Palestinian Rights Committee Discusses Attempt to Impose Sovereignty over Key Islamic Site in Jerusalem, among Other Topics
Palestinians would change their approach to ending the occupation of their land if Israel’s inflammatory and illegal policies — such as its recent attempt to impose its sovereignty over Al-Aqsa Mosque, a major Islamic holy site in East Jerusalem — continued unabated, the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said today.
“We are at a critical juncture,” Riyad Mansour told a meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. “If Israel continues with this intransigence, then we must be ready to shift gears and do things in different ways, such as is happening in Europe, to hold Israel accountable,” he said, alluding to the European Union’s directive banning its member States from providing funds or grants to entities with links to Israeli settlements.
The Israel Defense Forces clashed with Palestinian protestors at Al-Asqa — Islam’s third holiest site, situated within Al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) — before a parliamentary debate on whether to annex the compound. That move, Mr. Mansour stressed, had further inflamed tensions in the region and had drawn condemnation from the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement. The Palestinian authorities had met on Thursday with the President of the General Assembly and intended to press the Secretary-General to use his good offices to persuade Israel to end its “explosive” Jerusalem policy.
He went on to underline that the occupying Power’s “trigger‑happy” policy of extrajudicial executions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank was unacceptable, as was its continued rocket attacks on Gaza. The number of illegal settlements in the West Bank had grown by 123 per cent in 2013 alone, a sign that the Israeli authorities were not serious about withdrawing from Palestinian lands or preparing for Jerusalem to become the capital of both Israel and the State of Palestine.
The Palestinian authorities would negotiate the two-State solution on the basis of the 1967 borders, with minor adjustments, and a just resolution for Palestinian refugees, he continued, adding that all Israeli soldiers must withdraw from Palestinian territory. Moreover, the Palestinians would not accept Israel as a Jewish State. “We were asked to recognize Israel in 1994 and we believe that is the end of that story,” he declared. President Mahmoud Abbas would meet with his United States counterpart on 17 March to discuss the matter, and it was to be hoped that the Washington-brokered talks would produce “something positive and meaningful”, in line with the spirit of the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Turning to the dire situation of some 18,000 Palestinian refugees trapped in the Yarmouk refugee camp on the outskirts of Syria’s capital, Damascus, he said no food aid had been allowed into the area for 12 days, and appealed to all parties to the conflict in that country, including the Government, to restore access to the camps.
Richard Wright, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), described the situation in Yarmouk, under siege since June 2013, as a “great tragedy”. A local truce had enabled UNRWA to distribute aid access earlier in the year, but delivery had since broken down and it was now impossible to gain access. Many Palestinian refugees remaining in Syria were displaced and many others had been killed, he said. In addition, 12 UNRWA staff members had been killed and 23 others were unaccounted for. Schools and health centres had suffered massive damage, yet UNRWA continued to provide services under difficult situations.
He emphasized that the situation in Gaza had deteriorated severely, causing many people to become food insecure and reliant on outside aid. The outlook for the coastal enclave was not favourable and gaining access was increasingly difficult. Moreover, the UNRWA General Fund faced a $71 million deficit for 2014, about 12 per cent of total expenses, he said. Unless it was covered, the Agency’s services would be cut, exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation on the ground. At a time of tremendous turbulence, now was not the time to undermine UNRWA, he stressed. It was essential that donors maintain or even increase their contributions.
Desra Percaya (Indonesia), Committee Vice-Chair, reported on the 10 March joint meeting of the Committee and the Arab League, held in Cairo under the theme “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People — 2014”. The event had reinforced the critical support of Arab States for the International Year and for the State of Palestine in the ongoing peace talks, he said. It had been attended by 32 Committee members and observers, including representatives of 13 Arab League member States.
During the meeting, he continued, speakers had called for voluntary contributions to support the International Year and stressed the importance of establishing full United Nations membership for the State of Palestine and full diplomatic recognition by all States. Speakers had also condemned Israel’s settlement expansion and other violations, and had highlighted the importance of the Arab League’s Jerusalem Fund. They had commended the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry of the United States, who had endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative and supported negotiations within the agreed framework, he said. The meeting had concluded by formally adopting the Cairo Declaration.
Abdou Salam Diallo (Senegal), Committee Chair, recalled that, during the Cairo Conference, Egypt’s Minister for Foreign Affairs had said that he would have preferred to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Palestinian independence rather than a year of solidarity. The Committee must ensure that it raised awareness within the international community and take its efforts to the next level, he stressed.
Mohamed Refaat Farghal (Egypt) said his Government would spare no effort to reach a solution that would result in more prosperous lives for everybody in the region.
Wilfried Emvula (Namibia) said the dire situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory often led one to question how long the Palestinian people would have to suffer at the hands of one United Nations Member State. He appealed to all involved to demonstrate humanity and pay due attention to efforts for a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Levent Eler (Turkey) expressed concern over continuing violence by settlers in Gaza that had gone unpunished. The Committee must exert pressure on international actors and devote its support to helping the Palestinian people gain their rights in full. The Government of Turkey would host an international meeting from 12 to 13 May in Ankara, with the aim of building momentum and support for Palestine, he said. He called on all Committee members to help UNRWA overcome budgetary deficit in light of its critical role.
Mr. Diallo (Senegal), Committee Chair, discussed developments since the Committee’s last meeting, on 16 January, saying that Israel continued its illegal settlement expansion and had approved the construction of 381 homes in the Givat Zeev settlement, as well as 558 in Har Homa, Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Zeev, all in East Jerusalem. Several European banks and pension funds had joined the campaign against Israeli companies involved in illegal settlement activity, among them Norway’s $820 billion pension fund, Denmark’s biggest bank, the largest bank in Scandinavia, based in Sweden, and Luxembourg’s general pension fund. Norway’s YMCA-YWCA had urged support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel until it ended its occupation, he said.
He went on to note that on 1 March, during the second Conference on Cooperation among East Asian Countries for Palestinian Development in Jakarta, 22 countries had reiterated their support for Palestinian development. Japan had pledged $200 million, he said. On 27 February, Amnesty International had issued a report titled “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank” on its efforts to stifle dissent and freedom of expression. On 20 January, the Committee’s Bureau had issued a statement of deep concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Yarmouk refugee camp, where Palestine refugees had been trapped for more than four months, suffering from malnutrition and serious diseases.
On 31 January, he continued, James Rawley, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestine Territory, had issued a statement of concern over Israel’s demolition of 36 Palestinian structures in the Jordan Valley community of Ein al Hilwe, which had displaced 66 people. On 5 March, the Committee’s Bureau had issued a statement expressing alarm over mounting tensions in East Jerusalem, particularly the rising number of incursions by Israeli extremists and political leaders into the Al-Asqa Mosque compound.
Mr. Diallo said the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, to be held from 25 to 27 March in Quito, Ecuador, would focus on “Engaging for peace — The International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”. It would review current opportunities and obstacles to the peace process, as well as support from Latin America and Caribbean Governments, civil society and youth to promote a permanent settlement, as well as South-South cooperation for Palestine’s socioeconomic development.
Agustín Fornell (Ecuador) announced that Palestinians would not need visas to enter his country for the meeting.
In other business today, the Committee approved the provisional agenda for the United Nations Roundtable on Legal Aspects of the Question of Palestine, to be held in Geneva from 24 to 25 April.
In addition, it approved requests by two non-governmental organizations — the Madrid-based Asociacion Comite Español de la UNRWA, and the American Friends of UNRWA, based in Washington, D.C — for accreditation to the Committee.