International Meeting on Middle East Appeals to Europe to Back Palestine Recognition Bid

29 June 2011
GA/PAL/1207

International Meeting on Middle East Appeals to Europe to Back Palestine Recognition Bid

29 June 2011
General Assembly
GA/PAL/1207
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

International Meeting on Middle East Appeals to Europe

 

to Back Palestine Recognition Bid

Two-Day Conference on Europe’s Role

On Achievement of Two-State Solution Closes in Brussels

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

BRUSSELS, 29 June — As it closed in Brussels this afternoon, the United Nations International Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process issued a call to the European Union and its Member States to support recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations during the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly.

According to the concluding statement of the Organizers, participants pointed to the completion of the Palestinian two-year State-building programme, the impasse in negotiations, the target of a peace agreement, the requirements of international human rights law and the momentum provided by the so-called “Arab Spring” as factors in support of recognition of a Palestinian State through the United Nations, at the General Assembly session’s opening.  “The month of September would be important for Palestinian and international efforts from bringing about Palestinian statehood,” it says.

The issuance of that concluding statement — which also welcomed European backing for Palestinian reconciliation efforts and for intensified efforts to restart peace talks within internationally agreed parameters, among other issues — followed the Meeting’s two final plenary sessions today.  The morning session discussed “The urgency of realizing a two-State solution”; the afternoon session was entitled “Supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace — Raising the role of Europe”.

The two-day meeting, convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, assessed the role of Europe in advancing a two-State solution to the Middle East conflict and considered current European initiatives, as well as the role of parliamentarians and civil society in promoting peace.  It also considered alternatives to the negotiating process, including achieving a two-State solution through multilateral mechanisms.

Throughout the meeting, as recalled by the final document, participants looked at the viability of the two-State solution and ongoing European strategies in support of it, in light of the 20 years of missed deadlines since the Madrid Conference of 1991, which nevertheless produced principles that had come to be widely accepted.  Among those were the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, within mutually recognized borders.

While two panellists in the previous day’s first plenary — namely Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University and Former British Member of Parliament Clare Short — cast strong doubts on whether it was possible to achieve the two-State model due to Israel’s intransigence on settlements and other encroachments, other speakers, including those in today’s plenary sessions, avowed just as strongly that there was no alternative.  Indeed, that was the United Nations stance, as represented by United Nations Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Maxwell Gaylard.  Even if Palestinian statehood was recognized, negotiations would still be needed to end the occupation, bring about independence and produce a permanent settlement, Ambassador Nawaf Salam of Lebanon affirmed.  All participants shared deep concern over the lack of progress in negotiation, however.

In that light, participants, as noted in the concluding statement, welcomed the European Union’s political support towards the immediate resumption of the peace process and its positions on key parameters and principles, set out in the Council of Europe’s Conclusions of December 2009 and reaffirmed in other statements, including its position not to recognize border changes other than those agreed to by the parties, as well as support for United States President Barack Obama’s similar statement in May 2011.  They also welcomed other European initiatives, such as the call by the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, for an urgent meeting of the Quartet to endorse parameters for negotiations.

Participants’ appreciation for Europe’s support to the Palestinian State-building process was also expressed in the concluding statement, as well as appreciation for the signing, in April 2011, of the agreement between the European Union and the Palestinian Authority on trade liberalization to facilitate Palestinian trade.  As reported by the text, participants also pointed out, however, that progress on the socio-economic front, as well as the institutional front, was neither sustainable nor sufficient “as long as the main obstacle to development, namely the occupation, was still in place”.

The concluding statement was introduced by Saviour F. Borg of Malta, Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  Following that introduction, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, and Abdou Salam Diallo of Senegal, Chairman of the Committee made closing statements, thanking participants and urging Europe’s full political support, in addition to its extensive development assistance, in what they agreed was an historical moment in the Palestinian quest for recognition and independence.

Plenary II

“In the UN family, there is no official debate on anything apart from the two-State solution,” said Maxwell GAYLARD, United Nations Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian and Development Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as he opened the session on the urgency of achieving the two-State solution.

Joining Mr. Gaylard in the discussion were Sahar Qawasmi, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council; Leila Shahid, General Delegate of Palestine to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg; and Nawaf Salam, Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations.

Achievement of the two-State solution was urgent, Mr. Gaylard said, because of the development challenges presented by the separation wall alone.  He described the frustration of Palestinians taking all day to perform simple tasks.  “You see blockages to development wherever you look,” he added.  In Gaza, he said that people could simply not move.  In East Jerusalem, the 270,000 Palestinian residents were “crammed into a very small space”.  He said his office encouraged Palestinian unification and lifting of Gaza restrictions so reconstruction could occur.

He said that the humanitarian appeal issued each year should not be necessary – Palestinians were perfectly capable of taking care of their own needs.  However, until there was a political solution, some 25 entities of the United Nations, along with other partners, had to be based in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  It was also necessary for donors to remain generous, working with both the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority directly.  Reforms of the Authority had made it a more efficient partner and the aid it had needed had even dropped in some areas.  A joint trust fund had also been set up to support the Authority through a United Nations mechanism.

The United Nations Country Team, he said, had been seeking to operate as “One UN” in assisting the Palestinians in State-building, working at every level from leadership to civil society, and in every sector from water and sanitation to governance.  They were, therefore, able to determine that Palestinians were ready for statehood from their integral experience.  The siege of Gaza, the occupation and the settlements were seen as the major obstacles.  Regardless of what happened in September, the State-building process would continue, he pledged.

Ms. QAWASMI said that the time was now to achieve the two-State solution because the Palestinian Authority had strengthened its institutions above the threshold of a functioning State and real economic growth was high in the West Bank and Gaza.  That progress, however, was not sustainable under occupation.  Meanwhile, 20 years of negotiations had only produced more victims, more confiscation of land, construction of the separation wall, conversion of the West Bank to a “harsh coloured mosaic”, the spread of extremism and racism, and gross human rights violations.  It also was apparent that the current Israeli Government was not ready for any concessions, she added.

Under those conditions, alternatives to the “stuck negotiations” must be considered, she said.  The first alternative included the call for the Security Council to ratify and recognize the declaration of independence of the State of Palestine with the borders of June 1967, with its capital in East Jerusalem; the call for the General Assembly to recognize that State as a full Member of the United Nations; and the call for the Secretary-General to ensure protection of the Palestinian people during the withdrawal period, not to exceed one year.

Another route, she said, involved going to the General Assembly to obtain recognition of the State under Assembly resolution 377 (1950), “Uniting for Peace”, or asking the United Nations to fully implement Assembly resolution 181 (1947), which not only mandated Israel’s membership in the Organization but also mandated the establishment of a Palestinian State.

Clarifying issues connected with recognition of statehood, Mr. SALAM, speaking in his personal capacity, said that the negotiation process had been dormant for a long time.  Even if the recognition of a State was achieved, however, the negotiation process was still needed.  There was no contradiction between the negotiation process and the achievement of the two-State goal.  Recognition of statehood was a bilateral matter; it was not up to international organizations to recognize a State.  But based on such recognition, those organizations could grant membership.

He said that Palestinian statehood did not violate previous agreements because it was based in General Assembly resolution 181 (II), which had been called the “birth certificate” of the State of Israel; likewise it could be seen as the birth certificate of a Palestinian State.  It was also rooted in human rights law that preceded any Israeli-Palestinian agreements.  In addition, following Oslo, Palestinians had been encouraged to build their State, the Road Map spoke of achieving statehood, and other resolutions spoke of the need to meet the requirement for statehood.

Most importantly, the right of self-determination was an inalienable right, he said.  In exercising that right, Palestinians could decide to establish a State on their territory, merge with Jordan or Israel, or even form two States, one in the West Bank and one in Gaza.  Palestinians now met all the requirements for statehood:  their status as a people was recognized by the United Nations as was their territory, even if borders were susceptible to negotiation, as was the case in many situations.  Finally, the Authority had been certified as ready to govern.

He said it was difficult to understand how recognition of the Palestinian State, or its membership in the United Nations, could be seen as a de-legitimization of Israel.  In fact, it legitimized Israel; the action only de-legitimized the occupation.  It would certainly change the nature of the negotiations between Israel and Palestine; the issue would then been one of a State seeking independence from occupation.  Of course, it would not by itself change the situation on the ground.  A meaningful negotiation would still be required — associated with a serious time frame and a third party that could hold parties accountable, which had not been the case in any previous framework.

Ms. SHAHID said that “urgency” was the most important word in the discussion, not only because the Palestinians were tired of occupation, but because of the “earthquake” in the region, which represented a revolution, whether Israelis liked that term or not, accompanied by changes in the international climate.  She confessed to being amused by the encouragement of European States for the Arab revolutions when they previously supported the regimes being opposed, for economic or security reasons.

It had taken 40 years for Palestinians to be accepted as a nation, she said, and to now have to fight another 40 years for recognition of statehood would be too much.  Political courage was needed; it was not solely a legal matter.  She asked whether the Palestinian, Arab and other peoples and Governments possessed that courage after 20 years of negotiations.  So far, they had totally failed in getting the occupying Power to respect the agreements of the past 64 years.  An assessment of strategy and courage were sorely needed.  Palestinians had recognized Israel in 1988 and the situation had only gotten worse, so the failure was an international one.

That failure was at the heart of the problems of the international and regional mechanisms, she said.  Europe and the United States could not act because of domestic politics.  Palestinians had to go to the European Union, however, because it was the seat of human rights.  Behind the frenzied lobbying of Israel and its friends against the Palestinian bid for recognition was pure hypocrisy because it supposed that the negotiation process was actually progressing.  The issue was not merely self-determination; it was self-dignity.

The position of the European Union was clear and had been restated many times, she said, but the Union must have the courage to promote it.  The initiative of High Representative Ashton was appreciated, but the parameters she discussed must have accountability attached.  Otherwise, all the work of the Union in assisting State-building would go to waste.  “What good is training customs officers without a State?” she asked.  Political courage must be exercised.  To preserve the international system, it was critical for Israel and for western democracies to recognize the Palestinian right to statehood.  All bore a great responsibility in that regard.  It was not only Israel; most European States had not yet recognized Palestine.

In response to questions from civil society members, Ms. Shahid said there were no alternatives to the two-State solution.  It would take another hundred years, most Palestinians felt, for a one-State model to be viable, since Israelis did not even want to live next to them now.  On reconciliation, she said that Palestinians could not afford fragmentation, because they were already dispersed.  Unity was not as important for politicians, because they were often interested in the primacy of their own parties.  The drive for statehood had served to restore unity as well, adding to the sense of urgency for bringing about the two-State solution.

Replying to other questions, she acknowledged the problems with mobilizing action from the European Union, pointing to the huge machine that comprised the Union’s mechanisms to gain consensus from 27 States.  However, she expressed gratification over the attendance of most Member States and non-governmental organizations at the meeting.  Stating that Israel meddled in national politics in many countries, she stressed the importance of the involvement of non-governmental organizations in helping to bring about European political action.  Mr. GAYLARD agreed that there was no lack of information on the issue and that it was political will that was missing.

Plenary III

Speakers in the discussion on raising the profile of Europe in supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace included Proinsias de Rossa, Member of the European Parliament and President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council; Majed Bamya, General Delegation of Palestine to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg; Christian Jouret, Middle East Adviser of the European External Action Service (EEAS); Simon Petermann, Honorary Professor of the University of Liège, Belgium; Avraham Burg, Former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset; and Pierre Galand, Chairman of the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine.

Mr. DE ROSSA underlined the importance of a free flow of information in the interest of the quest for peace.  He also stressed the need for non-conditionality in the sphere of mutual recognition, in regard to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand for acceptance of Israel as a Jewish State, which could disenfranchise its Muslim citizens.  Jews should be allowed to live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, but could not expect to raise their flag there.  Citing the example of Northern Ireland, he said that Israel could not expect to have a Jewish State from the Jordan to the Mediterranean without it being torn apart by violence.

The European Union, therefore, must align its positions with its human rights and governance principles and not make the same mistakes it had made when it boycotted Palestinian governments that included Hamas.  If a firm truce with that group could be achieved, talks could begin to negotiate changes in the group’s position towards previous agreements, in exchange for recognizing its democratic mandate.  He said that conceding 78 per cent of historical Palestine was an enormous concession on the part of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which should be rewarded for it.  Europe, therefore, should use every tool it had to persuade Israel to negotiate within parameters that the international community had agreed upon, and it must do so with urgency, he said.

Mr. BAMYA said that the Arab Spring showed that “the wheels of history are in motion” and the Palestinians could not be left out of the region’s movement for freedom and justice.  Europe had recognized the linkage of the regional changes with Palestinian aspirations for freedom, although it somehow also linked Israel’s need for security with the same historic developments.  The European Council’s positions outlined last year reiterated the same parameters elucidated three decades ago, which had been rejected out of hand by Prime Minister Netanyahu.  He asked how, then, the parameters could be implemented in a process that yielded peace.

He said that Europe had yet to use the leverage of boycotting Israeli products produced in settlements, even though related reports showed violations of human rights by the settlement process.  Until recently, the Union could not refer to Palestinian prisoners in its conclusions.  Palestinians had shown that they were able to govern themselves, abide by ceasefires and provide a unified party for negotiation.  Meeting all those criteria, however, had not yet gained them their freedom.  Over a decade ago, Europe had declared itself ready to recognize a Palestinian State when appropriate, but it had not apparently become appropriate even after all such progress.  The support of the multilateral arenas, therefore, was needed to move things forward.  Palestinians would progress with the wheels of history; he hoped that the European Union would be on the right side of history too.

Describing the parameters that Europe could propose for renewed negotiations, Mr. JOURET said that the solutions to the Middle East conflict had been on the table for a very long time.  For Europe, Jerusalem must be the capital of two States, the 1967 borders must be the basis of those States, the peace must be regional and the occupation must end.  He agreed that there would be repercussions from the “Arab Spring”, for better and worse, and it was important the resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict as soon as possible.

Europe had always taken part in seeking solutions, he said, and many times was at the forefront of progress.  Europe had been the major force behind the Road Map and had expressed many years ago much of what President Obama had said in May.   Europe had also been often called upon as a guarantor of agreements.  Principles of European foreign policy included finding ways of stabilizing crises, as well as finding long-term solutions.  For the latter purpose, negotiations should be restarted within a time frame, based on Security Council resolutions and previous agreements.

For the negotiations to come to fruition, influence from the international community must be brought to bear, he said.  An imposed peace could not work, but the parties must be supported. Europe was also prepared to substantially contribute to post-conflict peacebuilding once peace had been agreed.  He pledged Europe’s continued support of multilateralism over unilateralism, with the latter represented by the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Doubting, on the other hand, that Europe could play a more decisive political role, Mr. PETERMANN said it was too difficult for it to achieve consensus among its 27 constituent States.  The Union should instead increase its projects on the ground in favour of Palestinian readiness for statehood.  Members were in agreement on the principle of the establishment of a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders with some negotiated changes, but would probably find themselves split on recognition of unilaterally declared statehood, with the United Kingdom and France leaning towards recognition and Germany and the Netherlands possibly abstaining in a General Assembly vote.

Under those conditions, he said that the Union should bolster and replicate its existing missions on the ground, the European Union Police Mission in the Palestinian Territories (EUPOL COPPS) and the Border Assistance Mission at the Rafah Crossing Point (EUBAM Rafah).  Industrial infrastructure supported by individual members of the Union, such as projects funded by France, Germany and Turkey, should be scaled up.  With that kind of activity, the Union’s position as the principal donor to the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s number one trading partner should allow it to make a difference on the ground.

In regard to raising the profile of Europe in the peace process, Mr. BURG said he had no clue what “Europe” was, and it had appeared that “peace has perhaps been abducted by process” in the Middle East.  He said, however, that he “loved” the move of the Palestinian Authority towards statehood.  Unfortunately, the Israeli vision of a two-State solution had been hijacked by an extremist, fundamentalist dream of domination of the whole territory.  To remedy the situation, he hoped that the non-violent policy of Palestinians was a firm strategy and not just a tactic.  It represented a very interesting new beginning and a very frightening moment of truth for Israelis.

In general, no one knew where the Middle East and North Africa were heading in this new era, he said, calling it a “new music” and citing the demonstrations in Egypt and on Israel’s borders.  Unfortunately, Israelis were still deaf to that music, not noticing the changes that were happening even in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  They saw the quest for recognition of statehood by Palestinians as de-legitimizing them, even when it legitimized Israel’s pre-1967 borders, which had never been accepted by the world before.  If the United Nations resolution passed in September and began a new process, there was an important role for Europe, which could build a bridge of reconciliation between those affected by the chain of “competitive trauma” that had originated on the continent during the Second World War.  Europe could push all the civil society it funded to work together.  He urged Europe to find the courage to talk to the United States, between now and September.

Also critical of Europe’s efforts in the Middle East, Mr. GALAND said that when Europe and the United States united in sanctions against apartheid in South Africa, it showed what could happen when the struggle of a people was supported by the international community.  Europe’s position on the Middle East needed the Arab Spring to move it to fill the gap in focus on democracy and human rights in its Mediterranean policy, which tended to emphasize economy and development.  Europe had done nothing in relationship to the separation wall besides discussing the legal factors, even though Israel was virtually part of Europe in terms of research, trade, security arrangements and other areas.

He said that Europe was guilty, therefore, of complicity with the worst Israeli policies, which transcended mere inconsistency.  He called on the European Parliament to impose sanctions on Israel to send a strong message because it was not respecting its human rights agreements.  He also called on Europe to support flotillas to Gaza and to promote the State of Palestine in the United Nations.

In the discussion that followed, members of civil society seconded Mr. Galand’s depiction of complicity with Israeli practices and his call for support to the Gaza flotilla now under way.  They also appealed for greater cooperation between civil society in all countries to pressure Governments to act on the Middle East.  Mr. BAMYA said that Europe’s credibility was on the line in this and other situations.

Closing session

Mr. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, expressed gratitude for the friendship between Europe and Palestinians, which he affirmed existed despite the criticism often directed at the continent due to the frustration and pain of the Palestinians’ long ordeal.  Acknowledging that Europe represented a formidable political force at this historical moment, he appealed for its support at the United Nations, which would witness the beginning of a new process in September.  He was hoping that everyone was beginning to realize that there was something new in the air.

Key components in that new scenario were the determination of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to follow a peaceful course, which should not be confused with the right to resist occupation in all possible peaceful ways.  In that regard, he described peaceful struggles in villages to push the wall back to the Green Line.  Another key component was Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s proposal to build institutions, schools and infrastructure despite the continuing occupation, which he acknowledged was a unilateral action, but a successful one.  Improving the lives of the people was a remarkable way of peacefully resisting occupation.  At the same time, the Authority had engaged with other countries, starting with Costa Rica, a friend of Israel, to recognize Palestine, an action followed by many other Latin American countries.  That development had caught Israel off guard.

Europe had no argument over recognizing a Palestinian State, he said; rather, it was the timing that was under discussion.  Europe had invested much in a two-State solution and had been instrumental in its inception in resolution 181.  It was Europe’s duty to invest more in peace and the way to do that was to recognize Palestine as a State.  In many areas, language had been drafted that had been acceptable to Europe to pass resolutions every year in agreement with Palestinians.  He hoped that this year would not be an exception.

On the peace process, he urged Europe to show Israel “some motherly love” and use its pressure to implement parameters for negotiation.  He had no idea what would happen between now and September, but the maturation of “this peaceful offensive” was being reached.  He appealed to Europe to get Palestine “over the hump” of 140 votes in the General Assembly.  If that happened, he asked, what would be the argument of blocking admission to the family of nations in the Security Council?  Once two equal, independent States were established, the “sky is the limit” of what Palestinians and Israelis, two remarkable peoples, could achieve, he stated.  In any case, he looked forward to the voyage that would begin 20 September 2011.

In his closing statement, Ambassador DIALLO of Senegal, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, thanked participants and said that the large turnout for the meeting and the active discussion were evidence of the urgency of achieving a two-State solution and the crucial role of Europe in that effort.  The deliberations of the last two days had shown that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators did best when armed with a clear set of guidelines, so parameters for negotiations should be adopted by the Quartet without further delay.  The other take-home message was that peace negotiations and the diplomatic recognition of Palestine were not mutually exclusive and could move forward on parallel tracks, particularly if Europe supported both objectives.  “A vote for the Palestinians is not a vote against Israel,” he said.

Finally, he said that the calm around Gaza was a good beginning for an environment that encouraged progress.  To ensure success, he stressed, settlements should stop as should other illegal acts such as demolitions, expulsions and the Gaza blockade.   Europe had a lot of leverage under its association agreements and it should not be afraid to use it to ensure respect for international law by the parties, he concluded.

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