|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
United States, Russian Federation Delegates Urge Resumption of Talks,
At International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace
Parties Should Seize Opportunity Offered by President Barack Obama,
As Future Leader Might Not Be So Prudent or Fair-Minded, Meeting Hears
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
QAWRA, Malta, 13 February ‑‑ While some might take issue with the United States’ past actions in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, few had any doubt that the country, under President Barack Obama, was committed to being an honest broker, its representative said today as the International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace entered its second day.
The United States Ambassador to Malta, Douglas W. Kmiec, triggering debate under the morning’s theme, “Breaking the status quo: Creating a political climate conducive to the advancement of the peace process”, said the United States Constitution made clear that the voice that mattered was the voice of the President, and that voice today belonged to Barack Obama. It was one of discernment and balance, and the parties to this dispute should not miss having that voice, rather than a possible future one, which might not be so prudent or fair-minded.
It was the Obama Administration’s intention to be a fair-minded mediator, the envoy said. “No one should assume that the United States presently came to the table as Israel’s lawyer or as Palestine’s apologist.” And it advances no one’s interest to merely have gatherings where only one side was heard and all that occurred was the railing against the other, or a catalogue of past sins and transgressions. The United States’ strategy remained a two-pronged approach to achieve the goal of two autonomous and fully functioning States, living side by side in peace and security.
The first prong was to encourage the parties to enter into negotiations to reach agreement on all permanent status issues, and the second prong was to assist the Palestinians in building their economic and political institutions. The two objectives were mutually reinforcing; both were essential, and neither could be attained without the other.
The Ambassador presented an outline of a settlement plan, based on, among other things, the 1967 lines, with appropriate swaps and territorial compensation to Palestine. He said negotiations should proceed on a variety of tracks, including: high-level direct talks to establish a framework and positive atmosphere; parallel or so-called proximity talks on key issues between the United States and Israel, and the United States and Palestine; and lower-level direct talks in which negotiators worked through the details of the issues.
The Deputy Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Relations at the Council of the Federation at the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Ziyad Sabsabi, supported all efforts being exerted towards a quick resumption of negotiations, leading to a permanent solution. The first problem was the settlements, and solving it was very important to starting negotiations. The position of the Russian Federation was well known, namely, that a complete freeze on all settlement activity was vital to progress. It was completely illogical to have unilateral decisions.
He also called for Palestinian reconciliation, and his Government would continue to work with Hamas towards achieving Palestinian unity. He was convinced that the efforts being exerted would lead to an independent Palestinian State, living in peace with Israel, in the not-too-distant future. It would be wonderful to find immediate solutions on the basis of the United Nations Charter’s Chapter VII, but the right modality had to be found. The Security Council had to look at that and then vote on it. First, a format should be found, which would convince Israel to stop building settlements so the talks could resume, he said.
Among the experts who addressed the morning meeting were Robert Rydberg, Head of Middle East and North Africa Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, who said the European Union Foreign Ministers in December 2009 had elaborated detailed conclusions on the matter. They were not new, but they were voiced with increased clarity. The expectations of the international community should be explicitly set out, starting with the need to deal with all final status issues, above all, the 1967 borders. A way must also be found through negotiations to share Jerusalem as the capital. The European Union felt that actions on the ground prejudged negotiations, but it was ready to work with the United States to get the talks started.
From the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Dann, Chief of Regional Political Affairs, said the struggle between the two parties was of iconic importance for the United Nations. Its responsibility for Palestinians, for Palestine refugees and for the principles on which a solution must be based were well known and guided a huge amount of the United Nations’ work. It was also true that Israel’s place within the United Nations and among the family of nations formed a very important narrative context for the Organization.
He said that time was of the essence. The situation would not stand still; domestic political situations dictated that, as did facts on the ground. Whatever the incredible difficulties and complexities of this situation, the sooner the process got under way and the sooner it had a strong third party role, the best chance of guarantees.
Also making presentations this morning were: Omar Nahar, Director of the Negotiations Coordination Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Jordan; Mohammad Barakeh, Member of the Knesset; Yossi Beilin, President of Beilink-Business Foreign Affairs and former Member of the Knesset; and Ibrahim Khraishi, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Meeting was scheduled to reconvene at 3 p.m. for the conclusion.
The second day opened with a plenary entitled “Breaking the status quo: Creating a political climate conducive to the advancement of the peace process”, which had as its sub-theme international and regional approaches to promoting a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
DOUGLAS W. KMIEC, Ambassador of the United States to Malta, said that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy had been described as truly ambitious. He had redefined the United States’ view of the world, and it was fair to say that his approach of seeing the United States as one nation among many allowed the world to see the United States in a different way as well. In the 1980s, when Mr. Kmiec was then President Ronald Reagan’s constitutional lawyer, the United States was the counter-balancing super-Power to the Soviet Union. Today, there was no Soviet Union, and the concept of super-Power was out of date.
He recalled that President Obama had told the United Nations that the United States acted collaboratively and not unilaterally, with the expectation that all nations would recognize and assume their appropriate role to secure the defence of the world against terrorism and any of its local variations. What had been said at the Meeting demanding that the United States unilaterally do this or that in respect to Israel or Palestine might fail to perceive that collaborative approach which President Obama had brought to foreign policy. The United States did not impose its point of view, but it shared in that basic truth articulated by Pope Paul VI that if one wished to work for peace, one must first establish justice, and to work for justice, one must see the truth of the human person.
That truth ‑‑ whether one was born in Tel Aviv, Ramallah or Chicago, whether Jew, Muslim or Christian ‑‑ was to live well, to learn as fully as one’s talents allowed, to love and be loved by friends and family, and to leave a legacy for the next generation, he said. President Obama sought to re-conceptualize American foreign policy in terms of justice and in terms of the truth of the human person. For the matter at hand, he had clearly articulated that Islam was not an enemy. At the same time, the entire world must endeavour to prevent terrorism. However, the global war on terror was not the sum and substance of American foreign policy nor the sole preoccupation or responsibility of the United States.
In the matter of Israel and Palestine, he said it was the Obama Administration’s intention to be a fair-minded mediator. While some might take issue with his country’s past actions, few had any doubt that the United States, under President Obama, was committed to being an honest broker. “No one should assume that the United States presently came to the table as Israel’s lawyer or as Palestine’s apologist.” And it advances no one’s interest to merely have gatherings where only one side was heard and all that occurred was the railing against the other, or a catalogue of past sins and transgressions. Along with other civilized nations, the United States condemned the Holocaust and all forms of terrorism or violence against civilians. But that condemnation in itself was not sufficient to guide the way ahead.
He said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had continued for far too long, with far too high a cost to the people of Israel and to the surrounding Arab communities and nations. The United States’ strategy continued to be a two-pronged approach to achieve the goal of two autonomous and fully functioning States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. The first prong was to encourage the parties to enter into negotiations to reach agreement on all permanent status issues, and the second prong was to help the Palestinians build their economic and political institutions. The two objectives were mutually reinforcing, both were essential, and neither could be attained without the other.
As for how to achieve those objectives, he said it was quite simple: the parties should come back to the table now, without precondition, and fairness and justice must guide the effort. With respect to Israel, President Obama had made it plain that continuation of Israeli settlement activity was without legitimacy. He had said this more than once, and “frankly, it is not nice to ignore the President”, he added. Nor had Presidents found it prudent to let themselves be ignored. The American Constitution, after all, began with three words: “We the people”, and ultimately, the people would notice and they would react. With respect to Palestine, the President had made it clear that Palestine must not merely be an amalgam of anti-Semitic hatred and violence, but a viable and economic and political nation-State.
Turning to the way ahead, he said the American leadership had been careful not to be overly prescriptive, to give maximum flexibility to the parties so that the negotiations could succeed within the terms and interests of those more directly affected. Unfortunately, very little had happened in that context, and so now, he would introduce a footnote, which was not necessarily the policy of the United States, but might be worthy of consideration at this Meeting.
He said the settlement should be based on the 1967 lines with appropriate swaps and territorial compensation to Palestine. There must be realism about refugees; Palestine refugees would need to be accommodated in Palestinian territory with compensation and a public apology. Jerusalem must be generally shared: Israel’s capital in the West; Palestine’s capital in the east, with the Old City shared under international auspices. There would need to be an international force stationed along the Jordan River to maintain the security of both sides.
“Yet nothing happens when nothing is happening,” he said. So, the United States was working with the parties to resume negotiations on status issues, including security, borders, refugees and Jerusalem, as soon as possible and with a set timetable for their successful conclusion. As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had said, through good faith negotiations, the parties could mutually agree on an outcome that ended the conflict and reconciled the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable State based on 1967 lines with agreed swaps and the Israeli goal of a Jewish State within secure and recognized borders that reflected subsequent developments and met security requirements.
The Ambassador presented an outline of a settlement plan, based on, among other things, the 1967 lines with appropriate swaps and territorial compensation to Palestine. He said negotiations should proceed on a variety of tracks, including: high-level direct talks to establish a framework and positive atmosphere; parallel or so-called proximity talks on key issues between the United States and Israel and the United States and Palestine; and lower-level direct talks in which negotiators worked through the details of the issues. He hoped this Meeting fit into that multi-venue approach, but he would caution against simply reciting the tragedies of the past, as that did not help matters; it was not diplomacy, but “the stuff of a bad day”.
He said some who criticized the United States’ support of Israel often failed to understand the nature of American politics and democracy, which thrived on multiple branches and levels of government, all of which felt free to speak their mind. But it was clear under the Constitution that the voice that mattered was the voice of the President, and that voice today belonged to Barack Obama ‑‑ and that was a voice of discernment and balance. The parties to this dispute should not miss having that voice, rather than a possible future one, which might not be so prudent or fair-minded.
The United States would fully respect any party that respected full democratic principles, he said. If Hamas wanted to govern, if must be judged at the ballot box, but a single election in 2006 was not a grant of perpetuity; it was one thing to be elected democratically, but it was another to continue to govern democratically. The United States had been clear with Hamas ‑‑ put down your weapons, accept previous agreements, and recognize Israel. If you want peace, you must work for justice. The United States had also been clear about what Israel must do to stop its settlements. Far too little had been said here about the importance of Hamas’ willingness, or unwillingness, to allow the democratic process to prevail, in particular, over violence and disunity.
Long-term peace would not be achieved by an agreement alone, he said. It was critical to match the agreement with a well-functioning Palestinian State. Under the Palestinian Authority’s leadership, governance had advanced at unprecedented pace and level. In closing, he said that peace was not achieved by one side belabouring injuries of the past or by the other seeking to match the injury in the present. If peace was truly desired, then the sides must work for justice.
ZIYAD SABSABI, Deputy Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Relations at the Council of the Federation at the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, said he looked forward to a quick resumption of negotiations, leading to a permanent solution. He supported all efforts being exerted towards that goal. The first problem was the settlements, and solving that problem was very important to starting negotiations. A complete freeze on all settlement activity was vital to progress. It was completely illogical to have unilateral decisions. Decisions must be found that were acceptable to both parties. The unification of the Palestinians was also urgent. He supported the head of the Palestinian Authority, and his country had met regularly with him, most recently, on 16 January, in Moscow. His Government would also continue to work with Hamas towards achieving Palestinian reconciliation. A few days ago, the head of Hamas’ political bureau visited Moscow for negotiations, he noted.
He said that the main task now was not to repeat the human tragedy on Palestinian land, but to ensure a decent social, political and economic life. Missiles fired from Gaza into Israel were unacceptable. At the same time, however, the citizens of Gaza must not be allowed to remain hostages. The main victims of that policy of collective punishment were women and children, which only led to more radicalism and violence. The Quartet must play an increasingly major role. His Government had invited the Quartet to Moscow, at the level of foreign minister, to consider ways to motivate the peace process. It was considering an international conference in Moscow, and though it could not set a precise date, it hoped for its positive achievements.
He was convinced that the efforts being exerted would lead to an independent Palestinian State, living in peace with Israel, in the not-too-distant future. The Russian Federation supported the peace process in the Middle East. It was fulfilling its responsibilities in the international community as a great Power, which understood its place in the world. It would be wonderful to find immediate solutions on the basis of the United Nations Charter’s Chapter VII, but the right modality had to be found. The Security Council had to look at that and then vote on it. First, a format should be found, which would convince Israel to stop building settlements so the talks could resume. That would give effect to parliamentary diplomacy and enhance solidarity between Arab States, he said.
Presentations by Experts
ROBERT RYDBERG, Head of Middle East and North Africa Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, noting that his country had been at the helm of the European Union in the second half of 2009, said that had been a fairly difficult period for the region. The United States’ efforts to create a propitious negotiating climate through a settlements freeze had been frustrated, the Goldstone Report had created international controversy and major difficulties for the Palestinians, and the dangerous situation in Gaza had persisted, and at times, percolated in East Jerusalem. That had evolved against a regional background of a looming confrontation over the situation in Iran.
In terms of how the European Union could promote a negotiating process with chances of success, he said it must take a clear position on developments on the ground, which were putting progress at risk. Negotiations would not start or produce results if the reality and experience of the negotiators was in too sharp contrast with that of the peoples. Suicide bombs and missile attacks undermined the credibility of any Israeli negotiators; settlement policy undermined any Palestinian negotiators. Actions in East Jerusalem could have explosive consequence, and the closure of Gaza only strengthened Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. The European Union had tried to address that both with discreet diplomacy and public action, with modest success on some issues, but not in others, such as settlements or Israeli action in Jerusalem or Gaza.
He said there had been very strong support in the European Union and beyond for a very explicit conclusion by the foreign ministers when they met in December 2009. The positions detailed in those conclusions were not new, but they were voiced with increased clarity. They also provided political reassurance by stating the fundamental objectives of the negotiating process, as 16-plus years after the Oslo Declaration had left all the parties disappointed. The decisions of the Israeli Government on many final status questions produced genuine fear among Palestinians that they would be dragged into a lengthy process with little chance of success. The expectations of the international community needed to be explicitly set out, starting with the need to deal with all final status issues, above all, the 1967 borders. A way must also be found through negotiations to share Jerusalem as the capital.
The European Union felt that actions on the ground prejudged negotiations, but it was ready to work with the United States to get the talks started, and once under way, it would contribute according to the action strategy it had adopted in 2008, he continued. It also intended to provide concrete support to maintain a viable Palestinian partner, as neither meaningful negotiations nor Palestinian statehood were possible without a strong Palestinian partner. He had seen impressive results by the Palestinian Authority under its leadership in terms of improving the financial management and strengthening security in the West Bank. The European Union also called on all Palestinians to promote reconciliation. He also noted that the European Union had a uniquely broad range of instruments with which to work with the region.
ROBERT DANN, Chief of Regional Political Affairs at the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process said that the struggle between the two parties was of iconic importance for the United Nations. Its responsibility for Palestinians, for Palestine refugees and for the principles on which a solution must be based were well known and guided a huge amount of the United Nations’ work. It was also true that Israel’s place within the United Nations and among the family of nations formed a very important narrative context for the Organization. Consistent with the United Nations’ commitment, the Secretary-General was the only Quartet principle with a high-level envoy, Robert Serry, on the ground in Jerusalem, shuttling almost daily between the parties.
In that role, he continued, the United Nations did several things, including maintaining a normative framework. It also sought to ensure that discussions took place within that framework. The Special Coordinator was the eyes and ears of the international community on the ground; reports of United Nations agencies and bodies were coordinated through his Office ‑‑ there were 21 in all on the ground with a determination to step up a focus on Palestinian state-building. There was an intimate relationship between what happened between the negotiators and what happened on the ground between the parties. And it was a key concern of all parties on the ground to narrow that gap.
Turning to the principle of land-for-peace, he said it was Israel’s responsibility to deliver the land, but the responsibility of all to sustain the peace. On the land side of it, the United Nations, like the European Union and the broad cross-section of the international community, retained a clear normative position on settlements in East Jerusalem and on the ground that prejudged those outcomes. Effective monitoring on the ground was needed, as well as effective incentives for both negative and positive behaviour. The Palestinians must demonstrate a readiness to end the conflict with Israel and sustain that end over time. In that regard, there had been a gradual self-empowerment of the Palestinian Authority and improved performance on the ground, he noted.
Touching on other points, he said that Gaza remained a “major headache”. The current handling of that situation was empowering smugglers and militants and disempowering legitimate businesses and civil society, the very core of peace among Gazans, half of whom were under the age of 18. On that, the United Nations had been at the forefront of working to focus diplomatic energy on bringing about a different strategy for Gaza. That had gained traction, but it had to be implemented on the ground. A first step would be to start significant reconstruction of the enclave under United Nations auspices.
He said time was of the essence. The situation would not stand still; domestic political situations dictated that, as did facts on the ground. Whatever the incredible difficulties and complexities of this situation, the sooner the process got under way and the sooner it had a strong third-party role, the best chance of guarantees.
OMAR NAHAR, Director of the Negotiations Coordination Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Jordan, said that the Arab Peace Initiative captured the long-recognized and accepted terms of reference for Middle East peace. And, it took fully into consideration the legitimate concerns of all. Regrettably, after the lapse of almost one year now since the inception of intensive United States and international efforts to achieve a conducive environment to relaunch serious direct negotiations, that environment remained elusive. The Israeli Government remained unwilling to contribute to generating that environment by refusing to bring into effect a full halt to settlement activity and other illegal unilateral measures in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem; a day hardly went by without Israel conducting an illegal and provocative action.
Outlining what he described as combustible and illegal measures, he said it was high time those all came to a stop, high time for the Israeli Government to positively respond to global consensus, and high time for it to accept the Arab Peace Initiative. It was also high time for the Palestinians to be liberated from the daily fear over violations of their basic rights and elemental security, and from the scourges of occupation and animosity. Jordan also called for a full freeze on settlement activity and a complete halt to all unilateral measures in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, in order to resurrect the much-needed confidence between the sides. Negotiations must also be resumed promptly, regarding all final status issues. “We must all stop talking about how to talk and concentrate on resuming meaningful, time-bound and benchmarked negotiations on all core issues,” he urged.
He said that the United States and European Union could indeed assume a fundamental role in monitoring and verification processes in the context of such negotiations, and bring pressure to bear on the parties to surmount obstacles whenever they arose. They could also assume a major role in any transitional or permanent security arrangement. He also expressed full support for the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas, who was a committed peace partner. Achieving comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace and realizing the two-State solution was the only gateway to resolving other regional challenges and threats. It would deprive extremists from using their so-called “legitimate grievances” inherent in the conflict as a magnet to induce support from disenfranchised and frustrated quarters in society.
In the brief discussion that followed, one participant deplored the absence of colleagues from the Israeli Knesset, saying the settlements were a major obstacle to peace. There was also no future for peace without settling the issue of Jerusalem, which should be the capital of both States. The Palestinian Authority should continue efforts to strengthen security and combat terrorism. New ideas were needed, and those could be spearheaded by parliamentarians.
Another speaker wished to ask President Obama to make a direct contribution to peace by both helping the Palestinian people “to go forth” and by giving them grounds on which to build universities. Reference was made to the United States Ambassador’s emphasis that negotiations should proceed without preconditions, but it would be impossible to continue the negotiations with a freeze on settlements. Just convening negotiations was not an aim in itself. On another point, it was said that no one who spoke of Hamas seemed to mention the occupation.
Presentations by Experts
Taking up the question of modalities for bridging gaps and building trust between the parties was MOHAMMAD BARAKEH, Member of the Knesset and Secretary-General of the Hadash Party, who began by asking that a message be sent to the Israeli Knesset and to the Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs for their grievous act of preventing two Knesset members from participating in the meeting. That ran counter to the principles of democracy and freedom of expression.
He said that, in any normal situation, bridging gaps was done through negotiations. However, negotiations must be based on scientific principle, international law and public rights. In the Israeli reality, negotiations were considered by the Government to be closely linked to preconditions. The negotiations proposed by the Palestinian leadership must be based on two key elements: putting a full stop to the settlements; and agreement on 1967 borders. He wondered what the real preconditions were. To say that Palestinians were imposing preconditions was a distortion of the truth; it was Palestinian land. Underlying the problem was trust between the parties. How could there be trust when there was a separation wall and the impossibility of a Palestinian farmer to reach his land? How could there be trust between a citizen that uprooted an olive tree and another whose livelihood depended on it?
“Bridging the gap” was too vague a title for contemplation; from where did one start and to where did one head, he asked. He agreed with the former Prime Minister of Jordan, who had said that the whole question revolved around that of occupation; everything else was a mere detail. There was talk about Israel’s efforts to return to the negotiating table. That might be true; Prime Minister Netanyahu might be keen to return to the table, and, yes, he might even be interested in negotiations, but he was not interested in peace. There was a big difference. Mr. Netanyahu was talking about the borders of a new municipality, and not of a State. He pledged that after the 10-month moratorium on settlements, he would return to settlement activities at a quicker pace to compensate for the temporary suspension. It was a negotiating tactic, and the message was not intended to earn Palestinians’ trust, but to appease the United States Administration. It was impossible to perpetuate the occupation and achieve peace, he said.
YOSSI BEILIN, President of Beilink-Business Foreign Affairs and a former Member of the Knesset, said he hoped the discussion would not return to the old debate about justice. During endless talks over the past 20 years, the narrative was a competition among Israelis, Jews, Arabs ‑‑ over who were the real victims. And there was no judge in this world to say for sure who was right and who was wrong. At the end of the day, there would be no United Nations resolution that would impose anything on both parties, no Chapter VII text. The Americans could be asked to do something; so could the European Union ‑‑ but at the lowest common denominator of 27 countries. Two peoples had suffered a lot in different ways for more than 62 years, and if they were lazy and waiting for Europe or the United Nations or the Americans or the Russians ‑‑ with all due respect ‑‑ nothing would happen, he said, adding, “We can just talk. And we’ll be unified in order to achieve nothing.”
He said there was never one moment in which everybody was in place to promote peace; there was always some problem on the scene. Could it be said that now was the right time? The role for those who wanted peace was for them to try to see where the opening was and how to move the difficult situation forward. An important component was the American one; they might not play an active role, but a negative role by the United States would make peace impossible. There was a unique American leadership and Palestinian leadership, with the latter devoted to his people and rejecting violence. That combination was very important in the current context. The worst thing would be to give up on the current leadership. In the relative present quiet, the time was opportune to forge ahead. When everyone looked back, it would be a shame to say that in January or February, we could have done something, we could have launched negotiations.
IBRAHIM KHRAISHI, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that after years of enmity, bridges of trust and cooperation were never achieved between an occupying country and a people living under its yolk. The perpetrator had to take away the cause of the aggression in order to step onto the road to peace. Egypt and Israel had not negotiated for 20 years; Jordan and Israel had not negotiated for 20 years; and until now, those Governments could not build bridges of trust or lessen the gaps between their peoples. The Palestinian situation did not need negotiations; it needed an absence of negotiation. The way was clear: removal of the occupation. Then the bridges of trust could be built. “We will not go back to negotiations according to the old formula,” he said.
He said there were realistic steps to buttress confidence between the two sides. All the statistics showed that the majority of the Palestinian people wanted peace. It was sorrowful that Israeli society was becoming more and more radical. There was a crisis in Israel and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean should speak about it at the Knesset.
In the ensuing brief discussion, a speaker said that many Egyptians were losing faith in the substance of President Obama’s Cairo speech. Several speakers agreed that the only way to build trust was for Israel to withdraw; they condemned the occupation. Many objected to making a folly of previous United Nations resolutions and insisted that a one-State solution should be rejected.
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