought to suppress agreements on issues negotiated by its previous Governments.  The Palestinian negotiator felt he had negotiated with various Governments, on terms which might end at any time.  That gave him a lack of confidence.  Throughout the years, Israeli positions had changed with the change of Governments, and whenever there was a glimmer of hope, a new crisis had emerged.


He reviewed the permanent status issues, which must be resolved in order for peace to be comprehensive and durable.  In order to establish a Palestinian State, Israel should withdraw from all territories it had occupied in 1967, including the Syrian Golan, to the line of 4 June, as proposed by the Arab Peace Initiative.  The Palestinian right to return to their homeland was inalienable, he said.  Israeli settlements constituted one of the most serious obstacles, and made the Palestinians feel that negotiating was fruitless and that Israelis had no intention of making peace.  For that reason, he added, Palestinians, with the support of Egypt, felt that negotiations could not be resumed until construction of settlements was discontinued, particularly in East Jerusalem.  Egypt also supported the Palestinian right to control all of its water resources.  Above all, however, the issue of Jerusalem was at the core of the Palestinian question; no final solution could be agreed if it did not provide East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian State.


Offering a recipe to break the impasse, he said that negotiations should be held within a binding time limit, under the Quartet’s authority and in the framework of existing United Nations resolutions, international law and previous agreements and initiatives.  Settlement activities must be discontinued and confidence-building measures must commence.  Priority should be given to the borders issue; the refugee problem should be resolved as per the relevant General Assembly resolution.  Continued killing and homelessness resulting from a continuation of this crisis would only beget more violence, instability and terror on both sides of the Mediterranean, he concluded.


CEMIL ÇIÇEK, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State of Turkey, said there was absolutely no question that the peace process should be revitalized and brought to a conclusion as soon as possible.  International community members should spare no efforts towards that goal.  The framework for the process was clear ‑‑ embodied in relevant resolutions.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict lay at the centre of all interrelated and complex problems of the Middle East, and at the very core of the conflict lay the issue of Jerusalem.  A permanent solution required, not only intergovernmental agreements, but mutual tolerance among the city’s different communities.  Without secure peace in Jerusalem, the chances of achieving sustainable stability in the region were “next to none”.


He said that the ongoing settlement activities, both in Jerusalem and the West Bank, constituted serious obstacles for peace.  And, thus, for negotiations to be relaunched, those activities must be totally halted.  As Palestinians continued to emphasize, cessation of settlement activity was not a precondition, but an obligation of the Israeli side, emanating from the Road Map.  A 10-month freeze fell short of meeting the expectations of the Palestinian side, as well as that of the international community and of Israeli obligations.  The time frame and scope of the freeze, therefore, needed to be modified.  Other important issues were water and refugees, and those were subjected to final status negotiations and must not be undermined by unilateral actions.  Turning to Gaza, he said that one year later, the wounds of that humanitarian tragedy had yet to be healed.  That was unacceptable.  Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) was the main framework for a way forward there and should be fully implemented.


Another major concern was the disunity on the Palestinian side, which not only hindered maintenance of a functional socio-political system in Palestine, but also impeded resumption of the peace process, he said.  Every Israeli and Palestinian was entitled to freedom from fear, but right now, there was no functioning peace process and many obstacles along the way.  Everything possible should be put into play, he stressed.


Plenary I


SA’EB ERAKAT, Head of the Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said he was the “most disadvantaged negotiator in history”.  He had no country, no army or navy, no economy, and a fragmented people to represent.  With that, it seemed he did not stand a chance, but who said life was about fairness and justice?  He did not wake up filled with aching or suffering for the Israelis, nor did they feel that way for the Palestinians.  “We have serious problems,” he acknowledged.  To resolve any conflict, the matrix of interests had to mature to the level whereby the costs of the conflict were much greater, and graver, than the cost of peace.  That was “how peace was done” between individuals and nations.  He expressed concern over the change in the geopolitics of the Middle East, including the United States’ role.


He noted that he had been negotiating with Israel’s Alon Liel, the next speaker, but that they had “not [been] doing each other any favour”.  The Israeli side knew that anything short of what was provided in international law would not be accepted by the Palestinian side.  He reviewed his definition of peace, starting with his recognition of the State of Israel’s right to exist on the 1967 borders.  He wanted a Palestinian State on the remaining land, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel.  Referring to Israel, he said he might be able to bring the horse to the river, but could not force it to drink.  Israel had 5,000 tanks, 3,000 fighting planes, and nuclear weapons.  At the same time, it was not possible to force a Palestinian to sign anything short of what he or she deserved.  Negotiations with Israel had come a long way, but the situation was experiencing labour pains.  He reviewed in detail the last round of talks between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  The latter had agreed to send a delegation to United States President George Bush on 3 January 2009 to “lock in this agreement and initial it”, but on 22 December 2008, “Olmert went to Gaza instead of Washington” in a destructive war, he said.


The Palestinian side had not put a single condition on negotiations.  It did not demand any condition when it said Israel must stop settlement activities; that was an obligation emanating from the Road Map.  “To Netanyahu we say:  there is a difference between dictation and negotiation,” he said.  Now, proximity talks looked to be the most advanced tools of decision-making since the Palestinians and Israelis had exhausted negotiations.  It was indeed time for decisions, and those could not be made by negotiators.  But he had questions for Mr. Mitchell, such as whether he defined his role as a mediator or arbitrator, whether the talks would be open-ended or sealed with a time frame, whether the talks would begin with borders, and what he would do if he found out in four months that the Israeli Government was not willing to engage on borders.  “There will never be a Palestinian State without Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem being a single territorial unit,” he said.


He concluded by asking the conference for the following:  to call on all concerned parties to recognize the 1967 borders with agreed swaps, with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian State; to upgrade the Palestinian representative in Europe to the level of Ambassador; to provide Palestinian civilians protection, as civilians deserved, under the Geneva Conventions, in wartime; to stand shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians to assure them they were not alone; and to ensure that settlement activities were halted, including in East Jerusalem.


ALON LIEL, Lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, clarified that he was not representing the Israeli Government, adding that, unfortunately, there was no member of the Israeli Government at the present Meeting.  He said that many in Israel felt that the peace process had crashed to the extent that the two-State solution looked impossible at the moment, adding, “You need an unbelievable earthquake, 8 on the Richter scale, on the political map of Israel, to bridge the gap between Israel and the Palestinians.”  The talks between Palestinians and Mr. Olmert were over.  Even if the Americans managed to arrange proximity talks and enter a hotel and sit in one room, with the existing political map in Israel, “the gap is unbridgeable”.  He acknowledged that with a broken heart, but did not see the possibility of a Palestinian State being created in the foreseeable future.  And he was not even speaking of Jerusalem or refugees, but about borders only, he said.  “We don’t have a Mandela in Israel; we have a Netanyahu and a Lieberman,” and unless something dramatic happened, things would not work, he lamented.


As for the situation on the ground, he said it was unacceptable, both in Gaza and the West Bank.  In fact, it was immoral and would only lead to more violence.  At the same time, for Israel, the creation of one State with Palestinians ‑‑ where they had voting rights and so forth ‑‑ was an even bigger nightmare than the two-State solution.  So he proffered to the conference that perhaps the Palestinians should propose that to the Israeli leadership today, adding:  “They’ll start shivering, I’m telling you.”


HESHAM YOUSSEF, Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, said it was a very tight race between those who were trying to break the current impasse and the possible outbreak of yet another war, which would lead to bloodshed, perhaps for years to come.  Continuation of the status quo was not an option.  Gaza was on the verge of an explosion.  The situation in Jerusalem was extremely tense, and everyone had followed the war of words between Israel and Syria and Hizbullah.  Those developments did not mean that Palestinians should go back to the negotiating table at any price.  Some argued that it was wrong for United States President Barack Obama to insist on a settlements freeze.  The League did not share that view.  Everyone had mentioned the settlements issue this morning.  But since it had been impossible to achieve a settlements freeze, the final destination, or end game, must now be clarified in some detail.


He said it was no longer enough to state the objective of establishing two States.  Every aspect of the conflict had been negotiated time and again, with numerous alternatives for a resolution.  So, it was not political solutions which were sought now, but political will.  The second requirement was a clear time frame for negotiations and, if that was not respected, a plan for what would be done.  The third requirement was that there be a follow-up mechanism.  Previous peace efforts suffered from weak follow-up mechanisms, and that must be rectified, he said.  Furthermore, peace efforts could also not continue to be tailored to the requirements of successive Israeli Governments.  He had just heard that the political environment in Israel was not susceptible to movement, that an earthquake was needed.  Perhaps that earthquake would come sooner than people imagined.


Finally, he said that the whole world must be supportive of the peace efforts, not just in words, but also in deeds, and that included that whole of the Arab world.  Turning to Gaza, he said that situation was shameful and must not be allowed to continue.  He reiterated that the Arab world was committed to the Arab Peace Initiative, but in the absence of a positive response from Israel and with public opinion declining, an extended hand to Israel did not mean that it would accept a phoney or puppet Palestinian State or continue to accept the Israeli narrative of the current situation.  As far as the League was concerned, occupation was the problem.  Either the impasse would be broken and the situation would advance towards peace or the doomsday scenario would take hold and the situation would explode.  Another scenario was an imposed solution.  A further scenario was the one-State solution.  Until recently, that was taboo in the Arab world.  It was now being discussed in the mainstream.  He prayed wisdom would prevail.


Discussion


In the brief discussion that followed, a speaker, on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, asked how the world would explain the Israeli confiscation of lands, homes and natural resources despite the fact that two decades had elapsed since the launch of the peace process and bilateral agreements.


A speaker from the Egyptian Parliament said he had gotten the impression from the Israeli speaker that there was no hope for “our proposal”.  He said his heart was bleeding because he and his colleagues in the parliaments had gone to Gaza and seen first-hand the real suffering of the Palestinian people.  It was not possible to turn a blind eye to the situation.  “This is a real time bomb,” he said, adding that it was high time to confront it lest the consequences become even worse.


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For information media • not an official record