MOSCOW, 1 July — As a vicious tide of terror and extremism swept the Middle East, the international community must stay focused on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the two-State solution as the only viable way to make that happen, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message to the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which opened this morning in Moscow.
“It will demand difficult decisions from both parties. However, it is precisely because of the dangers that lurk in the Middle East today that both sides must show leadership and personal commitment to peace and negotiations,” Mr. Ban said in a message delivered on his behalf by Nickolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
The two-day meeting, convened under the theme “The two-State solution: a key prerequisite for achieving peace and stability in the Middle East” by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, aimed to mobilize support for a just and comprehensive solution to the question of Palestine. It will explore ways to foster the conditions needed for a successful political process and review international efforts to achieve the two-State solution — including those within the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative, the Quartet, the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other multilateral organizations — as well as in the context of the United Nations.
Israel’s nearly half century-long occupation must end and failure to do so could further destabilize the region, Mr. Ban warned. Despite setbacks over the years, most people on both sides still supported the idea of two States — Israel and Palestine — living side by side. “It is their voices we must listen to, and their efforts we must support,” he said.
The Secretary-General welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent statements supporting the two-State concept and said he had written to the Prime Minister to encourage him to take concrete, credible steps — including a freeze on illegal settlement building and planning, which made a final agreement more difficult, if not impossible — in order to jumpstart meaningful negotiations. Politicians on both sides should refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric and they must build upon existing agreements, including relevant Security Council resolutions, the road map and the Arab Peace Initiative, to advance a final status accord.
He said the Palestinian Government should be fully empowered to assume responsibility for Gaza’s governance and security, including control of the enclave’s border crossings into Israel. He also expressed worries over the recent resumption of rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza, stressing that all factions on the ground were responsible for keeping the peace in Gaza and preventing the escalation of violence.
Mr. Ban pledged to work with all parties to foster a return to peace talks and encouraged the Quartet — comprising the United Nations, Russian Federation, United States and the European Union — as well as the Arab League, the OIC, and regional and international stakeholders to play a more active, supportive role.
In addition to Mr. Ban’s statement, this morning’s session also heard from Alexander Pankin, Director of the Department of International Organizations at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Fodé Seck (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; Riad Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine; and Nabil Elaraby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.
Mr. Pankin (Russian Federation) said that his country would do its part in international forums, particularly the Quartet. His Government had always been in favour of a just, comprehensive settlement, in line with all relevant General Assembly and Council resolutions, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative. The peace process should ensure the creation of an independent, viable Palestinian State co-existing peacefully alongside Israel, he said, expressing hope that Mr. Netanyahu’s statements last month supporting the two-State solution would be followed by practical steps for implementation.
The Russian Government, he said, firmly supported all efforts to unify the Palestinian people, particularly as Palestine’s national sovereignty would contribute to peace and stability not only with Israel, but also in the wider region. Turning to Gaza and expressing concern over the grave humanitarian situation there, he called for steps aimed at removing Israel’s blockade of the coastal strip and stressed the important role of donor countries in financing its reconstruction and, in that connection, the international donor conference on the matter, held in Cairo in October 2014.
Mr. Seck, Chair of the Palestinian Rights Committee, noted that last year the breakdown of negotiations and the ensuing violence culminated in one of the deadliest wars in Gaza, leaving more than 2,100 Palestinians dead and 100,000 homeless. Amidst an almost complete blockade, reconstruction had barely begun and would take years. Settlement construction, land confiscation, housing demolitions and violence in the West Bank were ongoing. The Israeli Government’s statements following elections there in March raised questions over its commitment to the two-State solution.
Still, there was a new international awareness that the situation could not continue and that there was no “freezing of the conflict”, he said. The Committee welcomed recent efforts to rescue the two-State solution, notably by the European Union, the League of Arab States follow-up committee of foreign ministers and France’s initiative for a Security Council resolution calling for a final status agreement within 18 months — and to involve more actors in the process. The Committee was also encouraged by the establishment last week of relations between the State of Palestine and the Vatican — the 136th State to recognize Palestine.
But Mr. Malki, Foreign Minister of Palestine, said many in the international community had turned their focus away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict towards other conflicts in the region. And for its part, Israel had never shown a real commitment to the two-State solution. The 1993 Oslo Accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were supposed to lead to a comprehensive peace agreement — ensuring an end to the Israeli occupation and creation of a sovereign Palestinian State — by May 1999. Instead, Israel had continued violating international law and pushing the Palestinians further and further away from independence.
During Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, entire Palestinian families were decimated, while more than 140 lost three or four family members, he said. Israel targeted civilian infrastructure, including schools of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) where families had sought shelter, depriving Palestinians of any safe haven. Jerusalem had been the primary target of the forcible transfer of Palestinians out of, and Israelis into, the territory.
“Both are war crimes under the Rome Statute. The settlement regime is ever growing, thus shrinking by the hour the prospects for peace,” he said, adding that escalating attacks against holy sites aimed to transform a political conflict into a religious one, driving the region further down a frightening path.
Amid such formidable obstacles, he said, the Palestinian people were determined to achieve their inalienable rights, live in freedom and dignity, and take their rightful place among the world’s free nations. It was time for the world to recognize the State of Palestine, hold Israel accountable for its offenses and set up an international mechanism to monitor both sides’ compliance with a final peace agreement.
“It is either a two-State solution on the 1967 borders or an apartheid reality the world cannot tolerate,” he said, adding that “for those who call on us to be patient and continue to reject international intervention, in violation of their own obligations under international law, we say: if they are waiting for the right time to intervene, our freedom and independence are long overdue.”
The State of Palestine was charting a new peace offensive, he went on. Granted observer State status in the United Nations in November 2012, and recognized by the Vatican last week, it was now seeking the recognition of more States. It also was pushing for a new framework for peace and the establishment of clear terms of reference, a timetable for a final status agreement and an international monitoring mechanism to ensure accountability. He welcomed France’s initiative for a Council resolution calling for those parameters. Impunity was a tremendous obstacle to peace. The State of Palestine had chosen justice rather than vengeance, and, as such, it was also seeking accountability through the International Criminal Court, the Human Rights Council and the Conference of the High Contracting Parties of the Geneva Conventions.
He also implored European Union members to uphold the commitments they had made in 1999, following the signing of the Oslo peace agreements, when they affirmed their intention to recognize the State of Palestine in due time. How then, 15 years later, had a majority of European Union member States, including all those that adopted the Berlin Declaration, with the important exception of Sweden, decided not to recognize State of Palestine? he asked. “If they are conditioning recognition on the results of negotiations, we assure them that our right to self-determination and freedom is not negotiable and that support for a sovereign State of Palestine on the 1967 borders is the best antidote to settlement activities.”
Mr. Elaraby, Secretary-General of the Arab League, said the real way to end the conflict was to end the occupation and conclude a final status agreement and not simply manage the conflict — a process that had enabled Israel to continue to delay peace talks while grabbing more land. “Israel is the only country in the world that thinks that time is a strategic objective,” he said, stressing that the international community must actively apply pressure on that nation and adopt serious positions to combat Israeli violations and policies, rather than just issuing condemnations.
Israel, which believed it was above the law, was sponsoring the “last outpost of apartheid in the twenty-first century”, he said. But instead of putting an end to Israel’s arrogance, the international community had turned a blind eye, causing the conflict to fester and risk going beyond the Middle East to shake the foundations of the current world order, while encouraging the illegal use of force. Israel could become a law-abiding State and comply with Security Council resolution 1397 (2002), which affirmed the two-State solution. But Israel’s flippant disregard had rendered the resolution impotent. Moreover, Prime Minister Netanyahu had said the two-State solution was now behind him, affirming that Israel only wanted to continue occupying Palestinian land and to have futile negotiations.
He said the Security Council must take the necessary measures to make the two-State solution a reality, by implementing its resolutions, including 242 (1967), which called for Israel’s full withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories, and 338 (1973), which reaffirmed resolution 242 (1967) and called for a ceasefire agreement. Furthermore, it must adopt a binding resolution, under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, and States must implement it. In that regard, he urged full support for the text tabled by France for a Council resolution setting well-known terms of reference, a mechanism for implementation and a complete halt of settlement activity.
Also needed was a serious, effective and urgent review of the role of the Quartet, which, despite the hopes attached to it, had not accomplished a single thing on the ground in 10 years, he said. The Security Council had not given it a clear mandate, leaving it to focus on conflict management. Resorting to the International Court of Justice, which had issued a landmark advisory opinion, and now the International Criminal Court were important options. In addition, the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, known as BDS, had indeed started to affect the Israeli economy, as had the European Union’s guidelines that it label products made in the settlements. Those movements should be expanded.
The representative of Egypt said implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative remained subject to serious negotiations. An end to unilateral measures carried out by Israel, its blockade of Gaza and its seizure of East Jerusalem was needed, as was the implementation of the “land for peace” principle and the adoption of positions conducive to launching peace talks. Egypt was doing its part, he said, noting that at present it led OIC efforts by chairing that body’s third meeting of the Ministerial Contact Group on Defending the Cause of Palestine and Al-Quds Al-Sharif, and the Arab Ministerial Committee. Egypt also hosted the international donor conference in October 2014 on Gaza reconstruction and contributed to efforts to unite the Palestinian parties. So long as Israel continued to occupy Palestinian territory, the Middle East would never achieve the peace desired.
Venezuela’s representative condemned Israel’s colonial practices against the Palestinian people, and asked how much longer the Palestinian people would have to endure suffering. In view of the continuous violations of international law, perpetrators must be brought to justice. The International Criminal Court’s recent recognition of Palestine as a member was a step in the right direction. The Court should put an end to impunity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Thus far no one had been held responsible for Israel’s deadly “Operation Protective Shield”. On the contrary, two weeks ago an Israeli court acquitted those responsible for killing four Palestinian children playing soccer on a beach in Gaza. He reaffirmed Venezuela’s firm support for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, France’s initiative in the Council and the Arab Peace Initiative.
The representative of South Africa said her country’s freedom would never be complete as long as its brothers and sisters in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were not free. South Africa understood first-hand the pain of a people under occupation, most of whom lived below the poverty line. South Africa’s democracy was obtained through inclusive negotiations with all political parties. Israelis and Palestinians, with the international community’s full support, could jointly craft a workable two-State solution. South Africa was doing its part, having appointed special envoys to assist that process. To make progress on basic issues that had been stumbling blocks in the past, all Palestinian parties and factions must form a collective solidarity front for negotiations; the blockade of Gaza must be lifted, settlement construction must end, and there must be a just solution to the Palestinian refugees’ plight.
Jordan’s representative said the creation of an independent Palestinian State living in peace and security was a top priority for his Government. All the independent reports of the gravely unjust living conditions of the Palestinian people must serve as alarm bells for change and serious, productive, internationally monitored negotiations. The parties must refrain from unilateral measures that would undermine the peace process. Jordanian diplomacy would always support peace until the Palestinians were given the security, dignity and independent State they deserved, and until they played their rightful role in the Middle East. Jordan would keep the channels of communication open with all international parties to achieve those goals.
Indonesia’s representative called on the Security Council to stop being on the sidelines of international peace efforts and to shoulder its responsibility. Indonesia’s support for the Palestinian people was strong and unwavering. He endorsed any proposal to foster talks between the two parties, including the proposal for an international conference in Paris. Double standards in the current peace process must end. Support must be strengthened for more robust participation of the State of Palestine in the Middle East arena. The recent establishment of diplomatic relations between Palestine and the Vatican opened an opportunity for the latter to strengthen support for Palestine among the world’s 1 billion Catholics. He welcomed the recent publication of the report of the Commission of Inquiry investigating Israel’s 2014 conflict in Gaza and encouraged Palestinians to use it in international courts to demand that Israel be held to account.
Morocco’s representative said his Government had espoused the Palestinian cause and made it a top priority. Morocco’s King had chosen to contribute to social and education projects for the benefit of the Palestinian people, and was sponsoring field projects to help Jerusalemites preserve their religious and cultural landmarks in the face of the Judaization of the city. The international community must launch a new dynamic that would serve as a catalyst for the peace process, culminating in the creation of an independent Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Any attempt to promote a fait accompli of just one State in the region would only lead to a feeling of injustice among Palestinians.
The representative of China reaffirmed his Government’s support for a peaceful settlement to the question of Palestine. Over the years, it had provided financial and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority. China had joined global efforts to help Israel and Palestine put an end to the spiral of violence and to resume negotiations. He expected the United Nations to heed the just calls of the Palestinian people, and to the Arab States to help end the occupation and rebuild Gaza.
Pakistan’s representative said the on-again, off-again negotiations had not produced anything concrete. Talks for the sake of talks were neither sustainable nor acceptable. Illegal settlements were eating away at prospects for peace. The two-State solution was the goal that the international community must uphold. A one-State reality would be disastrous not only for the Palestinians but also for the wider region. It was high time for the Security Council to assume its responsibility and adopt a resolution that would set a clear timeline for creation of an independent Palestinian State and an end to the occupation.