Parliamentarians’ Contribution to Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is Quiet, Modest, Bottom-Up Approach, but Useful Add-On to Enduring Effort, Cyprus Meeting Told

7 May 2009
GA/PAL/1123

Parliamentarians’ Contribution to Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is Quiet, Modest, Bottom-Up Approach, but Useful Add-On to Enduring Effort, Cyprus Meeting Told

7 May 2009
General Assembly
GA/PAL/1123
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PARLIAMENTARIANS’ CONTRIBUTION TO ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE IS QUIET, MODEST,

BOTTOM-UP APPROACH, BUT USEFUL ADD-ON TO ENDURING EFFORT, CYPRUS MEETING TOLD

Participants Explore Role of Lawmakers in Setting Policy,

Influencing Public Opinion, Returning Parties to Negotiating Table

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

NICOSIA, Cyprus, 7 May -- Parliamentarians’ contribution to Israeli-Palestinian peace could only be a quiet, modest, unpretentious, bottom-up approach based on informed, impartial, balanced and genuine engagement between parliamentarians of the world and Israeli-Palestinian parliamentarians, out of whose ranks emerged the national leaders and main actors responsible for the actual task of peace-finding and making, the Cyprus Meeting heard today.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives of Malta, whose delegation has held the post of Rapporteur of the Palestinian Rights Committee at the United Nations for many years, said the path of parliamentarians was very much worth exploring as an effective supplement to the ongoing diplomatic intergovernmental peace initiatives.

The United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace began its second day with a plenary entitled “Identifying the most efficient ways in which parliamentarians can make a difference in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace”.  The focus was on lawmakers’ role in raising awareness about the situation on the ground and in the political process, as well as on how they could keep open the channels of communication among themselves. 

The House Speaker said that to some, "parliamentary diplomacy" was a novel way at making diplomacy.  It might be novel, but it was certainly essential.  Its effectiveness, however, depended on belief and consistent commitment of the different parliamentarians. 

It would be a pity if they failed to be creative and dynamic enough to exploit the role of national parliaments in shaping public opinion and in formulating policy guidelines by helping parties resume and strengthen the political dialogue, and by promoting and applying the principles of international law to efforts aimed at resolving conflicts.  Inter-parliamentary diplomacy could prove effective when the intergovernmental dialogue was deadlocked.

A Member of the House of Representatives of Cyprus said she had seen first-hand the extreme conditions in Gaza.  Having experienced war and occupation in her own homeland, it was no exaggeration to say one could never do enough to overcome the calamities of conflict and there was never enough time to fight for peace.  Peace could never be attained with arms, but solely through dialogue.  At the same time, negotiations that went on forever without agreement jeopardized peace by undermining mutual confidence. 

She said that the tragic balance sheet of the recent attack on Gaza, the Israeli elections, and efforts to attain agreement between the Palestinian President and Hamas had produced changes in the contours of the problem, which called for both generating responses on the ground and to the fundamentals of the problem.  Ways already existed for parliamentarians to network among themselves.  And at the multilateral level, a multitude of forums existed.  But a lot could be done by putting existing channels of communication into action and directing those into the Knesset and the Palestinian Legislative Council.  Parliamentarians must also remember to engage their own Governments.

A Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah said the calamitous situation of the Palestinians should compel parliaments to push forward peace in the region, and the Palestinian Legislative Council fully welcomed that role.  The new Administration of the United States was giving unprecedented importance to advancing the peace process, but that was clashing with the Government of extremists in Israel, which did not conceal its opposition to the principles of peace.

Regretting that the ongoing violence during the Meeting had not been acknowledged, a former Member of the Israeli Knesset said that in order to consider the role of parliamentarians, it was first necessary to define clearly the desired aims.  First and foremost, that was an end to the violence and the Israeli occupation, and human rights violations.  The way forward was to create two States within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.  The blueprint for that was the Arab League Peace Initiative.  In that, the role of Israel’s Parliament was critical to Israeli Government policy.

Plenary II

ABDULHADI MAJALI, Speaker, House of Representatives of Jordan, President, Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, Amman, sought to raise the living standards of the Palestinian people.  While the Arab-Israeli conflict was a central preoccupying theme, he was convinced that peace was possible, and indeed, was the will of humankind.  Ending the 60-year war, achieving justice and guaranteeing the rights of all people without exception required much discussion among the stakeholders.  The Mediterranean Assembly supported, without reservation, all constructive means that would end the conflict.

As Speaker of the Jordanian Assembly, he believed it was necessary to incite the parties to work towards peace and an end to the conflict, which had caused so many deaths and shaken the region for so many years.  Israeli settlements and their expansion must be halted, along with all embargoes and policies of erecting barriers that hampered the movement of those suffering under the yoke of occupation.  All prisoners of war should be released, and land confiscations and the destruction of holy shrines and house demolitions must cease.  Jordan was convinced that peace could be achieved, and the people of the region were looking forward to that peace.  The time had come to put an end to the tragic story and the use of force.

LOUIS GALEA, Speaker, House of Representatives of Malta, said:  "To despair or to persevere! This is the dilemma..."  Peacemaking attempts by erudite, experienced people of international calibre had endured decades of successive but so far miserably unsuccessful efforts.  Parliamentarians’ contribution to peace could only be a modest, quiet, unpretentious, bottom-up approach based on informed, impartial, balanced and genuine engagement between parliamentarians of the world and Israeli-Palestinian parliamentarians, out of whose ranks emerged the national leaders and the main actors responsible for the actual task of peace-finding and making.  That path was very much worth exploring as an effective supplement to the ongoing diplomatic intergovernmental peace initiatives. 

Some said that "parliamentary diplomacy" was a novel way at making diplomacy, he noted, adding that it might be novel, but it was certainly essential.  Its effectiveness depended on the belief and consistent commitment of the different parliamentarians.  It would be a pity if they failed to be creative and dynamic enough to exploit the role of national parliaments in shaping public opinion and formulating policy guidelines by helping parties resume and strengthen the political dialogue, and by promoting and applying the principles of international law to efforts aimed at resolving conflicts.  Inter-parliamentary diplomacy could prove effective when the intergovernmental dialogue was deadlocked.

Offering 10 ways in which parliamentarians could contribute to the internationally-intractable Israeli-Palestinian issue, he began by suggesting that too many overlapping initiatives tended to dilute the effectiveness of the desired impact and created confusion, providing fertile ground for those who, in fragmentation, might want to seek the Achilles’ heel of valid initiatives.  He thus hoped the meeting would identify ways and means of a more effective synergy of the work of the umbrella parliamentary organizations when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian question.

He said he believed that stronger use should be made of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM), given its special nature as a forum of dialogue, which represented countries of the Mediterranean region, including Israel and the Palestinians.  Parliamentarians should engage with Israeli and Palestinian civil society, for which he suggested the re-establishment of a forum such as the former "Forum Formenter", a platform of dialogue between countries having different interests, which, in Spain, provided a tremendous opportunity for free and informal exchange between the protagonists of either side of the conflict. 

Also important was to expand the dialogue on strategic ways forward for parliamentarians from the Quartet countries, as well as parliamentarians from other countries, such as those from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, he said.  Parliamentarians could and should be bolder than Governments -- only in that way could they soften the ground for further in-depth engagement by the leaders.  For its part, the Maltese Parliament offered itself as a venue for peace.  He also recommended a meeting, in Malta, under United Nations auspices, of the Chairpersons of the Foreign Affairs committees of the United States, European Union, Russian Federation, Israel and Palestine, and of Member States of the Arab League -- to discuss the peace process in a systematic way among parliamentarians.  The United Nations, particularly the Palestinian Rights Committee, should promote such an initiative for parliamentary diplomacy to break through the impasse in the situation. 

Education was another important key, he said, encouraging parliaments to sponsor scholars, key players, and especially young people, from Israel and Palestine, to enhance understanding and dialogue.  Parliamentarians could also consider creating an effective, consistent network of people to widen the base of support for the mission of elected Israeli and Palestinian representatives to shape public and party opinion in their respective countries.  Parliaments and parliamentarians should intensify their efforts at the national level, making use of all tools at their disposal, including the media, to strengthen public awareness of the role of parliamentarians.  Also needed was a more effective, and concretely incremental, contributory process at the regional parliamentary level.  And of course, the contribution of parliaments and parliamentarians at the international level should be strengthened. 

After all, he said, the general responsibility of parliamentarians and the Inter-Parliamentary Union was to promote international peace and security, critical for an environment that was conducive to global cooperation and development.  In their people-to-people approach, parliamentarians were expected to promote the elimination of prejudices.  But to fulfil their mission, they needed to function in an atmosphere of peace and security; that was a primary objective of parliamentarians.  Parliamentarians from the Euro-Mediterranean region had an open challenge for tomorrow -- either to leave the Mediterranean a great divide, or to work tirelessly for a Mediterranean that would make of the "Euro-Med" area a closely linked region for the future. 

ELENI THEOCHAROUS KARIOLOU, Member, House of Representatives of Cyprus, had seen first-hand the extreme conditions in Gaza.  Having experienced war and occupation in her own homeland, it was no exaggeration to say one could never do enough to overcome the calamities of conflict and there was never enough time to fight for peace.  Peace could never be attained with arms, but solely through dialogue.  At the same time, negotiations that went on forever without agreement jeopardized peace by undermining mutual confidence. 

She said that the tragic balance sheet of the recent attack on Gaza, the Israeli elections, and efforts to attain agreement between the Palestinian President and Hamas had produced changes in the contours of the problem, which called for both generating responses on the ground and to the fundamentals of the problem.  Ways already existed for parliamentarians to network among themselves, and at the multilateral level, a multitude of forums existed.  But a lot could be done by putting existing channels of communication into action and directing those into the Knesset and the Palestinian Legislative Council.  Parliamentarians must also remember to engage their own Governments.

Awareness of the situation on the ground had been raised in Gaza, and it should never be forgotten, both as a question of urgency to alleviate the tragic consequences and in not allowing it to happen again, she said.  As for raising awareness on the ground of the need for a political settlement, both sides saw that need, but it should be stressed that the winner of conflicts like this did not necessarily take all.  Without compromises through peaceful dialogue, no truce or permanent peace would last.  Parliaments should coordinate with their Governments to turn pressure into concrete and longer-term policies. 

She said that the parties to the conflict should be urged to fulfil their Road Map obligations and Annapolis commitments.  There should be a contiguous Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and Israeli settlement activities must cease.  The new Israeli Government must be a peace partner in favour of the two-State vision.  The United States and European Union must pressure that Government to accept the Annapolis outcome and two-State solution, and pressure Palestinians for their all-important reconciliation.  The absolutely urgent needs in Gaza must be met and all crossings must be opened.  There must be an exchange of prisoners and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council must be released from Israeli prisons.  Finally, all forms of intimidation, threats and violence, particularly against innocent civilians, must cease. 

HARRI GRUNBERG, Political Adviser, Deutscher Bundestag, Germany, said his Government’s position was based on the two-State solution, a viable Palestinian State living side by side with Israel in secure and internationally-recognized borders.  German policy supported the Arab Peace Initiative, which should be the basis of stability and open the door for regional social and economic progress.  The situation was well known in the German Parliament, but a strategic change in politics was needed in all inter-parliamentary relationships.  Germany was playing a very important role inside the European Union, but without a common German position, it was difficult to develop a common position of the Union. 

Until now, he said, the German Government had the position to stabilize the internal situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, rebuild the structures and let ripen the Israeli Government’s desire for peace. All that changed after the new Government had assumed power in Israel.  Now, the German Government had to play a new role applying more political pressure on Israel, and that must be the new common position and policy of the European Union.  It was true that peace could not be achieved by outside forces or pressure, but it was a very special and dangerous situation since the right and ultra-right wing Government had assumed power in Israel.

It was crucial to bring Israel back to the negotiating table for a two-State solution, he stressed.  Germany and other partners in the Quartet had to play a more active and coordinating role in that regard.  Europe was divided and was not promoting a common policy.  As long as that remained the case, the Euro-Mediterranean initiative would not foster a solution to the crisis.  Parliaments therefore should direct the initiative inside national parliaments in order to change policy.  In Germany, Middle East policy was still dominated by the German moral obligation to the Jewish people because of their extermination by the millions under Germany’s Nazi regime.

As far as a possible economic boycott of Israel was concerned, he said he rejected it.  The main reason was because Israel could not be compared to the former system of apartheid in South Africa.  Israel was still a democratic society respecting minority democratic rights.  But he did see growing problems, including discrimination against the Palestinian population.  However, it was not in the realm of impossibility for some kind of apartheid system to develop if the two-State solution failed and occupation continued.  The German population saw the Palestinians as victims of the victims –- the Jewish -– for which Germany was responsible.

MOSSI RAZ, former Member of the Knesset, Israel, said that yesterday and today, during the meetings, the violence between Israelis and Palestinians continued, involving Qassam missiles, the Israeli Air Force, and both Palestinian and Israeli victims, including, reportedly, an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian civilian.  Here, participants should condemn all kinds of violence, while also condemning occupation and settlement activities, house demolitions, and land confiscations.  He understood there was a difference between an Air Force attack and an attack with a Qassam rocket.

In order to consider the role of parliamentarians, he said it was first necessary to define clearly the desired aims.  First and foremost, that was an end to the violence and the Israeli occupation, and human rights violations.  The way forward was to create two States with the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.  The blueprint for that was the Arab League Peace Initiative.   Israel should achieve a peace treaty with Syria, meaning an end to the occupation in the Golan Heights, as well as achieve a peace treaty with Lebanon and all other Arab League States.

He said that among the Israeli population, many people supported the Arab League initiative and the two-State solution, as had the previous Israeli Government.  However, that had gone unimplemented because of a lack of trust of Palestinians by many in Israel.  If the problem was to be solved, then the main problem of trust had to be addressed.  The role of Israel’s Parliament was critical to Israeli Government policy, as it could emphasize that the best solution for Israel was the two-State solution and the Arab League peace initiative.  Along with that, the Palestinians should talk to the Israelis, and should meet them and describe in detail what was meant by the Arab initiative -– because it was not very detailed.  The previous Government failed because, although it talked the talk, and maybe because of it, there was no pressure on it to implement its commitments.  Parliament should and could be very active in educating public opinion and the Government. 

GEORGE VELLA, Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee on the Middle East of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, Valetta, said that for the Palestinians, the aim was to regain sovereignty and the right to return to one’s land and homestead, and to hold on to Jerusalem as the holy capital of the fatherland.  For the Israelis, it was a fight to ascertain the right to exist and to fulfil their dream of returning to the biblical land of their forefathers.  It had been a saga of provocation, alternating with episodes of excessive retaliation, made possible by disproportionately stronger military power, and the quasi-unconditional backing of one super-Power.

He said that as with all regional conflicts, and all territorial and boundary disputes, strife wasted resources, detracted from development, destroyed physical and social infrastructure, and brought on social and cultural disintegration.  Human rights were trampled, reactionary movements were born, and extremism found fertile ground.  In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, extremists and right-wing political movements had evolved on both sides.  They too claimed to want to achieve peace, but at what price?  Some went as far as prospecting a sort of peace built on the complete annihilation of one side or the total subjugation of the other. 

QAIS ABDEL-KARIM KHADAR, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ramallah, said the calamitous situation of the Palestinians should compel parliaments to push forward peace in the region, and the Palestinian Council fully welcomed that role.  The new Administration of the United States was giving unprecedented importance to advancing the peace process, but that was clashing with the Government of extremists in Israel, which did not conceal its opposition to the principles of peace.  The declarations of the Israeli Foreign Minister had been very clear –- the Government did not consider itself committed to the Annapolis process, it would relinquish the “land for peace” principle and the two-State solution and not enter into negotiations without preconditions.  In short, Israel was eluding its commitments. 

He said that would lead only to a new scenario of failure.  The aim must be clear, namely, to terminate the Israeli occupation and have an independent, sovereign Palestinian State within 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  That meant a cessation of all settlement activities and the construction of the separation wall.  Under cover of the Annapolis-led peace negotiations, Israel persisted in expanding settlements, building the wall, and launching an aggressive war in Gaza. 

United States President Barack Obama must take seriously the position of the Palestinian Authority that there was no use continuing talks without a commitment by Israel for the basic requirements of the peace process, he said.  Annapolis had collapsed, while under cover of negotiations, Israel had persisted in its untenable policies.  The main reason it had not been possible to find a way out had been that the process thus far had lacked balance.  In the absence of an equal balance of power, and international intervention, it would be impossible to advance the peace process.  

Discussion

Among the speakers in the ensuing exchange, ZIAD ABU AMR, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ramallah, took exception with the notion that Israelis must trust the Palestinians before the aims could be realized.  Mutual trust was very important, but it should not obscure the issue or substitute the core issue, which was foreign occupation –- a prolonged foreign occupation.  He was not aware that any occupied people had trusted their occupier, or vice versa.  That situation was necessarily predicated on mistrust.  Thus, ending the occupation should not be held hostage to the notion of trust. Similarly, trust must not be a precondition for ending an occupation.  What did trust have to do with a consistent policy of successive Israeli Governments to build settlements and confiscate Palestinian land?  The answer in such a situation was not trust, but guarantees. 

Next, a representative of the League of Arab States said that all of the League’s Member States supported the Arab Peace Initiative.  If a comment made during the meeting had referred to a position expressed after the military aggression against Gaza, then, yes, some Arab public opinion had questioned not only the Arab Peace Initiative, but the whole peace process.  A panellist had also said that the initiative was not detailed enough.  In fact, it could not be more explicit or more detailed.  It offered realistic solutions to very complex issues on final status negotiations.  Moreover, the initiative was a package deal, and Israel could not be selective about it. 

Regarding trust, it should be the other way around –- it was the Palestinians that had a lack of trust of the Israelis, she said.  The Palestinian leadership had pursued to exhaustion, despair and frustration negotiations with the Israeli leadership, but to no avail.

Representing the Free Gaza Movement, a speaker said she was disturbed by suggestions that more cooperation was needed between Israelis and Palestinians.  She had taken part in conflict resolution programmes, but to encourage them in the absence of political action was to be complicit with the status quo; it was to support Israel’s brutal occupation and continuing violation of Palestinian’s human rights.  What was happening to Palestinian leaders was worse than South African apartheid.  To say an economic boycott would not work was wrong.  There was presently no effective mechanism to compel Israel to comply with its obligations.  Panellists today encouraged the status quo because they had no suggestions as to how to hold Israel accountable.

Speaking for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and the media team with the Free Gaza Movement, a representative said there was a need for greater compromise by the stronger party.  Israel was far less of a democracy than a system based on a win-lose mentality, and it should be encouraged to engage in the politics of generosity.  What was happening inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory was far worse than apartheid, she noted, saying she had lived in South Africa for many years.  Without a boycott, divestment and sanctions, apartheid would never have fallen.  It was time to call Israel’s bluff, for it was playing for time.

A member of the Rebuilding Alliance said everyone agreed that the situation had deteriorated dramatically over the decades, which showed that what was being done to achieve peace was not working.  The politics of fear did not work.  What was needed therefore was to help people to imagine what peace would look like to them.  That was where parliaments could play a large role, since they had a public platform.

Mr. Grunberg pointed out that he had not said there was no racism in Israel, only that there was no system of apartheid.

Mr. Raz said he understood there was mistrust on both sides.  He agreed that trust should not be a precondition to negotiations, but to make a difference and achieve majority opinion in Israeli society and to pressure the Israeli Government, trust was important.  However, he agreed with previous speakers that there was trust between Israel and Syria because the arrangement had been working on the ground for many years.  So, that was possible without normalization and without preconditions.  At this point, however, the Israeli Government did not accept the Arab Peace Initiative.  Nor did the majority, or at least half, of the Israeli population.  That was why policies favouring settlements, confiscations and checkpoints continued.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.