|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
‘Window of Opportunity for Renewed Engagement Has Opened,’ Secretary-General Tells
United Nations Conference on African Solidarity with Palestinian People
Panellists Say Centrality of African Support Based on Shared Struggle for Freedom
ADDIS ABABA, 29 April — Welcoming the recent visit by the United States President to the West Bank and Israel and the subsequent resumption of $500 million in United States aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this morning said that now was the time for concerted action to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“A window of opportunity for renewed engagement has opened,” Mr. Ban said, in a message delivered on his behalf by the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Carlos Lopes, to the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, held in Addis Ababa on 29 and 30 April.
The Secretary-General, further encouraged by the United States Secretary of State’s subsequent visit in April to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he had made clear in meetings with United States President Barack Obama that the Organization was committed to supporting any “serious initiative that presents a credible political horizon”.
He warned that both the Palestinian and Israeli leadership must be committed to tackle final status issues constructively and make a “concerted push for peace this year if we are to salvage the two-State solution”.
The Meeting, organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, is the second such gathering since the General Assembly voted decisively in November 2012 to accord Palestine non-Member observer State status at the United Nations. Over the next two days, representatives of Governments, United Nations agencies and civil society will join expert panellists to review the situation in Palestine as a State under occupation, as well as discuss lessons drawn from Africa’s experience in ending colonization and achieving sovereignty and independence.
Mr. Ban also hailed the Israeli Government’s 25 March decision to resume monthly cash transfers of tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians. He called on donors to expedite aid to the Palestinian Authority and on Israel to end its severe curtailment of Palestinians’ freedom of movement, warning that unfulfilled donor commitments and restrictions on movement and access had hampered State-building gains and the Palestinian Authority’s ability to provide services.
The Secretary-General was equally concerned by renewed violence in the region, spurred by the situation of Palestinian prisoners and Israel’s closure of key crossings into Gaza, in violation of the November 2012 ceasefire agreement. Israel must end the closures, particularly since much of the enclave’s population relied on external aid, and it must respect the right to peaceful protests. An independent authority should promptly investigate prisoner deaths, he said.
Speaking for the Government of Ethiopia, Ambassador Negash Kibret lauded the Committee for the important role it had played in raising international awareness around the globe on the question of Palestine during nearly four decades, and said that the Africa Meeting would contribute further to promoting the genuine causes of Palestine and the longstanding solidarity between it and the peoples of Africa.
He said that the “non-cordial” Israeli-Palestinian relations were of great concern and, unfortunately, the absence of genuine efforts by the international community was contributing to the status quo. Practical actions must be taken by the two parties, with the international community’s assistance, to resume the long-stalled peace process. Intensified settlement activities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank were “unhelpful”, he said, adding that equally important were steps by the Palestinians to halt indiscriminate attacks against Israeli citizens. He urged the parties to demonstrate courage and determination to seek agreement.
He said that African countries’ own struggle for freedom and self-determination had shaped their support for the Palestinians’ quest. Indeed, solidarity with their liberation struggle was the driving factor behind Africans’ overwhelming support, and in all multilateral forums, most African nations were vocal about recognizing Palestine as an independent State, he noted.
While economic and diplomatic interests inevitably guided many national foreign policy decisions, it was significant that the African continent stood largely on the side of the liberation and self-determination of Palestine, he said. At the landmark General Assembly decision on 29 November 2012, African States had overwhelmingly endorsed the upgrade of Palestine’s status at the United Nations.
Ethiopia’s relations with Palestine dated back to 1973 when the country formally recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and provided full support for the opening of one of its offices in Addis Ababa just a few years later, 1978, he recalled. His country also strongly supported Security Council resolution 1397 (2002) concerning the two-State solution and urged the parties to resume talks based on full respect for previous agreements and United Nations resolutions. He reiterated Ethiopia’s unswerving support of the Palestinian people and called on all parties to “exert every effort” to resolve the problem through a negotiated and durable solution.
Abdou Salam Diallo ( Senegal), Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee, echoing the Secretary-General’s concern, said Israel remained in defiance of international law, despite global condemnation of its settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Gaza remained a “virtual open-air prison”, as Israel controlled every aspect of Palestinian life and resources, while applying arbitrary military law to Palestinian residents in the West Bank.
The international community must put an end to Israel’s colonial practices, he said, calling on the Security Council to ensure that Israel complied with international law, and on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure respect for its provisions.
African States, drawing on their own experience with decolonization, economic independence and sustainable development, could provide important guidance for the Palestinians’ quest for statehood, he said. They already had played an important role with their show of support last November. In particular, South Africa’s long, successful struggle against apartheid had inspired those working for justice worldwide.
“Tactics and initiatives based on the South African experience employed by civil society organizations have been producing tangible results. Obviously, however, we need to do more, considering that an end to the Israeli occupation is nowhere in sight,” Mr. Diallo said.
Raising Palestine’s United Nations status and admitting it as a full member State to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were important steps. He urged all States, particularly those that had already recognized the State of Palestine at the United Nations, but had yet to do so bilaterally, to establish full diplomatic relations.
Representing Palestine in a keynote address was Taysir Khaled, Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Head of the National Committee to Resist Settlements and the Wall. He declared that Israel had not respected a single United Nations resolution, calling on it to assume its responsibilities. It was impossible to come up with a solution when incumbent Israeli ministers openly stated that the Government’s official policy was to undermine the spirit of the Palestinian people.
With the Oslo accords, he recalled, the Palestinians had accepted a two-State solution based on the 1967 borders, a quarter of the mandate territory, but the negotiations that followed had never produced tangible results. Meanwhile Israel had continued to expand settlements, making the establishment of a Palestinian State impossible. Tens of thousands of new homes had been built for settlers, while 25,000 Palestinian houses had been demolished in the West Bank.
Continuing, he said that a network of settler-only roads connecting settlements in the West Bank isolated and fragmented the Palestinian community. Palestinians were forced to use side roads, while the main roads were kept for Israelis. They were subjected to Israel’s military law, while the Israeli domestic law was applied to settlers.
Additionally, Israel controlled water resources in the West Bank and allowed Palestinians to consume only a portion of the amount consumed by Israelis, he said. Moreover, Israel continued to imprison some 5,000 Palestinians, including children, and some prisoners had died because of torture. Even though the Palestinian people faced the same situation as South Africa’s apartheid, it was not condemned by the international community in the same manner.
Representatives of Governments and intergovernmental organizations speaking in the opening session charted the evolution of Palestinian solidarity across Africa, highlighting both the political complexity and potential of the struggles shared by both peoples. The growing centrality of solidarity with the Palestinian people was emphasized as a critical component of realization of the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights. Many expressed unwavering commitment to a just and comprehensive solution to the conflict.
It was in that context that several speakers condemned what they viewed as Israel’s illegal policies and practices, and they joined a chorus calling for urgent international action and practical measures. The Security Council, in particular, was asked to shoulder its responsibility. Notwithstanding the divergent political context and dodgy political climate surrounding the question, participants viewed as dangerous the continued impasse in the peace process.
However, Israeli intransigence and policies, many said, undermined the resumption of credible negotiations and obstructed the achievement of a settlement. Iran’s delegate stated, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, that such behaviour and refusal to commit to the internationally endorsed parameters for the two-State solution “cast a dark shadow of doubt over Israel’s professed intentions for peace”.
Nevertheless, the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation echoed the sentiment of many speakers today when he said the Meeting “symbolizes a clear message of sustainable determination and commitment to maintain the momentum of moving forward in supporting the Palestinian people and their endeavour to regain their legitimate national rights”.
Also speaking were delegates from Indonesia, Egypt, and Morocco on behalf of Arab Council in Addis Ababa, as well as a representative of the League of Arab States.
The first plenary, convened under the heading “The situation in Palestine, a State under occupation”, took up such issues as Israeli strategies to consolidate the occupation — settlements, the wall, cantonization; the economic, social and humanitarian impact of the occupation; and the responsibility and accountability of the occupying Power under international law.
MOHAMMAD BARAKEH, Head of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, Member of the Knesset, Tel Aviv, said that after the Oslo “agreements”, Israel had increased the population of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The construction of more than half of the 700-kilometre separation wall was complete. Israel wanted to give the world the impression that the existence of settlements was legitimate, but all settlements were actively set up by the Government, with its financial and military support. Land expropriated from Palestinians was given to settlers for free, and the economic activities in settlements accounted for 15 to 20 per cent of the entire Israeli economy.
He said Israel’s strategic plan was to divide the West Bank and separate Jerusalem from the West Bank. The situation was a threat not only to the Palestinian people, but to the whole region. Just about everything was blamed on Palestinians, while Israel acted with virtual impunity. While people believed negotiations were under way, nothing was taking place in reality and the situation was only deteriorating. There was a need for a comprehensive initiative to draw international attention to the plight of the Palestinian people. One specific initiative could be the use of terminology: now that Palestine had been admitted to the United Nations as a non-Member State, the term “occupied territory” should be replaced with “occupied country”.
A power point presentation by CAIRO ARAFAT, Child Rights Senior Adviser of Save the Children, in Ramallah, entitled “From Dispossession, Displacement, and Dysfunction to Salvaging, Solidarity and Self-Determination”, provided participants with detailed socio-economic information about the Palestinians’ present condition, including the economic costs of, among others, the Gaza blockade, and restrictions on water, trade and movement.
The segments on dispossession and displacement considered, among others, exile and land confiscation, and the demolition of Palestinian houses and structures in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem and Gaza. Ms. Arafat provided specific details on the situations overall in Gaza, where, for example, 34 per cent of the territory’s workforce, including more than half its youth, was unemployed; East Jerusalem, where 10,000 Palestinian children did not have access to education and 14,000 East Jerusalemites had been stripped of their residency rights since 1967; and Area C, where, she said, there was “no Palestinian sovereignty” across 63 per cent of that territory.
She informed participants that humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people, from 2003 to 2012, had amounted to nearly $2.8 billion, with another $3 billion for development. By comparison, Israel had received more than $30 billion in development aid. Some 50 per cent of the population in Gaza was “food insecure”, thousands of families remained internally displaced, and millions of Palestinian refugees still remained.
Looking ahead, she urged the Palestinians in their national discourse to prioritize national solidarity and reunification programmes; target community mobilization and volunteer programmes, as well as reclamation of rural and border lands; “claim” natural resources belonging to them; and initiate youth-wide agriculture and information and communications technology jobs.
She said the Palestinian Authority and Israel must be held responsible for protecting Palestinian citizen rights; national “spatial” strategies must be developed, which looked beyond settlements; “Israeli policies” must be disregarded and legal action taken in local and international courts; and legal aid and other remedies must be included in all local and international programmes for the Palestinians.
SALWA DUAIBIS, International Advocacy Coordinator for the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, Ramallah, reviewed the main “rules of law”, as outlined by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), governing the responsibilities of an occupying Power. Among them was that the “occupant” did not acquire sovereignty over the territory in question and that occupation was only a temporary situation. Also, the occupying Power must respect the laws in force in an occupied territory, unless they constituted a threat to its security or impeded the application of the international law of occupation. Additionally, an occupying Power must devote particular attention to the well-being of children; collective punishment was prohibited, as was the confiscation of private property.
In her work in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, she said, the settlements issue was prominent. Not only were they illegal, but they were also “at the epicentre of a host of human rights violations occurring on a daily basis and affecting 2.5 million Palestinians”. Seizure of land for settlement construction had shrunk the space available for Palestinian housing, infrastructure and services to sustain livelihoods. In total, for example, 43 per cent of the West Bank was allocated to settlements and the number of Jewish settlers living in those areas was double that of Palestinians. “Those who are still under the illusion that this is a temporary occupation need to reconsider their position,” she urged.
Continuing, she said that Israeli settlers in the West Bank consumed approximately six times the water used by Palestinians there. Also, to ensure that 300,000 settlers got to work every day without interruption, the Israeli Army “must crush” the local Palestinian population — “there is simply no other way of doing settlements”. Experts or United Nations conferences were not needed to tell the world that settlements caused severe harm to ordinary men and women, or that those who lived in their shadow struggled daily to protect themselves and their families “while we sit here and deliberate”.
She agreed that negotiations were the way forward, but stressed that those must be grounded in the rule of law, “otherwise all we are left with are words of appeasement”. The “margin” enjoyed by Israel to disrespect international law “provided it with exceptional incentives to prolong its occupation”. The devastating effects of Israel’s failure to respect international law were compounded by a lack of political will to neutralize those incentives.
Facts on the ground were accelerating at a pace that would “soon make conferences like this a waste of time, she said, cautioning participants to make no mistake: “we are one minute to midnight”. Although most people around the world did not like what Israel was doing, Governments had accepted it and the political will to “stop this ship from sinking” was almost nonexistent. “Only overwhelming people and power will make a difference,” she said, adding, “history will not judge us based on whether we know the responsibilities of occupying Powers or not. History will only judge us based on our actions, not our words”.
CYNTHIA MCKINNEY, Member of the Jury of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and former Member of the United States House of Representatives, put this question to the Meeting: “Can you even imagine what United States’ policy would be like at the United Nations if the will of the people were carried out without the interference of the pro-Israel lobby?” The Durban World Conference against racism, for example, had been a watershed event that could have been supported by the United States, except that powerful lobbies wanted otherwise. At a meeting whose theme was African solidarity with the Palestinian people, it was important to explain how the pro-Israel lobby skewed politics in the United States not only against the Palestinian people, but also against African descendants living there. While Palestinians suffered, platitudes and delays served as the effective policies of the United States and European countries.
She outlined breaches by the occupying Power of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, international law, and United States’ law. As a juror on the Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Palestine, she noted the finding that both the United States and Europe were guilty of contributing to the impunity. Having also recently served as an Official Observer on the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission, she had received testimony from Palestinians concerning their treatment inside Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Concluding, she said that she was not Palestinian, or Arab or Muslim, but as a human being, she acknowledged the dignity of those who were oppressed and epitomized the theme of this Conference, namely, African solidarity with the Palestinian people for the achievement of their inalienable rights, including the sovereignty and independence of the State of Palestine.
The United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine will resume at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 30 April, to conclude its work.
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