|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
ENDORSEMENT OF ROLE OF PARLIAMENTS, INTER-PARLIAMENTARY ORGANIZATIONS
IN ADVANCING ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE PROCESS CAPS CYPRUS MEETING
Final Communiqué Expresses Alarm over Status of Peace Process;
Chairman Says Gaza Assault Fractured Hopes, Remapped Political Landscape
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
NICOSIA, Cyprus, 7 May -- The International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace concluded this evening with a firm endorsement of the special role of national parliaments and inter-parliamentary organizations in advancing the faltering peace process.
A statement issued by the Meeting’s organizers ‑‑ the Palestinian Rights Committee ‑‑ capping two days of meetings, press conferences and consultations ‑‑ encouraged parliamentarians to develop closer cooperation among themselves, with Israeli and Palestinian lawmakers, and with the United Nations and the Committee, with a view to supporting a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region, including a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine.
The final communiqué by the Meeting’s organizers, who had brought together a range of legislators from the Middle East region and beyond, policymakers, envoys, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, noted the valid recommendations that had emerged to strengthen the role of parliamentarians at the national, regional, and international levels in contributing to resolving the question of Palestine. It called on the Committee, in collaboration with the relevant inter-parliamentary organizations, to examine those proposals with a view to their eventual implementation. The participants urged the new Israeli Government to declare its support for the two-State solution.
The statement also expressed serious concern about the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and particular alarm about the status of the peace process in the wake of Israel’s military assault on Gaza. Participants were appalled by the lack of any tangible improvement of the situation in Gaza.
Speaking on behalf of the host Government of Cyprus this evening, Michalis Stavrinos thanked the organizers of the Meeting, the United Nations, the Committee and the House of Representatives of Cyprus for their initiative to organize the event during a very critical period for the Middle East process. The selection of the venue ‑‑ in Cyprus ‑‑ was indicative of the pivotal role the parties to the conflict could play if they were guided by the rules of international law, full respect for human rights and for adherence to the commitments they had undertaken. The geographical proximity of the island to the Middle East region allowed it to act as a useful springboard towards peace and prosperity, as Europe had done after two catastrophic wars.
The Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, thanked the people and Government of Cyprus for hosting the Meeting at the present critical moment. Since Annapolis, he said, Palestinians had negotiated in good faith, but they had not succeeded in reaching agreement with the Israelis. Many said that the Palestinians had significantly improved the security situation in the Occupied Territory. Yet, not only had the Israelis not abided by their obligations, but by their own admission, settlement activities during the negotiations had increased 17-fold in comparison to the year before, and instead of making life reasonable for the Palestinians, the number of checkpoints had increased from 540 to 640.
In other words, he said, while Palestinians were negotiating in good faith, Israelis were creating an atmosphere that was not conducive to the promised results. So Annapolis failed. For the international community to succeed in a further round of negotiations ‑‑ if there was to be a next round ‑‑ lessons should be learned, “or we will be negotiating for the next hundred years”. Under the prevailing conditions, nothing more should be expected. So, if results were sought ‑‑ and the Palestinians were sick and tired of living under occupation; “we want our freedom, we want our own independent State” ‑‑ then was it not logical to remove the obstacles that had led to the failure of Annapolis from the path of the next round of negotiations?
There was international consensus, a unanimous position, at the United Nations, and in the international community as a whole, of what the solution should be, he said, adding that even the United States was part of that consensus. So with that global consensus on what needed to be done to accomplish peace, and a global consensus on the need to remove the obstacles, as well as what those obstacles were ‑‑ then where was the problem and what were the challenges? Governments, parliamentarians, and civil society had to muster the political will to see to it that those obstacles were removed and to bring everyone into compliance with that international consensus. Ways must be found to bring Israel into compliance. It was unproductive to continue to analyse the situation. Only practical suggestions would lead to success in this endeavour.
In closing remarks, the Palestinian Rights Committee Chairman and Chair of the Meeting, Paul Badji ( Senegal) said it had been gratifying to see the extent to which parliamentarians were engaged in trying to find a solution to that decades-old conflict and in making a difference. As one speaker had said, inter-parliamentary diplomacy could be effective when intergovernmental dialogue was deadlocked. Indeed, that might be the present challenge. The parliamentarians at this meeting had made it possible to step out of the habitual paradigms and had shown the participants new ways to create a climate conducive to a new era of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. That could only come from a firm commitment to upholding the rights and legitimate aspirations of both peoples.
Everyone was aware of what needed to be done to bring peace, he said, agreeing with the previous speaker. But presently, there was a harsh reality, with many fractured hopes, requiring a response filled with understanding, goodwill and determination. Everyone was also aware that the task of bringing peace to the Middle East had now been rendered even more difficult in the wake of the military assault on Gaza in December and January and the new political landscape. Yet, none of those issues, no matter how sensitive and politically and emotionally laden, could be excluded from the peace negotiations if a viable and lasting peace was to be achieved. An alternative to violence based on respect for international law must be found.
He said that the international community, acting through Governments and parliaments, had the legal and moral responsibilities to strive for peace, despite the current obstacles. It was time to apply the principles of international law as enshrined in United Nations resolutions, including the principle of land for peace. The new political landscape in the Middle East allowed, at best, for very cautious optimism. Yet, the unacceptable situation of more than 40 years of continuous occupation must be urgently redressed to allow both Israelis and Palestinians to coexist in peace and security. The Committee would continue to raise awareness of all aspects of the question of Palestine, in accordance with its mandate, until the occupation was brought to an end and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved in all its aspects. He thanked participants and the Government of Cyprus.
Earlier, a third plenary considered coordination undertaken by lawmakers to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, through national, regional and other initiatives. They explored frameworks for action, as well as the complementary roles of the legislative and executive branches. Finally, they asked themselves how parliamentarians could work with the United Nations and other entities.
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Member, Palestinian Legislative Council, Ramallah, said there were ideas aplenty; what was needed were ways to implement them. Peace in the Middle East required ending the occupation, but some in Israel were sceptical and afraid, and they did not see the price the other party was paying. Parliamentary diplomacy was not new; there had been many initiatives. As far as Israeli-Palestinian peace was concerned, he recalled a 1992 plan of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) involving the Mediterranean region in the peace process. The process came in the wake of an earlier IPU initiative of 1986. At the time, international politics centred on holding an international conference on the Middle East, and the IPU considered having a parliamentary dimension as a contribution, for which it voted to create a committee representing the five geographical regions.
Continuing, he said that after the Madrid and Oslo conferences, the IPU committee was transformed into a committee on Middle East issues, with the aim of advancing the peace negotiations. Now, he had heard this morning an elaborate explanation of how another regional parliamentary assembly, in the Mediterranean, was thinking of contributing to advancing the peace process. Divergent attempts would not produce the desired results. What was needed was a serious, genuine attempt to bring all those initiatives into one; not how to bring forth new ideas, but how to implement the abundant plans for peace that were already on the table. And parliaments, as the conscience of the people, had a legal, public and moral responsibility to ensure that provisions of internal law were protected.
MICHAEL REINPRECHT, Head of Unit EuroMed, European Parliament, Brussels, detailed via a PowerPoint presentation the European Parliament’s 22 to 24 February fact-finding mission to Gaza, which had taken the Parliament’s Bureau and Bureau enlarged to Cairo, Gaza, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman. This mission had taken place at a critical moment, both for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The delegation, led by the European Parliament and its President, Hans-Gert Pottering, had insisted on a two-State solution and on a political solution with Iran. It also had maintained that a strengthened Palestinian economy and security situation could not substitute for the two-State solution; that was made very clear.
Speaking personally, he said he had seen the results of the assault with his own eyes, and he could only repeat what President Pottering had repeatedly said to everyone during this fact-finding mission: “‘Each and every individual, regardless of their religion or nationality, had the same dignity, and that must be’” ‑‑ according to President Pottering ‑‑ “‘the guiding principle for all countries of the United Nations, especially in the conflict zones of the Middle East.’”
HECTOR AMIGO, Member, Cuban National Assembly, President of the Commission for the Environment, Cuba, said parliamentarians’ responsibility was “colossal and permanent” in cases of foreign occupation. Such was the case with Israel, which continued to submit the Palestinian people to grave violations of their most basic rights. Expressions like “rejection” and “injustice” were unavoidable when reflecting upon the deplorable situation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Israeli conduct was assured impunity by the support of the United States Government in the Security Council and in other international forums, in disregard of the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter. Evidence of that complicity was the irrational and shameful use of the veto right wielded in favour of its interventionist ally in the Middle East on numerous occasions.
Paradoxically, he said, the same country that provided its immoral and unconditional support to the Israeli massacre of the Palestinian people in the twenty-first century adjudged itself the right to create a list of terrorist countries in which Cuba was included, together with Iran, Sudan, and Syria, as divulged in the State Department’s annual report on Terrorism on 30 April. That double standard was unacceptable.
Noting that Cuba’s parliament had adopted a declaration immediately after the unjustified aggression in the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008 condemning the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of sophisticated and massive extermination weapons upon men, women, children, and the elderly ‑‑ all civilians ‑‑ leaving 1,400 dead and 5,000 wounded. Infrastructure had been destroyed, including the Gaza Office of the Palestinian Legislative Council and thousands of houses.
“We, parliamentarians from all over the world, should demand our Governments to exert a more effective and concerted pressure in the United Nations in favour of the Palestinian cause,” he said, calling on them to urge the United Nations to strongly condemn the brutal blockade and lack of access for humanitarian aid to Gaza. The Organization should insist on the free movement of Palestinian civilians, the entrance of necessary products, and the economic and trade exchanges of the inhabitants of the zone with the outside world. Parliamentarians should repudiate the compulsory scattering of 4.6 million Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East and increase their support to efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crimes committed in Gaza.
He also urged parliamentarians worldwide to support the recent call made by the Inter-parliamentary Union urging the immediate release of the parliamentarians of the Palestinian Legislative Council that were arbitrarily detained by the Israeli authorities. The Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power manifested a profound solidarity with that because its Government, parliament and people had been struggling for 11 years for the freedom of the Five Heroes illegally detained in United States’ prisons for defending their country from terrorist actions that had resulted in the deaths of 3,478 Cubans.
Parliamentarians must continuously denounce the illegal building and expanding of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, which were attempts to artificially transform the demographic composition of the city to prevent it from becoming the capital of a new and sovereign Palestinian State, he also said. Additionally, they should condemn the construction of “the wall of shame” and the hundreds of checkpoints throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
He concluded by reaffirming the Cuban National Assembly’s rejection of the illegal Israeli occupation in Palestine and other Arab territories. It also condemned the violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people and of international humanitarian law. Any defence of a just cause in any part of the world could always count on the support of the Cuban parliamentarians.
YARIV OPPENHEIMER, General Director, Peace Now, Tel Aviv, said inside Israel, efforts were under way to convince the public that it was in the interest of living a normal life, and for the sake of global recognition of Israel, to end the occupation and the conflict with the Palestinians. When selling that idea to Israelis, they were very sceptical; they said they were ready for the two-State solution, but they did not believe that the day after they withdrew from the West Bank, they would experience peace and security. Some Israelis felt that Arabs just wanted to destroy Israel and not accept the Israeli State next to theirs.
He stressed that the situation was not the fault of any one side; the reality was that both sides in the conflict had made tremendous steps towards peace. On the other hand, both sides had also made tremendous mistakes, some of which had been tragic and some created because of instigation by outside forces. One reason Oslo had not succeeded was because Hamas had not wanted it to, and it had made that clear by blowing up buses in Israeli cities and towns and making it impossible for the Israelis to believe in peace. That made Hamas enemies of peace and of the two-State solution, on both sides. It was not that Israel wanted to keep the West Bank forever and ever.
Parliamentarians must look at the situation, at the two sides of the coin, from a balanced perspective, he said. He had condemned the war in Gaza, but it was a reaction to missiles fired from the Strip into Israeli cities. The rockets were fired because Israel was closing Gaza and imposing a curfew. That, in turn, was being done because Hamas had taken the Gaza Strip by force and was insisting it would not stop the fighting but would get even more weapons from Iran until it could overcome Israel by force. So, there was a complicated reality there. To restrain Israel and pressure and boycott would not solve the problem. The only way to solve the conflict was to start a political channel that would lead to the two-State solution.
Continuing, he acknowledged there would be people in both societies that would fight against that solution, but both societies had to stand up to those extremist forces. The goal of the parliamentarians, both inside Israel and outside, was first and foremost to create communication. One problem for the Israelis was the lack of communication with the Palestinian side, and with the rest of the Arab world. That was why meetings like these were effective and could influence decision makers; when a member of the Knesset or even an adviser attended such a meeting, he or she gained more information, another perspective, and could seek to change policy. The decision makers must be compelled to create a political channel.
STAVROS A. ZENIOS, Rector, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, explained that his message was twofold. First, he highlighted the role of dialogue and of the universal values as the oil that smoothed the friction between the forces of integration and fragmentation, and the need for creative leaders that yielded the power of universal values to exercise moral authority. And second, the roles of the institutions of higher learning in cultivating those values. Now, it was not only specific knowledge that those institutions generated, but the very same process on which scientific discovery was based, the principles of scientific inquiry, had intrinsic value as well beyond the walls of those institutions.
Noting that Cyprus was the easternmost point of the European Union, he said that on the tip of that spear, at the easternmost part of the island, stood the Monastery of Apostolos Andreas. In the yard of the Monastery, merchants were selling their products to visitors. The Monastery, abandoned by a military administration that wanted the island divided along ethnic and religious lines, was falling apart, waiting in vain for the Christian pilgrims. The Muslim merchants were waiting in vain for the buyers. The abandoned Monastery and the destitute merchants were a grim reminder of the price of failure.
In the brief discussion that preceded the readout of the final communiqué, participants drew attention, once again, to the issue of housing demolitions. One speaker warned of the danger of reproducing old rhetoric, saying that that started to lose its power to affect people. A panellist suggested that the Committee reflect on changing its modalities, as Mr. Abdullah had suggested an emphasis on not whether occupation should end, but on how to work collectively to produce that result.
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