BAKU, Azerbaijan, 21 July — The International Conference on the Question of Jerusalem concluded this afternoon with the introduction of a communiqué on behalf of its organizers condemning the recent closure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and restrictions on worshippers therein, as well as a discussion of legal issues related to the 50-year-old Israeli occupation.
By the terms of the communiqué — issued on behalf of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and read out in full by Conference Chair Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño (Venezuela) — the organizers of the Conference strongly condemned the closure of the mosque and the banning of Friday prayers. They further stated that such actions and others imposed in violation of the historic status quo and international law constituted both a blatant aggression against those who wished to attend the holy sites and an attack on the rights of the Palestinian people.
Further by its terms, the organizers called on the international community to urgently reaffirm respect for the historic status quo, and compel Israel, the occupying Power, to rescind all measures violating it.
As participants delivered closing remarks, Isra Muzaffar of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs provided an update on the latest situation on the ground in Jerusalem, saying at least 193 Palestinians had been injured and one killed over the course of the day. All the gates around the Al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound and leading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque had been closed with the exception of three outfitted with metal detectors, and there were reports that a hospital in East Jerusalem had been raided.
“It is our destiny as Palestinians to continue carrying the torch and fighting for the rights of our people,” said Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine. Expressing pride that Palestinians were on the front lines of defending the Al-Aqsa Mosque, he described today as “another round” in the senseless fight that was Israel’s military occupation. Palestinians deserved freedom and dignity, as well as the right to pray freely without any obstacles, he said, voicing his determination to continue defending the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, telling the Conference organizers that their communiqué would serve as an important message to the Palestinian people that they were not alone.
Shahin Abdullayev (Azerbaijan), delivering closing remarks on behalf of the host country, said the Conference had heard various briefings, reports and other statements that shed light on the status quo in Jerusalem. While many resolutions had been passed on the situation, none had been implemented to date, he said, expressing hope that the Conference would help pave the way for a resolution of the question of Jerusalem. That city belonged not only to the Palestinian people, but to the entire Arab and Islamic world, he stressed.
A plenary session on the theme “international and regional support for East Jerusalem” was also held this afternoon, with participants considering the merits of various legal options to bring about an end to the Israeli occupation.
Chairing the third and final plenary session this afternoon, under the theme “international and regional support for East Jerusalem” was Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño, permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations. It featured the following panellists: Musa Kulaklikaya, Director-General, Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (IOC), Turkey; Ramina Mammad Gizi Huseynli, Azerbaijan State Pedagogical University; and Stanley Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), via Skype.
Mr. KULAKLIKAYA said Palestinian residents of Jerusalem suffered under a number of obstacles, primarily the expanding illegal Israeli settlements and the “judaization policies” imposed on the city. Economic, legal and political measures against Palestinians remained in place despite all the peace efforts and relevant United Nations resolutions, he said, citing also the absence of international pressure. In that context, OIC member States should formulate and adopt a common stance on Palestine and the issue of Jerusalem, he said, adding that it could include capacity-building programmes for Palestinian lawyers, among other concrete measures.
Outlining some of his Centre’s activities, he said the OIC Strategic Plan for the Development of Jerusalem — adopted in 2013 — accorded special attention to the tourism sector accounting for 22 per cent of total projects. Jerusalem had been selected as the OIC City of Tourism in 2015, he recalled, noting that Palestine was rich in natural and human resources, especially youth. However, many of those young people remained unemployed, with nearly 39 per cent out of work in 2016. “These numbers show that the interventions targeting youth unemployment should be more results-oriented,” he emphasized, calling upon stakeholders — including Government, civil society and the private sector — to join forces in addressing skills mismatches and gender disparities in the development of skills.
Describing the OIC SEED-Palestine pilot project, he said it aimed to empower young people by providing them with training for employment, increasing job opportunities for marginalized youth and generating business development for existing and new enterprises. That project would be carried out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the Economic Empowerment Programme for Palestinian People, who would benefit from existing resources and infrastructure, he said.
Ms. HUSEYNLI recalled that, after the departure of British troops from Jerusalem, the city had been placed under United Nations trusteeship, whereupon Israel and Jordan had divided it between themselves. The subsequent 1967 Six-Day War had resulted in Israel’s occupation, he added, noting that, despite United Nations resolutions condemning it Israel persisted in imposing measures aimed at changing Jerusalem’s character — including by constructing illegal settlements.
Both the General Assembly and the Security Council had repeatedly declared such activities to be contrary to international law, she continued. The question of Jerusalem had come to be considered in a broader context during the 1980s — as an example of a territory annexed through the use of force. In addition, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had adopted a resolution in 2007, reaffirming the need to preserve Jerusalem as an official World Heritage Site.
Mr. LYNK said the foundational test of any proposed settlement of the Palestine question must be whether it met the standards of fairness, equality and justice mandated by international law. “Above all, international law is the promise that States make to one another to maintain peace and pursue justice,” he said, noting that the annexation of territory by the use of war or force was strictly forbidden in such statutes. The Palestinian territory captured by Israel in 1967 was nearly universally regarded by the international community as “occupied”, and the implantation of civilian settlers — also forbidden under international law — was widely seen as having the aim of displacing that territory’s protected indigenous peoples, constituting a presumptive war crime.
Self-determination was perhaps the most central of collective human rights in international law, he said, pointing out that the United Nations had long affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to exercise that right. He reviewed a range of General Assembly and Security Council resolutions adopted in the decades following the 1967 war, noting that they all declared Israel’s practices to be null and void, and called for an end to the occupation. Any final settlement must ensure the rights of all who called Jerusalem home, as well as their equal access to the city’s holy sites, he emphasized.
International law was quite clear on what Israel, as the occupying Power, was forbidden to do with regard to Jerusalem, he continued. Whereas international law placed the principles of justice, fairness and equality at its core, it did not prescribe a particular solution to the question of Jerusalem, and remained flexible enough to encompass agreement on its status as a re‑divided city, a shared city, a unified city, a communal city or some other model. For its part, the United Nations could commission legal studies designed to bring Israel into compliance with its resolutions on Jerusalem, including through an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, as to the legality of the occupation. If the latter ruled that the core principles of international law had been violated, the global community would have a duty to take “every reasonable measure” to end the occupation and help the population either to pursue self-determination or restore its previous political status.
During the ensuing interactive dialogue, participants discussed the merits of relying on legal opinions to end the occupation. Some speakers expressed support for that strategy, while others voiced frustration that international rulings had yielded few results on the ground to date.
In that regard, a representative of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs cited Israel’s “persistent and worsening” non-compliance with international law, and asked Mr. Lynk why an International Court of Justice advisory opinion would help to reverse that trend when so many other laws and resolutions had failed.
Mr. LYNK said he could understand “the weariness of people who have seen the United Nations pass resolution after resolution” with no discernible change on the ground. However, it was important to note that the International Court of Justice had never been asked, on the question of Palestine, whether the Israeli occupation was lawful. If the Court identified repeated violations of the laws governing occupation — including actions taken by Israel in its own interest, rather than in the interest of those living under its administration — it could rule the occupation itself to be illegal, he said, pointing out in that regard the historical example of present-day Namibia. The Court had found South Africa’s hold over that territory to be illegal, he recalled, citing several “modern-day examples” of occupation, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States. Such occupations were always intended to be temporary, he noted. The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine agreed that international law required any occupation to be temporary, saying Israel’s occupation was therefore illegal by virtue of having lasted 50 years. On the International Court of Justice advisory opinion, he pointed out that the General Assembly did not typically refer to such opinions, recalling that various experts had cautioned that the Court’s current composition might not lead to a ruling in favour of the Palestinians. Another option being explored was the possibility of opening an official investigation against Israel at the International Criminal Court to determine whether war crimes had been committed against the Palestinian people, he said.
Mr. LYNK, asked about violations of human rights law and humanitarian law by parties other than Israel, said that organizations like Amnesty International were on the ground to record such incidents, adding that, while his own mandate did not currently extend to such violations, he was considering recommending such an extension to the Human Rights Council. It would ultimately be up to that body to do so, he said.
Mr. KULAKLIKAYA drew attention to challenges confronting facing Palestinians, including questions of unity, and urged them to “speak with one voice”. The international community also had a responsibility to apply new solutions on the ground, he added.
Representatives of other non-governmental and civil society organizations also made statements.
SHAHIN ABDULLAYEV (Azerbaijan), delivering closing remarks on behalf of the host country, said the Conference had heard various briefings, reports and other statements that shed light on the status quo in Jerusalem. Whereas many resolutions had been passed on the situation, none had been implemented to date, he noted. Azerbaijan strongly supported the Palestinian people and therefore supported a path to peace based on the resolutions of the General Assembly, he emphasized. Azerbaijan faced many similar problems because Security Council resolutions calling for the withdrawal of Armenian forces and an end to the neighbouring State’s aggressions had also failed to be implemented, he said, voicing concern that some “mega-Power” States did not wish to exert the necessary political pressure to resolve such international conflicts. He expressed hope that the present meeting would help pave the way for a resolution of the question of Jerusalem, stressing that the city belonged not only to the Palestinian people, but to the entire Arab and Islamic world, as well.
ISRA MUZAFFAR, Head of the Central West Bank Field Office of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, provided an update on the latest situation on the ground, reporting that at one Palestinian had been killed and least 193 others injured over the course of the day. “The situation is very tense,” she said, noting that all the gates around and leading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque had been closed, with the exception of three outfitted with metal detectors. There were also reports that a hospital in East Jerusalem had been raided and that the Government of Israel was considering the dispatch of troops to East Jerusalem.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer, State of Palestine, said: “It is our destiny as Palestinians to continue carrying the torch and fighting for the rights of our people.” Expressing pride that Palestinians were on the front lines in defending Al-Aqsa, he said “today is another round” in the senseless fight that was Israel’s military occupation. Palestinians deserved freedom and dignity, as well as the right to pray freely without any obstacles, he said, emphasizing the Palestinians’ determination to continue defending Al-Aqsa and Al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Many lives could have been saved if Israel had only listened to reason, he said. “This occupation has to end.” Drawing parallels between the Palestinian cause and those of formerly occupied peoples in Africa and elsewhere around the world, he said: “What you did today was an important step” in sending a message to the Palestinian people that they were not alone, he said, referring to the communiqué emanating for the Conference.