ON THE QUESTION OF JERUSALEM
Strengthening international support for a just and lasting solution
of the question of Jerusalem
Ankara, 12 and 13 May 2014
1. The International Meeting on the Question of Jerusalem was held on 12 and 13 May 2014 in Ankara, Turkey. The Meeting was jointly organized by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Government of the Republic of Turkey and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The objective of the Meeting was to raise awareness of the Question of Jerusalem and discuss strengthened international support for a just and lasting solution. The Meeting was attended by 72 Member States, two Observer States, four intergovernmental organizations, three UN system entities, and 23 local and international civil society organizations. Thirteen expert speakers addressed the Meeting.
2. All speakers in the opening session affirmed Jerusalem’s unique, sacred role for three religions, and rejected the ‘Judaization’ of the Holy City. The Foreign Minister of Turkey censured those who would negate the City’s inheritance. He recalled that Jerusalem under the dominance of Muslims had been open to all faiths and religions. He stressed that Jerusalem was not just a political issue but represented an important cultural inheritance that could not be minimized to a single religion or ethnicity. He rejected Israel’s unilateral decisions concerning Jerusalem. In accordance to international law, the City was a territory under occupation. The Minister said that the United Nations should play a more active role, suggesting that the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine, established in 1948 with three members, France, Turkey and the United States of America, should be reconvened, and that other fora should also take up the issue of Jerusalem, as the status quo represented a serious threat to international peace and security. He called for an annual international meeting on Jerusalem and offered Turkey’s support. The Secretary-General of the OIC emphasized that the Holy City of Al-Quds formed an integral part of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. He expressed deep concern about Israeli policies in occupied Jerusalem, the expanding settlements, judaization, confiscation of land. Israel’s immense violations of international law represented a blatant defiance of the international community and commanded a different brand of international intervention. All States and institutions had a responsibility to confront these violations as a threat to international peace and security. International efforts should lead to an end of the Israeli occupation and ensure the City’s return to Palestinian sovereignty. The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People recalled that the General Assembly had mandated 2014 as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People to raise awareness of the main issues and obstacles to the peace process. The Committee was wedded to a two-State solution, and parties had been called upon to act responsibly and create an appropriate climate for negotiations, to resolve all final status issues. He criticized Israel’s settlement policies, including in East Jerusalem, accompanied by the demolition of homes and expropriation of Palestinian land. He recalled the collective responsibility of Member States of the UN, given successive General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem. The Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs and Representative of the State of Palestine stressed that Jerusalem was an integral part of the Palestinian religious heritage. Since its occupation in 1967, Palestinians in Jerusalem and surrounding areas suffered daily repression and aggression. There would be no peace as long as the State of Palestine was not established under international law with Jerusalem as its capital. The real problem was not one of religion , but one of occupation of territory. The international community had to provide practical support to the Arab Peace Initiative, which was based on a two-State solution, or it may become impossible or impractical in the future. The Minister of Jerusalem Affairs of the State of Palestine pointed in his keynote address to the continuing daily destruction of Jerusalem as a Palestinian city with the intention of changing the city’s nature. Since 1993, negotiations did not result in anything, to the contrary, Israeli expansion had doubled, settlers threatened Palestinian inhabitants, and the Israeli authorities had expelled thousands of families. The international community had to intervene and apply pressure on Israel to find a binding solution.
3. In his message, the United Nations Secretary-General warned that the current political stalemate in the talks between Israelis and Palestinians posed great risks to the prospects of a two-State solution. Continued inaction could result in further instability. Failing to resume negotiations would lead further down the path of a one-state reality. Emphasizing that settlements and house demolitions were illegal under international law, the Secretary-General was particularly troubled by mounting tensions around Jerusalem and access to its holy sites, stating that Jerusalem must be open and accessible to all. Through negotiations Jerusalem should emerge as capital of two States with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all. In his message, the Head of the Hashemite Foundation for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock said that the inalienable rights of the Palestinians were being marginalized and violated by the Israeli occupation. It was important to realize that Israel’s aggression was part of a greater move to prevent the Palestinians from realizing their self-determination and their rights. Since 1967, the imposition of a new status quo on the territory was being witnessed, changing the situation and eroding the life of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
4. The Meeting then explored the status of Jerusalem under international law. It was emphasized that Jerusalem as the holy city of the three monotheistic religions was a treasure for all humanity. At the same time, it was an occupied city. Despite many adopted resolutions, the occupation continued. Israel was trying to judaize the city, marginalizing Palestinian inhabitants and stamping out their identity. In the last five months, 234 Palestinian houses had been demolished. Presentations highlighted specific Israeli practices that could be considered ethnic cleansing. Jerusalem was completely cut off from the West Bank, it could not be reached without Israeli permission. Presenters spoke of the attempts to disrespect Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is under the custodianship of Jordan, the present Trustee for the Holy Sites. The Al-Aqsa Mosque became an object of military activities, soldiers restricted access, making the Mosque the most targeted place in Jerusalem. Twenty tunnels had been dug around the Mosque, Israelis had expanded the Western Wall and extremists were being urged to break in to pray, changing the status of the Holy Sites. Another serious problem was that Israel had sought to develop false narratives, such as the ‘Holy Basin,’ to justify land appropriation. A presence of Muslim and Arab organizations in the city was lacking as was a continuous and legitimate presence of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
5. The Meeting then reviewed the current situation in Jerusalem, including measures taken by Israel and the socio-economic situation of Palestinian residents. It was stated that after nearly 50 years of occupation and conflict, Jerusalem was a badly damaged city. Various Israeli authorities were involved in municipal decisions, including the settler organizations, military and private enterprises creating a strategic confusion that masked a very effective policy. There was an intention to restrict Palestinian growth and development. Presentations clearly showed the patchwork of settlements placed very close to Palestinian towns, inhibiting growth. The Wall was the most visible aspect of the Israeli policies accompanied by a very complex and harsh system of closures resulting in ethnic displacement. A wall of settlements was built parallel to it like fortresses. National parks were part of the Israeli settlement policy, used very effectively as part of the land expropriation program. Archaeology was another tool, for example the claim made that the remains of King David’s city was underneath al-Aqsa, even though most archaeologists disagreed. Access of Muslims to the Al-Aqsa Mosque was restricted to men having reached a certain age. At the same time, the most extremist of the settlers were allowed to live in East Jerusalem, terrorizing Palestinian neighbours and being responsible for recent assaults at Muslim and Christian holy places. The Knesset played its part by having ratified a law which stipulated that the Government was obliged to put to a vote any decision concerning East Jerusalem, a hurdle impossible to overcome in the Israeli legislature.
6. The Israeli policies also affected the socio-economic situation of the Palestinian population. The poverty rate in East Jerusalem was estimated at 77 per cent for non-Jewish households. Health and education sectors in East Jerusalem were in a disastrous state, which was leading to an obliteration of the Palestinian identity. Since 1967, about 50,000 Palestinians have lost their residency status. Based on the restricted movement, the economy of East Jerusalem had lost many consumers, and since there were no Palestinian banks in East Jerusalem, financial transactions there were extremely difficult. It was pointed out that Israel had adopted a strategy of “de-Palestinization” of the City, including separating it from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, freezing land registration, constructing settlements and building roads to serve exclusively settlers. One speaker urged to find ways to support Palestinian entrepreneurship in Jerusalem, focus on the creation of good jobs and private sector-based economic activity given the endemic poverty and deteriorating way of life. Constraints existed but mitigating measures had to be found. Risk-sharing mechanisms with investors that would take hard business decisions, for example a Jerusalem Venture Capital Fund could be one such measure. Better coordination among donors and international agencies was essential, particularly on data collection and analysis for meaningful socio-economic studies. Planning for the city as the capital of Palestine, including financing options, needed to be pursued seriously.
7. Meeting participants also discussed the role of the international community in promoting a just solution and international approaches to resolving the question of Jerusalem. It was highlighted that Jerusalem’s unique position in Christianity, Islam and Judaism could catalyze the promotion of peace in the Middle East, but that Israeli intransigence was preventing it. Participants agreed that Jerusalem was a global issue and the international community, including the United Nations should resume its responsibilities as laid out in respective Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. To date, however, Israel was able to defy UN resolutions without repercussions. Speakers all agreed that Israel, as the occupying Power, had to act in accordance with international law, protecting civilians and not changing the status of Jerusalem. The United Nations’ Charter principle of self-determination was important with respect to Palestine. One speaker proposed “an International Convention on the protection of the Holy Sites” as a common body was needed with a mandate to look at how existing resolutions could be more effective. The question of Jerusalem could not be separated from the peace process, and a lasting solution to that question would be part and parcel of a comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian question. There was a need to increase efforts in multi-track diplomacy. The issue was not one exclusively for governments, but for all actors of the international community, including civil society organizations. Intergovernmental organizations, such as the UN and the OIC should synergize their initiatives and strengthen alliances with non-State actors, parliamentarians, women and youth in every country. It was also important to establish a permanent presence of the international community, including the UN, the OIC and other organizations in Jerusalem.
8. Participants called for the protection of Jerusalem’s identity. They also called on academic and media institutions, schools and universities to maintain the internationally accepted narrative of Jerusalem and not to give in efforts to Judaize its history. There was a need for international commitment to protect Jerusalem’s unique character, such as a special statute, internationally guaranteed, that could ensure the historical, material and religious character of the Holy Sites, as well as free access to them for residents and pilgrims alike. Participants suggested that the international guarantor of this mandate could be the United Nations. Presenters called on the UN to abide by international law and not submit to Israeli policies. It should uphold the civil rights of all Jerusalemites, such as the rights to citizenship, housing, education and freedom to worship. The presentation of the various reports by the United Nations and other international organizations should be strengthened by inviting eyewitnesses. Many speakers also emphasized the importance for Muslims and Christians of visiting Jerusalem to express their right to freedom of worship, to preserve their sacred sites and support the people of Jerusalem helping them to develop their community. Participants pointed to the new status of Palestine as UN Observer State which provided a huge opportunity to advance Palestine’s case through international legal instruments.
9. Palestinian participants emphasized that there would be no State of Palestine without Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians were not in a position to sacrifice their sovereignty over the City. They demanded to break the status quo in the City. That could be done through reconciliation, by internationalizing the question of Palestine, or by making the occupation too costly. The main obstacle was Israel’s continued settlement policies, creating facts on the ground and complicating the issues. When peace talks started in 1991, the number of Jewish settlers was 190,000. Today, it was 631,000, including 268,000 in Jerusalem. In the current round of talks, the American mediators stressed that the aim was a Palestinian State with its capital in Jerusalem. However, that formulation failed to specify which part of present-day Jerusalem. This was important given that the boundaries after 1967 included parts that were not considered part of Jerusalem by the Palestinians. In a spirit of compromise the Palestinian delegation to the current round of talks proposed an open city, with West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and free access for all. This was rejected. Israelis were moving to a religious framework to justify their policies, and sought to postpone the talks on Jerusalem as it opposed any division and benefitted from the delay. Jerusalem needed a serious intervention, and progress would depend on making Israel’s occupation more costly to Israel. The current format of negotiations had to be reviewed and re-formatted. A clear and balanced position was needed from the United States, as unswerving support for Israel emboldened it to continue its illegal policies.
10. Speakers in the closing session expressed their appreciation to the Government of Turkey, the OIC and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for their support in organizing an important Meeting on Jerusalem. The Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey said that his Government would continue to make every effort to guarantee a fair and just resolution of the question of Palestine. Turkey would continue to make every effort to guarantee the just position of the State of Palestine as a member of the international community. He hoped that Jerusalem would become a centre and a symbol of peace, and international understanding, as the City did not belong to one people or one religion. He reiterated Turkish support for any initiative by the UN and the OIC in this regard. The Assistant Secretary-General of the OIC said that the Meeting bore witness to joint work in solidarity and support of Jerusalem. The OIC recognized that the question of Palestine would remain a priority in its work as the key to peace and security in the region. The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said that the growing international recognition of the State of Palestine had enlarged the base of partners for ending the Israeli occupation. Palestine was now better equipped to continue its resistance. The international community had encouraged the Palestinians to negotiate an end of the occupation, but the good faith of the Palestinian leadership was not reciprocated. Israel even accelerated its settlement expansion, showing its real intentions. He called upon the international community to establish accountability for Israel, to make it pay a price for the continued occupation. Governments, parliaments, corporations, academics should divest from projects benefitting the occupation. Settlers should be declared criminals and prosecuted under national legislation. If the occupation was made costly for Israel, its leaders may return in good faith to future negotiations. The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People lauded the dignity of the Palestinians from Jerusalem, in the face of their daily challenges. He welcomed the fact that constructive ideas had been presented. The Chairman concluded by saying that the situation in Jerusalem was grave and the international community was “exasperated” by the provocations of Israel, and such provocations had to stop. He hoped that with the help of the international community, peace would prevail in Palestine.
Document Sources: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
Subject: Access and movement, Economic issues, Fence, Holy places, House demolitions, Human rights and international humanitarian law, Inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Internally displaced persons, Jerusalem, Occupation, Peace proposals and efforts, Poverty, Self-determination, Separation barrier, Settlements, Statehood-related, Wall
Publication Date: 13/05/2014