MOSCOW, 2 July — Establishing Palestinian unity, ending Israel’s settlement activity, and ensuring respect for human rights were key factors in breaking the current impasse and achieving the two-State solution, experts said as the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace concluded this afternoon in Moscow.
The session, entitled “efforts in the United Nations: the next steps”, was the last in 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 Nickolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process based in Jerusalem; Bassam A.O. Salhi, Secretary-General of the Palestinian People’s Party and Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah; Makarim Wibisono, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, based in Jakarta; and Omar Abdul-Monem Rifai, Director of the External Relations Department and Representative of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Amman.
Mr. Mladenov said that, the day before in Cairo, he had his first engagement with Quartet envoys to look at the political situation on the ground and consider ways to restore hope. Continued settlement construction, the legalization of Jewish settlement outposts, demolition of Palestinian homes, violence that could easily escalate, and divisions within the Palestinian factions created an unsustainable situation. People on both sides, particularly youth, were losing faith in the two-State solution; recent polls revealed that just half of Israelis and Palestinians still believed in it. In the absence of a political process, the risks become higher and much more dangerous.
The Special Coordinator’s Office was focusing on what must be done at the international level to preserve the two-State idea, in the Security Council and from an international law perspective, and hopefully prevent unilateral actions on the ground, he said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had publicly stated his commitment to the two-State concept more than a dozen times, but there was no real substance behind those statements. That was why it was important for the United Nations to work with the Israeli Government and say “if you have said you are committed to the two-State solution, please prove it”, he asserted.
First, the Israeli Government should stop its settlement activities, he said, noting that in the last few months the Secretary-General had closely watched the plight of some Bedouin communities that had been pushed to relocate from their traditional areas, possibly to make way for Jewish communities. The United Nations team on the ground had engaged with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to highlight the sensitivity of the issue. Strong action on the ground was also needed to create the conditions to support the local economy and allow Gazans to have a normal life.
It also required looking at how to support Palestinian reconciliation, he continued. People in Gaza were despaired, angry and could easily become prey to groups seeking to radicalize them. That was a new, extremely dangerous trend. Efforts must focus on working with the Palestinian Authority to help facilitate its return as the lawful Governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza, and border crossings, address issues of public sector payments and salaries, and the necessary political steps for elections and implementation of all reconciliation agreements.
None of those tasks should undermine humanitarian activities to support Gaza’s reconstruction, he said. As of last week, an agreement was reached between the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the United Nations to finalize creation of mechanisms to allow construction materials into Gaza to entirely rebuild destroyed homes. Over the course of three days, 500 requests were filed. If donors lived up to the promises they made at the 2014 Cairo conference, that reconstruction could occur. The end goal should continue to be to create the conditions conducive for restarting negotiations, live up to past agreements, and focus on realistic options moving forward, he said.
Mr. Salhi said the real goal was how to end the crisis, not continue the endless cycle of negotiations followed by a crisis. Bilateral, direct talks, with no preconditions, limited the possibility for international intervention, making Israel the stronger player, able to continue constructing settlements and imposing other obstacles that delayed creation of the Palestinian State. To say both sides lost when talks failed or were delayed was unfair. On the contrary, Israel gained by continuing to usurp Palestinian territory, and entrench the separation of Gaza and the West Bank in order to establish its “economic peace” project. That project focused on strengthening the economies of both areas, but under Israeli control — a move that would kill a unified Palestinian State outright.
The Quartet and its road map were intended initially to resolve the conflict through bilateral negotiations within three years, but they had yet to produce the desired results, he said. The 2007 Annapolis Conference failed as had United States Senator John Kerry’s 2014 initiative. The key was to exert substantive pressure on Israel, which had maintained that it could not work with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas because of the lack of Palestinian unity. But, if Palestinian reconciliation did occur, Israel would say it could not work with Mr. Abbas because he had aligned with Hamas.
He said that restarting the peace talks was not viable, as Mr. Abbas had called for an end to settlement-building as a precondition, with which Israel had not complied. While appreciating France’s initiative to table a draft resolution in the Security Council aimed at resolving the conflict within 18 months, he expressed concern that the move would result in a return to conditions that limited the potential to actually resolve the conflict. Instead of international supervision of negotiations that would set a timetable for ending the occupation, the focus was on a timetable for negotiations.
He supported the suggestion to hold an international conference in the region, possibly based on the Arab Peace initiative. The Russian Federation could play a significant role in that process, leading to international monitoring, such as was the case with negotiations to forge a nuclear deal with Iran. Such an arrangement could lead to true progress and to an end to Palestinian divisions, allowing for serious negotiations and the creation of a National Unity Government.
He warned against attempts to separate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the wave of extremism plaguing the region, saying it was “profoundly dangerous” to claim that the international community must first deal with extremist groups before addressing the Palestinian people’s concerns. The continued occupation had created elements that fed Islamic extremism, just as it fed Zionist extremism. The real solution was to address the root causes first.
Mr. Siegman, in a paper distributed to participants during the meeting, said that the two-State solution was dead, strangulated as Jewish settlements in the West Bank were expanded and deepened by successive Israeli Governments with the express purpose of preventing the emergence of a viable Palestinian State. The settlement project has achieved its intended irreversibility. “The question can no longer be whether the current impasse may lead to a one-State outcome; it has already done so,” he said.
The creation of apartheid in Israel, as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other Israeli leaders had warned, had already occurred, he said. Israel’s colonial project has been successfully disguised by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pretense that he was seeking a resumption of talks for a two-State solution with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It had also been strengthened by the pretense of United States President Barack Obama and European Union leaders that they believed a resumed peace process could still produce a Palestinian State. But, such deception could not be sustained, and paradoxically, the triumph of the settlement project contained the seeds of its ultimate reversal.
Israeli decision-making elites long ago had made a cold cost-benefit calculation that the benefits of establishing permanent Israeli control over the entire West Bank exceeded the cost, he said. Avoiding a solution became the central strategic objective of nearly every succeeding Israeli Government, particularly the current one. Many Israelis believed that the silent ethnic cleansing occurring for years in area “C”, comprising over 60 per cent of the West Bank, could continue, and that, by granting citizenship to the small number of Palestinians who had managed to resist expulsion in area “C”, which would be formally annexed, the apartheid charge would have been neutralized enough to placate American Jews and the United States Administration.
But, most Israelis, including many if not most settlers, would not pay the price of the loss of the State’s Jewish identity for a Greater Israel, he said. Given the choice to grant citizenship to the Palestinians in a Greater Israel or a two-State arrangement with limited and equal territorial exchanges, Israel’s cost-benefit calculations would have to change. The issue would then no longer be where the borders of a Palestinian State were to be drawn, but whether Israel was prepared to defend what finally would be seen by everyone as an apartheid regime. It is unlikely that even those Western democracies accustomed to pandering to their Israeli lobbies would be prepared to shield Israel from condemnations and sanctions when its apartheid could no longer be disguised.
The key to changing the deadlocked status quo was, therefore, exposing the Greater Israel already created by the West Bank settlement project and the de facto apartheid regime under which Palestinians now lived, he said. “Nothing would expose more convincingly the Israeli disguise of the one-State reality now in place than a Palestinian decision to shut down the Palestinian Authority and transform their national struggle for independence and statehood into a struggle for citizenship and equal rights within the Greater Israel to which they have been consigned,” he said.
It was highly doubtful that Israel could survive another half century of its subjugation of the Palestinians, he said. The region had been transformed by the emergence of radical Islamic entities, and the United States’ ability to impose its own political order or to protect Israel was in decline. The heightened sense of isolation and insecurity that Israelis would experience would likely lead to an exodus of Israel’s best and brightest. An honest Israeli offer of Palestinian statehood based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed territorial swaps would avert such a calamity.
Turning to the issue of human rights as a central part of the two-State solution, Mr. Wibisono said “peace starts with human rights”. The absence of respect for human rights and international law had been a key factor in exacerbating the longstanding conflict. Israel’s security concerns were important. At the same time, lack of respect for human rights led to increased insecurity for Palestinians and Israelis. During his mission to Amman last month, several people who briefed him on the situation in Gaza warned of the dangers of leaving people without hope of justice.
Even in times of relative calm, the Israeli blockade suppressed human rights in the coastal strip; in the West Bank, illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land were central to a host of human rights violations, he said. A concerted effort to address violations and protect human rights would build confidence and allow a serious peace process to take hold. Repeated violations only antagonized Israeli-Palestinian relations, he said, quoting the refrain that “you cannot shake hands with a clenched fist”.
Since Palestine’s accession to several human rights treaties last year, it, as well as Israel, will be periodically reviewed by United Nations monitoring mechanisms, would could prove very important in engaging with the concerned State on human rights issues and promoting improvements in practice and policy, he said. Ad hoc mechanisms like the 2014 Commission of Inquiry on Gaza, which presented its report to the Human Rights Council on Monday, could also play an important role, particularly in the absence of meaningful accountability at the national level, in objectively analysing and investigating allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law by all sides.
He said the cooperation of concerned countries with the human rights mechanisms and the international community’s insistence on such cooperation was critical, as was the recognition that human rights were at the heart of prospects for sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine, giving weight to conclusions and recommendations in the context of the peace process. For its part, Israel had failed to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, barring him from visiting the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Nor had Israel cooperated with other human rights bodies of the Organization, except the 2014 Commission of Inquiry.
“What is needed is to foster an environment which is politically less accepting of non-compliance with resolutions and non-cooperation with United Nations mechanisms,” he said. Such mechanisms offered an objective “reality check” of a situation from a legal and human rights perspective, rather than a political one. That was significant to record violations and to give voice to the victims, as well as to inform political negotiations.
Mr. Rifai discussed the role of UNRWA in supporting more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in the region. The Agency, he said, ran 700 schools with 22,000 staff for 500,000 children — the equivalent of running the education service of any major world city. Some 4,000 health-care workers at 131 clinics provided services to 3 million people every year on average. The already cash-strapped Agency, in the midst of its worst financial shortfall ever, was providing those services in an area experiencing war, occupation and a blockade.
After being refugees for 67 years and under occupation for close to 50, Palestinian refugees faced an existential crisis, he said. Their isolation and exclusion was a time-bomb for the region, a denial of dignity and rights that must be addressed. But, what did it actually mean to be a Palestinian refugee today? In Gaza, it meant being a victim of a blockade that affected every aspect of one’s life and dependent on food aid. In Aida camp near Bethlehem, it meant living under the fear of daily incursions and detentions, as well as the anguish of denied access to opportunities.
In Nadr el Bared, in Lebanon, it meant trying to cope with the frustration of still living in miserable temporary shelter eight years after the camp’s destruction, he continued. And in Syria, it meant suffering a savage war and being exposed to relentless violence, which had displaced more than half of the 560,000 refugees living there before the conflict erupted.
“Many of the 58 refugee camps where UNRWA is providing education, health and relief services are becoming more and more engulfed in mounting security crises with some almost completely destroyed by armed conflict,” he said, leaving an unprecedented number of Palestinian refugees politically, socioeconomically and physically vulnerable. Yet, Palestinian refugees stood firm in their resolve to withstand the unending tragedy they must endure.
The crisis was the result of the political failure and lack of will to resolve the political impasse between Palestinians and Israelis, he said. The parameters of the two-State solution were well-known, the ingredients for peace were clear and realistic, and the end game was not unattainable. But, as the region had become increasingly turbulent and unstable, the international community did not have the luxury to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. It was high time to engage, even at the price of taking some political risk. The dangers of failure were much greater than constantly trying to achieve a breakthrough.
He said that, among the historical milestones of the past 100 years, such as the two World Wars, the Berlin Wall, desegregation in the United States, and the Arab Spring, was that “a Palestine refugee remains a Palestine refugee”.
During the ensuing discussion, the representative of Jordan asked Mr. Mladenov what he meant by preserving the two-State solution from an international law perspective, and setting up a mechanism to bridge gaps between the two sides.
The representative of Mauritania asked Mr. Mladenov about the international community’s available means to pressure Israel to comply with international law.
South Africa’s representative asked how Palestinian reconciliation could be supported.
Desra Percaya, Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the United Nations, who chaired the meeting, asked Mr. Wisibono to elaborate on the kind of conditions that would be conducive to bring the peace talks back on track.
Mr. Wibisono said it meant that both parties wanted to engage constructively and also address the issue of accountability. It was also important to create hope among the Palestinians. Failure to do so left them vulnerable to extremist ideologies. That environment must be created by all stakeholders, not just the United Nations. It was better to resume talks than engage in violence, he said.
Mr. Rifai said it was impossible that, after so many years of strife and turmoil, we are still talking about creation of a Palestinian State. “It is unimaginable that the world has done nothing,” he said.
Mr. Mladenov warned that pushing for a return to negotiations that were not based on a clear set of parameters and timeframe would not lead anywhere. Rather, the focus must be on creating conditions to return to such negotiations. The best option was through international law, specifically a Security Council resolution. It was also essential to stop mincing words and to be transparent about the situation on the ground. Clearly, the risks were greater for the side under occupation, not the occupier. Egypt’s President had quite openly said he was willing to provide whatever security means were needed for the talks to resume. Peoples’ rights had to be respected on both sides.
On achieving unity, he stressed the need to return Gaza to the control of the Palestinian Authority, address the public sector employee issue, ensure that “One Palestine” was not just a statement, but a policy that everyone followed, including in elections and other aspects of various reconciliation agreements. It was essential to restore the basic tenets of trust, giving people hope.
Mr. Salhi said real pressure must be exerted on Israel to abandon its apartheid regime, as it had on South Africa during the 1990s to end that country’s apartheid Government. The collapse of the two-State solution was because of Israel’s repeated non-compliance with international law, peace agreements and United Nations resolutions. A 29 November 2012 General Assembly resolution had recognized the State of Palestine by granting it observer status. “Does the international community want to end the occupation of a State that it recognizes or not?”, he asked.
On Palestinian reconciliation, he said that, as a member of the Palestinian Authority’s team that had negotiated with Hamas, he believed the desire was there, but there must be a political prospect that extending the Authority’s control over Gaza and the West Bank under a unified authority had some meaning and would serve as the basis for a Palestinian State. An integral plan was needed in that regard.
In closing remarks, Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, said the meeting had been very important. It was being held in Moscow because the city was a good friend to the Palestinian people and the Russian Federation was a major partner, notably in the Security Council, in the process to resolve the conflict.
The question of Palestine was going through a very critical moment, of “to be or not to be”, he said. “We are sick and tired of the continuation of the occupation. We want to put an end to it,” he said, through action on the ground and in the legal arena. “We need help from all of you in every possible way,” he said, reminding Member States of their responsibility under the General Assembly’s 1948 partition plan to complete the pending part of the plan — creation of an independent State of Palestine.
He lauded South Africa — a powerful moral force in the fight against apartheid — for sending its Deputy Foreign Minister to the meeting, and recalled the 1997 statement of former President Nelson Mandela that “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”. He asked if, in fact, an independent State of Palestine would be created or if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who had said “not on his watch” in regard to the two-State solution and a Palestinian State, would succeed.
Mr. Mansour applauded the French initiative in the Security Council — a significant break from the traditional practice of waiting for the United States to dictate the terms of resolutions on the two-State solution. Palestinian and other Arab authorities had set up a special ministerial committee to work with the French Government to facilitate the text’s adoption, he said, expressing hope that the United States would support it. “We need determination to implement the two-State solution and in an obvious and clear timeframe, through a collective mechanism. We will not go back to direct negotiations between us and the Israelis,” he said, calling talks an exercise in futility.
Palestinians officials were discussing a “plan B” with their French counterparts and others supporting the draft in the event the Council did not adopt it, he said. The Palestinians were ready for a serious conference, with other Arab countries and permanent Council members, in order to accomplish the same objective. But, if neither of the two plans came to fruition and both were obstructed, no one should blame the Palestinians for not using all the tools in the international arena to achieve the two-State solution. Instead, “you should be knocking on every door in the Security Council” to cross the threshold.
The 2012 General Assembly resolution granting Palestine observer State status in the United Nations opened the door for the State to join and/or take its case to many international treaty bodies, such as the Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to seek justice for the victims in Gaza and continued settlement-building — both of which were war crimes. It was just a matter of time before Israel and the United States accepted the existence of Palestine as a State. “We do want to negotiate if there is a desire and determination from the other side,” he said, stressing that ending settlement activities would be “the most concrete demonstration of their willingness to withdraw from our land”.
“Maybe going to the ICC is the path to create fear in the hearts and minds of Israelis,” he said, calling the move “a huge contribution to our investment in peace and in saving the two-State solution”. He implored western European countries that had not done so to follow the lead of Sweden and the Holy See in recognizing the State of Palestine. Nations should also try in their respective national courts crimes committed by settlers and terrorists; they had a moral obligation to take those steps, and under article 1 of the fourth Geneva Convention, were permitted to develop their own enforcement mechanisms. “We should make occupation as expensive as possible,” he said, stressing, “We are interested in implementation, not reiteration of principles.”
Committee Chair Fodé Seck (Senegal) said a fruitful exchange of views had taken place over the last two days. The large participation by the diplomatic community in Moscow, Palestinian civil society and the keen interest by the Russian and international media was proof of the high priority the international community attached to the issue. Also participating were two Permanent Missions of Member States to the United Nations in New York — Venezuela and Saudi Arabia — as well as South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister.
The discussions of the last two days should serve as a wake-up call, he said, stressing that the region was at a historic cross-roads. Scepticism ran high, but there were possibilities for a breakthrough. The urgency of achieving a just solution to the question of Palestine in a region marred by conflict and increasing instability was of utmost priority. He called on the meeting’s participants to “keep our focus on the strategic goal: the end of the Israeli occupation, the emergence of a sovereign and independent State of Palestine with the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of the refugees”.