MOSCOW, 2 July — Experts called for an expansion of the Middle East Quartet, implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative and greater awareness of it in Israel, and a Security Council resolution setting a timetable to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace continued in Moscow this morning.
Entitled “international efforts to achieve the two-State solution”, the session opened the second day of the two-day Meeting, convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People to explore ways to foster the conditions needed for a successful political process and review international efforts to achieve the two-State solution.
Addressing the plenary session were Samir Bakr, Assistant Secretary-General for Palestine Affairs of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in Jeddah (OIC); Gilbert Roger, Senator of the Socialist Party of France, Vice President of the Foreign Affairs Committee and President of the France-Palestine Friendship Group; Galina Prozorova, Leading Researcher of the Centre for Eurasian Studies at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow; Alla Shainskaya, Member of the Executive Committee and President of the Congress of Meretz Party in Tel Aviv; and Alexander Vavilov, Professor in the Department of Diplomatic and Consular Service at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.
Mr. Bakr said that since its founding in 1969, the OIC had adopted several proposals and resolutions annually declaring its member States’ unanimous support for the rights of the Palestinian people and the two-State solution. The peace initiative launched in Fez, Morocco, in 1982 by the League of Arab States was an important milestone, as it was the first time recognition of Israel was proposed and in which Arab States declared their acceptance of an independent State of Palestine along 1967 borders. The fourth Islamic Summit Conference in 1984 endorsed that initiative, and OIC members pledged to employ all means to implement it.
The OIC recognized various peace initiatives, he said, among them the 1991 Madrid Conference, the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Middle East Quartet — formed in 2002 and comprising the United Nations, Russian Federation, United States and the European Union — and the road map that body subsequently presented. A blueprint for peace, the road map aimed to achieve a just, comprehensive peace by calling on Israel to withdraw fully from the territories it had occupied since 1967 and to implement a just resolution for Palestinian refugees.
Despite international praise for the plan over the years, and the granting by the United Nations General Assembly of Palestine’s observer State status, Israel continued to flout international law, he said. It still controlled 62 per cent of the West Bank. Its unilateral decisions threatened to escalate violence, in effect destroying the two-State vision — and a historic opportunity to resolve the conflict. Moreover, Israel’s attempt to declare a fait accompli, even if it provided it temporary security, would not lead to enduring stability.
“The picture is grim. Time is no longer a neutral element,” he said, noting that the passage of time enabled the occupying Power to continue settlement building in the West Bank and the judaization of Jerusalem, resulting in more hardship for the Palestinian people.
The two-State solution was in the interest of all parties concerned, he said. An end to Israeli unilateral actions must be a requirement, and the international community must push the peace process forward by all possible means, including by restructuring the Quartet and adding new members to it, as well as by holding an international peace conference. The Security Council must uphold its responsibility to set a timeframe for a final status agreement.
To resolve the deadlock, an OIC ministerial liaison team had begun working with the Quartet to add elements that would strengthen that body and advance the peace process, including through a set timetable to end the occupation and create a Palestinian State, he said.
In addition, the OIC would continue to support the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights and the State of Palestine’s right to join United Nations organizations, including the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Council, he said. The international community must do its part, boycotting Israeli settlements and their products. In the absence of a strong stance by the Security Council, the international community must set matters straight and stop treating Israel as a State above the law.
Mr. Vavilov said the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict destabilized the Middle East, and Islamist extremists were exploiting it to solidify their political gains and recruit more supporters to extend their reach beyond the Arab world. Echoes of the conflict could be heard in the deadly raid on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. There was every reason to believe that the Arab Spring was a direct result of the conflict, whose severity now required urgent global attention.
Last year’s war on Gaza had left more than 2,000 people dead and 11,000 injured, and had destroyed some 51,000 buildings and vital infrastructure, he said. Employees of United Nations agencies and international aid organizations could objectively convey the difficult and arduous recovery process. According to the World Bank, 43 per cent of the coastal strip’s 2 million people were now unemployed; among youth, that figure was 60 per cent. If Gazans were to join the ranks of the waves of Middle East and North African migrants searching for a better life elsewhere, they too would become easy prey for extremist recruiters.
But there was no point in expecting any initiatives to resolve those matters from the United States, where President Barack Obama was already a “lame duck”, he said. As such, international solidarity and efforts were urgently needed to achieve international security. All nations should form a common front against attempts to revive a medieval Caliphate and its obsolete customs.
He said the main task now to achieve the two-State solution was to re-start peace talks, including by expanding the Quartet’s efforts and those of the United Nations, as well as by holding an international conference. To ensure success of the peace process, all the achievements from previous negotiations must be built upon. Most importantly, the parties to the conflict must not attack each other, but instead go the distance to reach compromise on the most burning, seemingly insurmountable problems. Ending the conflict, or at least subduing its acuteness, rather than just managing it, was key.
Ms. Prozorova noted, however, that in a recent opinion poll in Palestine, 79 per cent of Palestinians said they did not believe the conflict would end soon. The international community, including non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations, therefore must advocate for that goal. With the Arab Peace Initiative, the Arab world had declared with one voice its commitment to live with Israel in peace and friendship.
Today, against a difficult backdrop in the region — including concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme and civil wars in Syria and Yemen — the initiative had taken on greater meaning, she said. Echoing the call yesterday by Morocco’s delegate to combat extremist groups, she said that in order to do that it was vital to step up collective mediation efforts and bolster the Quartet, which was inadequate to address today’s realties.
That body, she said, had been sharply criticized for being ineffective — a judgement the Quartet’s Russian member had acknowledged as justified in part. The Russian Federation had suggested that the body work closely with representatives of the League of Arab States and in close coordination with other regional players. In a February statement, Quartet members referred to regular and direct interaction with the Arab States in preparing for resumed peace talks, as a way to achieve greater balance among negotiating partners. Proposals had also been put forth to involve China and India, she said, stressing the need to end United States dominance in the Middle East.
Continuing, she said international negotiators must employ the entire “arsenal” of moral, political, economic and humanitarian negotiating tools, as well as a boycott of Israeli settlements to curb settlement activity, end Israel’s blockade, and advance the peace process. Reminding Israel of its moral obligation might be an effective way to push the country’s leadership towards consensus.
Until recently, there had been a deficit of global involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the world shifted its attention to Iran and strife-torn areas in other parts of the region, she said. Lately, some on the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee had spoken of the existence of a common front among Arab countries to fight Iranian influence in the region. That was a myth which must be dispelled. Another obstacle was Israeli citizens’ lack of a clear understanding of the existing peace proposals and their prospects for success. A scant 10 per cent of the Israeli public had some knowledge of the Arab Peace Initiative.
Ms. Shainskaya agreed that Israelis had little if no understanding of that at present. A Ukrainian-born Israeli, she first visited the Qalandia checkpoint between the northern West Bank and Jerusalem in 2002 and saw Palestinians, tired, humiliated and waiting for hours in the cold to go to work, school or to the doctor. The experience shocked her; seeing how Palestinians lived changed her life and instilled in her a deep commitment to Middle East peace and a sincere concern for the destiny of the Palestinian people and the Jewish State.
Seventy-five per cent of Israelis were born after the start of the occupation and considered the occupation to be normal, she said. While they lived in freedom and democracy, millions of Palestinians were subjected to all forms of harassment and restrictions on their movement and voting rights. The Israeli Government was adhering to the status quo and dismissing as superfluous any efforts to reach a permanent agreement based on the “land for peace” principle and an end to the occupation. Since assuming office, the Netanyahu Administration had constantly reiterated its reservations to comply with international calls for a withdrawal from the Occupied Territory, ignored the Annapolis Joint Declaration and the road map, and refused to acknowledge the Arab Peace Initiative.
She said that recent opinion polls conducted in Israel and Palestine by Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah reiterated that most people on both sides desired peace through a negotiated two-State solution based on 1967 borders, although the percentage was down from 62 per cent to 51 per cent for Israelis and 54 per cent to 51 per cent for Palestinians as compared with 2014. At the same time, consistent with previous results, each side perceived the other as a threat to its very existence.
The Israeli Government had made security its top priority, but its activity was in fact endangering Israel, she said. Preoccupied with Iran’s nuclear programme and its ramifications for Israel’s defence, the Administration was building barriers and destroying any advances in the peace process. In the meantime, the United Nations was regarded in Israel as a cynical “automatic majority” machine to be used against Israel under any circumstances. The Israeli electorate voted for hawkish Governments in part due to fear of being left exposed to the dangers of total international isolation.
Moreover, she said, while United States President Barack Obama had told Israelis “You are not alone, in isolation” and “I believe that you have a true partner in President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad,” the absence of that sentiment at the United Nations had fuelled the stalemate in the Middle East. Netanyahu had to understand that the two-State solution was the best and practical way to end the long-standing conflict. At the same time, the United Nations should follow President Obama’s lead and extend to Israel a message of recognition and acceptance. A prominent Arab leader, perhaps the President of Egypt, should visit Israel and promote the aims of the Arab Peace Initiative.
Shedding light on France’s role in fostering Palestinian statehood, Mr. Roger stressed that it was time for France to “face its responsibilities and to officially recognize the State of Palestine”. In December 2014, the French Senate adopted a resolution calling on the French Government to do so. Soonafter, the French National Assembly adopted a similar draft, prompted by Mr. Roger’s appeal in Le Monde newspaper. Also last year, France voted in favour of the failed resolution in the United Nations Security Council demanding an end to Israel’s occupation before 2018. In 2012, France voted in favour of the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution granting the State of Palestine non-member observer State status, after supporting Palestine’s entry as a full member into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2011.
Despite such moves, and the historic Oslo Agreement penned 20 years ago by Israel and Palestinian leaders, peace remained elusive. “This dream, destroyed by broken promises on both sides, will never see the light of day if nothing is done to bring the conflicting parties together,” he said.
The French Parliament’s resolutions were a first step towards creating an equal relationship between Israel and Palestine and making the latter’s recognition a prerequisite for genuine negotiations, he said. They also reinforced moves by Sweden and other European Union members to recognize the Palestinian State, as well as the European Parliament’s recognition in December 2014 and its “Parliamentarians for Peace” initiative aimed to bring together European, Israeli and Palestinian legislatures to advance peace prospects.
France — a main contributor of aid to Palestine — must lead its Quartet partners towards a new dynamism, he said, stressing that recognition of a Palestinian State was the only viable choice for both sides. “It would be a message to democrats, whether Palestinian or Israeli, to encourage to them in their fight for peace and let them know that their fight is likely to succeed.”
For his part, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was facilitating submission of a draft resolution to the Security Council aimed at resolving the conflict, he said. The text would, among other things, call for creation of such a State based on 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital; a border control plan to ensure security for both sides; the full and phased withdrawal of the Israeli army; and fair, balanced and realistic compensation for Palestinian refugees.
If the United States opposed the text, an international conference would be organized in Paris, with a set deadline for negotiations, under the supervision of the Arab League, the European Union and the “Group of Five”, comprising Germany, the United States, France, Japan and the United Kingdom, he said.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, the Officer-in-Charge of the Division for Palestinian Rights asked the panellists if they shared the view expressed by an expert the previous day that the Arab Peace Initiative should be implemented in stages, and also asked what could be done to better promote awareness of the initiative in Israel.
Mr. BAKR said there had been many attempts over the years, including the most recent initiative of United States Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014. It would be unfair to the Palestinians to divide the peace process into stages. Rather, the international community must pressure Israel to implement the already agreed aims. OIC countries were ready to recognize Israel along 1967 borders. “We have made enough resolutions and efforts in the past years. What we need now is implementation,” he said.
Ms. SHAINSKAYA noted that following consultations a decade ago with Palestinians and Jordanians, civil society groups had agreed to publish the Arab Peace Initiative in Hebrew and to include it in the weekend edition of Israeli newspapers. Still, Israelis overall had doubts about the initiative and public discourse on it was negligible.
The representative of Jordan said Jordanian diplomacy had focused on generating awareness of the productive aspect of peace. What was really lacking among Israeli leadership was a belief in peace and the political will and courage to achieve it.
The representative of Bolivia strongly supported the Palestinian people’s struggle and condemned the colonial practices of Israel. She asked if the international community was held hostage by the Council’s resolutions, waiting for that body’s members to act.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967 welcomed the French Senate’s initiative to advance the peace process and asked if France’s draft proposal to the Council included a set timetable for Israel’s withdrawal from the Territory.
Mr. ROGER said a “Quartet Plus”, including Quartet members as well as Arab and other regional actors, must be put together. The support of the United States and the European Union was vital, including for holding an international conference. The advancing reality of the Islamic State also must be dealt with; Israel could not assume it would maintain security in that context.
Ms. PROZOROVA said simply expanding the Quartet’s membership indefinitely was not helpful; what was needed was a balanced formula that would lead to consensus among members. The Russian Federation was promoting active ties with regional actors, including the OIC. A mediator must be effective and have a commitment from the requesting parties.
Ms. SHAINSKAYA said the key was to fight the public’s fears before people voted.
Mr. VAVILOV said diplomats could achieve a lot. It was not accurate to say negotiations were starting from scratch. In fact, much had been accomplished already and a range of legal and diplomatic tools existed; they must be implemented. It was necessary to bring in any actors that could have influence on the parties.
The representative of Morocco said that a Council resolution was important, but there had already been enough resolutions. What was needed was implementation of existing agreements.
Mr. ROGER said the France’s Senate Foreign Relations and Defence Committees were kept informed about the Government’s efforts on the draft United Nations Security Council resolution. Should the Council adopt the text, and should there be no permanent solution in 18 months, the French Government would immediately recognize the Palestinian State. If it was not adopted, France would seek the support of other countries, including the Russian Federation, to organize an international peace conference.