|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
International Community Must Play Role in Restarting Peace Talks, Speakers
Stress as International Meeting on Israeli-Palestinian Peace Concludes
BEIJING, 19 June — As the International Conference entered its final session this afternoon, previous speakers had laid the ground on the urgent need to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — with the international community’s help — or face the increasingly untenable and far-reaching consequences of inaction.
China’s Special Envoy on the Middle East Issue was the first to take the floor as participants gathered to consider the international community’s role in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, forging a durable peace in fulfilment of fundamental legal and humanitarian principles, and in satisfying the wishes of both Israelis and Palestinians.
WU SIKE, Special Envoy, acknowledged that the conflict was “both acute and complex”, saying it could not be resolved by the parties’ efforts alone. The international community had the inescapable responsibility to facilitate the peace process, he said, adding that, having visited the region recently, he could feel an even greater yearning on the part of the people for peace, and a greater willingness to resume negotiations.
On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords, the international community was facing new realities in its efforts to promote peace, he said. China, as a permanent member of the Security Council, was working with the rest of the international community to promote the resumption of peace negotiations and to make its contribution to the achievement of peace and stability in the region.
Still, the peace process faced many obstacles, he said, adding that under such circumstances, the international community should make headway in the following areas: upholding justice by respecting the Palestinian demand for an end to the occupation, as well as their legitimate right to establish an independent and sovereign State; doing more to support the Palestinian economy and train its people; improving the security situation on the ground; promoting civilian exchanges and dialogue; and strengthening mechanisms for promoting peace.
In that connection, the international community should strengthen the role of the United Nations so as to ensure a secure environment for efforts to promote the peace process, he said. As a member of the international community, China actively supported international efforts to promote peace, and had always been a positive force in promoting the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. China supported the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent State on the basis of 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
He said his country had provided assistance for Palestinian development with no strings attached. Last month, China had once again pledged to provide economic and technological assistance to Palestine, as well as and cash assistance for emergency humanitarian relief efforts. It had also pledged to train 1,000 Palestinian professionals over the next three years, and would extend its support to education and other areas.
ABDELAZIZ ABOUGHOSH, Palestine’s Ambassador to Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Brunei Darussalam, said that, unfortunately, the Government of Israel’s colonization settlement policy and the attendant violations had brought negotiations to a standstill. Despite all goodwill efforts by various international parties, such as the diplomatic Quartet, the United Nations and many others, to facilitate the resumption of the talks, all attempts had failed, owing to Israel’s refusal to stop its settlements policy and accept the two-State solution within the pre-1967 borders.
Citing recent attempts to restart negotiations by the United States, Europe and the President of China, he outlined the following Palestinian requirements for international promotion of meaningful negotiations: urging Israel to stop the colonization of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and end the siege on Gaza; halting all kinds of financial and other support to Israel, mainly by removing tax advantages for financial support to settlements; and bringing Israel to the International Criminal Court to be held accountable for all crimes and humanitarian violations against Palestinians.
At the same time, he urged the international community to take immediate concrete steps to secure the release of Palestinians prisoners, including all those held without charge; help to establish a viable Palestinian State, based on the pre-1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital; insist that Israel negotiate a prompt and just solution to the refugee question; end the Gaza blockade; and impose military, economic, social, cultural, sporting and other sanctions to compel Israeli compliance with international law, while implementing United Nations resolutions aimed at securing Middle East peace.
Israel’s actions to intensify its control of Palestinian lives, land and natural resources were eroding the possibility of a two-State solution, he said, declaring that “Palestinians are ready for lasting peace based on international law, and their positions are clear and known to the world”. They were ready to make tough concessions, once again, but “they cannot wait forever for their freedom”. Israel’s illegal actions must stop, he emphasized, saying the international community could and must play a role and hold Israel accountable. It was time to grant the Palestinians their long-awaited freedom.
YIFAT BITTON, Associate Professor of Law, Sha’arei Mishpat Law College, Hod HaSharon, Israel, based her remarks on a paper, entitled “Discrimination due to Arabness and Jewish-Arabness and the New Bridge for Peace for Israel and Palestine”, arguing that that reliance on the concept of “difference” in discrimination claims failed to acknowledge discrimination within groups. That point was exemplified by the de facto discrimination against Israel’s Mizrahi Jews — those originating from Arab or other Muslim countries — who were officially recognized as Jews, but faced discrimination in practice, although to a much smaller extent than Palestinians, the ultimate “others”. (The full text of the paper can be found on the website of the United Nations Division for Palestinian Rights at http://unispal.un.org).
SCHLOMO MOLLA, former Member of Knesset, noted that the peace progress had been going on for 20 years, and hope had ended with Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination by a Jew. “Our tragedy is Netanyahu,” he declared, adding that the Prime Minister was only a politician rather than a visionary Israeli leader. He was “all about daily survival” and never thought about Israel’s future, and that was the tragedy of Israelis. Most Israelis needed peace with Palestine, but Prime Minister Netanyahu, by himself, without the European and United States Governments, would not be looking for a solution. The Prime Minister’s strategy today was talks for talks’ sake, he said. “If Netanyahu doesn’t come up with serious negotiations within one year”, Tzipi Livni [Minister for Justice and Chief Negotiator on Palestinian Issues] would not remain in his Government.
He said the United Nations “has to play a very strong game in this issue”. It must accept the Palestinian State, for when Israel saw the Organization taking the Palestinians seriously, it should realize that something must be done. Thus, a way must be found to create the Palestinian State within the framework of the United Nations. Moreover, the Organization must ask Israel to release the more than 8,000 prisoners inside its jails, and do its best to unite the Palestinian people. Israel’s major concern was the separation of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, he said. The United Nations must also ask the Israeli Government to remove the checkpoints, and non-governmental organizations must work to create a new environment and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians — people to people, professionals to professionals, youth to youth. Israelis were very concerned about a one-State solution, and they would never agree. And if they did, he said, would they be talking about apartheid in the West Bank? It was doubtful that they would be talking about living together.
NATHAN STOCK, Assistant Director of the Conflict Resolution Programme at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, recalled that the question of Palestine had been one of the central and earliest tests of the United Nations. However, in the aftermath of the October 1973 war, the United States had begun to supplant the United Nations as the principal broker between the two sides. Fears of a super-Power confrontation had been sparked in 1973, starting a trend of more direct involvement by the United States which continued today.
Having heard it said that “if you’re messing with Israel, you’re messing with the [ United States]”, he said the conflation of the two countries’ interests violated the sine qua non of an international system comprising sovereign States. No two countries were the same, nor could their interests align on every issue, he emphasized. The territories in question today, Jerusalem and the West Bank, were, according to a huge constituency, part of “Greater Israel” and an integral part of the Israeli State. Convincing Israel to compromise on those issues would always be more difficult than securing such territorial concessions as the Sinai peninsula, he said.
Yet, the political dynamics in the United States made it tougher to maintain the kind of engagement that had led to past territorial withdrawals, he continued, detailing his perceptions of Israel’s relations with past and present United States administrations. He said it was his belief that President Barack Obama would like to see a two-State solution and that Secretary of State John Kerry would like to make his mark by resolving the conflict. However, hopes of success would depend on President Obama deciding to use the full powers of his office to realize the creation of a Palestinian State.
He went on to say that, in either case, the status quo would not endure forever. Significant shifts were under way within the United States Jewish community regarding their views of Israel, with the new generation less likely to accept Israeli practices that were out of sync with their liberal values. That trend suggested that, in the coming decades, there might be a more robust, pro-peace Jewish political community in the United States. But, in the near term, President Obama must contend with the reality that any serious move to pressure Israel towards a meaningful withdrawal from the West Bank would be “extremely politically costly”.
If reasonable terms of reference were secured, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership should be open to negotiating with Israel, he said. However, it could not rely on the United States to “deliver” Israel, and it would be up to the Palestinians to change the status quo. That should entail four measures: the Fatah leadership should make every effort to reconcile with Hamas; the PLO should be prepared to take additional steps in the United Nations and other international forums to assert Palestinian sovereignty and exert pressure on Israel; it should insist on international law, including Security Council resolutions, as the reference point for settling the conflict; and a unified Palestinian leadership should begin to develop a broad-based strategy for popular mobilization and non-violent resistance.
In closing, he said the last 20 years had made clear that the Palestinians could not rely on the United States to provide the leverage they lacked. However, that did not mean they should shut the door to negotiations, he cautioned, stressing that they should remain willing to engage in talks over the creation of a State along the 1967 lines. At the same time, however, they must begin to move deliberately, and non-violently, to impose costs on Israel for the status quo, he said, warning that, without those measures, Israel was extremely unlikely to end the occupation.
A brief discussion ensued about the support of “Orientals” to the Palestinians, with speakers expressing divergent views, from both the floor and the podium. Participants heard that it was a very complex issue and not necessarily one for which solutions could be deduced from elections results or through references to support or lack thereof. There was “lots to do”, it was widely acknowledged, and at least the goal was a shared one.
Returning to issue of settlements, panellists insisted that, until they were removed from the West Bank, the international community must pressure Israel and insist on the removal of checkpoints in order to allow Palestinians to build new lives in an environment conducive to peace.
The Ambassador of Palestine to China said the debate had gone on for more than 65 years, during which time Palestinians had gone from one step to the next, from being terrorists to refugees, to forgettable people, to revolutionaries, to imposing their presence on the international community. Now all the world was behind the just Palestinian cause, but unfortunately, the United Nations had made beggars of the Palestinian people. “You divided Palestine into two States,” he said. “Where is the other State? This is your obligation […] to create this State.” Democracy and human rights were empty words when it came to the Palestinians. There had been some key positive changes over the years, but the day after, the politicians stepped back. Settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a national interest of the United States, but the Obama Administration, as had others before it, did not want to work seriously, he said.
LA YIFAN, Deputy Director-General of the Department of International Organizations and Conferences in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made a statement on behalf of the host Government, highlighting three ways to promote the peace process: stronger political will; stronger practical actions; and stronger support, given that the conflict was related to both international and regional peace and security. The international community should help the parties raise their sense of responsibility and urge them to be more positive, active and constructive about resuming negotiations. They must also be encouraged to eliminate the obstacles to peace. The Quartet should take substantive actions, he said, citing the efforts of the League of Arab States. He said his country expected the Palestinians and Israelis to narrow their differences through peace talks, he said, citing in particular the four-point proposal by President Xi Jinping. China’s hosting of the International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace was another effort in that regard, and the Government would work with the international community to play a constructive role.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, paid tribute to the people and Government of China for having made every effort to contribute to the Meeting’s success. He was also grateful for China’s energetic role in becoming more involved in seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its good relations with both sides meant it was well-placed to move things in the right direction. He acknowledged the “very serious” effort exerted recently to try to remove obstacles from the path of peace and open the doors for a meaningful political process that would lead to the end of the occupation and to an independent State of Palestine.
The global consensus was the two-State solution, and every effort should be made to accomplish that objective, he continued. The Palestinians believed they had demonstrated a flexible and responsible attitude after the results of the November vote in the General Assembly. Yet, immediately after the overwhelming adoption of that historic resolution on Palestine — adopted by 138 votes in favour to 9 votes against — the other side had resorted to a series of illegal activities, first among them the announcements of more settlements, including the intention to build 11,500 units in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially in and around Jerusalem and including in the “E1” area.
Everyone, including the United States, said the settlements were illegal, illegitimate and an obstacle to peace and needed to be stopped, he went on, adding to that the Israel’s “hijacking” of Palestinian tax monies on goods arriving through Israeli ports. Such violations of the so-called Paris agreement were intended to blackmail the Palestinians and exert political pressure on them for something “we did legally at the UN”, he said, wondering who was helping to relaunch the peace process and who was not.
Israel refused to acknowledge that it was an occupying Power. If that was the Government’ position, which had become more extreme after the last election, what was the incentive to negotiate with them? They did not acknowledge or respect the global consensus on settlements and border issues. “So, what are we going to negotiate, and what are we going to accomplish if they are not willing to accept these fundamentals?”, he asked.
“We need a concrete signal that they will engage in negotiations to end the occupation,” he stressed. “‘Come and talk while we are expanding settlements,’
they say. ‘Come and talk, but we are changing the reality in East Jerusalem. Come and talk, but we will not abide by 1967 borders.’” There must be collective success in bringing Israel into compliance on those issues — settlements and borders — “and we expect you to show us the way”, he emphasized.
“We need a concrete signal that they will engage in negotiations to end the occupation,” he stressed. “‘Come and talk while we are expanding settlements,’ they say. ‘Come and talk, but we are changing the reality in East Jerusalem. Come and talk, but we will not abide by 1967 borders.’” There must be collective success in bringing Israel into compliance on those issues — settlements and borders — “and we expect you to show us the way”, he emphasized.
“We are ready and willing to negotiate as leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization, whether we become a full member [of the United Nations] or not,” he continued. But, if the process did not succeed, Palestinians expected the international community to show them the way out, how to do it differently. The situation was ripe for new kinds of General Assembly resolutions, calling for practical steps. To those who said Assembly resolutions were not binding, he asked how the majority call for specific measures could lack credibility.
Without consequences for the other side, the Palestinian people would be forced to live under occupation, he said, adding that it was up to Israel’s leaders. If they did not “do it the nice way” and take advantage of the moment, they should not expect to keep denying Palestinians their rights while expecting them to “turn the other cheek”. In the present historic moment, it was sincerely to be hoped that Israel would wake up and make the right choice, but if it did not, the Palestinian people would not accept a model of occupation such as that which had failed in South Africa, he stressed.
ABDOU SALAM DIALLO ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the discussions of the last two days should serve as a “wake-up call”. The next weeks would determine the “shape of things for years to come”, he added, emphasizing that there would be no return to “business as usual”. Last November’s General Assembly resolution 67/19 had created a new reality, and Palestinians were serious about using new opportunities. And urgent international efforts were under way to restart negotiations, which had been complicated by the latest spurt of Israeli settlement announcements.
Negotiations or any additional strategies under consideration had value, he said, as long as they eventually led to the strategic goal — the end of Israel’s occupation, a sovereign and independent State of Palestine on the pre-1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of Palestinian refugees. There would be no two-State solution without negotiations, but serious obstacles remained, such as the continuing settlement expansion. Urgent international efforts were needed to curb it, he said, adding that Palestinians needed to finalize their reconciliation.
He urged participants to inform their capitals that there should be generous support for Palestinian institutions, humanitarian and development needs, as well as practical steps to enforce international law. Pushing the parties into negotiations when conditions were not ripe could backfire, but “we don’t want to risk missing the, perhaps, last window of opportunity for the two-State solution”.
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