Calls Made to Declare International Year to End Israeli Occupation of Palestine
A recent report by the Middle East Quartet that failed to characterize Israeli actions against Palestinians as terrorism was offensive, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People heard today, amid strong calls for the General Assembly to declare 2017 as the International Year to End Israeli Occupation of Palestine.
Moreover, said Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, an observer for the State of Palestine to the United Nations, Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020 if its humanitarian situation was not addressed. The abhorrent state of affairs had deprived people of livelihood, medical care and any normalcy of life. “It is an unjust and highly toxic situation,” she said, briefing the Committee on latest developments.
She had expected the Quartet’s July report to have made bold recommendations to address such challenges and reaffirm the parameters for a solution to the conflict within a set timeframe. However, it was simply another attempt to manage the conflict, failing to acknowledge the nearly half century of Israeli occupation as the primary source of violence, she said. It had taken a skewed approach to critical issues and not addressed others. Its characterization of Israeli actions as a response to those by Palestinians was equally offensive.
Despite all peace efforts reaffirming the two-State solution, she said, Israel continued to pursue policies and actions that contradicted that solution. It confiscated Palestinian land, destroyed Palestinian property, exploited Palestinian resources and forcibly displaced Palestinian families while advancing illegal settlement activities. Lethal military force was the central means by which Israel was entrenching its foreign illegal occupation.
As next year would mark the fiftieth anniversary of Security Council resolution 242 (1967) and the seventieth anniversary of Assembly resolution 181, her delegation sought to have the Assembly declare 2017 as the International Year to End Israeli Occupation of Palestine. She asked the Committee for support and called for actions by States and the United Nations to help Palestinians realize their rights, especially to self-determination and independence.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers decried the inability of the Security Council, General Assembly and wider international community to end the occupation of Palestinian territory after nearly 50 years, with Venezuela’s delegate supporting the call for 2017 to be recognized as an International Year. “People go to war because of the land question”, said South Africa’s delegate. If Palestinians had lost 80 per cent of their land since 1967, as he had been told, “it means we have a very big crisis on our hands”. He asked about other means for Palestinians to free themselves.
Speakers proposed ideas for changing the calculus. Indonesia’s delegate advocated use of social media, such as Twitter, to raise awareness in places like Ohio. “I’m thinking outside the box,” he said, asking delegates for ideas on how to capitalize on the momentum generated last year with the raising of the Palestinian flag at United Nations Headquarters. That event was covered around the world.
Namibia’s delegate said interest following the Committee’s recent Geneva meeting could help find ways to bring people together. “We have been concerned with this issue for our entire lives”, she said. Namibia and others were examples of countries that had achieved sovereignty despite the odds.
Ecuador’s representative said the issue of Palestine was a political one which had to be resolved by the General Assembly and the Security Council. That it was unresolved was a “blot” on the United Nations reputation. The Committee’s role was to support all initiatives and it should encourage Israeli public opinion to take positive steps, as well as work with the Palestinian public.
On that point, Malaysia’s delegate announced his Government, Council President for August, was organizing an Aria Formula meeting on Palestine, which would focus on illegal Israeli settlements.
Also today, the Committee elected Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia) as Vice-Chair and Carmelo Inguanez (Malta) as Rapporteur and adopted its agenda. Mr. Inguanez reported on the International Conference on the Question of Jerusalem, held on 3 and 4 May 2016, in Dakar, Senegal; the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, held on 19 and 20 May 2016, in Stockholm, Sweden; and the United Nations International Conference in support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, held on 29 and 30 June 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Fodé Seck, Chair of the Committee, briefed on activities of the Working Group, with members subsequently approving the accreditation of civil society organizations to the Committee.
FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, observer for the State of Palestine, said the situation in Occupied Palestine, including East Jerusalem, was critical as a result of Israel’s ongoing destructive practices against Palestinians. As had been stated in numerous letters, ground conditions were fragile and tensions were high. A political horizon was absent despite various initiatives, including by France and the Middle East Quartet. Despite all the peace efforts aimed at reaffirming the two-State solution, Israel had pursued policies and actions contradictory to that goal and had rejected peace. It had persisted with the colonization of Palestinian land, breaching the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Rome Statute and United Nations resolutions. It continued to confiscate Palestinian land, destroy Palestinian property, exploit Palestinian resources and forcibly displace Palestinian families.
Settlement building had not ceased “for a single minute”, she said. Rather, its use of lethal military force was the central means by which Israel was entrenching its foreign illegal occupation. Moreover, settler violence continued to wreak havoc on Palestinian lives. Just last week, Israel had announced plans for 770 settlements in Gilo, an area between Bethlehem and Jerusalem that belonged to Palestinian families. The area had been impacted by the separation wall, whose construction, along with settlements, was isolating Palestinian cities and refugee camps. That announcement, among many others, only reaffirmed Israel’s intention to colonize and de-facto annex Palestinian lands.
She went on to say that June had marked the forty-ninth year of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands — nearly a half-century of subjugation. Palestinians continued to be the target of attacks by occupying forces and extremist settlers, among other actions that had denigrated holy places and fomented violence, including inflammatory rhetoric by high-ranking officials. This June also had marked the ninth year of the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza, she said, noting that her colleague’s parents had been denied permits to travel from Gaza to the West Bank to attend her wedding.
In Gaza, the humanitarian situation was dire, she said, corroborated by evidence from United Nations agencies. If the situation remained unaddressed, Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020. She urged all countries able to do so to provide reconstruction support, as the abhorrent situation had deprived people of livelihoods, medical care and any normalcy of life, as well as dignity and hope. It was an unjust and highly toxic situation. Likewise, the international community had been unable to hold the occupying Power to account, with paralysis in the Council, which lacked the will to follow its moral and legal responsibilities, and a similar inability in the Quartet.
The situation remained, despite regional and international efforts towards a political horizon, she said, noting that Arab States continued to reaffirm the Arab Peace Initiative and Arab partners continued to coordinate with international partners. Israel repeatedly had failed to reciprocate, rejecting the French initiative to establish an international support group and lay the foundations for a conference. A joint communiqué had been put forward on 3 June in Paris and efforts were ongoing, but Israel had been uncooperative. Palestinians, meanwhile, had reaffirmed their cooperation in that effort and appealed for steps to advance it.
Turning to the Quartet’s July report, she regretted that it had not met expectations. The document had failed to acknowledge the gravity of a half century of Israeli occupation and to name that behaviour as the primary source of violence. It had taken a skewed approach to critical issues, while failing to address others, and drawn symmetry between the occupying Power and Palestinians. Its characterization of Israeli actions as a response to Palestinian actions — rather than as decades-long policies — was offensive. Also offensive was its characterization of Palestinian actions as terrorism, she said, while failing to label Israel’s actions as such, despite comments acknowledging that fact by Israel officials.
She had expected the report to have made bold recommendations to address challenges. Yet, it was simply another attempt to manage the conflict, rather than reaffirm the parameters for a solution within a set timeframe, with needed international support. Her delegation would continue to appeal for bold steps to be taken based on international law and United Nations resolutions. Palestinians would continue to pursue that path in the Assembly’s upcoming session, and sought the Committee’s support in that regard.
As next year would mark the fiftieth anniversary of Council resolution 242 (1967), and the seventieth anniversary of Assembly resolution 181 (1947), her delegation sought to have the Assembly declare 2017 as the International Year to End Israeli Occupation of Palestine. The Dakar summit had endorsed that proposal. She appealed to the Committee for support in such efforts and called for actions by States and the United Nations towards ending the occupation and supporting realization of Palestinian rights, including to self-determination and independence. No programme budget implications were anticipated for such a resolution.
DOUGLAS NICOMEDES ARCIA VIVAS (Venezuela), in the ensuing discussion, supported the proposal for an International Year, calling it a good initiative that would enable constructive reflection which hopefully would lead to concrete results and an end to the barbaric occupation of the Palestinian people.
CARMELO INGUANEZ (Malta), Committee Rapporteur, briefed the Committee on several recent events. At the International Conference on the Question of Jerusalem, which took place 4 May in Dakar, participants held that the Jerusalem issue should be resolved as a first priority, instead of being endlessly postponed in negotiations, he said. During the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, held on 19 and 20 May in Stockholm, it was underscored that recent developments — including settlement expansion and demolition of unprecedented numbers of Palestinian homes by Israel — had undermined Palestine’s right to self-determination and the two-State solution.
The United Nations International Conference in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, held on 29 and 30 June in Geneva, heard from several veteran negotiators, Mr. Inguanez said. Participants stressed the importance of strong international leadership regarding the peace process, with calls for a multilateral effort along the lines of the “P5+1” diplomacy on Iran. The Conference also heard support for the French initiative and for expanding the Quartet to include key regional and European countries.
AHMED ELSHANDAWILY (Egypt) asked why the Geneva conference had been relocated from Paris, where it was initially supposed to have been held at the Headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Mr. SECK replied that the French Government had requested its postponement because the French initiative was then under way. Due to logistical issues, such as the availability of speakers, it was decided to go ahead with the conference in Geneva instead.
Ms. ABDELHADY-NASSER asked if it might be possible to share the outcomes of such meetings with the wider United Nations membership.
ELIO TAMBURI, Director of the Division of Palestinian Rights of the Department of Political Affairs, replied that information was disseminated through such channels as the Committee’s website and its Facebook page. Links to documents also appeared in the United Nations Journal, and were shared with relevant United Nations agencies in New York and in the field. He said it was important for Committee members as well to take it upon themselves to promote its activities.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said it seemed from Ms. Abdelhady-Nasser’s report that the situation was worsening daily and that Palestinian land was shrinking all the time. For South Africa, that was a major concern. Land was an emotive issue that people would go to war over. If the Palestinians had indeed lost 80 per cent of their motherland, “it means we have a very big crisis on our hands”. Taking the Palestinian question to as many corners of the world as possible would contribute to raising awareness about resolving the issue as speedily as possible. However, it appeared that the sum total of activities had not shaken the occupation. If the Security Council, big countries or numerous initiatives could not stop the occupation, then what must be done? That question needed to be revisited at some stage, because everything humanly possible had already been done. It might also be necessary to revisit what kind of international leadership was needed, and what more civil society could do. The proposed International Year of Solidarity was a very important suggestion, but how would it be done? South Africa would support a declaration, but it was more important to share what new could be done.
Mr. SECK said many suggestions had come up in Geneva. In October, he added, the Committee would hold a strategic retreat to reflect on how best it could push the peace process forward. In the meantime, the Bureau was waiting impatiently for suggestions. The issue of Palestine could serve as a litmus test for all that the United Nations was calling for.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said he shared many of South Africa’s views. He asked what could be done next to increase momentum as well as awareness of the issue. Some said it had been overtaken by other issues or was no longer “sexy” like terrorism. There were many ideas, but one important thing was that the peace process could not be conducted with the involvement of all people from both countries, and that included the need to increase awareness among Israeli people. Events should be held in places where people knew less about the issue, such as Ohio, he said, and perhaps there should also be a media campaign. “I’m thinking outside the box,” he said. He also discussed the question of linking the Committee’s work to the General Assembly and other United Nations bodies. Concrete steps needed to be found to follow up on conferences.
Mr. SECK noted that the Committee was a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, trying to push a stalled peace process towards a long-overdue two-State solution.
LINDA ANNE SCOTT (Namibia) asked for more information about local elections to be held in October in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. She looked forward to a full report on the Geneva meeting, which would inform any further action by the Committee. Creative ideas needed to be looked at, including a media campaign which would speak to youth. Fifty years on, she asked, “how is it that we are still talking about the Palestinian cause?” Namibia, South Africa and many other countries were examples of countries which had achieved sovereignty despite the odds. Perhaps the Palestinians would find hope in their examples. She supported the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people and looked forward to the International Year to End the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.
Mr. SECK said the upcoming Non-Aligned Movement summit in Venezuela would be an important occasion to again push the cause of Palestine.
HORACIO SEVILLA BORJA (Ecuador), noting Ecuador’s formal relations with the State of Palestine, said the question of Palestine was an outstanding issue that remained to be resolved at the United Nations, which nearly 70 years ago had decided to partition Palestine and create two States. The Committee’s work was to remind the international community of that fact. The issue of Palestine was essentially a political issue which had to be resolved by the General Assembly and the Security Council. If it were resolved in time, a great deal of suffering in the world would be averted. So much violence and terrorism would be avoided. Although the report of the Quartet was not fully supported by Ecuador, its recommendations were a step in the right direction, in addition to the Arab and French initiatives. It could be said, with some degree of optimism, that the issue was being taken forward. The Committee’s role was to support all initiatives and it should encourage Israeli public opinion to take positive steps as well as work with the Palestinian public. “It is a blot on the reputation of this Organization,” he said, which had yet to finish the work of creating the State of Palestine. He added that “we must try to bring new initiatives into play.”
Ms. ABDELHADY-NASSER said the campaign for municipal elections, to be held in October, was under way. It had generated a renewed spirit to participate in a democratic process and helped to launch a national dialogue on the larger issue of occupation. It was the intention to hold the polls in all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, however there was concern about possible actions by the occupying Power. She supported the ideas put forward, stressing: “Palestine is ready to further explore all of these ideas,” adding that reaching young people was of importance.
Mr. SECK recalled that, after the Dakar meeting, a Senegalese proposal had been made for the Palestinian Permanent Observer to convene a follow-up meeting in Dakar, and to then send recommendations to the Committee. He asked Ms. Abdelhady-Nasser to follow-up what had been done on that front.
SHAHER AWAWDEH of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation supported Indonesia’s suggestion to educate the international community through social media use. He described two videos posted to YouTube in which two Palestinian children had been beaten by Israeli soldiers. Also, the rabbi appointed as the spiritual leader of the Israeli army had recently condoned rape of Palestinian women. The Conference would hold an event on “Journalism under Occupation”, which would outline alternative media options.
Mr. SECK announced several upcoming events, including a meeting of the Committee on 3 October at which the Bureau would deliver a draft of the Committee’s report to the General Assembly. In November, the Security Council’s next debate on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian question would be held. Meanwhile, on 29 November, several events would be held to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity.
RAJA REZA BIN RAJA ZAIB SHAH (Malaysia), acknowledging the presence of other Security Council members in the room, shared his delegation’s views on developments in the Council regarding the issue of Palestine. Although Malaysia had some questions about the Quartet report, it would like to see some concrete action and affirmative measures to implement its report’s recommendations in order to reverse negative trends on the ground and to salvage the two-State solution. In Malaysia’s view, settlement activities constituted the main threat to the two-State solution and must be stopped and reversed. Unable to reach consensus, the Council had failed once again to produce an outcome document. Malaysia, the Council Chair for August, was planning an Arria Formula meeting on Palestine soon, focusing on illegal Israeli settlements. It was working closely with the State of Palestine mission and other like-minded Council members on that proposal.