UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL MEETING
ON THE QUESTION OF PALESTINE
Engaging for peace – the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People
Quito, 25 and 26 March 2014
The United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, hosted by Ecuador and organized under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, examined the support by Latin American and Caribbean countries for a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine, and the role of non-governmental actors in Latin America and the Caribbean in promoting a permanent settlement of the conflict.
Representatives of Governments, intergovernmental organizations, including various United Nations bodies, and the civil society, together with expert speakers from Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, Israel, Palestine and the United States shared their expertise at the Meeting.
In the opening session, the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs and Political Integration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility of Ecuador, representing the host Government, expressed his country’s support for the Palestinian people and for solidarity activities in the framework of the 2014 International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. He stressed that Ecuador, as Brazil, was one of the first in Latin America, in 2010, to recognize the Palestinian State within 1967 borders. The opening of the Palestinian Embassy in Ecuador in January 2014 and the planned opening of an Ecuadorian Embassy in Palestine in the next few weeks would strengthen the ties between our peoples, he said. The question of Palestine was of constant concern for Ecuador, especially when Israel stepped up actions that contributed to mistrust and undermined the current renewed round of negotiations. Recalling that the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 68/12 of 26 November 2013, proclaimed 2014 the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the Vice-Minister said that Ecuador hoped that Palestine would soon be admitted as a full member of the United Nations, and reiterated its unconditional support for the cause of Palestine, which must result in the exercise of its inalienable right to self-determination and freedom, in an independent Palestinian State.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations in his message to the Meeting stressed that the UN remained committed to a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine resulting in the two-State solution. The current renewed round of peace negotiations has presented a rare and important opening to advance the two-State solution. He called on both parties to act to reach an agreement, even if it required painful concessions. He said he was encouraged by the commitment of the Arab leaders to uphold the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. He remained deeply troubled by Israel’s rapidly expanding settlement activity in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem. Increasing incidents at Temple Mount/Haram Al Sharif were deeply troubling, as they could be perceived as serious acts of incitement in the wider region. The Secretary-General expressed concern by the recent escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel and the unacceptable rocket firing into civilian areas. He called for maximum restraint by all sides to allow the implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access and the Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009). Concluding, the Secretary-General expressed his hope that the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People would create an environment favorable for fulfilling the collective responsibility towards the Palestinians.
The Chairman of the Committee expressed appreciation for the opportunity to be back in the Latin American and Caribbean region after the meeting in Montevideo in 2011. Recalling the wave of announcements of recognition of the State of Palestine by Latin American countries which started in December 2010, he underscored that Latin America was a region where Palestinian and Jewish diasporas coexisted peacefully. Moving on, the Chairman drew attention to the fact that settlement construction in 2013 more than doubled compared to 2012, and that a week before this Meeting, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced it would proceed with plans to build 2,269 new homes in settlements in the West Bank. Settlements were a clear violation of Art 49, Fourth Geneva Convention, he reiterated, and recalled the wave of announcements by European banks and pension funds severing ties with Israeli companies involved in illegal settlements. Speaking of the UN General Assembly proclaiming last November the year 2014 as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, he pointed out that the objective of the Year was to raise international awareness of the main issues of the question of Palestine, and to promote peace. The Committee counted on the support of the Governments and peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean in undertaking various initiatives of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, representing the President Mahmoud Abbas, thanked the people of Ecuador and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for their continued efforts in support of the Palestinian cause. He said this was a critical moment in the struggle of the Palestinian people, since the ongoing round of negotiations stalled despite the Palestinian side having acted in good faith and upholding its commitments. He pointed out that the change in its legal status by General Assembly Resolution 67/19 of 29 November 2012 also entitled Palestine to access international legal instruments and join UN bodies. He stressed that Israel continued its illegal actions, resulting to a 123-percent increase in settlement construction in 2013 as compared to the year before. He called for Israel to negotiate in good faith, be willing to cross the bridge and desist in its occupation. The international community, including Latin America and the Caribbean, had a collective responsibility to take political, diplomatic and legal steps necessary to hold Israel accountable for its actions, he concluded.
In his keynote presentation, the United Nations Assistant-Secretary General for Political Affairs pointed out that Palestinian and Israeli interests were not mutually exclusive, indeed they depended one on another. Neither side would fully benefit from the peace, security and self-determination it deserves if the other side did not do so as well. He said that the parties were now at a moment of truth; a solution to the conflict was in reach and had to be seized. The status quo was not only unsustainable, it was continually deteriorating. The fragile security situation on the ground underscored the urgency of finding a solution to the conflict. He said that the sanctity of holy sites of all faiths must be fully respected and incitement or provocations from any quarter must cease. Drawing attention to the increasingly worrying security and humanitarian situation in Gaza, he stressed that the only way to sustainably solve the Gaza predicament was by reintegrating it into one Palestinian polity in the context of serious progress towards the two-State solution. Concluding, he reiterated that in this Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the UN hoped to witness a success of direct negotiations which would bring about a comprehensive settlement based on a two-State solution. Such a peace would provide the Palestinian people with the opportunity to be free and live in dignity which they so rightfully deserved.
A number of representatives of Governments and intergovernmental organization expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian people, support for the ongoing renewed round of peace negotiations spearheaded by the US Secretary of State Kerry, the hope for the creation of the Palestinian State on pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the need for Israel to abide by international law.
The participants then reviewed the obstacles and opportunities to advancing peace between Israelis and Palestinians; the support by Latin American and Caribbean countries for a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine; and the role of non-governmental actors in Latin America and the Caribbean in promoting a permanent settlement of the conflict.
It was recalled that a solid majority of both Israelis and Palestinians have expressed a preference for a two-State solution to the conflict in virtually every poll and survey over more than two past decades. Despite the enormous frustrations resulting from a lack of peace, these majorities remained committed to this goal. The Arab League, through its Arab Peace Initiative, had unanimously expressed the Arab consensus in favor of this as well. It was pointed out that with the exception of a few outliers internationally and in any given society, the whole world essentially agreed on both the two-State solution and its fundamental outlines: a Palestinian State alongside Israel based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps and its capital in East Jerusalem; a fair and just resolution of the refugee issue; and full regional acceptance, recognition and integration of Israel in the Middle Eastern family of nations; and guarantees for Israel’s security.
The first, and perhaps most far-reaching, of the obstacles to peace was a fundamental lack of trust that political leaders on both sides confront, a number of participants believed. The agreed-upon final status issues themselves presented another serious set of challenges to advancing peace, because – despite significant progress in bridging the gaps over the past quarter century – the distance between the parties on these specific issues, borders, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, water and security, remained real and substantive. Participants agreed that there were difficult choices to be made, but the prevailing political conditions rendered them far more difficult. Finally, participants also brought up the issue of regional dynamics, which have also proven to be an impediment given the repeated interference in Israeli-Palestinian dynamics, and internal Palestinian politics, by various regional actors, some of whom were not committed to a two-State solution. Adding to that was the ongoing period of protracted instability and change in the Middle East and North Africa, due to which the Israeli-Palestinian issue had receded as an immediate priority for much of the international community.
Nevertheless, participants were unanimous in that the prospect for a real engagement by significant regional players in the Israeli-Palestinian political process in a positive manner was foreseeable, and in that the international community as a whole should continue to develop and intensify efforts to de-incentivize Israel from any further illegal activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
A participant representing the WFP drew attention to the humanitarian and economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza as a result of Israeli policies and practices. 1.57 million People in Palestine were food insecure – 19 percent in the West Bank, 57 percent in the Gaza Strip. 45 percent (or 2 million people) had restricted access to primary health care, 28 percent (1.25 million people) were unemployed, 22 percent (0.98 million people) received less than 60 liters of water per day. There was a 25-percent increase in home demolitions and there were 12,000 outstanding demolition orders, he stressed. Humanitarian needs in Palestine were a result of severe restrictions on livelihoods and economic activity on the part of Israel, he said, calling on Israel to stop its illegal policies and practices.
Assessing the viability of the two-State solution, a speaker from Israel’s largest peace movement “Peace Now” first gave an overview of the Israeli settlement activity from 1977 to 2013, and then outlined the major threats to the two-State solution such as the construction in “Ariel”, in E1 (planned), and “Efrat” settlements. Relying on the results of a poll conducted by the University of Maryland in December 2013, he illustrated the support of both the Israeli and Palestinian public for a peace agreement. He pointed out that in the current Knesset 72 members were in favor of a peace deal, 41 against, and 7 abstain, and called on Prime-Minister Netanyahu to use this majority support of the Israeli public and of the majority of the Knesset to make a peace agreement. He stressed that only 1.8 percent of the total Israeli population would be affected by an evacuation (according to the Geneva Initiative Plan), and believed that the Israeli public should be told more often of the benefits a peace agreement would bring to the Israeli economic and diplomatic standing internationally.
Moving on to the role of the Latin American and Caribbean countries in the peaceful resolution of the conflict, participants astutely observed that through its Arab and Jewish diasporas, Latin America was linked to Israel and Palestine with strong ties – cultural, ethnic, economic, religious, political, and moral. Participants thanked all Latin American and Caribbean countries that have recognized the State of Palestine, and called on countries that have not done it so far to do so. It was stressed that Latin America and the Caribbean were against the occupation and its dire consequences, but not against Israel and its people, and that this should be clear. Participants praised that among the Latin American countries Brazil had been exemplary in its solidarity with the Palestinian people and played an important role since the very beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reflecting on the complexity of the relationship between Brazil and the Middle East region however, a participant raised a question of Brazil’s arms trade deals with Israel, which made the country Israel’s biggest partner in Latin America, and the second biggest in the world.
Another discussion ensued on whether the Arab and Jewish diasporas in Latin America were part of the problem or part of the solution. It was observed that diasporas maintained a sustained concern about the situation in their countries of origin, and sometimes, instead of “exporting” good experience of coexistence to the Middle East, diasporas were perceived as “importing” conflict to Latin America, by virtue of a so-called “long-distance nationalism”. However, by and large, there was a tradition of coexistence between the Arab and Jewish diasporas in Latin America through shared neighborhoods, clubs, banks, joint businesses. Jews and Palestinians who lived in Latin America created mechanisms for peaceful co-existence and were an example of the possibility of such co-existence. Moreover, members of the Jewish and Arab communities established chapters of “Consenso por una Paz Palestina Israeli” in Latin America – an initiative that seeks to mobilize the Arab and Jewish diasporas in Latin America to address the conflict through dialogue, and through creating learning opportunities within and between Arab and Jewish communities of Latin America to promote recognition of a common Abrahamic origin. A representative of this organization briefed the participants on the results of cooperation between the two diasporas in Latin America.
Recognizing the importance of the civil society and the academia in the promotion of the peaceful settlement of the conflict, the participants reviewed the concrete civil society activities and academic initiatives and events geared towards a better understanding of the origins and complexity of the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflict among the general public and university students in Latin America. A number of important academic collaborations between Latin American, US and Palestinian universities and colleges were highlighted, that were aimed at promoting dialogue between the Jewish and Arab youth. Participants were unanimous in acknowledging the importance of education in order to change the situation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and expressed regret that far too often Palestinians were portrayed as militants that threaten the State of Israel, while no context was given in regard to the decades-long occupation and violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people.
The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations expressed his appreciation for the dedicated role Latin American countries in general, and Ecuador in particular, played in promoting the two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was impressed by the level of awareness and engagement of the Latin American civil society and academia in advancing the cause of the Palestinian people. He said more was needed to be done for these joint efforts to be effective in persuading Israel to discontinue its illegal policies and the occupation as a whole, and referred to the European Union trade and funding guidelines, and to the recent steps taken by some Western banks and pension funds, all in response to Israeli illegal settlement activity.
In the closing session, the representative of Ecuador said that the hosting of that important Meeting in the capital Quito was an evidence of the commitment of the Government of Ecuador to a just and lasting solution of the question of Palestine. Ecuador was in the forefront of solidarity with the Palestinian people by supporting their cause of creating an independent State within the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital at the United Nations, in the Non-Aligned Movement, and by supporting the mandate and work of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. In the future, Ecuador intended to continue such support and suggested hosting a meeting of young Israelis and Palestinians with the aim of promoting their mutual understanding and their knowledge of the co-existence of the Arab and Jewish diasporas in Latin America.
The Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Ecuador reminded that the President of the State of Palestine Abbas, with the support of the Palestinian people, was resolute not to compromise on a single square meter of the Palestinian land. There must be an independent Palestinian State created on the basis of the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the adoption of the UN General Assembly Resolution 67/19 was the first step in that direction, he said. The current status quo was unacceptable, he stressed, and recalled the UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and the Arab Peace Initiative as some of the existing tools to advance the Palestinian cause. He called on the Government of Israel to live up to the principles of a democratic and non-discriminating State that Israel claims to be. Peace was justice, he said, not the settlements, the wall, the violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people. In conclusion, he thanked the Government and the people of Ecuador for their hospitality and unwavering support of the Palestinian people, and expressed the hope for further fruitful cooperation between the two States.
The Chairman of the Committee expressed his gratitude to the representative of Ecuador for outlining concrete commitments and offering personal support in the organization of regional initiatives in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Latin America. The Chairman also noted Ecuador’s support for the convening by the Committee, later in 2014, of an international meeting of parliamentarians in New York in support of the Palestinian people. Summing up the results of discussions during the Meeting, the Chairman welcomed the multitude of ideas put forward by the participants for the 2014 International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. He also reiterated his appreciation of the concrete actions such as the measures taken by some European banks severing their ties with companies having business activity in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, or measures requiring to label Israeli goods produced in settlements as such. The Chairman concluded by calling for the cooperation and support of the intergovernmental, non-governmental and academic entities present at the Meeting to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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Note: This Summary attempts to provide an overall picture of the deliberations of the Meeting. A detailed report summarizing each statement and presentation will be published by the Division for Palestinian Rights in due course.
Document Sources: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
Subject: Closures/Curfews/Blockades, Economic issues, Fourth Geneva Convention, Gaza Strip, House demolitions, Human rights and international humanitarian law, Inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Legal issues, Occupation, Peace proposals and efforts, Quartet, Self-determination, Settlements
Publication Date: 26/03/2014