|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
LAWMAKERS MUST ENGAGE IN PALESTINIAN QUESTION SINCE CONSTITUENTS WILL ALWAYS
CONFRONT HARSH REALITIES OF MIDDLE EAST PEOPLES, CYPRUS MEETING TOLD
Parliamentarians from Key Regions Weigh Their Role, Prospects for Peace
Process Resumption in Wake of Gaza Assault, Evolving Political Landscape
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
NICOSIA, CYPRUS, 6 May ‑‑ Legislators from Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, United States, United Kingdom and the Palestinian Legislative Council today considered prospects for re-starting the peace process in the wake of the military assault on Gaza, and their role in the new political landscape, as the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace continued.
Several new developments, including the war on Gaza, the new United States Administration, and the accession to power of a rightist Israeli Government were impacting prospects for peace in the Middle East, Ziad Abu Amr, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah told the United Nations International Meeting. The two-day event was organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and hosted by the Government of Cyprus.
Urging a review of the failed peace policies and the possible adoption of new ones, he said there had been talk recently about a regional road map, with the idea being to link the separate negotiating tracks. Such an approach would lend more credence to regional and comprehensive peace efforts. It would create a stake in the negotiations for all the relevant parties, and not allow any one party to play on any contradictions between the tracks. Indeed, it could rescue the negotiations from attempts to obstruct them, he said.
Speaking via video message, United States Congressman Dennis Kucinich said that parliamentarians needed to step out of the dichotomies of “us versus them”; when there was killing, it was not for parliamentarians to take one side or another, but to help find a way to respect each other’s right to survive. As a friend of Israel, in the belief of its right to survive, he could not let that translate into a failure to recognize the inherent, inalienable right of Palestinians.
He said that Palestinians had a right to their own State, and so did Israelis, and parliamentarians needed to be engaged in that question because, like it or not, their own nations would always be confronted by the harsh realities visited upon the people of the Middle East ‑‑ Israelis or Palestinians. Understanding must be shown of the existential threat felt by Israelis and how that feeling translated into policies which might in fact be counterproductive to the State of Israel. He could not support rhetoric calling for the destruction of Israel, but Israel must also be urged to set aside its policies that had not just built walls, but had fractured any hope for the people of Gaza to exist in a viable State.
However, Mustafa El-Feky, a Member of Egypt’s Parliament and Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, warned that the new Israeli Government included elements that had declared their aversion to peace. The Government had resorted to a policy of collective punishment against the Palestinians. In the face of such flagrant challenges to peace, parliamentarians should not stand still, but rather be the defenders of the interest of the people. At the same time, he urged agreement among the different Palestinian sectors leading to a unified Government, echoing the sentiment of several other speakers.
Clare Short, Member of the United Kingdom Parliament, worried that the current reality on the ground was worse than ever since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Gaza was a prison, and the most densely occupied place on earth. Borders were closed, and if fishermen went out beyond a few miles, they were fired upon. People lived among the rubble of the recent bombardment. Many children of Gaza, now adults, were deeply traumatized by the endless violence and uncertainty. The separation wall had divided the area into cantons, and there were some 600 checkpoints. In East Jerusalem, most Palestinians could not build houses for their children, and if they did, they lived in constant fear of demolition.
Even against that backdrop, there was hope that United States President Barack Obama would seek a two-State solution in his first term, but he was beset by many crises and locked into a deeply unbalanced political system, she said. To its shame, the European Union, which was not locked in that way, simply followed United States’ policy and failed to uphold international law or create more space in which Mr. Obama might find it easier to move.
As for what parliamentarians could do, she said they could call a halt to talk of peace under which Israel took even more land, breached international law and increased its stranglehold over Palestinians, and was not held accountable to the Security Council or the international community. Parliamentarians should insist on human rights conditions in European trade treaties and invoke those where Israel was a party. They could propose that Israel’s membership in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) be blocked because it did not abide by international law.
The first plenary considered “Prospects for the resumption of a genuine peace process in the wake of the military assault on Gaza; the role of parliamentarians in the new political landscape”.
ZIAD ABU AMR, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, drew attention to several new developments, including the war in Gaza, the new Obama Administration, and the accession to power in Israel of a rightist Government. All were having their impact on the prospects for peace in the Middle East. The previous Israeli Government had negotiated, but only for the sake of negotiations. No Palestinian State had been established by the end of 2008, as had been hoped and promised internationally. Instead, Israeli settlement activities had increased and there had been a war in Gaza. Now, there was a new Government and a parliamentary majority for a rightist coalition, which rejected the two-State solution and a freeze on settlement activities.
As for what then should be done to restart a meaningful peace process, he said the international community, especially the Obama Administration, could and should exert pressure on the Israeli Government to publicly declare its commitment to the two-State solution and to a halt to all settlement activities. If the international community failed that test, it would lose its credibility and it would have contributed to a further deterioration of the situation, not only in Palestine, but in the entire Middle East region.
The peace efforts had so far failed, he lamented, urging a review of the failed policies and the possible adoption of new approaches. There had been talk recently about a regional road map, the idea being to link the Syrian-Israeli track to the Palestinian-Israeli track. Such a new approach would carry new prospects and lend more credence to regional and comprehensive peace efforts. It would create a stake in the negotiations for all the relevant parties, and not allow any one party to play one tracks against another. Indeed, it could rescue the negotiations from attempts to obstruct them. Finally, a regional road map was compatible with the Arab Peace Initiative and would, therefore, enjoy Arab support; the sponsor of Arab-Israeli peace talks should not be exclusively American.
He said the new approach of the United States would be essentially meaningless if the United States policy objective remained the same, including its strategic alliance with Israel, which granted Israel a strategic edge over its Arab neighbours without, for example, committing it to a settlements freeze. Scepticism was beginning to haunt the high expectations of the Palestinians and the world about President Obama and his new approach, and concerns were arising anew that he might succumb in the face of the new Israeli Government’s confrontational style. Time was running out. There was a chance to allay the fear and scepticism. The common belief was that solving the Palestinian-Israeli problem might be the right start since that might be the root cause of the other problems in the region, or, at the very least, used as a pretext for the continuation of other conflicts. As for what parliamentarians could do to advance the peace process ‑‑ they should send a strong message to the parties that there was no alternative to the two-State solution and that it must be achieved sooner or later.
MUSTAFA EL-FEKY, Member of Egypt’s Parliament and Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, stressed that death and the great destruction in Gaza were crimes against humanity. The new Israeli Government included elements that had declared their aversion to peace. Clearly, the Israeli Government undermined their international commitments and agreements, as well as resolutions of the Security Council, and resorted to a policy of collective punishment against the Palestinians. In the face of those flagrant challenges to peace, parliamentarians must protect the interests of their constituencies; they should not stand idle, but rather be the defenders of the interests of the people. As a starting point, agreement must be reached among the different Palestinian sectors leading to a unified government that bore the responsibility of internal reconciliation.
Among the other requirements for a resumption of the peace process was the lifting of the closures, and Gaza’s reconstruction. Ultimately, however, what Palestinians needed was not only Gaza’s reconstruction, but an end to the occupation and an independent State of Palestine. Parliamentarians should support all efforts to ensure that reconstruction started under conditions of full accountability and transparency; they should follow up on pledges of Governments. At the same time, Israel’s recent aggression against Gaza should not detract from the essence of the Palestinian cause. Parliamentarians were looking forward to a revival of the peace process as the common wish of both Israelis and Palestinians, and they should support those efforts. Peace in the Middle East was still a long and difficult road.
TAKIS HATZIGEORGIOU, Member of the House of Representatives of Cyprus and former member of the Middle East Group, Inter-Parliamentary Union, said the Palestinian question was not a frozen conflict, but one of bloodshed, a theatre of wretchedness in terms of human dignity and life quality. The realities of life on the ground hindered efforts towards lasting stability. He pointed to the water and refugee issues; the status of Jerusalem; the suffocating situation inflicted on Palestinians by the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem; the closure of crucial pathways to the movement of goods and people; the displacement of civilians; acts of violence and destruction, which had left Palestinians in conditions of absolute hardship and poverty; and the economic devastation and dismantled institutions and infrastructure.
He said that the military operation in Gaza launched in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks had caused thousands of dead and injured, and had once again set in motion the well-worn vicious cycle of violence. Prospects for peace depended on the parties’ degree of engagement and on ensuring full compliance with their agreements. Milestone agreements, such as those reached in Annapolis and Oslo, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative, were the basis on which the two-State vision had been built and endorsed by the Road Map; there seemed no other way to lasting peace. Reconstruction should be an essential element in the establishment of a Palestinian State. The European Union had been exerting significant political and economic influence in the region and it remained the largest donor to the Palestinians, with contributions of more than €1 billion yearly. And Cyprus, despite its problems with the Turkish occupation, had always been prompt in meeting its pledged contributions. The Cyprus Parliament had also closely followed developments in the region, and the House had adopted several relevant resolutions, including a strong condemnation of Israel’s military attack on Gaza. It had also noted that violence and its excruciating consequences undermined prospects for dialogue and peace.
MOHAMED BARAKEH, Member of Knesset and Secretary-General of the Hadash Party, said it appeared that the new Israeli Government was one of extremism and racism, and opposed to the two-State solution. The previous Government had supported two States, which was why it had not participated in the new Government. But it should be noted that the previous Government had launched two wars ‑‑ one in Lebanon and the other at the start of this year, in Gaza. Whether an Israeli Government adopted the “two-State slogan” or not, they all agreed on the siege in Gaza and construction of the separation wall, as well as on building new settlements and restricting movement. It was a great lie that they would not build settlements except to accommodate natural growth.
As far as including the Iranian nuclear issue in a discussion of the Palestinian issue vis-à-vis Israel, he said that Israel had nuclear weapons as well and was indicating that even if it signed an international treaty on the subject, that would not change Israel’s production of nuclear weapons; it presently had 200 in its arsenal. Those could hardly be directed at the Palestinian people, which barely owned a weapon. Concerning the report of the Board of Inquiry launched by the United Nations to investigate events in Gaza concerning United Nations personnel and premises, he said that Israel media today were reported that the United Nations Secretary-General had retreated from supporting the report.
Speaking via video message, DENNIS KUCINICH, Member, United States House of Representatives, said that parliamentarians needed to step out of the dichotomies of “us versus them”; that you’re either with the Palestinians or against them. When there was killing, it was not for parliamentarians to take one side or another, but to help find a way for people to live in peace and security, respecting each other’s right to survive. A fundamental challenge to peace globally was the fact that the world community had stood by in the face of so many human rights violations. He said that as a friend of Israel, in the belief of its right to survive. But he could not let that translate into a failure to recognize the inherent, inalienable right of Palestinians.
He said that Palestinians had a right to their own State, and so did Israel, and parliamentarians needed to be engaged in that question because, like it or not, their own nations would always be confronted by the harsh realities visited upon the people of the Middle East ‑‑ Israelis or Palestinians. Understanding must be shown to the existential threat felt by Israelis and how that feeling translated into policies which might in fact be counterproductive to the State of Israel. He said he could not support rhetoric calling for the destruction of Israel, but Israel must also be urged to set aside its policies that had not just built walls, but had fractured any hope for the people of Gaza to exist in a viable State. Parliamentarians had the capacity to take a new direction, and they could take a position which understood the great difficulties that both sides were dealing with, he said.
CLARE SHORT, Member, the United Kingdom Parliament, said the current reality on the ground was worse than ever since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The situation in Gaza was clearer to people than ever. Gaza was a prison, which was the most densely occupied place on earth. All borders were closed; if fishermen went out beyond a few miles, they were fired upon, the airport had been destroyed by bombs, and people lived among the rubble of the recent bombardment. The tunnels, a focus of Israeli bombardment, were now essential for daily life. Many children of Gaza, now adults, were deeply traumatized by the endless violence and uncertainty. The separation wall had divided the area into cantons, and there were some 600 checkpoints. In East Jerusalem, most Palestinians were hemmed in by settlements; they cannot build houses for their own children, and if they do, they live in constant fear of demolition.
Many argued that a two-State solution was no longer possible, given the situation on the ground ‑‑ the war, Israeli-use-only roads, expanding settlements, she said. Palestinians were suffering terribly, within and outside the Occupied Palestinian Territory. “There is no peace process,” she said, adding that even more disturbing was that prospects for a two-State solution were evaporating, if not completely gone ‑‑ unless massive Israeli settlements disappeared. Then, too, no Israeli party believed in two States based on a sovereign Palestinian State within 1967 borders. That was the reality.
Even worse, following the election in 2006, Western and Israeli interference had led to a breakdown of Palestinian Government and now to bitter division, she said, adding that a people divided was weaker and more easily controlled. The division between Fatah and Hamas was terrible for the Palestinian people’s future prospects, and the situation had created a deep and bitter anger across the Muslim and Arab world. It also resonated across Europe, making it easier for those who wished to do so to recruit angry young men. There was a rise in anti-Semitic attacks across Europe, including in the United Kingdom, and against anti-Zionist Jews. That was very serious for future prospects for all; a great moral wrong was being done and terrible, unjust suffering was being inflicted on the Palestinian people.
Even against that backdrop, there was hope that President Obama would seek a two-State solution in his first term, but he was beset by many crises and locked into a deeply unbalanced political system, she said. To its shame, the European Union, which was not locked in that way, simply followed United States’ policy and failed to uphold international law or create more international space in which Mr. Obama might find it easier to move.
As for what parliamentarians could do, she said they could speak the truth, make clear there was no peace process and say that the two-State solution was evaporating. They could call a halt to talk of peace under which Israel took even more land, breached international law and increased its stronghold over Palestinians, and was not held accountable by the Security Council or the international community. Parliamentarians should activate human rights clauses in European trade treaties and invoke those where Israel was a party. They could propose that Israel’s membership in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) be blocked because it did not abide by international law, which was a condition of membership. And all parliamentarians should study the example of South African apartheid, which collapsed when the world turned against it without violence. She cautioned that all parliamentarians willing to take a stand on those issues should be prepared for a vicious attack accusing them of anti-Semitism and should remember that the situation would be very dangerous for Israel in the medium-term, but the real friends of Israel were those who worked for a just peace now.
Participants in the discussion that followed included a representative of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions who said that there was no peace process, no boat to be rocked, no two-State solution. It was urgent for the international community to reframe its concept of pressure and “help friends not to drive drunk”, to find creative ways to apply pressure, so that Israel’s ultra-right-wing Government was curbed in order that the sane voices inside Israel could be strengthened.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, said he was taking the floor to respond to the statement made by Mr. Barakeh regarding the report of Ian Martin and the Board of Inquiry. The 183-page document had been submitted to the Secretary-General a few days ago. It contained sufficient information on the seven crimes committed by Israel, on whose basis it would be possible to go after those criminals through the appropriate legal international instruments. The Secretary-General and his officers had summoned both the representatives of Palestine and Israel and had given them a copy of his letter addressed to the Security Council and a summary of the report, and advised that they keep it confidential until it was given to Security Council members. The Israeli side leaked it to the media.
He explained further that in the conversation with the officers of the Secretary-General, the parties had been informed that the Israelis wanted to inject changes into the report, but that the Secretary-General stood by the content of the summary. The summary was then submitted to Council members. The Secretary-General’s Chief of Staff summoned the Palestinian Observer to his office yesterday and informed him about pressure from the Israelis and of the fact that he was standing by his position not to allow any changes to take place ‑‑ that the report and summary spoke for themselves and that the Secretary-General, along with the Security Council, would determine what to do next.
There was no reason to question the high level of professionalism of Mr. Martin or his team in preparing the report, he said. Indeed, the Palestinian side had drafted a resolution in the Council to praise the report, to thank the Secretary-General for launching the investigation, to condemn the Israeli action for acting against United Nations properties, and asking Israel to compensate for the destroyed properties and for the United Nations to conduct a wider investigation beyond the seven areas dealt with in the report, including all crimes against Palestinians in Gaza. The report accused Israel and the occupying Army of deliberate crimes that led to the killing of innocent civilians and to damaging their property and that of the United Nations. The criminals should face justice.
Speaking on behalf of the Free Gaza Movement, a representative said that any notion that Israel was acting in self-defence should be rejected. If Israel had been interested only in stopping the rocket attacks, then it would have accepted Hamas’ offer to renew the ceasefire.
From Rebuilding Alliance, the speaker noted that, during the assault on Gaza, the organization had arranged teleconferences connecting people in Gaza and Israel. That was a small step, but one which should be replicated to open proper channels of communication between civil society organizations and people on the ground, and parliaments. Many parliamentarians were well informed, and well intentioned, but many were badly informed.
Mr. HATZIGEORGIOU said that if he had given the impression that the attack by Israel had been self-defence, it was the wrong impression. Of course, countries had the right to defend themselves, but he did not believe that was the case with regard to Gaza.
Mr. ABU AMR said that if the two-State solution was no longer tenable, it was a collective responsibility to articulate viable alternatives, including a one-State solution.
Mr. EL-FEKY discussed what he viewed as an attitudinal change among Israelis, saying that in the 1960s and 1970s, they were seeking their neighbours’ acceptance, but now they did not care. As long as they had power and the means for military superiority, they could dominate the region and force other countries to accept their wishes. That could be fruitful for them in the short term, but in the long term, new generations of Israelis would come along and reject that approach.
After paying tribute to the work of Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, Ms. SHORT revisited her position, adding that the international community was sleepwalking into increasing bloodshed and trouble, spreading from the Middle East and drawing in the whole international system. What was at risk was the whole international order. As for why the United Nations had not taken action during Gaza, it was not for the United Nation to take action, but for its Member States, and above all, the European Union. The United Kingdom had a trade treaty that gave Israel conditions for complying with international law. All her country needed to do was to invoke the provisions of its own treaties. If the Union acted, maybe Mr. Obama’s action could be much stronger.
Mr. Barakeh said that to call for one State during this occupation, meant encouraging occupation because the power, the economy, and the military were all in the hands of Israel.
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