DAKAR, 4 May — Amid expressions of frustration, calls for new approaches to end the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian stalemate took centre stage this afternoon as the International Conference on the Question of Jerusalem concluded in Dakar.
Among the initiatives highlighted was a recent French proposal, which called for an international conference to kick-start progress towards a two-State solution.
“We need to shift gears and do something different,” said Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, adding that, after 23 years of negotiations, “we cannot wait any longer”. Calling on the Security Council to accept the French plan, he said the sooner that collective process was unleashed, the sooner it would no longer be up to Israeli leaders to deny Palestinians their liberty.
Noting that experts had, over the past two days, presented moving testimonies and brilliant insights into the current conflict, he also noted “tremendous anger” and frustration in the meeting’s discussions. Palestinians were fed up with empty promises from the international community. Expressing pride in the steadfastness of the Palestinian people’s heroic resistance, he went on to say that colonial occupation had not worked in Africa and it would not work in Palestine.
Coly Seck, Cabinet Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of Senegal, said the meeting — the first of its kind to be held in Africa — had illustrated the critical nature of the question of Jerusalem in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Speakers had issued calls to the Security Council to take action to end the occupation and to allow for the establishment of an independent State of Palestine, he said. The International Conference’s plenary presentations had made practical proposals to end the occupation and resolve the question of Jerusalem, he noted, calling on all States to defend the Palestinian cause.
Fodé Seck, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said discussions over the past two days had demonstrated the commitment of the participants to the Palestinian cause. Thanking those participants and the meeting’s organizers, he noted that Senegalese civil society had been particularly well-represented at the event.
During a plenary session that focused on scenarios for a solution to the question of Jerusalem, panellists discussed a number of ways forward. Among those were plans to share and not divide the city with sovereignty assigned to different neighbourhoods based on demography.
Speakers during the ensuing interactive discussion underscored Israel’s disconnect from the reality of the occupation on the ground, calling for interventions by the international community rather than waiting for change to come from within. A debate also emerged about the nature of joint Israeli-Palestinian projects aimed at peace, with some speakers noting that such projects were based on a “false symmetry” and that they did not address the root of the problem — the Israeli occupation.
The third plenary session of the International Conference featured presentations by Hiba Husseini, legal adviser to peace negotiations, Al-Mustakbal Foundation; Rami Nasrallah, head of the Board of Directors, International Peace and Cooperation Centre; Gershon Baskin, co-chairman of the Israel-Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives; and Catherine Cissé van den Muijsenbergh, expert consultant on transitional justice, lecturer, vice-president of the Centre for Long-Term Strategic Studies and board member of the Institute Schumann.
Ms. HUSSEINI said the issue of negotiations had been an intractable one, with Jerusalem at the centre. That city had not gotten the attention it deserved because a host of ancillary issues had arisen. Negotiations had from the beginning been based on a territorial exchange, or “land for peace”, she said, noting that holy sites still remained at the core of the question of Jerusalem. Briefly describing past negotiations on that question, she said the issue had frequently been side-lined. The Clinton Parameters had proposed Jewish neighbourhoods under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighbourhoods under Palestinian sovereignty. However, that proposal was not viable due to the city’s geographic layout and disputes over what constituted those neighbourhoods.
Turning to the Old City, comprising Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian quarters, she said Israel wished to bring the Armenian quarter under its control. Moreover, Palestinians and Israelis differed on issues related to geographic definitions, scope, sovereignty and the status quo. While those complex elements had made negotiations difficult, Palestinians had nonetheless been eager to engage in talks, though not on the issue of the 1967 borders. Israel had not taken the question of Jerusalem seriously and had made excuses for its non-involvement in peace talks. Any compromise must be entertained within the context of the entire negotiation framework, she said, adding that “we cannot agree to a piecemeal approach” to the question of Jerusalem.
Mr. NASRALLAH said there had been an informal track to diplomacy between Israelis and Palestinians prior to 2000. Prior to 2000, a shared city was being discussed. After 2000, there had been a shift towards an Israeli discourse of “full separation” calling for a physical border between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem. Israelis had begun to consider how policies on Jerusalem could better serve Israel, he said, describing the evolution of negotiations over recent decades. As an urban planner, he raised the issue of the functionality of Jerusalem, asking how the city could better serve its people. There was a huge gap between East and West Jerusalem, and that asymmetric structure needed to be addressed, he said, adding that there was also a need to establish an equality-based dual urban system.
He went on to say the geopolitical solution for the future of Jerusalem should not be based on the current Israeli demographics and settlements. The division should be based on a distinct border between a contiguous East Jerusalem — a Palestinian capital city — and West Jerusalem. The territorial contiguity, urban functions and expansions of Palestinian East Jerusalem must be prioritized. Turning to the worst case scenario, he said Jerusalem could either be a centre for humanity and a link in a network of global cities, or a “cauldron of clashing civilizations, religions and people” that would lead to an all-encompassing conflict and inconceivable loss.
Mr. BASKIN said Jerusalem was a microcosm of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict. Conventional wisdom throughout years of the peace process had been to leave Jerusalem “until the end” when, in fact, it should have been the first issue on the agenda. Having launched a working group on the issue in 1989, he recalled that in 1992, his organization had published its first plan for Jerusalem. Stressing that the plan spoke of “sharing” the city, not dividing it, he said sovereignty in Jerusalem could be assigned to different neighbourhoods based on demography. The plan had also proposed that the city remain an open one without walls or fences.
There were some 360,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem today, most of whom were not Israeli citizens, but who were city residents, he continued. Most Palestinians in Jerusalem demanded to be part of the Palestinian State with the city as its capital. No Palestinian Jerusalemites had agreed to a divided Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Israel had claimed the city as an undivided part of the Jewish State. Palestinians had no official role in the city, he said, noting that there was a void of local leadership that Israel had systematically undermined. Describing the history of the city’s geography, he said Israel had illegally annexed all of East Jerusalem. The Palestinian position was that the entirety of the Old City would be under Palestinian control in any peace agreement. It was relatively easy to assign sovereignty to all of the city’s neighbourhoods, he said, due to their highly segregated nature, noting that Jerusalem was a unique place that required unique solutions. Finally, he said, the recent decision of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to ignore the Jewish history and presence in Jerusalem was neither scientific nor educated and should be reversed.
Ms. CISSÉ, describing her experience working on the history of the current situation, said the question of the legal status of Jerusalem was central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That complex question was far from being resolved. “The dead end we find ourselves in leads to despair” and to violence, she said, asking how the world could tolerate that more and more young Palestinian men were being unfairly jailed by Israel in contravention of international law. Moving forward required looking at the past, no matter how heavy and difficult it was. The shattered identities of the past must give way to new identities based on truth and empathy. Recalling that 1948 was known as the Nakba or “catastrophe” by Palestinians and as the date of independence by Israelis, she said those opposing interpretations demonstrated the long-standing differences between them.
Today, it was important for historians to work together in a peaceful environment, she said. Moderators of any peace talks should preferably be impartial foreign persons and the human being should be placed at the centre of the issue. She said there was a need to get young Palestinians in Jerusalem involved in an archaeological exploration of the city’s heritage. Educating the youth on that complex history would reinvigorate their links with Jerusalem’s history, she said, calling for the creation of an “encyclopaedia of Jerusalem” by a joint group of Israeli and Palestinian historians. The international community could also facilitate the creation of an interactive website on Jerusalem’s history and it should promote relevant documentaries and other related art products.
In the ensuing interactive discussion, speakers raised questions about whether it would be possible, given the current impasse, to bring to life the dream of Jerusalem as a peaceful, multicultural and multi-ethnic city.
In that regard, some said Israel was not ready for peace, with one speaker saying that shared projects were problematic because they were based on a “false symmetry” and did not address the root cause of the conflict – the Israeli occupation. Instead, she called for projects of “co-resistance” to combat discrimination against Palestinians.
A representative of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation said the total disconnection of Israeli society from the reality of the occupation meant that Israel had lost interest in finding a resolution to the conflict. Outside interventions were needed, instead of waiting for a change from the Israeli side. He asked the panellists if Palestinian claims to property in West Jerusalem had ever been addressed in any international forum.
Other speakers queried specific panellists, with one asking Mr. Baskin whether different groups could go into a sporting arena or a cinema in Jerusalem or if there was segregation in public places.
A number of civil society representatives also questioned the commitment of States, in particular Arab States and Western Powers, to the Palestinian cause, pointing at empty seats in the conference hall.
Ms. CISSÉ, responding to the comment on joint projects, said there was no incompatibility between such initiatives and other approaches to peace.
Mr. BASKIN said the result of a failed peace process and violence was that both sides had lost confidence that peace was possible. Nevertheless, a large majority on both sides wanted a two-State solution. While individuals could go anywhere they wanted in Jerusalem, people did not mix and stayed within their ethnic neighbourhoods because there was a clear “geography of fear”. He opposed blanket condemnations of all joint Israeli-Palestinian projects.
Ms. HUSSEINI, noting that Israel had presented conflict-related issues as political ones to be dealt with at a bilateral level, said international law should become the basis of negotiations. The Zionist idea to dominate the area from the Nile to the Euphrates was well known, but Israel realized that the two-State solution would not take it in that direction.
Mr. NASRALLAH said the issue of the rights of Palestinian property owners in West Jerusalem had been raised in negotiations.
FODÉ SECK, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said discussions during the International Conference had demonstrated the commitment of participants to the Palestinian cause. In particular, Senegalese civil society had been well represented and he invited such representatives to become accredited with the Committee in order to continue their involvement in the future.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, spotlighted Senegal’s good work in chairing the Committee over the past 40 years. Thanking the speakers, in particular those from Israel who had had the courage to come to the International Conference, he said the Palestinian people were telling their narrative “in the most effective way possible”. The Conference had heard a sampling of the tens of thousands of stories of Palestinians who were suffering on the ground and of the insights of a number of brilliant academic thinkers. All those voices were telling the story of justice, heroism and the Palestinian determination to end the occupation.
In addition, he said, he had heard “tremendous anger” emerge in the discussions, noting that such a frustration was justified as Palestinians were tired of the international community’s empty promises. He was proud of the steadfastness of the heroic resistance of the Palestinian people, he added, calling on civil society representatives in particular to continue pressuring Government representatives to act. The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory today was worse than it had been 23 years ago, when negotiations had begun. “We need to shift gears and do something different,” he said. Since the international community was not shouldering its responsibility to provide justice to the Palestinians, it was their destiny to blaze a trail forward. Colonial occupation had not worked in Africa and it would not work in Palestine, he stressed, noting that without ending the occupation, the cycle of frustration would continue.
Humanity was evolving in such a way that complex issues could not be resolved through the two parties themselves, he said. Third parties from around the world must take part in ending the occupation and granting independence to the State of Palestine. “We cannot wait any longer,” he said, calling on the Security Council to put an end to the illegal occupation and to accept the French initiative. The sooner those collective processes were unleashed, the sooner it would no longer be up to the Israeli leaders to deny Palestinians their liberty. He went on to announce that the Palestinians had succeeded, along with a group of friendly States, in initiating an Arria-formula meeting in the Security Council to discuss international protection for the Palestinians. The International Conference had been the most successful of the three similar events on Jerusalem so far, he concluded.
COLY SECK, Cabinet Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of Senegal, recalling that the International Conference had been the first of its kind in Africa, thanked the organizers and civil society participants. The meeting had illustrated the critical nature of the question of Jerusalem in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, adding that many speakers had strongly condemned violence against civilians. In the opening session, speakers had issued calls to the Security Council to take action to end the occupation and to allow for the establishment of an independent Palestinian State.
Turning to the Conference’s three plenary sessions, he hailed the quality of the presentations and testimonies and the subsequent discussions. The presentations had made practical proposals to end the occupation and to resolve the question of Jerusalem. Reiterating Senegal’s full support for the Palestinian people, he went on to call on all States to defend that fair cause.