UN CIVIL SOCIETY CONFERENCE IN SUPPORT OF PALESTINIAN PEOPLE AGREES TO PRESS

GOVERNMENTS TO DEMAND DESTRUCTION OF WALL IN OCCUPIED TERRITORIES

Action Plan Adopted Today Also Calls for Educating Public,

Tabling of New Resolutions in General Assembly, Security Council

Civil society organizations committed themselves to pressure their governments to condemn the construction of the “wall” by Israel as part of its pattern of illegal settlement activity, according to the Plan of Action adopted this afternoon at the conclusion of the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People.

Agreeing on the outline for the “Bring Down the Wall” campaign contained in the Action Plan, civil society organizations also committed themselves to combining resources to educate the public, increase pressure on governments to condemn the wall’s illegality and demand its immediate destruction.  Governments would be pressed to table Security Council and General Assembly resolutions in conjunction with the annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on 29 November each year.

Meeting under the theme “End the Occupation!”, the two-day Conference, convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, aimed to provide civil society representatives an opportunity to discuss the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and to coordinate their activities in support of the Palestinian people.  The Conference was convened as a result of the Committee’s deep concern with the latest cycle of violence on the ground and the urgent need to address the humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinian people.

Also according to text, civil society organizations stated their support for a central United Nations role to end the occupation, as well as the international community’s obligation to protect Palestinians living under occupation.  The increasingly desperate crisis facing the Palestinian people was symbolized by the construction of the wall, as it confiscated Palestinian land and resources, separated towns and isolated Palestinians themselves.

This afternoon’s adoption of the Plan of Action also committed civil society organizations to build support for an International Week of Action Against the Wall to be held from 9 to 16 November 2003.  Working with the Palestinian Rights Committee, civil society organizations would supply speakers and other resources to build events surrounding the campaign.

In a letter addressed to the United Nations Secretary-General and the Presidents of the General Assembly and Security Council, also adopted this afternoon, civil society representatives pledged to work with governments to ensure the authorization of an international protection force as a first step to ending the occupation and implementing outstanding United Nations resolutions.  With a well-defined mandate and clear timeline, the force would spare Palestinian civilians further death and destruction at the hand of the occupying Israeli military forces.  It would also protect Israeli civilians from acts of violence, which were a consequence of the brutal 36-year occupation.

Prior to concluding, the Conference held its fourth plenary on the topic “Civil society initiatives to end the occupation”.  The discussion raised several strategic points.  The chief concern, however, centred on making more information available, via the Internet, to the public.

This morning, participants discussed the theme, “The international community, civil society and the political process to end the occupation”.  The discussion was mainly characterized by responses to the proposal by one of the panellists of a “single State” solution and called for the conference to issue a strong statement supporting an international protection force.

In closing remarks, Committee Chairman Papa Louis Fall (Senegal) said Palestinians and Israelis should take home the message that a growing number of civil society groups supported efforts for a peaceful end to Israeli occupation.  New facts on the ground had to be acknowledged.  Israel’s settlement policies were making political progress impossible, and the separation wall was a powerful symbol of that impasse.  The Committee supported the “Road Map”, which had raised many hopes among Israelis and Palestinians, as a practical tool, despite sceptical voices.

Also in a concluding statement, Nasser Al-Kidwa, Observer for Palestine, said the wall not only embodied the Israeli occupation but the entire international colonization process.  It, thus, had to be fought and brought down.  Moreover, he did not condone a bi-national or one-State policy.  Such a policy would only legalize the presence of Israeli settlements in Palestine.

Phyllis Bennis, Co-Chair, Steering Committee of the Conference, said it was fitting to hold the Conference at the United Nations because the Organization’s centrality in global peace efforts needed to be reaffirmed.  Peace was not merely the absence of war; it was the presence of justice.

Background

The United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People met in its third plenary session this morning to consider the theme “End the occupation!” in a panel discussion moderated by Ahmed Abdirahman.  It was announced that one of the panellists, Gabi Baramki, President of the Palestinian Council for Justice and Peace in Ramallah, would not be in attendance today because of Israeli travel restrictions.  Copies of his paper, however, were available.

Statements

NAIM ASHHAB, Member, Joint Action Group for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, Jerusalem, told participants that Palestinian civil society had expanded since the initial intifada, providing services such as milk delivery and the running of schools.  It was a modest but crucial start in a land where the Israeli military had flouted the Geneva Convention and destroyed over 15,000 Palestinian homes.

He expressed regret that the forces of peace, bolstered by waves of international volunteers, had limited influence in an Israeli society that was “creeping toward the right”. Nevertheless, because activists continued to stream into the region, despite Israeli restrictions and harassment, international solidarity with the Palestinian people was being beautifully expressed.

Acknowledging that, within Palestinian civil society, there were many doubts concerning the “Road Map”, he lamented that the plan did not seem to covet a true settlement, but rather represented an American ambition to achieve relative order so that the United States could protect its other interests in the region.  In that context, he called for greater participation in the peace process by the other members of the Quartet.

LEV GRINBERG, Professor, Ben-Gurion University, said that in March 2002, a group of 600 Israelis sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary-General urging him to deploy effective peace task forces in the occupied lands.  Since then, the need for such a move had increased.  It was difficult to build an effective civil society under military occupation and Palestinian violent resistance.  In the absence of an organized and empowered civil society, the public space was occupied by its rival:  the military society.  The Palestinians were trapped in a vicious cycle that they could not escape without international help.  Presently, the problem was defined as a question of security and terror, and not of occupation and resistance.

The crucial problem, he said, was not security but the uneven power relations between Israelis and Palestinians and the ascendance of the military society over civil society.  Insecurity was the symptom, not the illness.  Ending the occupation could not be an issue of internal Israeli politics:  it was a matter of international responsibility.  If ending the occupation remained an internal Israeli question, the Palestinians would remain trapped in the present vicious circle.  The Road Map legitimized the continuation of the occupation, while it demanded from the Palestinians the building of effective democratic institutions as a precondition to independence.

In its third stage, the Road Map promised a viable and independent Palestinian State by 2005, he said.  In its first stage, however, it created an impossible situation.  Unless it was corrected, no progress could be made.  Without minimal conditions of security and freedom for the Palestinians, it was impossible to stop the circle of violence.  A durable ceasefire was needed to end the occupation.  To implement the ceasefire, the active participation of the United Nations peacekeeping forces was needed.  United States military forces could not be part of the international peace force.  The United States had lost all its credibility in Arab public opinion.  United Nations forces must be seen as genuine protection, not a new form of humiliation.  Occupation was everyone’s enemy.

MARY ROSE OAKAR, President, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the participation of civil society was key in implementing the Road Map, which, although imperfect, could serve as a basis for negotiation.  In that context, she commended United States President George W. Bush for calling for a Palestinian State but urged him to actively work towards that goal.

Condemning violence on both sides, she said that, since September 2000, over 850 Israelis and more than 2,000 Palestinians had died.  Nevertheless, the United States media had failed to adequately report on the high number of Palestinian casualties.  Instead, it had focused on Israel’s dismantling of three unoccupied settlements, a charade that could not hide the fact that many more settlements had been built.  She stressed that media practices such as these needed to change.

Turning to the wall, which she said was larger than the Berlin Wall, she said it would render the Road Map an impossibility.  After all, there could be no viable Palestinian State if a massive concrete barrier encircled its population.  The wall could, however, serve as a powerful symbol to focus international opinion.  During the Cold War, she said, people had understood the Berlin Wall in ways that they could not comprehend more complex issues.

With respect to the United States, she said the country had not applied significant pressure on Israel to halt construction of the wall.  Instead, Mr. Bush had displayed an unwillingness to challenge domestic constituencies, especially powerful Jewish and evangelical Christian lobbies, which did not even represent the majority opinion of Israelis and American Jews.  In that regard, she urged civil society to help Mr. Bush translate American public opinion, which overwhelmingly supported an end to Israeli occupation, into public policy.

JEFF HALPER, Coordinator, Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, said the demolition of houses was not only a serious political policy but also the essence of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.  The process of displacement, together with the occupation, did not bode well for the future of the area.  His organization rebuilt houses, even if they would be demolished again, because it was a matter of resistance.  His organization not only resisted the occupation on the ground but also learned the lay of the land.  International civil society must take a prime role in the struggle, for peace would not emerge from the area itself.

The Road Map had failed and would not succeed, he said.  He described the current time as a dangerous twilight period, in which the Road Map had become a convenient mechanism for blaming the Palestinians.  A post-Road Map strategy must now be considered.  While everyone had “pooh-poohed” the Road Map, he had supported it because he believed it had potential.  It was the first document to even use the word “occupation”.  It also talked of establishing a “viable” Palestinian State.  He had also been encouraged by the fact that it had been led by the Quartet.  The Road Map kept a faint hope alive.  If the Road Map failed to bring about a viable, just, two-State solution, and roll back the occupation, then the occupation would become permanent.

He said the entire Road Map debate could be boiled down to one issue:  defining the occupation.  That was the great loophole.  If occupation was defined politically, ending the occupation meant, “What Israel could force the Palestinians to accept”.  The alternative was to define the occupation territorially.  If the Palestinians could be guaranteed that the entire occupation would end territorially in 2005, then meaningful progress could be made on issues of security.  Unfortunately, he did not believe that would happen.

Israel had created one State, he said.  The process of apartheid had already commenced, and if the Road Map failed, there would be a permanent system of occupation.  If apartheid was unacceptable, the only alternative available was to shift to a campaign like the one in South Africa with the slogan, “one person, one vote”.  While it would mean the death of two nationalisms, he believed a one-State solution would be good for both Palestinians and Israelis.

NAOMI BRAINE, Member, Jews against Occupation, said her group was a grass-roots organization committed to community education, visibility through demonstrations, and other forms of direct action.  It also emphasized the role of racism in understanding the Israeli occupation.  She then discussed the contradictions of United States policy vis-à-vis Israel.  Explaining that the domestic American politics surrounding Israel focused on two themes, namely the war on terror and the Jewish lobby, she said that both ideas had been used to promote the idea of Israel as a fellow European-American country, despite its actual demographics, which was also a victim of Arab and Muslim terrorists.

Turning to specific American interest groups that had a stake in the Israel debate, she referred to Christian fundamentalists, who thought that the messiah would return when a Jewish State arose in Palestine and perhaps included United States President George W. Bush in their ranks.  She also drew attention to the extensive American arms industry, which profited greatly from American aid to Israel, and the many links between the military forces of both countries.

Stressing that such interest groups were much more powerful in the United States than the so-called “Jewish lobby”, she told participants that constant references to a Jewish lobby served as a convenient diversion that promoted the anti-Semitic belief that powerful Jews were somehow controlling United States policy.  She then explained that actual Jewish opinion in the United States was far more diverse.  Nevertheless, because Jewish identity was currently bound too tightly to Zionism, it was difficult to see such diversity.

She emphasized that it was wrong to frame Israel as a Jewish issue in the United States, especially since all Americans’ tax dollars were at stake.  In that regard, she urged Jews to play a central role in disrupting how Israel-related political discussions in the United States progressed.  She also called on activists and civil society groups, who were often marginalized in the United States, to better explore the underlying political structures of peace agreements before dismissing them.  It was too easy to quickly dismiss plans such as the Road Map.

PHYLLIS BENNIS, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies, said there had been much talk about the Road Map.  She believed the Road Map was functionally over.  It was important to understand why the Road Map had failed.  Lack of implementation was key, but there was a broader question:  was it a viable proposal?  She did not think so.  There had been some important gains, including the acknowledgement that the goal was to end occupation.  The definition of ending occupation had been left out, however.

There were three reasons for the Road Map’s failure, including what was included, who was in charge and how it was created.  On the question of who was in charge, she said it had not been a Quartet, but a solo act with three back-up singers.  It had never been a Quartet.  The other three players had been brought on to provide cover for a United States-led process.

As a whole, civil society had been ignored in the Road Map process, she said.  The United Nations had been ignored as well.  It was that potential partnership that needed to be created to challenge United States domination of the process.  Partnership was needed to demand United Nations centrality and a new map based on the existing map, namely existing United Nations resolutions and existing international law.

It was also necessary to create a public campaign that would look at the wall as an example of the violation of existing United Nations resolutions, she said.  The wall was a settlement.  An international campaign was needed because Israel’s violation was an international violation.  Despite its abuse of power, the United States did not have a veto in the General Assembly.  The work of non-governmental organizations needed a single focus for an international movement.  The wall provided that focus.  Non-governmental organizations must also continue to pressure the United Nations to demand protection.

Discussion

One participant, from “If Americans Knew,” said Jewish participation in the struggle was never lacking.  However, what was missing was Christian participation, especially given the fact that Christians made up over 90 per cent of the United States population.  Addressing the oil lobby, she said it was not to blame for the current crisis.  It had, in fact, made several anti-Israel statements.  With respect to the weapons lobby, the Israeli weapons industry was quite strong in its own right and not so dependent on its American counterpart.  She did agree, however, that the pro-Israel lobby, consisting of Zionist Jews and Christians was key in defending the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

CHRIS DOYLE, from the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, took the floor to demand more European action.  Specifically, he said the European Union, currently Israel’s largest trading partner, should end preferential trade agreements with Israel and ban goods produced in the settlements.  He then asked Mr. Halper what his proposed single State would look like and whether it would have a constitution.

MAHA NASSAR, of the General Union of Palestinian Women, said that, if people kept talking about crumbling political solutions, the Israeli establishment would succeed.  Nevertheless, she acknowledged that the Road Map, just like the Oslo Agreement, was doomed to fail.  That was partially because it had never been based on any consensus of people in Israel and Palestine.  She agreed that funds should be provided to relocate Israeli settlers, but said that Palestinians must first be able to buy food.

NANCY MURRAY, with the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, said a strong statement supporting the international protection force, which had been mentioned by many panellists, should be issued by the conference.  Such a letter would exist in addition to the current plan of action.  She also called for a stronger voice from within the Palestinian community.

JOHN KIM, from the Fellowship on Reconciliation, said it would be a good idea to push for a General Assembly resolution to send an international protection force to the region.  He then requested more background information on the issue.

A participant from the American-Palestine Public Affairs Program responded that the Security Council had to take up the matter.  In the meantime, however, countries could group together to better organize their positions.

A student from the Arab Student Collective said Israel and Palestinian societies should not be dependent on what goes on in the United States Congress.  He then added that the campaign against the wall would be meaningless without a one-State solution.  He pointed to Yugoslavia, a country that had split on ethno-linguistic lines, as an example that should never be followed.

Another speaker cautioned against the one-State solution proposal saying it was dangerous to raise that idea now as it would make the current situation an accepted fact.  It was also dangerous because the extremists on the Israeli and Palestinian sides had set that as their objective.  A one-State solution was a prescription for the worst kind of apartheid in the region.  All relevant United Nations resolutions were based on the two-State solution.  The introduction of a one-State solution would only confuse the process.

JOSEPH BEN-DAVID, an ex-Israeli and a humanist minister, said he understood both sides of the issue.  They were witnessing the final stage of a hostile takeover of Palestine through the decimation of the Palestinian people.  The issue was not only economic and political but also moral and spiritual.

JEMMA ADABA of the Federation of Free Trade Unions said the Conference should adopt a concrete action plan that focused on the international support.  She also supported bringing the issue to the General Assembly through the Third Assembly.

Summarizing the discussion, Mr. ABDIRAHMAN, the moderator of the panel, said several issues had been highlighted, including the importance of reclaiming the public space; a plan of action symbolically aimed at the apartheid wall; and the need for protection for the Palestinian people.

Ms. BENNIS, addressing the issue of protection, said the veto was used by the United States in the Security Council to prevent a resolution that would provide protection.  It had been taken off the Council’s agenda at that point.  Under the terms of uniting for peace in the United Nations, it was possible for the General Assembly to take up issues that were allocated for the Security Council.  It was up to the General Assembly to make that determination.  It was clear that the primacy of a call for international protection should be included.

Mr. GRINBERG said it was important to remain united.  The United States had completely ignored the international community.  A debate had started, however, on the need to cooperate with the international community.  The Road Map must be used as a means to enter the political debate because it already existed.  While the one-State solution was a wonderful idea, it would be a way to continue the occupation, he said.  If the Israeli Government passed a law with incentives for settlers to return, 90 per cent would do so immediately.  The occupation was worse than apartheid.  The idea of apartheid was to keep native populations under the control of white Europeans.  In the current case, the goal was to displace.

Mr. ASHHAB said he thought it was important to mobilize public opinion for all the members of the Quartet to assume an active role in the process.  Pressure should be placed on the President of the United States to adhere to his promise for a Palestinian State.

Ms. OAKAR said she wished the United States were not so important on the issue of justice and peace in Palestine and Israel.  Her Government passed all kinds of legislation to feed the occupation.  It was a naive notion to say that the United States should be discarded.  Both the United States and the United Nations were needed.

Ms. BRAINE said the wall was the dominant reality on the ground.  If fully completed, it would be difficult to reverse.  While international protection would be a wonderful thing, she was concerned with the dangers of becoming focused on an internal battle within the United Nations while the situation on the ground deteriorated.  The occupation and the wall were funded by the United States.  There was a campaign to end United States aid to Israel.

Mr. HALPER said he spoke from knowledge on the ground.  Israel had succeeded in reconfiguring the country.  Occupation was an abstraction.  The trans-Israel highway was designed to reconfigure the country.

He said he had serious reservations about an international protection force.  The current conflict was a war for liberation.  He would only support the protection force if its mandate were to cease all settlement activity on the ground.  While the wall campaign was of great significance, it was important not to lose sight of the focus of ending the occupation.

Afternoon Statements

PIERRE GALAND, Senator in the Belgian Parliament and Chairman of the European Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine, was the first panellist to speak during the fourth plenary, which focused on “Civil society initiatives to end the occupation”.  He began by saying the global anti-war movement was well positioned to demonstrate against the occupation of Palestine and Iraq.  He also noted that young protestors today carried the Palestinian flag the way his generation had carried that of Viet Nam.

Turning to the role of the European Union, he said Europeans should put the Palestinian question at the core of any international agreements they entered into.  Noting that the mayors of Gaza, Nablus, and several European cities were working together in the inter-European Parliament to defend Palestinian rights and combat Israeli propaganda, he also urged the Union to suspend trade agreements with Israel as long as it continued to build settlements and export products produced in those outposts.  On specific boycotting practices, he suggested that Israel be required to label fruit that had been produced in settlements so Europe could choose to reject it.

He then condemned Israel for bringing submarines and nuclear weapons into the Mediterranean, and in that regard, he called for the demilitarization of that sea.  After all, the demilitarization in South Africa had led to the end of apartheid in that country.  Denouncing the Israeli practice of arresting the personnel of European non-governmental organizations attempting to visit Palestine, he told participants that he himself had been arrested in Tel Aviv as a “terrorist sympathizer”.  Unfortunately, he said, the same thing was happening in the United States.  Specifically, the staff of several European non-governmental organizations had been denied United States entry visas to participate in this Conference because they had been accused of being Hamas sympathizers.

JOSHUA RUEBNER, Executive Director, Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, Washington, D.C., said there was much in the news about the power of the so-called pro-Israel lobby in the United States.  If it were only a question of confronting the might of the Jewish lobby, policy could have been changed a long time ago.  While the pro-Israel lobby did wield tremendous money, it was only the forty-second largest special interest group.

The growth of the Christian Zionist movement was a huge factor, he said.  While it was difficult to pin down numbers, it was clear that Christian Zionists were able to mobilize substantial numbers of people.  They were also learning how to flex their muscles within the political system.  The arms industry was also playing a tremendous role.

Citizen engagement in American politics was at a low point, he said.  There were several reasons for that, including the fact that congressional districts were being redrawn to create “safe seats”, namely districts carved out to ensure an unfair race.  Elections were becoming so uncompetitive that the results of congressional elections could be easily predicted.  Tied into the safe seat phenomena were high re-election rates.  These factors were leading to low levels of participation within the American political system.  In 2002, less than 40 per cent of eligible voters actually cast ballots.

Low citizen participation rates could actually be a good thing, he continued.  Each congressional district had only some 635,000 people of which only a certain number of people were eligible to vote.  Influencing elected representatives in Congress did not require many people.  Civil society organizations needed to work in a more concentrated way within their spheres of influence.  He urged all American peace activists to join his network and pressure members of Congress.

GRETTA DUISENBERG, Chairperson, Stop the Occupation, Amsterdam, said she had visited the Palestinian territories and experienced the Israeli occupation firsthand.  She told of the erasure of an entire Palestinian town for the creation of the separation wall.  Acknowledging that the Israelis were suffering as well, she said this anguish could never justify the dramatic and illegal encroachment on Palestinian human rights that was taking place today.

Supporting the Road Map’s aim to establish a separate Palestinian State, she, nevertheless, stated that its prospects for success were dim.  In a vicious circle, Israel kept calling on Palestinian police forces to crack down on militant groups.  At the same time, however, it had demolished Palestine’s security infrastructure.  Stressing the importance of international law, she declared that Israel’s humanitarian law obligations must not be portrayed as negotiable and dependent on the performance of the parties.  Furthermore, she noted that, were Israel required to carry out its occupation within the norms established by international law, the costs would quickly outweigh the benefits.

Within the Quartet, she said, the United Nations and the Russian Federation had been shamefully silent.  Thus, allowed to take the lead, the United States had felt free to act in its traditional pro-Israel fashion.  She expressed regret that Europe had only followed the United States like a slave.  After all, this was a unique chance for the European Union to form a unified foreign policy at last.  It could stand firm in its demand that Israel recognize and respect United Nations resolutions.  She said grass-roots activism and political advocacy were essential to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people.  She also noted that Israeli groups were already good at lobbying and that the Palestinians needed to catch up.

SILAS CERQUEIRA, Representative of the International Secretariat in Solidarity with the Arab People and their Central Cause, Palestine, and Representative of the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization (AAPSO), asked if there was anything left to be said.  The question was, “Where do we go from here?”  While the participants met in comfortable surroundings, Palestinians were living under harsh conditions.  That reality must not be forgotten.  It was a contradictory dynamic that, as the global peace movement grew, the world faced even greater likelihood of war.  Governments had lied to the entire world about the war of aggression in Iraq.  Could such governments be relied on with an authentic peace process?  Today, in Iraq and elsewhere, young American soldiers were dying for the interests of a handful of companies.

Regarding the Palestinian issue, he noted that with each peace process, the situation for the Palestinians worsened.  The problem was that those peace processes were fundamentally flawed.  The Oslo peace process had not provided an effective guarantee for a fully independent Palestinian State.  The Road Map was also far from being a clear document.  With each peace process, the number of Palestinian refugees grew.  He agreed with the need for a permanent United Nations role to represent the Palestinian people.

Addressing the situation on the ground, he said that for years, misleading terms had been used to describe the conflict.  In fact, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not exist.  In reality, it was a situation of Israeli colonialism.  Misleading terms, such as “extremists” were also being used.  As a State, Israel was, itself, extremist.  President Arafat remained a prisoner in Ramallah, and a resolution should address that.  With daily courage, Palestinians had become the “grain of sand” that was blocking the might of the Israeli and United States war machine.

Discussion

One participant from Boston suggested that the European Union had the strength to impose severe economic sanctions on Israel.  Now it only needed the courage.

Another participant, from the America-Palestine Public Affairs Forum, said he regretted that there had been no workshop at the Conference on political matters.  Also, she stressed that, despite statements that the Road Map was dead, there had to be a Web site documenting who had done what in order to implement it.  That would be a good international tool.

NANCY MURRAY, with the United States Campaign to End the Occupation, said the Palestinian Environment NGO Network should coordinate all wall-related activities.  For the first time, there was a strong voice coming out of Palestine, and it would be good to use it.

A participant from the Alternative Information Centre from Jerusalem said that, in the last decade, civil society had become synonymous with lobbying efforts.  Nevertheless, what was needed right now was an activist movement that would go beyond lobbying and actually financially and politically support the Palestinian movement on the ground in Palestine.  He also said activists should look for help outside of the United States and the European Union.  Brazil and South Africa, for example, had governments that were friendly to the Palestinian cause and had extensive social movements.

Another participant commented on the absence of Palestinian participation in the panels today and suggested that be changed in the future.  He also said it was ridiculous to diplomatically blame both sides.  Referring to a speaker who had suggested that both sides had power vacuums, he responded that, if such a vacuum existed, it was because Israel had killed or incarcerated Palestinian leaders.

A representative from the World Confederation of Labor reminded Conference attendees that, because the United Nations was not separate from its Member States, lobbying should be done at the Government level and not at Headquarters.  He also urged the Arab Group to use its influence in the "Group of 77" developing countries and China and increase its support to efforts to end the occupation.

Another participant said items like timetables were negotiable.  The inalienable rights of the Palestinians, however, were not.  She also asked people to listen to the Palestinians and not ask them to water down their demands.  After all, if no one listened, the conflict would just keep going and going.

JAMAL JUMA, Coordinator of the Palestinian Environment NGO Network, said that, when he offered journalists a tour to Palestine, they responded that they only covered stories if people actually died.  In that regard, he said that more information was needed and that his group would launch a multilingual “stop-the-wall” Web site.

LEV GRINBERG, from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told panellists that Israel had already decided to deport Yasser Arafat.  In that context, he suggested that Israel be warned not to deport Arafat since it would only cause violence to escalate.

Ms. DUISENBERG suggested the importance of using pictures to best portray the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Regarding the role of the European Union in the political process, one speaker said the European Union should be considered as a target for lobbyists.  Countries such as Brazil and South Africa must also be involved.  Coordination and solidarity was vital for the work of civil society.

Mr. RUEBNER said his organization coordinated each month a strategy for influencing what was going on in the American political system.  He encouraged United States representatives to get involved and influence Congress.

Mr. CERQUEIRA said the Palestinian masses were remarkable for their political maturity.  They knew what they wanted.  Pressure was needed not only on Prime Minister Sharon but also on President Bush.  He suggested a North American conference to discuss pressure in that region specifically.  He thought there had been less participation this year by Arabs and Palestinians.  That should be studied.

In concluding remarks, Ms. BENNIS said it was fitting to hold this Conference at the United Nations because the organization’s centrality in global peace efforts needed to be reaffirmed.  Peace was not merely the absence of war; it was the presence of justice. In that regard, she looked forward to the possibility of new alliances being formed to end the occupation.

NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said the wall did not just embody Israeli occupation, but the entire international colonization process.  It, thus, had to be fought and brought down.  In light of the discussions held at the Conference, he wished to share several official Palestinian positions.  First, the ultimate goal was to establish an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.  He did not condone a bi-national or one-State policy.  Such a policy would only legalize the presence of Israeli settlements in Palestine.

Indicating his willingness to cooperate with any efforts to bring the Road Map to life again, he agreed with Conference participants about the importance of the United Nations, its resolutions, and its continued role in the Middle East peace process.  He said he would not accept the exemption of the Security Council from its legal obligations under the United Nations Charter.  Also, he stated that the proposals he had heard yesterday, about suspending Israel from the General Assembly, were unhelpful and not feasible.

PAPA LOUIS FALL (Senegal), Committee Chairman, said Palestinians and Israelis should take home the message that a growing number of civil society groups supported efforts for a peaceful end to the Israeli occupation.  He also declared that new facts on the ground had to be acknowledged.  Israel’s settlement policies, for example, were making political progress impossible, and the separation wall was a powerful symbol of that impasse.

He reiterated that, despite the sceptical voices that had been heard during the Conference, the Committee supported the Road Map, which had raised many hopes among Israelis and Palestinians, as a practical tool.  In that regard, he encouraged participants to support it, while telling their home constituencies that the plan was not succeeding because of Israel’s continued occupation.

He also stressed that the Committee encouraged cooperation, coordination, and networking, and was ready to support all initiatives to resolve the crisis.  Announcing that China had recently offered to host an Asian meeting on Palestine in December, he declared that the Committee would continue to try to raise awareness of what was going on in Palestine throughout the world.

* *** *