United Nations Asian and Pacific Meeting on Question of Palestine Addresses Issue of Jerusalem

9 June 2009
GA/PAL/1130

United Nations Asian and Pacific Meeting on Question of Palestine Addresses Issue of Jerusalem

9 June 2009
General Assembly
GA/PAL/1130
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

UNITED NATIONS ASIAN AND PACIFIC MEETING ON QUESTION

 

OF PALESTINE ADDRESSES ISSUE OF JERUSALEM

Two-State Solution Impossible if Israeli

Policies in City Are Not Addressed, Speakers Warn

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

JAKARTA, Indonesia, 9 June –- The United Nations Asian and Pacific Meeting on the Question of Palestine addressed the complex question of Jerusalem this morning, with experts warning that unless the issue was addressed immediately, a two-State solution would be impossible.

The Ambassador of Palestine to Malaysia, the first speaker in a forum on “The imperative of a just solution of the question of Jerusalem”, described the many ways in which Israeli policies were encroaching on East Jerusalem through settlements, road and wall construction, and administrative measures, saying that Palestinians would not accept a State without East Jerusalem as its capital.  However, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was willing to consider a solution whereby Jerusalem would become a city open to both Palestinians and Israelis –- the capital of two States.

An Israeli inhabitant of Jerusalem warned that the “holy basin” was the “volcanic core” of the issue and that extreme settler organizations sought actively to displace Palestinians and derail the peace process.  He warned United States President Barack Obama that there was no alternative to engagement on the problem of Jerusalem, and that non-engagement would be the “death knell” for the two-State solution.

A Palestinian planner from Jerusalem described five possible scenarios for a future Jerusalem, one of which he called the “City of Bridges” scenario.  It would contain two capitals, for Palestine and Israel, politically divided but physically undivided -- a city of diversity and equality, and a universal centre of conflict resolution.

A theologian from Indonesia presented an ethical point of view, stressing the necessity of a city open to Jews, Christians, Muslims and everybody else, under international guarantees, and calling for protection of the rights of those now living in Jerusalem.

A journalist from Brussels presented the perspective from the European Union, while an international relations professor in Indonesia described the strong support for the Palestinian cause among the country’s civil society organizations.

Presentations by Experts

ABDELAZIZ ABOUGHOUSH, Ambassador of Palestine to Malaysia, noted that Jerusalem had for centuries been the political, administrative, cultural and religious centre of Palestine, and that without East Jerusalem, there could be no economically and politically viable Palestinian State.  Since 1967, Israel had systematically pursued policies aimed at ensuring exclusive control over the city at the expense of the indigenous Christian and Muslim Palestinian populations, thereby undermining the possibility of a viable two-State solution.

Israel had attempted to incorporate occupied East Jerusalem through the construction of illegal settlements that now formed a ring around the Palestinian population, sealing it off from the rest of the West Bank, he said.  In order to maintain the demographic balance between Jews and Palestinians within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, Israel could strip Palestinian East Jerusalemites of their residency rights if they chose to reside outside East Jerusalem.  Moreover, Israel had repeatedly refused non-Jerusalemite Palestinians the right to reside in the city, even for the purpose of family unification.

He said that in addition to suffocating Palestinian urban growth by confiscating Palestinian lands and constructing settlements, Israel had adopted discriminatory zoning policies, as a result of which Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem often stayed empty until Israel confiscated them for “public purposes”, including illegal settlement construction.  Those policies had resulted in severe overcrowding.  Since March 1993, Israel had denied more than 3 million Palestinians access to the city, including to the holy places or to medical treatment available only in East Jerusalem hospitals.

The route of the separation wall in and around Occupied East Jerusalem completely isolated it from the rest of the West Bank and incorporated the last available space for much-needed Palestinian growth while facilitating the construction and expansion of settlements, he said.  The wall also severed the national transportation axis connecting the West Bank with Jerusalem.

Describing the principles of Security Council resolution 242 (1967), he said the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem had never been recognized and neither had the subsequent 1980 Basic Law, which declared Jerusalem the “complete and united” capital of Israel.  Under resolution 252 adopted in 1968, the Security Council considered all Israeli legislative and administrative measures that altered the legal status of Jerusalem as invalid.  All of Jerusalem was the subject of permanent status negotiations, and since East Jerusalem was occupied and an integral part of the West Bank, Israel had no legal claims on the city.  All its actions aimed at changing Jerusalem’s status were illegal.

He said Palestinians would not accept a State without East Jerusalem as its capital, but the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was willing to consider a number of creative solutions.  For example, Jerusalem could become a city open to both Palestinians and Israelis -– the capital of two States.  Whatever the specific solution, there could be no integrated Palestinian national economy and, thus, no sustainable resolution of the conflict, without a negotiated solution on Jerusalem that guaranteed the historical rights of Palestinians in the city.

The daily creation of “facts on the ground” in East Jerusalem undermined the credibility of the Palestinian Authority and weakened popular support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, he said.  More Israeli settlers –- and fewer Palestinian residents –- would only make eventual Israeli concessions on Jerusalem much harder.  Israel’s actions in and around the city, therefore, constituted the most acute challenges to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

DANIEL SEIDEMANN, Legal Counsel, Ir Amim, Jerusalem, said the city would be the place where President Obama’s initiatives, as announced in his recent Cairo speech, would fail or succeed.  A political agreement was still available, but there was no guarantee that that would continue.  Since Annapolis, there had been a surge in settlement activities in East Jerusalem, and separating Palestinian and Israeli neighbourhoods was becoming increasingly difficult.  Massive settlements such as the E1 and E2 areas would cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank, sounding the death knell for a two-State solution.

Regarding Israeli activities around the city’s “holy basin”, he said the Old City and its historic and religious sites formed the “volcanic core” of the conflict.  Jerusalem had three mutually incompatible religious narratives and two incompatible national narratives, all sharing the same space.  A final-status agreement must be forged in the historic basin.  Under the radar, a war had been going on for the last three years.  The demolition of 88 homes had been a concerted attempt to reduce the Palestinian presence at that volcanic core.

If current trends continued, the two-State solution would be lost without an alternative, he warned, pointing out that extreme settler organizations sought actively to displace Palestinians and derail the peace process.  The plan was to strengthen Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in an exclusionary Jewish vision.  The Government supported the steamrolling of the competing narratives in Jerusalem into an exclusionary settler narrative.  The plan made no mention of Islamic and Christian holy sites.

Turning to President Obama’s initiatives, he said there was no alternative to engagement on the problem of Jerusalem.  If settlement expansion in the city was ignored and the time came to engage on final status issues, there would be nothing left to talk about.  What was happening in the Old City was toxic to the President’s global vision.  Jerusalem would erupt because of real or perceived threats to holy places.  That would be wind in the sails to the enemies of peace, such as Hezbollah and Al-Qaida, who sought to transform a manageable conflict into a holy war.  If President Obama ignored Jerusalem, the city would hunt him down, with consequences for his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said Israel should be held accountable for its actions and the international shift in that direction was favourable.  Most people of faith were pro-peace and should be heard.  Jerusalem should be Jerusalem.  There was now one “master of the universe” -- President Obama –- and it must now be seen whether he could walk the walk.  The signs were good.  “If we blow it this time, it will be over,” he said, adding that there would not be another President like him for a long time to come.

RAMI M. NASRALLAH, Head of the Board of Directors, International Peace and Cooperation Center, Jerusalem, said a group of Palestinian and Israeli planners had thought about the future of Jerusalem and had come up with five possible scenarios to address the “historic mistake” of annexation.  Recent Israeli policies wished to establish a “united Jewish metropolitan”, for which they would need to get rid of the city’s Palestinian majority.  Palestinians now controlled only 14 per cent of the territory in East Jerusalem.  The rhetoric of unification had been replaced by the rhetoric of separation.  Israelis now wanted a Jewish Jerusalem, with the Old City at its core, as their capital.  Some 35,000 Palestinians lived in the Old City, 3,000 of them Christians.  Settlers wished to impose full sovereignty over that area.

He said one possible scenario was the “besieged city”, in which the Palestinian Authority was weak and a strong Israeli Government lacked interest in reaching a final-status agreement.  Palestinians in the city continued to live between the Israeli and Palestinian systems while belonging to neither.  Civil society was not engaged and the international community not interested in Jerusalem.  Such a scenario would lead to the “scorched earth” scenario, in which the Israeli Government was strong enough to implement its disengagement plan in East Jerusalem and by which East Jerusalem would be separated from the West Bank.  Again there was a lack of interest on the part of the international community, a scenario that would lead to a religious war.

A third scenario was one of a “bi-national city”, which might be acceptable to the Palestinians in Jerusalem since they wished to be part of the city, even if it meant recognizing Israeli occupation.  If that scenario was not acceptable, there could be a “hybrid city”, where Palestinians would have a kind of functional autonomy.  That scenario could lead to the ideal:  the “city of bridges”, whereby Jerusalem would be an open city, but divided between two sovereign States.  Jerusalem could then play a role as a world centre of humanity, instead of a world centre for Jews.

The “city of bridges” would contain two capitals, for Palestine and Israel, politically divided but physically undivided; a city of diversity and equality; and a universal centre of conflict resolution.  While Jerusalem did not belong to the settlers, but to humanity, extremist settlers were promoting a clash of civilizations and they could easily be successful.

FRANZ MAGNIS-SUSENO, SJ, a theology expert in Jakarta, said his remarks were not political, as he had no idea how to solve the problem, but he wished to present an ethical point of view.  Suffice to say that a solution could only be found if Palestinians and Israelis really wanted to work together and were ready to make compromises.

Two considerations were central to a positive solution, he said.  The first was acknowledging that Jerusalem was a most holy place for all three Abrahamitic religions:  for Jews the city of the Temple built by Solomon; for Christians the place where Jesus had been crucified; and for Muslims the place where the Prophet Mohammed had ascended into heaven.

The second point was that no solution was acceptable unless it respected the rights of those now living in Jerusalem, he said.  Any changes in the city’s urban structures should therefore be stopped immediately.  As Jerusalem was a most holy place, free and safe access for Jews, Christians, Muslims and anybody else wishing to visit had to be guaranteed.  That access would be impossible if Jerusalem became the capital either of Palestine or of Israel, as both States should have their effective capitals elsewhere.  Safe and free access must be the result of a compromise between the Governments of Israel and a free Palestine, and must be internationally guaranteed.

People now living in the old and the new Jerusalem had a right to their habitats and must be able to live a normal life, he stressed.  Ethnic cleansing of any kind must be strictly rejected.  If people had to be moved, it should happen in the same legal and human ways in which such moves happened in other places.  The rights of the local people must be internationally guaranteed and the whole status of Jerusalem must be fully guaranteed by international treaties.

ANDREW RETTMAN, Journalist, EUobserver, Brussels, said European Union foreign policy decisions had been made unanimously during meetings of the bloc’s Foreign Ministers at the Council of the European Union.  The European Union Presidency, currently held by the Czech Republic, drafted foreign policy proposals that were then taken up in working groups behind closed doors.  The group covering Israel was the Mashreq-Maghreb, more commonly known as “MaMa”.

It was the European Commission’s job to carry out most of the Council’s decisions, he said.  In the case of Israel, that had meant negotiation of its Association Agreement in 2000 and the implementation of the Action Plan –- a common European Union-Israel reform agenda –- from 2005 until 2009.  The Commission produced annual reports on Israel’s compliance with human rights norms, and monitored European Union-Israel trade.  It gave some €2 million a year for joint projects with Israel, compared to €486 million in aid to the Palestinian people.  European Union-Israel trade, however, was worth more than €25 billion a year.  The European Union’s highest foreign-policy official was the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the country holding the Presidency, followed by Javier Solana, head of the Council’s Secretariat.  The External Relations Commissioner was expected to follow their line.  The 27 European Union member States had their own bilateral relations with Israel.

He said the decision to upgrade European Union-Israel relations had been taken by European Union and Israeli Foreign Ministers at an Association Council in June 2008.  It had been endorsed formally by European Union Foreign Ministers last December, a few days before fighting had erupted in Gaza.  The European Commission was tasked with drafting a detailed new action plan for the upgrade, as the current one had expired in April 2009.  In December 2008, the then French Presidency had drafted a document titled “EU Heads of Mission Report on East Jerusalem”.

The report, published by EUobserver online, stated that some 190,000 Jewish settlers already lived in East Jerusalem, he recalled.  Since 2007, another 3,000 housing units had been approved.  In that period, 95 Palestinian houses had been demolished, with another 330 demolitions pending.  Israel had expropriated 35 per cent of East Jerusalem’s territory.  Palestinians represented 34 per cent of the city’s people, but only 5 to 10 per cent of the municipal budget was spent on services for their communities.

The report said:  “ Israel is, by practical means, actively pursuing the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem”, and that its actions were creating facts on the ground that were “undermining prospects for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and a sustainable two-State solution”.  It also spoke of Israeli “state collusion” in helping extreme settler groups organize archaeological digs in religiously sensitive areas.

He said the European Union decision to freeze the planned upgrade with Israel had been taken after events in Gaza and coincided with the election of Israel’s new Government.  However, it was intimately linked with the settlement problem and with the unwillingness of European Union States to endorse the Netanyahu policy of allowing “natural growth”.  Although there were no public records of the freeze, the European Union observer had obtained a copy of a letter from one of the Foreign Ministers, which stated, among other things:  “The European Union must see to it that Israel respects its commitments in the peace process.  It must halt settlement expansion [and] … drastically improve movement and access of the Palestinians [in the West Bank]”.

EUobserver’s research indicated that Portugal, Sweden and Belgium were willing to veto the upgrade and that the Czech Presidency of the European Union as well as the Netherlands were the most keen to go ahead.  The upgrade debate was continuing at the level of the MaMa working group in Brussels.  A draft European Union declaration showed that the freeze was set to stay in place.  It stated that the European Union was ready to “continue strengthening [its] bilateral relationship” with Israel, but gave no timetable for the upgrade.  As one European Union diplomat put it, “We freeze the upgrade, but we don’t say that we freeze the upgrade.”  The Commission had since then failed to put the new action plan forward.

Mr. Rettman said that the upgrade debate inside the European Union had shown which of its member countries and institutions were prepared to take a stand on the settlement issue, and which countries in practice downgraded the problem of East Jerusalem.  The question now remained how far the European Union was willing to push the problem of settlements in its search for a “just solution on the question of Jerusalem”.   Even if Israel complied with the European Union request to stop settlement expansion, it would leave the problem of “facts on the ground”, such as the 190,000 Jewish settlers, new walls, roads and tram-lines built to cement their presence.

ISMAIL PATEL, Advisory Board Member, Conflicts Forum, said a solution to the issue of Jerusalem was not a King Solomon’s dilemma.  A solution was possible but it would require both pragmatism and justice.  Solutions had been proposed, but there had been no political will.  Another problem was that occupation was an asset for Israel.  Although the Palestinian community was softening its attitudes on refugees and borders, it remained intransigent on Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, Israel was not only a colonialist Power but also an apartheid one, as it carried out indiscriminate oppression of other people.  In order to have justice, one must realize that the Jews had suffered dispossession and the Holocaust and now wanted a State of their own.  Over the last 60 years, however, the Palestinians had suffered as well.  In order to arrive at a solution, one must start by rejecting the notion of an extended Jerusalem.  The map must be restored to what it had been.  Anything beyond that was non-negotiable.  Access to holy sites, for the Jewish people and anybody else, must be guaranteed.  To that end there was a need for security and confidence-building measures. 

An administrative executive body for the holy sites in Jerusalem could be created, consisting of non-Israelis and non-Palestinian, but elected by them, he said.  Access must be guaranteed by the international community.  Another scenario was to accept Israelis and Palestinians in the executive body.  A different option was to give the holy cites over to a mandated body, such as the Quartet, for a set period, after which negotiations could take place.  A reconciliation committee should also be created.

Mr. Patel stressed the need to create the political will to make Israel understand that occupation was a burden.  The Palestinian leadership should go from country to country, pleading for sanctions and boycotts.  It was disappointing that the Palestinians did not wish to go down that road because negotiations were going on.  The settler movement was very violent and vocal, but the Palestinian community had bent over backwards for 60 years to please the international community.  Change was possible but it required action from civil society, Governments and international organizations.

AZYUMARDI AZRA, Associate Professor and Head of Strategic Studies and International Relations Programme, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Selangor, Indonesia, said that Indonesia’s support for the Palestinian cause was very strong among civil society, which sometimes had domestic political repercussions.  The sooner the conflict could be solved, the better for the Middle East and Indonesia.  The Indonesian position on the question of Palestine originated from its Constitution, which stipulated the country’s opposition to any form of imperialism and neo-colonialism.  He stressed that the Indonesian position was not based on religious solidarity, even though the majority of Indonesia was Muslim.  Indonesia supported the two-State solution and emphasized the right of Israel to exist. 

Civil society groups strongly supported the Palestinian cause, he said.  Moderate Muslim civil society organizations supported the cause on the basis of realities on the ground and provided material and political support.  Most non-governmental organizations were charitable fund-raising bodies, while groups like Mercy and the Red Crescent sent medical assistance.  Many groups were “neoconservative” -- Muslims who were conservative but not radical.  Islamic political parties pressured Parliament and the Government to take more decisive measures against Israel and the United States, but the pressure on the latter was diminishing now that Mr. Obama, who had spent part of his life in Indonesia, was President.

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