RABAT, Morocco, 27 June (United Nations Information Centre) — On the second day of the International Conference on the Question of Jerusalem participants discussed the political status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the question of Jerusalem in international law and the obligations of Member States.
The Conference is taking place in Rabat, Morocco, from 26 to 28 June under the theme “50 years under occupation and 25 years after the Oslo Agreements”.
ABDALLAH SIAM, Deputy Governor of Jerusalem under Palestinian Authority, said during the day’s first plenary session — on “Political and social status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem today” — that Israeli policies were aimed at pushing Palestinians out of the city in order to impose facts on the ground. Those policies were based on principles such as strengthening the Jewish character of the city, the growth of Israeli settlements, even inside Palestinian neighbourhoods, and the occupation of Palestinian lands. Peace and stability would only be possible through the establishment of a Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, he said, reiterating that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas believes in peace, and is seeking a partner.
LARA FRIEDMAN, Foundation for Middle East Peace, said that President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel marked a radical change in the strategy of the United States. That decision marked the end of that country’s role as sponsor of the Middle East peace process, she said, adding that the decision was counterproductive because it had generated the opposite effect to what the United States Administration had aimed to achieve. The President had made a miscalculation in thinking that by changing the policy of the United States he would strengthen a sentiment that Israel had full rights over Jerusalem. However, that was not true, she said, noting that the President had said that he had removed Jerusalem from the negotiating table and he had ignored the fact that, for all stakeholders, Jerusalem and its future remain an issue.
DANIEL SEIDEMANN, Terrestrial Jerusalem, remarked that the current United States Administration did not understand the realities on the ground yet and that solving the question of Palestine required a viable Palestinian State. The Administration imagines that, with time, the world would bend and the Palestinians would yield to a fait accompli. He compared the Israeli occupation to a disease spreading within the body, which was felt today in the form of violations of something sacred to all — Jerusalem.
AMNEH BADRAN, Al Quds University, said that Israel’s policy aimed at pushing the Palestinians out of Jerusalem was an effort to change the city's demographics through land‑grabbing by military force and with the help of laws. She cited significant data relating to the situation of Palestinians in the city, such as the fact that the percentage of Palestinians residing in Jerusalem was around 37 per cent, of whom almost half could be stripped of their residency permits at any moment. The Palestinians could resist merely by the act of staying in the city, she said, calling for investment in key sectors such as education, health, and youth programmes as part of a partnership between international donors, governmental and non-governmental actors, to enable Palestinians to remain in Jerusalem.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers from a range of organizations shared their thoughts, with many focusing on the role that parliamentarians could play to support Palestinians in Jerusalem. One speaker called for taking the initiative to strengthen the ability of Palestinians to resist and remain in the city through innovative methods of confronting the occupation peacefully so as not to give Israel an opportunity to use force. Some speakers called on parliamentarians to set up initiatives and strategies to exert pressure on Governments while others stressed the importance of providing psychological support to help Palestinians battle depression.
The second plenary session was on the theme “The Question of Jerusalem in International Law and Member States’ Obligations”.
ZIAD ABU ZAYYAD, former Minister for Jerusalem Affairs in the Palestinian Authority, reviewed the various United Nations resolutions on the status of Jerusalem which prohibit any demographic or legal changes in the city. Jerusalem had an independent international status (resolution 181 of 29 November 1947 established Jerusalem as a corpus separatum under international law), despite all the Israeli efforts aimed at changing that status. The transfer of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem showed that the country could not be an objective and impartial mediator between the two parties. He questioned whether the occupation should be deemed to have begun 50 years ago in 1967, and not earlier in 1948.
DIMITRIS BOURIS, Assistant Professor of European External Relations, University of Amsterdam, reviewed the European Union’s policy towards Jerusalem over the decades, emphasizing that, while the bloc remained the largest donor in terms of building Palestinian institutions, the evolution of its policies showed that it should not merely be a “payer, but a player”. Although only a few of its members had officially recognized the State of Palestine, the European Union position remained wedded to international resolutions and the two-State solution, while some Europeans opposed the United States Administration’s policies, maintaining that Jerusalem should be the capital of two States.
MOSHE AMIRAV, Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Jerusalem was everyone’s city and must remain the City of Peace. He recalled that he had proposed, with the late Faisal Housseini, a “two capitals in one single city solution”, that had been rejected by the then‑Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir. That had been among the factors that had triggered the first intifada, which had eventually changed the entire situation in the Middle East, he said, stressing that Jerusalem was the cornerstone of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Camp David, as well as the Annapolis negotiations, had collapsed because of Jerusalem, he said, adding that, in his view, Jerusalem should be the first and not the final issue to be discussed in negotiations between the two sides, and that any solution must keep the city open for peace rather than divide it.
MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH said the problem was that United States presidents minimized the importance of Jerusalem for the Palestinians, and that religious claims should not justify or legitimize the occupation. The Palestinians were ready and open, but Israel refused to return to the 1967 borders, he said, drawing attention to the fact that Israeli society was increasingly leaning towards the right. Regarding the European Union, he stressed that the Europeans did not wish to be in control of those files and chose to stay on the margins, even though the region was part of Europe’s security space. In dealing solely with Israel, the United States used “carrots but no sticks”, he said, noting that Israel had tried to empty Jerusalem of Palestinians. Even as 130,000 Palestinians had been forced to move out, more than 300,000 Israeli settlers had moved in. Al-Haram al-Sharif, too, was today considered part of a settlement zone. The real problem in the occupied territories was not poverty, but refugee camps, he said, emphasizing the need for a clear solution to the refugee issue. Israel did not want a solution to the conflict, and even though President Abbas had met President Trump four times to date, no peace plan had been unveiled yet. Based on what Palestinians had learned about the plan from brotherly countries that the United States had approached, the imminent plan would be a tragedy for Palestinians, he said, adding that Palestinians had never refused negotiations, and now they found that there were only “bad ideas” and no real plans. He reiterated President Abbas’ eight‑point plan to the Security Council calling for an international conference, international protection for civilians and an international mechanism to resolve the conflict, saying the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was open to partnering with all other Palestinian parties provided they accepted the two-State solution, peaceful national resistance, and a single national authority. It was time for “the birds to break free from the cage”, he said.
MOUNIN YUNNAN, representative of the World Council of Churches, said that unilateral decisions undermined peace and security and solutions could not be imposed by force. Referring to the status of Jerusalem, he reiterated the World Council of Churches’ rejection of the United States decision. While considering that Jerusalem could be the capital of both States, he urged the international community to keep the special status of Jerusalem as an open and free city for everyone. Peace in the Middle East would only be possible with peace in Jerusalem, he said, rejecting the apocalyptic rhetoric of some evangelical churches as not reflective of the position of Christians living in Jerusalem and the region.
RANDA SENIORA, Director, Women's Aid and Coaching Center, said the conflict was not between Palestinians and Israelis, but between a colonizing State and a colonized people which flouted the rights of the Palestinian people. Israel must abide by international law and international commitments, particularly on human rights, she stressed, while calling upon the European Union not to be a mere “cheque book” and to commit itself to the culture of respect for human rights.
DIAN TRIYANSYAH DJANI, Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the United Nations and Vice‑Chair of the Palestinian Rights Committee, asked why the Europeans did not simply recognize the Palestinian State instead of just providing financial aid. Concerning the status of Jerusalem, he highlighted Israel’s flagrant violations of Security Council resolutions. He asked how the problem of the three religions in the Old City could be solved without considering other parts of the city of Jerusalem, concluding that each side posed a problem with its own positions and perspectives.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine to the United Nations, agreed that evoking Jerusalem struck a chord with everyone — Muslims, Jews and Christians. As for the European Union, he said it respected Jerusalem’s status and defended United Nations resolutions on the city. The European Union voted against the policy of colonization and considered it an obstacle to peace, he said, while emphasizing that the Europeans could do better and push for the formation of two States and recognition of the Palestinian State. Compliance with international law was important, he added.
Mr. ZAYYAD said in response to questions that Zionism had brought religion into the conflict because the Zionist movement had used religion to create a nationality. Israeli society was today becoming more extremist and pushing Palestinians to adopt the same behaviour. There was a risk that the continued occupation could push the conflict from being a nationalist struggle into becoming a conflict between two religions, he warned.
Mr. BOURIS said that the European Union did not want to play a leading role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because the peace process was based on United States hegemony. He wondered about the utility of focusing on international law if it was not respected, and asked why a new situation on the ground could not be created by imposing recognition of the State of Palestine. He concluded that Europeans were keeping the card of recognition of the Palestinian State to play at the appropriate moment, recalling that the European Union had adopted a strong and firm position with respect to the decision by President Trump to transfer the United States Embassy to Jerusalem.
Mr. AMIRAV emphasized the importance of both sides recognizing their mistakes and drawing the necessary lessons. Jerusalem was the key to the whole issue, he reiterated, stating that the fear of politicians on either side to tell their people the truth was behind the delays in the peace process.
JOSE DE BRITO CRUZ, Ambassador of Brazil to Morocco, said his country’s foreign policy was based on respect for international law. Brazil had recognized the State of Palestine and was committed to the establishment of a united and sovereign State with Jerusalem as its capital. He rejected any unilateral moves that could jeopardize that process, and insisted that the status of Jerusalem should be the subject of an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis within the framework of the two-State solution along the pre-1967 borders.
ALI GHAITH, a journalist from Jerusalem, said the original mistake had occurred in 1948 with the expulsion of Palestinians. Palestinians did have influential promoters of ideas, but most of them were languishing in Israeli prisons, he added.
The conference will continue on Thursday, 28 June.