Panellists discussed international efforts aimed at achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine on the second day of the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, taking place at the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in the Chilean capital. Their presentations focused on the efforts initiated at the Annapolis Conference, maintaining international legitimacy in efforts aimed at achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, and the permanent responsibility of the United Nations.
According to Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, the international community had not shown the necessary resolve to ensure Israeli compliance with relevant international resolutions. He called on the Security Council to play a more active role and the international community to exercise direct action, such as boycotts, sanctions and divestment, to force Israel into compliance.
Other panellists also stressed the fact that the international community had done little to force Israel into compliance, and warned of the “fatigue” caused by 60 years of international attention to the Palestine question, with scant results. While the international community and organizations directed their attention to conflicts in other parts of the world, the forces of Palestinian and Israeli civil society in support of a peaceful resolution also waned, they said. Yossi Yonah, Associate Professor of the Department of Education at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Tel Aviv, called for the mobilization of international civil society, and alerted that the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority had reached a point in which no one took them seriously.
Statements by Panellists
RIYAD H. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, said that the continuous efforts of the international community had not brought about the fulfilment of the rights of the Palestinian people, mainly because of the intransigence of Israel and its total disrespect and contempt for international law. “From the very beginning, Israel has acted with flagrant impunity, denying the rights of the Palestinian people and committing grave breaches, including systematic human rights violations, war crimes and acts of State terror, with the deliberate intent of perpetuating its military occupation of the Palestinian land in order to achieve the de facto annexation of as much of that land as possible,” he asserted.
Over four decades, he said, Israel had been confiscating Palestinian land and destroying Palestinian property for the purpose of constructing, expanding and entrenching its network of illegal settlements, into which hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers had been illegally transferred, in grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol 1. Israel’s illegal colonization campaign in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, posed the most dangerous threat to the achievement of a two-State solution, he said. “The cumulative impact of Israel’s brutal policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, has been extensive and disastrous, with both short- and long-term consequences. The Gaza Strip, in particular, has been severely impoverished and devastated. [...] Such oppressive and humiliating Israeli practices have kept the Palestinian people under siege and forced the displacement and flight of many civilians,” Mr. Mansour stated.
The two-State solution would be impossible to achieve as long as the occupation and colonization continued, he said. The complete cessation of Israel’s illegal colonization campaign and all other Israeli violations, and grave breaches of international law, was imperative for salvaging the potential for peace, which diminished with each passing year, stressed Mr. Mansour. The international community had not shown the necessary resolve or political will to ensure Israeli compliance with United Nations resolutions, he said. “Appeasement has not worked, and calls and demands made without action to follow them up have not worked. [...] Practical measures must be seriously considered…, including the possibility of boycotts, sanctions and divestments to actually compel Israel to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions, along with all other relevant resolutions, to abide by its legal obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the human rights covenants, and to respect fully the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion,” he added.
Mr. Mansour called on the United Nations Security Council to play a more active role by passing a resolution calling on the Quartet, with the close cooperation of the regional partners, to work closely with the parties to implement a peace settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242, 338, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the Road Map. The only way to seriously explore the role the Quartet could play would only be possible if the United States’ role in the Quartet, in fact, changed. “We do hope that the new United States Administration will usher in a more constructive approach, which would allow the Quartet to assist the parties in reaching the goals set out by the international community,” he stated.
DIEGO ARRIA, Senior Adviser to the International Crisis Group and former Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations, noted that almost all the presentations of the first day of the Meeting had had many ideas in common, and that was positive in that it reflected a “common spirit” in the international community. However, the disadvantage of the “common spirit” was that it could also lead to its own fatigue, deviating attention from the complex issue.
In spite of the fact that the Palestinian question had generated interest and mobilized efforts in the United Nations like no other issue, there were other conflicts or violent scenarios that also drew the attention of the international community, thus diminishing the urgency of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Arria continued.
He said it was important today for the Arab community to address the issue of the Palestinian internal divisions, and acknowledged the significant role of Egypt in this regard. Mr. Arria expressed his firm rejection of radical positions on both sides and recalled the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who had said that the Organization, in spite of all its defects and failures, had constituted the best hope for humanity to replace the battleground for a conference table.
YOSSI YONAH, Associate Professor at the Department of Education of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Tel Aviv, asserted that, in the wake of the demise of forces of civil society supporting the cause of peace for both Israelis and Palestinians, efforts must be directed to mobilize global civil society in support of a peaceful solution to the conflict. The main principles accepted to some extent by Israeli and Palestinian forces supporting the cause of peace were relatively clear and included a two-State solution, with the Palestinian State established on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 and Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution to the refugee problem. The task today for civil society activists was to push the peace process forward, creating an atmosphere in which those reasonable principles might be endorsed by both sides and finally result in a viable peace agreement.
“The peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have reached, today, a point in which no one takes them seriously. Both sides believe that the other side is not negotiating with each other in good faith,” said Mr. Yonah. That was the result of the failure of the Camp David Summit in 2000, followed by a second intifada, which had worsened the sense of hopelessness, escalated violence on both sides, and set the scenario for the electoral victory of Prime Minister Sharon and the demise of the forces of civil society in Israel that had supported peace negotiations.
While most Israelis believed that any peace negotiations must bring about the establishment of an independent Palestinian State, though were often unwilling to pay the price for it, they also believed that there were no true Palestinian counterparts with whom to negotiate, and that belief had been reinforced by the electoral victory of Hamas in 2006, Mr. Yonah explained. That had had an equivalent repercussion among Palestinians, he said, particularly in light of the harsh measures of the Israeli army and the continuation of settlements in the West Bank. Given those circumstances, he said, “Both civil societies ought to be transcended. We need to engage international civil society and international political leaders in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [...] Special efforts need to be directed to Diaspora communities, both Israeli and Palestinian, [...] in support of reasonable solutions.”
FUAD CHAHIN, Vice-President of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, said it was unacceptable that 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Palestine question remained an international shame, where the same principles continued to be a far away utopia for millions of Palestinians suffering from the violation of their basic human rights on a daily basis.
The international system had failed, said Mr. Chahin, and Israel’s total disregard for numerous resolutions, international law and humanitarian rights was the clear evidence of that fact. The failure of the different initiatives over the past 17 years was due to the fact that Israel had been established as a colonizing project seeking to control more land, with less Arabs, he said. The peace process had only resulted in more occupation, settlement expansion, the construction of the wall, and the brutal and inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip, he stated.
Israel had carried out a strong propaganda campaign of global scope that had confused international public opinion, installing the idea that Israel represented the values of the West, and that Palestinians were Arab fundamentalists and terrorists, said Mr. Chahin. The international community should strengthen the United Nations system and seek alternative solutions, because the only thing that had become clear was that what had been done during the past 17 years was not the solution, concluded Mr. Chahin.