Speakers Consider Proposed Law in Ireland to Ban Imports from Illegal Settlements, as United Nations Forum on Question of Palestine Discusses de Facto Annexation

GA/PAL/1424
4 April 2019
Forum on Question of Palestine (AM & PM)

Speakers Consider Proposed Law in Ireland to Ban Imports from Illegal Settlements, as United Nations Forum on Question of Palestine Discusses de Facto Annexation

As they adressed the stalled peace process and “creeping annexation” by Israel of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, delegates, activists and policymakers participating in a high-level forum on the question of Palestine considered a variety of solutions ranging from full Palestinian statehood recognition to a bill in Ireland’s parliament to ban imported goods produced in the illegal settlements.

Some of the first decisions of the United Nations were aimed at resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, reminded the Forum, in his opening remarks addressing the theme:  “The threat of de facto annexation — what next for Palestine?”  Urging Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of people and goods, he stressed that the two-State solution is the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and lasting peace for Israel.  “There is no plan B,” he underscored, also noting that Palestinian unity is essential for a politically stable and economically viable Palestine and welcoming the tireless efforts of Egypt to continue dialogue with Palestinian factions.

Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, also expressed gratitude to Egypt as he called on Palestinians to “put our house in order” and end the split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  Portraying the tremendous frustration experienced by Palestinians and an international community frozen in place waiting for a “grand plan”, he recalled that in the Security Council, votes on the topic always result in a 14-1 outcome.  Highlighting the support provided by the United States Administration to Israel, he stressed that despite all this, Palestinians will not raise the white flag of surrender.

Cheikh Niang (Senegal), Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, called on the international community to stop the “laissez-faire attitude that turns a blind eye to Israel’s indifference”.  Despite Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), which calls for an end to the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, more than 3,000 housing units are planned in Area C of the West Bank.  Urging Israel to cease their construction, he said that any unilateral moves to change the political, religious and cultural character of Jerusalem — a city sacred to three religions — would be detrimental to the cause of peace and stability in the Middle East.

“A gradual, inhumane and de facto annexation is unfolding before our eyes,” Retno Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, cautioned the Forum.  Underscoring that the State of Palestine and the occupying Power are not on a level playing field, she called for concrete measures, such as striving for the recognition of Palestine as a United Nations Member State.  Spotlighting the budgetary challenges faced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), she commended the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for establishing a waqf trust fund to support the Agency and added that Indonesia will double its own annual contribution.

The Forum then held two panel discussions featuring scholars and activists, with the first one themed “From occupation to annexation — reality in the occupied Palestinian territory”.  Human rights defender Raji Sourani, who spoke from Gaza via videoconference, said that practically and legally, it is as if the Palestinians did not exist.  Ilan Baruch, a former Israeli diplomat and now the Chairperson of the Policy Working Group of activists on the Middle East Peace Process based on the two-State paradigm, outlined the ways in which the Israeli Government is consolidating its physical control over East Jerusalem through eviction of Palestinian residents and erasing the Palestinian story from the tourist sites of the city.

Also on that panel was Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory, who pointed out that while Israel denies that the laws of occupation apply to the West Bank, it has taken multiple steps to establish a sovereign claim over it.  Citing as an example the highway network that used to be a north-south system, which Israel has now reconfigured as an east-west system benefiting its own economy, he said:  “Annexation is in the air”.

Speakers in the afternoon panel, on the theme of “Viable and practical steps for the international community to stem annexation”, considered various legal and economic measures.  Frances Black, Senator of the Seanad Éireann of Ireland, drew on her country’s experience as the first in the world to end trade in goods with apartheid South Africa, and spotlighted the Occupied Territories bill she had tabled which is expected to pass into law in Ireland shortly.  The bill, the first of its kind in the European Union, seeks to ban the import and sale of goods produced in illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

“Commercial activity is not divorced from political impact,” said Conor O’Neill, Researcher and Policy Adviser of the Seanad Éireann of Ireland, noting that the European Union imports 15 times more goods from Israeli settlements than from the State of Palestine.  That has a material impact on the State of Palestine’s ability to grow a functioning economy, he stressed.  Ziad AbuZayyad, former Minister for the State of Palestine, called on the international community to launch a full boycott of settlements.  Israel must freeze all settlement activities, whether in Jerusalem or the West Bank, and international companies must be precluded from doing business with them.

Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, Human Rights Attorney, pointed out that the success of Israel’s occupation has always been in its “ability to make subtle, incremental changes that fly under the radar and that are anchored in sophisticated law.”  Calling on third States to engage in legal and diplomatic efforts to remind Israel of the bounds of international humanitarian law, she warned:  “If we wait for formal, de jure annexation, it will have been too late.”

Opening Remarks

OSCAR FERNANDEZ-TARANCO, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, recalling that some of the first decisions of the Organization were aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said that the problem goes to the heart of the Charter of the United Nations, according to which the annexation of territory by another State is inadmissible.  The Palestinians have endured prolonged occupation and the peace process has stalled, with security incidents and provocations continuing to escalate the situation in Gaza and the West Bank.  A new conflict would be devastating for the Palestinian people, he said, noting the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the military build-up by Hamas and other militant groups.

Stressing that Palestinian unity is essential for a politically stable and economically viable Palestine, he welcomed the tireless efforts of Egypt to continue dialogue with Palestinian factions and urged Israel to lift restrictions on movement of people and goods.  In the occupied West Bank, the construction of settlements continues unabated, he pointed out, emphasizing that settlements are illegal under international law.  Both parties must avoid unilateral actions that undermine the two-State solution — the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and lasting peace for Israel.  “There is no plan B,” he underscored, and the parties to the conflict owe it to their citizens as well as future generations of Israelis and Palestinians to break the cycle of violence.

CHEIKH NIANG (Senegal), Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the growth of Israeli settlements has profoundly fragmented Palestinian land and made the two-State solution harder.  Even though Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) calls for an end to the construction of such settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, more than 3,000 housing units are planned in Area C of the West Bank.  As such, he called on Israel to cease the construction of illegal settlements and halt demolitions of Palestinian structures.  Moreover, any unilateral moves to change the political, religious and cultural character of Jerusalem — a city sacred to three religions — would be detrimental to the cause of peace and stability in the Middle East, he observed. 

He went on to emphasize that all such outstanding issues should only be addressed as part of final status negotiations, adding that “we will continue to champion these objectives until there is a Palestinian State, side by side with Israel, with secure and recognized borders.”  He also called on Palestinian leaders to constructively engage in reconciliation and resolve the current political impasse in that regard.  The international community must stop the “laissez-faire attitude that turns a blind eye to Israel’s indifference to the broader questions of peace,” he stressed.  Member States must hold Israel accountable for its actions by enforcing United Nations resolutions and international law in their dealings.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, described the tremendous frustration experienced by its people and leadership.  Israel’s protracted illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and its construction of illegal settlements must end, he said.  In that regard, he expressed regret about the lack of progress from Israel.  “They are getting away with murder,” he emphasized, adding “something has to change”.  He recalled that Palestinians have proposed ideas for a collective process led by the Security Council, noting that a political will must emerge in that regard.  “We do not accept the fate of being between a rock and a hard place,” he said, noting that the United States Administration is providing Israel with political support and denying Palestinians their rights at political and diplomatic levels.  He called on the international community to muster political will in order to implement its global consensus.

He went on to cite the Committee’s meetings in Brussels, Belgium, and in Canada, observing that the international community cannot be frozen in place waiting for a “grand plan” on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In the Security Council, votes on the topic always result in a 14-1 outcome, he recalled, asking what States are doing to end the occupation.  He called for practical ways to implement the international community’s will, pointing out that the community is not elevating itself in terms of addressing the Palestinian people’s rights.  Such practical solutions might include legal options at the International Criminal Court or at the national level, compelling Israel to accept their obligations under international law.  Moreover, Palestinians have an obligation to “put our house in order” and end the split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  In that regard, he expressed gratitude to Egypt for its help.  “Palestinian people will not raise white flags,” he emphasized, adding “they will never surrender.” 

RETNO MARSUDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, said that in the past three months alone, there have been unprecedented unilateral measures by the occupying Power, including the withholding of Palestinian tax revenues and the continued expansion of illegal settlements.  “A gradual, inhumane and de facto annexation is unfolding before our eyes,” she said, adding that the Forum on Palestine has a crucial role to play given that disunity has paralyzed the Security Council.  The Palestinian issue is at the heart of her country’s foreign policy, she said, and Indonesia will be persistent in raising that issue, including next month during the country’s presidency of the Council.

Turning to the humanitarian situation in the occupied territory, she noted that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is again facing a challenging year.  Commending the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for establishing a waqf trust fund to support the Agency, she said that Indonesia will double its annual contribution to UNRWA’s core budget.  Noting that the State of Palestine and the occupying Power are not on a level-playing field, she said it therefore falls on the international community to assist the Palestinians.  A concrete measure in that regard is to strive for the recognition of Palestine as a United Nations Member State, she emphasized.

Panel I

The Forum then held a panel discussion on the theme “From occupation to annexation — reality in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

Moderated by Mouin Rabbani, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, it featured the following panellists:  Raji Sourani, Director of the Palestinian Centre Human Rights; Ilan Baruch, Former Ambassador of Israel and Chairperson of the Policy Working Group of activists on the Middle East Peace Process based on the two-State paradigm; and, Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.

Mr. SOURANI, who spoke from Gaza via videoconference, said that with rampant unemployment, almost 85 per cent of the population there depends on UNRWA and other aid agencies.  The situation in Gaza is the biggest manmade disaster, he said, adding that all international agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have made it clear that the siege of Gaza is a political punishment and a crime against humanity.  Even reconstructing Gaza has become a mission impossible due to the blockade, he said, adding that this year, approaching the first anniversary of the March of Return protests, Israel made it clear it would shoot and kill anyone protesting. 

With a free hand in the Gaza Strip, the Judaization of Jerusalem and expanding settlements in the West Bank, Israel is perpetuating a new brand of apartheid, he said.  Practically and legally, it is as if the Palestinians did not exist, he said, adding that when Palestinian activists resorted to international mechanisms to seek remedies for victims or attempted to apply universal jurisdiction in European countries, “in a very strange way, within months, laws are changed, providing more legal immunity to Israel”.

Mr. BARUCH said that as the occupation turned into annexation, he turned from a loyal diplomat who served the Israeli Government to a political activist.  Jerusalem is the core of the Palestine-Israel relations, he stressed, and the Netanyahu Government has taken strides to consolidate its physical control over East Jerusalem, while systematically weakening the Palestinian’s capacity to maintain livelihood, education, housing and political leadership in the city.  While the Green Line, the June 1967 border that is supposed to be the basis of a negotiated agreement between Israel and Palestine, is systematically eroded by Israel, the United States Administration has introduced a far-reaching shift in ignoring the Palestinian aspiration to have its future Government seated in East Jerusalem.  Alongside the systematic eviction of Palestinian residents from the city, Israel is also entrusting tourist properties to nationalist organizations that portray only the Jewish narrative, thus setting up the extinction of the Palestinian story.  “Jerusalem is the most glaring example of a systematic denial of the Palestinian essence,” he stressed.

Mr. LYNK, who focused on the legal aspects of the topic, said that annexation is strictly prohibited under international law, as enshrined in the Charter, in recognition of the cost of the territorial ambitions that had led to the two World Wars.  Noting how last week the Israeli Prime Minister, upon returning to Tel Aviv from Washington, D.C., said that territory occupied in a defensive war “is ours”, he stressed that this is not the opinion shared by international legal scholars.  Noting the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact and the proclamation of the Charter in 1948, he stressed that a military victory does not mean a legal victory. 

Outlining the criteria for deciding whether annexation has taken place, including effective control over territory, exercising of sovereignty, expressions of intent and international law and directions, he said that while Israel denies that the laws of occupation apply to the West Bank and has expressed a willingness to negotiate, in reality, it has taken multiple steps to establish a sovereign claim over the West Bank, such as control over the West bank’s water system.  Another example is that the highway network that used to be a north-south system has now been reconfigured as an east-west system benefiting the Israeli economy.  “Annexation is in the air” and is increasingly being expressed in words and not just deeds, he said.

In the ensuing dialogue, panellists and delegates focused on the changing legal scenario surrounding the conflict and its effect on the stalemate in the peace process.

The representative of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned Israel’s actions aimed at altering the Arab-Islamic identity of Jerusalem and changing its demographic composition, which have become commonplace.  Affirming his organization’s support to the Palestinian people, he said that reversing this historic injustice requires multilateral political engagement within a defined time frame.

Mr. RABBANI asked the panellists to comment on the two-State solution in light of the fact that Israel’s actions can no longer be considered an occupation and should be considered an annexation.

Mr. SOURANI said that Palestinians are back to square one because the two-State solution has put them into a political and legal limbo.  If Palestinians call for a one-State solution now, Israel will interpret it as a call “to throw Jews into the sea”.  In Gaza, “I don’t know how we are surviving,” he said, and amidst the despair and poverty, Israel gets to decide what clothes Palestinians wear, how much electricity they have.

Mr. BARCUH said that the reason for the dismal failure of the previous United States Administration’s Kerry initiative was the lack of readiness on the Israeli side to help consolidate the capacity of the Palestinian leadership to negotiate.  The Trump Administration has completely undermined the Palestinian side by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and removing the refugee return issue from the table.

Mr. LYNK said that if the international community is indeed witnessing an occupation turning into an annexation, then it is time to rethink the assumption that the ongoing occupation is not sustainable.  Europe and the international community have continued to play diplomatic checkers while Israel is playing diplomatic chess.  He pointed out that the ascendant Israeli right can live comfortably while denying Palestinian rights and taking Palestinian land.

The representative of Angola underlined the importance of multilateral organizations such as the United Nations as venues for dialogue and cooperation against the backdrop of the changing landscape of conflicts across the world.  Citing growing demands for jobs, human rights, gender equality, diversity and democratic values in the Middle East, he said rising tensions are only exacerbated by the lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. 

The observer for the State of Palestine asked the panellists what actions they would recommend to the Member States, private sector and global citizenry to give effect to Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) and its call on them to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.

Mr. BARUCH said that it is evident that Israel is not a practical target for a worldwide boycott because it is economically and technologically powerful.  Mr. LYNK said that there is a longstanding practice in international law for third parties to not engage economically with occupying Powers.  Further, third-State responsibility and accountability will be the focus of his next report to the General Assembly.

Tunisia’s representative stressed the need for a united international policy that rejects Israel’s de facto occupation.

Fielding a question from the observer of the State of Palestine about the current Israeli leadership, Mr. BARUCH said that Prime Minister Netanyahu will leave behind him a collective attitude towards Palestine, even if he loses in the next election.  “I am waiting in despair” for the moment someone will create a more positive state of mind towards Palestine in Israel, he said, noting that he was working towards this.

A representative of Gisha, a nongovernmental organization working in Gaza, said that Israeli restrictions on Gaza had led to the “de-development” of the Palestinian economy and separation of families.

Mr. LYNK noted that Gisha has been working to protect human rights in Gaza, while under tremendous pressure.  Turning to the role of the United States leadership, he recalled United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s visit to the Wailing Wall and said it is a grave mistake to ignore the Green Line.  Mr. LYNK said he feared that the peace plan to be presented by Washington will be so under the minimum that Palestinians cannot accept it, which will end the peace process immediately.

Panel II

In the afternoon, the Forum held a panel discussion under the theme “Viable and practical steps for the international community to stem annexation”.  Marya Farah, Legal Researcher and Advocacy Officer, Al-Haq, moderated the discussion, which featured four panellists:  Ziad AbuZayyad, former Minister for the State of Palestine, and co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal; Frances Black, Senator of the Seanad Éireann of Ireland; Conor O’Neill, Researcher and Policy Adviser of the Seanad Éireann of Ireland; and Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, Human Rights Attorney.

Ms. BLACK recalled that she tabled an Occupied Territories bill in Ireland’s Senate in January 2018 and expects it to pass into law shortly.  The bill seeks to ban the import and sale of goods produced in illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and is the first of its kind in the European Union.  “There have to be consequences for breaking international law,” she emphasized, adding that “trade in settlement goods helps sustain injustice”.  Noting that the bill does not represent a boycott of Israel, she pointed out that it is focused solely on the settlements.  Describing the human cost of the settlements and citing the stories of Palestinians who visited Ireland, she noted that she was inspired to act after visiting the Gaza Strip herself. 

Israel’s Government sanctioned more than 1,000 new settlement homes in 2018, she observed, stressing: “At this rate, there will soon be no Palestinian State left to recognize.”  Ireland was the first country in the world to end trade in goods with Apartheid South Africa, she recalled, adding that she wants to do the same with this bill.  “Ireland can lead on this and other countries can follow us,” she noted. 

Mr. O’NEILL said that, with the Occupied Territories bill, Ireland is seeking to give meaningful effect to the basic rules of international law.  It represents a step towards fulfilling Ireland’s existing obligations under existing international law, and as such, it is an endorsement of multilateralism.  Small States like Ireland especially benefit from an international order based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.  The application of such laws should not be based on a crude form of “realpolitik” and their violations should result in consequences.  “Commercial activity is not divorced from political impact,” he said, noting that Ireland is seeking a binding commitment on business and human rights.  The bill attempts to highlight a fundamental disconnect because while settlements are repeatedly condemned as illegal, that rhetorical commitment cannot be squared with the continued financial support that flows to them. 

That support is helping to entrench a discriminatory two-tier system in the West Bank, he pointed out, noting that the European Union imports 15 times more goods from Israeli settlements than from the State of Palestine.  This has a material impact on the State of Palestine’s ability to grow a functioning economy.  He also emphasized that the Irish bill should not be seen as anti-Israel or as partisan, citing testimony by Israeli citizens in that regard. 

Mr. ABUZAYYAD observed that some might say negotiations have failed and Israel has won the war and, thus, Palestinians must capitulate.  The counter-argument is that Palestinians will never submit and recognize defeat.  Some consider the solution to the issue as one Jewish State, and this has become the de facto situation on the ground.  Israel should announce the de jure annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said.  Based on the Nation State law, he pointed out, Palestinians in Israel are deprived of their right to self-determination, which is exclusively to be enjoyed by Jews.  The apartheid system failed in South Africa and is bound to fail in the Occupied Territories as well, he noted, thanks to progressive Jewish allies who will fight with Palestinians against racism.  Some suggest the solution of a single democratic State where all citizens are equal, but this option stands no chance.  It would be naïve to think that the two peoples will easily relinquish their specific identities and become one single community.  “The realistic solution is the two-State solution,” he emphasized, pointing out that in many democratic States, certain communities pursue independence. 

The Oslo process has failed, he observed, because it was very ambiguous.  Moreover, Israel failed to implement the agreement, and continued building settlements.  He called on Israel to freeze all settlement activities, whether in Jerusalem or the West Bank, and the international community must launch a full boycott of those settlements.  International companies must be precluded from doing business with them.  Moreover, the international community should refuse any change to the legal status of Jerusalem and United States procedures recognizing it as the capital of Israel.  “Without Jerusalem, there will be no basis for the two-State solution,” he stressed. 

Ms. SCHAEFFER OMER-MAN noted that the prohibition of annexation comes from consensus reached in the twentieth century about the illegitimacy of acquiring territory by force.  Moreover, the prohibition is rooted in the international community’s concern about the welfare and rights of civilians trapped in disputes over territory.  “Settlements are illegal in order to protect the civilians living under occupation,” she said, stressing that occupation must be temporary.  To prevent further annexation, she called for sensitivity to its signs, adding:  “If we wait for formal, de jure annexation, it will have been too late.”  Every step further entrenching Israel’s presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and increasing its control over Palestinian lives constitutes a stepping stone on the way to annexation.

“The success of Israel’s occupation has always been in its ability to make subtle, incremental changes that fly under the radar and that are anchored in sophisticated law,” she observed.  Israeli courts can be critical in the fight to stem annexation and force the system to contend with its inherent contradictions.  In parallel, third States must also engage in legal and diplomatic efforts to remind Israel of the bounds of international humanitarian law.  Such legal actions will send an important signal to Israel about the international community’s “red lines” when it comes to annexation and the human rights abuses inherent in it, she pointed out.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates and civil society representatives discussed the proposed legislation in Ireland, the issue of “creeping annexation” and the human rights situation in Israel.

Ms. FARAH asked about the role of civil society in Ireland in terms of passing the Occupied Territories bill. 

Ms. BLACK and Mr. O’NEILL cited the role of many supportive civil society organizations in Ireland, noting that a coalition of organizations have provided legal support and advocacy.

Ms. FARAH asked about steps the international community should take in the context of recent United States actions with regards to Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Mr. ABUZAYYAD said that the United States itself has participated in drafting Security Council resolutions that President Trump is now violating and disgracing.  As such, he asked about the future and the role of the Security Council.  He noted that if this phenomenon is not halted, there will be no value to United Nations resolutions. 

Ms. FARAH asked about using Israeli courts to pursue human rights issues.

MS. SCHAEFFER OMER-MAN said using Israeli courts poses the risk of setting a bad precedent and further entrenching harmful policies, as well as legitimizing a legal system that has provided cover to occupation policies.  However, carefully selected cases can be strategically brought to Israeli courts.  Bringing such cases forces the State to assert its policies and provide a response to allegations about violating international law.  As such, this option provides a tool for the international community to organize other strategies to combat those policies. 

The observer for the State of Palestine said it is important to act, expressing gratitude for Ireland’s bill.  With the adoption of such legislation, existing rules and United Nations resolutions will be given tangible effect.  Such efforts provide hope that it is possible to mobilize political will.  She asked about any potential to connect with other parliamentarians in that regard.

Ms. BLACK said that once Ireland’s legislation has passed, they hope to speak with parliamentarians in other parts of Europe.  Once it passes, she is hopeful that others will follow, just as what happened in the case of apartheid in South Africa.

The representative of Indonesia asked for elaboration on future arrangements with regards to Areas A, B and C of the Oslo Accords, as well as advocacy work in Israel regarding the annexation issue. 

Mr. ABUZAYYAD said the Oslo Accords cannot just be discarded but must instead be built upon.  Israelis have stopped their process of redeployment, and Palestinians remain with 43 per cent of Areas A and B.  As a first step, Israel must respect its own commitments by not entering Palestinian areas.  Economic actions will provide results, he said, adding that Israel is making a business out of the occupation and has no reason to leave the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  They cannot feel the burden of occupation unless there is resistance inside the Territory and there is a boycott of the settlements.  If that does not work, he called for the next step of boycotting Israel. 

Ms. SCHAEFFER OMER-MAN cited the changing role played by the Jerusalem district court, observing that decisions are being made in that court according to Israeli domestic law and not according to applicable occupation law.  She also noted that the Israeli left has been shrinking because of restrictions on funding and freedom of expression for civil society.  However, a vibrant community is pushing back against the occupation, including using language to counter the mainstream Israeli discourse.  She provided examples of civil society efforts under way in that context.

Mr. ABUZAYYAD observed the politicization of Israel’s High Court in terms of the expansion the jurisdiction of district courts.  This represents what some call “creeping annexation.”

The representative of South Africa said his country remains steadfast in support of the Palestinian cause, which is a just and noble cause as was in the case of his own country in the context of apartheid.

A member of civil society asked what is being done to safeguard the well-being and safety of Palestinian children and health-care workers at risk.

Ms. SCHAEFFER OMER-MAN said an exact legal strategy has not yet been found to change how Palestinian children are treated in Israel.  However, the media represents a powerful tool, and Israel’s military responds when the optics of its policies prove unsavoury. 

The observer for the State of Palestine said that in terms of the collective effort in support of Palestinians living under occupation, labelling settlement products in Europe represented a significant step.  Such evolution has allowed for the current initiative in Ireland’s parliament, which should be complemented by many others, perhaps in Africa or the Middle East.  Moreover, civil society organizations must bring pressure to bear on their Governments.  While it is important to highlight legal complexities and descriptions in terms of occupation, more must be done to expose the occupation to create the appropriate environment for moving forward, learning from the experience of South Africa. 

Ms. BLACK said the bill can make a difference.  She asked delegates to talk about what Ireland is doing when they return to their countries. 

The representative of Nigeria asked for an estimate of where the Palestinian issue will be in five years if the expansion of Israeli settlements continues.

Mr. ABUZAYYAD said there will be resistance, with violence and victims on both sides.  However, even if that scenario arises, what happened in South Africa will happen again.  The world is becoming very small because of social media, and in the future, it will unite against an apartheid regime in Israel, spelling the end of a Jewish State.  Israel must choose what it wants:  If Israelis want a Jewish State, they must withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

MS. SCHAEFFER OMER-MAN cited an advertisement in a right-wing Israeli newspaper advocating for separation rather than annexation.  The Israeli public is aware of what it would mean from a security and democratic perspective to have a single apartheid State.  There provides an opportunity to shift discourse and strategies accordingly.

A member of civil society asked what is being done in terms of the relationship between the human rights community in Israel and the United States Jewish community. 

MS. SCHAEFFER OMER-MAN said in recent years, the two communities have been able to communicate more and discuss how their voices can be amplified. 

Ms. FARAH asked about the stages the Irish bill still has to go through and potential hurdles it may face.

Ms. BLACK said only two more stages remain before it is passed into law.  

Mr. O’NEILL said that one of the steps remaining involves a line-by-line reading before the bill becomes law.  There is also a movement in the United States to aggressively push back against the issue and paint the bill as something it is not.  However, Ireland’s people know what is in the text of the legislation and that it reflects international law.  “Our job is to not be afraid of criticism,” he said. 

A member of civil society asked about the role of education.

Ms. BLACK said she had to educate Israel’s parliament on the issue and the bill.  The movement begins one-to-one, carrying the message and taking action. 

Another civil society representative highlighted attempts to criminalize participation in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, asking about defending its legality. 

Mr. O’NEILL said that Israeli human rights organizations and defenders face enormous pressure but they continue their work.  If people can keep going under those circumstances, then students on college campuses must not fear standing up for Palestinian rights.  If people crack down or criminalize such discussions, then that is a sign that the discussions are becoming serious, he observed. 

The representative of Ireland said his delegation opposes the proposed bill because it would be in breach of its European Union obligations.  Ireland, however, stands by the Palestinian people, he stressed.  

Mr. O’NEILL cited exceptions to that requirement on the basis of competing human rights obligations, and also noted that the issue may progress to the European Union Court of Justice.

Closing Remarks

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, thanking all participants, said that there is a remarkable outpouring of support in the United States for the Palestinian cause.  Support for Palestine among students in United States colleges surpasses support for Israel.  This is a first in the history of the United States, he said, adding that it is not just Arab or Palestinian students, but also Jewish students and others across the political spectrum who believe in the just cause of Palestine.  The situation in Europe is similar, he said, noting that despite coercive measures, people continue to support the Palestinians.

CHEIKH NIANG (Senegal), Committee Chair, said that today’s presentations provided a better insight into the realities of the creeping Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory.  The Forum has highlighted the importance of international law, he said, praising the diversity of perspectives.  The Committee constantly seeks to reinvent itself even amidst the uncertain context in which it is working, and it will bear in mind the various issues raised today, he said, adding that it would also continue dialogue with all stakeholders, including parties to the conflict, civil society, parliamentarians and non-governmental organizations.

For information media. Not an official record.