KUALA LUMPUR, 28 February — The unilateral announcement by the United States of its vision for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without any attempt at dialogue or negotiation is a mockery of international efforts to resolve the ongoing crisis, the host country’s Prime Minister told the International Conference on the Question of Palestine today.
“Furthermore, to call it the ‘Deal of the Century’ bespeaks the ultimate in dishonest brokerage,” said Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia in his keynote address to the two-day Conference, which brought together more than 300 Government and civil society representatives. “Malaysia finds the plan utterly unacceptable and grossly unjust,” he emphasized.
Under the theme “South-East Asian Support for the Rights of the Palestinian People”, the Conference was organized by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in partnership with the Government of Malaysia and the Perdana Global Peace Foundation.
Prime Minister Mahathir went on to urge member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to continue their cooperation not only in political and economic affairs, but also in the pursuit of justice and peace for the Palestinian people. “Our collective voice regionally should espouse more than just economic development,” he said. “We should also extend a united front in supporting the rights of the Palestinians,” he added, noting: “This is the primary purpose of this peace conference.”
Committee Chair Cheikh Niang (Senegal) also underscored the region’s strong commitment to the Palestinian cause. “The peoples of this region have a long-standing, principled support for the quest of the Palestinian people to be free from oppression and occupation,” he said, explaining that they, like the people of many developing countries, endured hard struggles to free themselves and gain independence and sovereignty. Almost all ASEAN countries have recognized the State of Palestine, he noted, calling for their support to convince pro-occupation lobbyists, including those in North America, Europe and Australia, to engage more actively in establishing a multilateral mechanism for negotiations between Israel and Palestine. In doing so, it is important to reach out to all allies in the cause, including those in Israel.
Also addressing the Conference was Stefan Priesner, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Malaysia, who represented Secretary-General António Guterres. He said that the deteriorating situation on the ground further erodes the possibility of a viable and contiguous Palestine based on the two-State formula. He underscored the United Nations position that annexation of territory in the occupied West Bank, if implemented, would not only be illegal under international law, but would also close the door to negotiations. It would have negative repercussions across the region and severely undermine opportunities for peace, he added.
Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine at the United Nations in New York, emphasized that what Palestinians need is not a new plan, but a mechanism to implement existing agreements and United Nations resolutions. To defeat the “Peace to Prosperity” vision presented by the United States, Palestinians must first overcome the division among themselves, namely between Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority. “We must put our house in order,” he stressed, calling for national unity and for the holding of elections across the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
In the ensuing panel discussion, experts presented their perspectives on the United States plan and reported on the current realities of Palestinian life under occupation, including the consequent political and socioeconomic challenges.
The Conference will resume at 9 a.m. on Saturday, 29 February.
CHEIKH NIANG (Senegal), Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, recognized Malaysia as a long-standing Committee member always working to realize the rights of Palestinians. He also acknowledged the roles played by other Committee members from South-East Asia — Indonesia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, as well as Viet Nam, an observer. “The peoples of this region have a long-standing, principled support for the quest of the Palestinian people to be free from oppression and occupation,” he said, explaining that they, like many others in developing countries across the world, went through hard struggles to free themselves and gain independence and sovereignty. The path to a just solution is clear, he said, noting that it is the establishment of two States — Israel and Palestine — based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital, as set out by relevant United Nations resolutions and international agreements.
The occupation prevents a just resolution and cements a system of exploitation, expropriation and annexation, he continued. Pro-occupation lobbies, including those in North America, Europe and Australia, try to change the image of the conflict from that of one State’s occupation and illegal settling of Palestinian land to that of a conflict over “disputed territory” to which both sides have equal claims. Such a system operates under the principle that “creating facts on the ground” would help to legitimize the illegitimate and that, over time, the international community will tire of the conflict and give up. “But we must not tire,” he stressed. “We must not give up. We must continue to stand united.”
It is for that reason that the Committee is organizing events like the current conference around the world, to advocate for support for the Palestinian people in their just quest, he said. Almost all ASEAN countries have recognized the State of Palestine, he added, calling for their support to convince those pro-occupation lobbyists to engage more actively in establishing a multilateral mechanism for negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Many Israelis — Christians, Jews and Muslims — are also seeking a positive way forward towards a just solution, with freedom and dignity for all, he pointed out, describing them as allies.
STEFAN PRIESNER, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Malaysia, represented the Secretary-General. He reiterated the Organization’s commitment to helping the parties overcome the current impasse and return to meaningful negotiations on ending the occupation and realizing a two-State solution. Noting that the Conference was convened at a time of tensions in the Middle East, he emphasized that a political solution is needed now more than ever. Unfortunately, violent incidents continue to occur daily throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in and around the Gaza Strip, he said. “It is deeply troubling to see that the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate, further eroding the possibility of a viable and contiguous Palestinian State based on a two-State solution.”
He went on to underscore the United Nations position that annexation of territory in the occupied West Bank, if implemented, would not only be illegal under international law, but would also close the door to negotiations and deal a devastating blow to prospects for a viable two-State solution. It would have negative repercussions across the region and severely undermine opportunities for peace, he warned, stressing that unilateral steps aimed at changing the status and character of Jerusalem are contrary to international law and United Nations resolutions. While addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza must remain a priority, the core of the crisis there is political, he said, stressing that it is not possible to genuinely and sustainably improve the socioeconomic situation in the enclave without significantly easing restrictions on the movement of, and access to, goods and people.
Highlighting the critical importance of continuing Egypt-led intra-Palestinian reconciliation efforts, he called upon Palestinian leaders to engage constructively with Egypt and others to advance reconciliation. The holding of long overdue general elections throughout the State of Palestine, including East Jerusalem, will be a crucial step towards giving renewed legitimacy to national institutions and reuniting the Palestinian people under a single, legitimate and democratic Palestinian National Government. “The seventy-fifth anniversary of the Organization this year is an opportunity to uphold the values of the Charter to advance the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people,” he said.
RIYAD H. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations in New York, highlighted the historically strong relationship between Palestine and Malaysia. He also acknowledged the strong support for Palestine expressed in the speeches of Prime Minister Mahathir in Baku and at the United Nations. Recalling that Malaysia played a key role in the adoption of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) — one of the most clear, effective documents — he said those are just a few examples of Malaysia’s unwavering support for Palestinians, adding that Palestine intends to take that relationship to another level by holding a summit soon.
Turing to the “Deal of the Century” presented by President Donald Trump of the United States, he defined as aggression that country’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s sovereign capital and its moving of the United States embassy to the Holy City. Those actions are in violation of international law and Security Council resolutions, he noted. Emphasizing that it is the collective responsibility of Muslims, Jews and Christians to defend Jerusalem, he said the city remains the capital of Palestine and appealed to “brothers and sisters” in Malaysia to help defend it. Not a single Palestinian will accept the deal, he stressed, cautioning that it would divide Palestinian land like Swiss cheese. He recalled that two days ago, 50 retired foreign ministers in Europe issued a statement against the plan.
“We are not looking for a new plan,” he said. “What we need is not a new plan but a mechanism to implement existing agreements and United Nations resolutions.” He went on to point out that internal division among Palestinians will not help them to fight aggression. Calling for national unity, he declared: “We must put our house in order.” He also called for the holding of elections across the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
MAHATHIR MOHAMAD, Prime Minister of Malaysia, said in his keynote address, that his country’s stance on the question of Palestine is well known. It has always supported the cause and will continue to do so. But “I’m sad” because despite all efforts, their suffering persists, he said. “I’m also angry” that powerful nations and self-proclaimed defenders of justice, freedom and democracy are keeping silent or worse, are party to the perpetration of injustices and cruelties wantonly inflicted on Palestinians by the Tel Aviv regime. Noting the Conference theme “South-East Asian Support for the Rights of the Palestinian People”, he said it aptly highlights the key message, consistent and in line with the positions for which the United Nations stands.
Calling attention to the achievements of ASEAN, he urged the bloc’s member States to continue their cooperation not only in political and economic affairs, but also in pursuit of justice and peace for the Palestinian people. “Our collective voice regionally should espouse more than just economic development. We should also extend a united front in supporting the rights of the Palestinians,” he said. “This is the primary purpose of this peace conference.”
Turning to the “Deal of the Century”, he said that the unilateral announcement — endorsed and instigated by Israel without any attempt at dialogue or negotiation with Palestinian representatives from the West Bank or Gaza — is a mockery of international efforts to find a solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Furthermore, to call it the “Deal of the Century” bespeaks the ultimate in dishonest brokerage, he added, noting that the plan is contrary to a two-State solution and does not respect previously signed agreements and commitments. Israel will get Washington’s permission to annex all its illegal settlements, now littered across the West Bank, as well as the vast agricultural basin of the Jordan Valley, he predicted, adding: “I believe that under international law, annexation of an occupied territory is considered a war crime.” Malaysia finds the plan utterly unacceptable and grossly unjust.
Recalling that Israel came into being in 1948 by seizing land from Palestinians, he pointed out that the Holocaust lasted six years and the Nakba has been going on for more than 70 years. The Holocaust was committed by others, he noted, asking why Palestinian have to pay the price. The pro-Israel nations were quick to hold a tribunal at Nuremberg to try Nazi war criminals, but no tribunal has been established for Palestinian victims. Malaysia’s foreign policy towards Palestine has remained unchanged, he said, recalling that when the State of Palestine was proclaimed in 1988, Malaysia promptly acknowledged it. Malaysia stands by its position that the creation of an independent State of Palestine through a two-State solution based on the pre-1967 borders, and with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, is acceptable. He went on to express hope that the International Criminal Court will take note of that blatant case of injustice of the century and institute proceedings against Israel.
A panel discussion, titled “Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”, featured presentations by Dalal Iriqat, Professor of International Relations, Arab American University and Adviser to the Office of the Prime Minister of the State of Palestine; Alex Kane, Middle East Expert; Omar Dajani, Professor of Law, University of the Pacific and former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO); and Abdirahman Aynte, Director for Strategic Partnerships, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Ms. IRIQAT, speaking by videoconference from Ramallah, said many Palestinians watched President Trump’s televised announcement of the “Deal of the Century” on 28 January, noting that it did not take long for Palestinians to reject it. According to polls, 94 per cent of Palestinians rejected the plan, adding that regional organizations, including the African Union and the European Union, softly rejected the plan. She emphasized the need to understand not only the content of that document, which exceeds 180 pages, but also to come up with a detailed counter-offer. The deal consists of political framework and economic framework and defies United Nations resolutions as having not brought about peace, she noted. It deprives Palestinians of basic rights, confiscates more Palestinian land and serves the interests of Israel, she added. Stressing that Palestine should never refrain from seeking a two-State solution, she noted that the deal undermines international law and the global political consensus, underlining that de facto implementation of the plan towards a one-State reality is a wake-up call for Palestinians. Pointing out that the United States abandoned its role as a mediator, she urged Palestinians not to be reactive and not to depend on the United Nations. Palestinians are passionate people seeking peace, she said, warning against attempts by one side to change reality on the ground at the expense of the other.
Mr. KANE said that Israel always counted on bipartisan support in the United States, but Trump has blown up the status quo. Trump is Netanyahu’s closet ally and has given the Israeli leader virtually everything he wants, culminating in this plan that allows Israel to annex West Bank settlements and desires to give Israel permanent control over East Jerusalem. Many Democrats, even stalwart Israel supporters, spoke out against the plan, he noted, pointing out that all Democratic presidential contenders oppose it. They all emphasize support for a two-State solution, which the Trump plan effectively killed, she said, adding that its future rests on what happens in the 2020 elections.
Mr. DAJANI said the future envisaged by the Trump plan falls far short of minimum Palestinian expectations because its main elements include Israel’s annexation of about 30 per cent of the West Bank, the consolidation of Israel’s rule over Jerusalem, and denying Palestine refugees the right to return to their homes. The core of the plan is not an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians but, instead, one between Israel and the United States, he emphasized. The International Law Commission offered just one illustration of the kind of act from which States should refrain or informally recognize as legal, he said: “Attempted acquisition of sovereignty over territory through denial of the right of self-determination of peoples.” A more fitting characterization of Israel’s actions in the West Bank would be hard to come by, he said. The only way forward is to enhance the reach and efficacy of civil society initiatives like boycotts and divestment. Such steps must be complemented by collective Government action, including the imposition of sanctions. The plan might, however, ultimately make a positive contribution to peacemaking, he said, explaining that it obliges President Trump’s successor to do more than recalibrate United States policy. “It necessitates a total reboot” and opens the door to exploring alternative visions of a peaceful future.
Mr. AYNTE explained how UNRWA was created 78 years ago, soon after Israel was established. Today, 5.6 million Palestine refugees are registered with the Agency, which provides services including education and health care. It runs 700 schools and 150 clinics, he said, noting that in Gaza, it provides food to more than a million people suffering under Israel’s 12-year-long blockade. Palestinians are also working in the Agency as doctors and nurses, he said. They categorically rejected the “Deal of the Century”, which envisages foreclosing on the horizon for a two-State solution. Tension has risen in the West Bank since the deal was announced, he said, adding that settler activities have intensified and the demolition of Palestinian structures has increased in East Jerusalem. In Gaza, there is a sentiment that “another war is only a matter of time”, he emphasized.
With the floor open, participants asked about UNRWA’s funding, the positive aspects of the Trump plan, as mentioned by a panellist and the International Criminal Court’s investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ms. IRIQAT said the International Criminal Court is one of the tools available to Palestine but expressed disappointment with some reactions of European Union member States.
Mr. KANE said the slashing of United States funding to UNRWA demonstrates the Trump Administration’s punitive and vicious approach.
Mr. AYNTE noted that UNRWA is run by voluntary contributions and the United States had been the largest donor over the past 15 years. The Agency was surprised by the funding cut because it signed an agreement with the United States on continuing funding in 2017. Noting that United States funding accounted for almost a quarter of the Agency’s entire budget, he said the cut was designed to force Palestinians to negotiate. He recalled that, in 2018 and 2019, the shortfall was addressed through fundraising campaigns and the Agency’s mandate was renewed for another three years. He expressed concern, however, that there was an attempt to tinker with the mandate.
Mr. DAJANI said that for years the United States was reluctant to exert concrete pressure on Israel to comply with international law, adding that there is a chance for a “reboot” because the Trump Administration pushed the issue to the edge.
Panellists also responded to questions as to whether the situation in Palestine can be classified as “apartheid”, and whether the mood of Palestinians could end up escalating violence.
They explained that the apartheid situation is ongoing, with one panellist expressing concern about the high suicide rate among young people confined in the “open-air prison” of Gaza while another warned against escalating settler violence in the occupied West Bank.