27 June 2002
United States, Palestinian Visions of Middle East Peace Have Many Common Points, African Meeting on Palestinian Rights Told
Participants Address Key Issues, Including Suicide Bombings, Military Actions, Occupation of Territory
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
RABAT, 25 June -- There were many common points between the Palestinian and United States visions of peace in the Middle East, Edward Abington said as the African Meeting in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People continued this morning. Mr. Abington, a Washington lawyer and former Consul General in East Jerusalem, explained that Palestinian negotiators had spent the last three weeks in intensive consultations with officials from the Bush Administration providing a Palestinian input to the American policy makers formulating positions for President Bush's statement.
The Palestinian vision was well received by the Bush Administration, and its elements in many respects coincided with United States positions on what a final status agreement should look like, he said. Among the key elements were: permanent boundaries between the two States; a permanent territorial corridor between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine and West Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel; and Palestinian/Israeli security cooperation arrangements that preserved the integrity and sovereignty of each State.
In today's discussion of the challenges to a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, several speakers underlined the necessity to end the Israeli occupation as a key prerequisite for achieving peace in the region. Other aspects of the discussion focused on the refugee problem and the illegality of Israeli settlements, the collapsing economies and the challenge to the leadership of President Yasser Arafat.
Statements were also made by the following experts: Secretary-General of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Rawhi Fattouh; Moroccan Professor of International Law, Abdel Benmessaoud Trendano; Secretary of the Committee for Palestinian Israeli Dialogue, Latif Dori; Director of Studies, South African Institute of International Affairs, Elizabeth Sidiropoulos; and Member of the Knesset and Secretary-General of the Hadash Party, Mohamed Barakeh.
The two-day meeting, which is sponsored by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, will conclude this afternoon following a discussion on international efforts at salvaging peace in the Middle East and African support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
Statements by Experts
RAWHI FATTOUH, Secretary of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that for hundreds of years, Palestinians had lived in peace and security on Palestinian territory until Israel occupied it, transforming Palestinians' lives into a nightmare. He reviewed the history of the peace process, stating that Israel had continued to flout the peace accord, pursuing a policy of establishing Israel's occupation as a fait accompli and escalating its campaign of violence against the Palestinian people and its leadership. There were now 140 Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory, housing 370,000 settlers and the Israeli Government was seeking to increase the number of settlers to 400,000. The settlements were an effort to transform the demographic structure in violation of agreements between the parties. The Israeli authorities also sought to bring in thousands of Jews and to settle them on Palestinian land while at the same time demolishing hundreds of Palestinian homes.
He said the Israelis had adhered to a policy of rejecting the return of Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, clinging to Israeli settlements, rejecting the right of return of Palestinian refugees and not recognizing Israel's liability to compensate those who might choose not to return. Meanwhile, the Palestinian position was clear and flexible, especially with respect to exchanging land, limiting the number of refugees returning and compensating the rest, and granting religious Jews the freedom to visit the holy places. Following Ariel Sharon's provocative November 2000 visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which caused violence to rage through the Palestinian Territory, the Israeli Government waged war against the Palestinians resulting in the total destruction of most government and non-governmental buildings and institutions. The Government of Israel had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity including the massacres at Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah.
Peace was a strategic choice for the Palestinian people, he said. A just and lasting peace could be achieved only by the removal of Israeli occupation from all Palestinian territory occupied on 5 June 1967; a just solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees; the establishment of an independent Palestinian State; and the removal of the Israeli settlements established on Palestinian land. Aggression and tyranny, however great, would not cause the Palestinians to swerve from condemning all acts of terrorism. He condemned and disapproved of any act likely to injure or endanger the lives of peaceful civilians of either the Palestinian or the Israeli people. He called on the international community to exert pressure on the Israeli Government and rein in its Prime Minister Ariel Sharon whose military forces each day brought death to dozens of Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others in addition to destroying infrastructure and installations, bulldozing crops and perpetrating the closure and blockade of all towns, villages and whole areas of the occupied Palestinian territory.
ABDELMOUGHIT BENMESSAOUD TREDANO, Professor of International Law, University of Mohammed V and Vice President of d'Alternatives, Rabat, said the existential question for Arabs and Muslims was, "can we still debate the question of Palestine?" A few hours ago, President Bush's statement had continued the recent leitmotif of reform in the Palestinian Authority and the security forces, and no change in the idea of temporary borders. The essence of the problem, settlements, had been totally shelved. It was difficult to impose justice in an area that had so many important natural resources. The whole sequence of events illustrated the most astonishing process of hostage taking in the history of international law. The partition itself had been a violation of the mandate of the League of Nations. The United Nations did not have the right to split up a State or to declare a partition. From the beginning, the issue had been occupation and there was still no solution.
The Arabs tried to progress towards peace but the more they tried to move forward, the more the Israelis moved back, he said. The Arab World had tried to identify the Palestinian people in the 1974 Arab Summit. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was declared the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. A few days later the United Nations offered the PLO Observer status. But the Arabs continued to make concessions. Since 1947, however, events had transpired to the point that one wondered whether 22 per cent of the land should be accepted. The question of Palestine remained a critical issue because of Jerusalem since the Palestinian people belonged to both the Arab World and to the Islamic world.
It had become more and more difficult to make the voice of Palestine heard in the media, he said. The media used biased and judgmental language, often speaking of Israeli "incursions" on the one hand while referring to "terrorist" bombings on the other. There was a mystification of Taba and Camp David and it was said that the Palestinians had missed the boat for peace. The real question was, who stopped the negotiations? In fact, the Israeli representative, at the express command of the Israeli Prime Minister, had ended the talks. The tendency was to forget the heart of the issue while focusing on the details. Peace and security could not be achieved as long as security was the precondition of the Israelis and the U.S. A few days ago 400 Palestinian intellectuals had called for an end to the suicide attacks. Their position could be debated but did the Palestinians have any other choice or option that was viable or plausible? he asked. The PLO had not been able to launch a true liberation war like other countries.
He said that Ariel Sharon, who had become an instant journalist, had expounded on a plan in the New York Times. Yesterday President Bush's speech echoed the Sharon plan in which he stated that Israel would not go back to the 1967 borders and would not give up Jerusalem or its secure borders. Israel feared peace and needed a permanent external threat. As long as peace was close there was an identity problem within Israel because of all differences between the Israeli citizens from different cultures and parts of the worlds. The differences between the secular and religious Jews also presented difficulties for the Israelis.
It was up to the Palestinians themselves to deal with the situation, he continued. There must be an intra-Palestinian dialogue. Sharon had unsuccessfully tried to incite a Palestinian civil war. The suicide bombings had provoked a lot of public reaction but public opinion should be used for the benefit of the Palestinian people.
LATIF DORI, Secretary, Committee for Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue, Tel Aviv, said Ariel Sharon's purpose was to bring about the total destruction of the Palestinian Authority and the removal of President Yasser Arafat. Yasser Arafat, however was full of strong will, life and activity. He had demanded that the suicide bombing be ended and that Palestinian youth not be sent on those missions. Resistance within the territory was legitimate and would lead to the end of the occupation, but the suicide bombings were counter-productive. They did not contribute to peace but rather, helped Sharon to continue his war of aggression against the Palestinian people.
He said that United States President George Bush had postponed his policy speech for the Middle East last week. In his statement last night, President Bush had again expressed criticism against President Arafat whom he had never met. Yet he had met with Mr. Sharon seven times. Was it ever enough to treat the patient with half the medication needed? he asked. Both parties had addressed the statement but had agreed to different things. The Palestinians would not accept new leadership. The Israelis would not go back to 1967 borders. That meant the path was heading towards a dead end. Proof of Israeli intentions was further illustrated by the recent Israeli invasion of Hebron and the murder of five Palestinian police officers. Bush had failed to perfect his rope dancing exercise. He would have to deliver another speech in the near future to say why his proposals had failed.
Mr. Dori called on the Israeli Labour Party to lead the Government in view of the failure of the current Government. Shimon Peres should not serve as a cover-up for Ariel Sharon or try to embellish his image. There was no hope of reaching peace as long as Mr. Sharon was at the head of the Israeli Government. It might be that peace would have to be imposed on both parties through an international mandate and with the introduction of an international force.
Still, he said, there was a modicum of hope in the apparently growing peace campaign in Israel and there had been demonstrations in Israel against the Israeli actions. A poll last week showed that 80 per cent of the Israeli population was for peace and 50 per cent would support the establishment of a Palestine State. Fifty-two per cent would agree to the dismantlement of settlements. As the Tunisian poet Abu-Al-Quasm Al-Shabi said, "Should people one day will it, fate would no doubt one day respond." Fate will one day call for the Palestinian people to cast off their fetters.
ELIZABETH SIDIROUPOULOS, Director of Studies, South African Institute of International Affairs, said the basic assumption for any sustainable settlement of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict must be the recognition and acceptance by both sides of the right of each State to co-exist as viable political and economic entity. A sustainable negotiation process, however, could not occur when one side was under siege. Two processes must commence: negotiations on a final settlement and internal reform of the Palestinian Authority. In the current climate, breaking the cycle of attack, counter-attack and reoccupation would require substantial international pressure on Israel, and the engagement of Arab States with the Palestinian Authority to stay the course of reform and to attempt to contain the suicide bombing. The policy of fencing in the West Bank could not form the basis of the future status of the territories, nor could it lead to a comprehensive and sustainable peace. A wall around the West Bank might technically be a withdrawal but it was also the creation of a huge jail complex where development and peace could not be achieved.
She said that President Bush's long-awaited "vision" for the Palestinian/Israeli conflict again placed the onus on the Palestinians. The Israeli response was that internal and leadership reforms within the Palestinian Authority must come before halting of settlements or the establishment of a State. Withdrawal and negotiations on final status could not wait on an "ideal" reform of the Palestinian Authority, nor could they be held hostage to extremist actions. They had to start now. Ending the Israeli occupation was an essential prerequisite for peace. Moreover, building up peace required a top-down and bottom-up approach. Peace could not be imposed from above alone nor could it be achieved through the actions of the citizenry without the political will of the leaders. The process should be inclusive and not neglect the fact that there could be no development without peace and no peace without development. Moreover, there must be a process of reconciliation, both within and across borders.
For a sustainable peace, the occupation must end, she said. The only solution was ultimately a political one based on compromises. There must be a resumption of serious negotiations, not when there was no longer any violence, but now. The burning issues were Jerusalem, settlements, the rights of refugees, water and borders. Leadership was essential and the mark of a true leader would be to show the way to genuine security which was not found in the force of arms. Meanwhile, the final document should be put to a referendum in both countries under international monitoring. Other actors in the international community should be involved to facilitate the process, particularly during the current impasse when external pressure on both sides was critical. In particular, the region should be involved in the process. Moreover, the first track diplomacy must be complemented by the second track diplomacy among the elements of civil society which could play a role in developing expertise by supporting the government structures or paralleling them. Finally, there must be an establishment of codes of conduct, greater accountability and democracy within the Palestinian Authority. The deployment of a peacekeeping force between the West Bank and Israel might be the necessary catalyst for the process to begin.
MOHAMED BARAKEH, Member of the Knesset and Secretary-General of the Hadash Party, said Prime Minister Sharon would not accept President Arafat, who had complied with international resolutions and decisions, as a participant in the peace negotiations. Moreover, Ariel Sharon, described as man of peace, said he regretted that he had not killed Arafat in 1982. Yet he himself had an unparalleled record of killing and should be sitting beside Milosevic in The Hague before the International Court of Justice. The United Nations should ask for the release of political prisoners including Marwan Barghouti, who were being arbitrarily detained while the demographic character and territorial unity of Palestinian land was being changed. The acceptance of President Bush's speech did not reflect the true position of the Palestinian people but was an attempt to go into a political process whatever it might be at this stage.
Israel's methods were clearly reflective of the South African apartheid regime, he said. Palestinians were not allowed to use certain roads and were not allowed to leave their area whereas in South Africa, Blacks had not been allowed to go into other areas. In fact, with the erection of walls and fences, Palestinians were being put into collective concentration camps. Any Israeli officer could seize Palestinian land under the pretext that it was needed for military purposes. The land the Palestinians needed to develop was given to the settlers. Meanwhile, the land was administered under two separate systems -- a military system for Palestinians and another system for Israeli settlers living in the 166 West Bank settlements. The settlements were recognized as privileged communities that were exempt from the laws of the Palestinian Authority. In order to encourage settlements, the State gave incentives to settlers that were not even given to other Israeli citizens. Loans were turned into grants and the departments of housing, education, finance, labour and social welfare all gave priority to the settlements. About 30 per cent of the budget for industry and finance was given to the settlers. They also received support and special benefits from international Jewish organizations that did not necessarily abide by Israeli law.
He added that Palestinians were isolated in areas with no territorial continuity, making a viable economy and the provision of basic public services impossible. Settlements were a contradiction to any kind of peace process. Other issues were nothing compared to what was happening on the ground. Mr. Sharon's long-term transitional State would make it impossible to have a Palestinian State. The Israeli Government did not want a fair and just peace. It wanted to stop being responsible for the lives of the people while controlling most of the land. There needed to be a different world order for all oppressed people. As Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darweesh said "we will be victorious because we have been defeated in our defeat."
EDWARD G. ABINGTON, lawyer, Washington, D.C., former Consul General in East Jerusalem, said that after more than three decades of work in the Middle East, the goal of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians had never seemed so distant -- yet paradoxically, the possibilities of such a peace might be greater than ever. The Palestinians had put forward in Washington a positive and realistic vision of peace with Israel. And United States President George Bush had outlined American ideas about peace. There were many common points between the two visions making it possible to build an international consensus that could lead to meaningful negotiations. There was a contradiction, however, between the broad diplomatic consensus about what a peace agreement should look like and the realities of the violent situation on the ground.
He described the problems that must be faced as the continuing and escalating violence and terrorism; the need for reconstituted Palestinian political, security and economic systems in preparation for statehood, and the absolute requirement for a credible and continuing political process that leads to peace between these long suffering peoples. There were, however, grounds for hope. The Arab world had recognized that there could be no solution for the Palestinian people without real and lasting security and recognition for Israel. That had been recognized as such by the Israeli people, even if their Government has not responded to the Arab initiative. In addition, the international community -- and much of Israel -- had embraced the notion of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as the only possible solution. The majority of Palestinians did not seek the destruction of Israel, but the creation of an independent State and the majority of Israelis genuinely believed in peace with the Palestinians.
The Palestinian negotiators had spent the last three weeks in intensive consultations with officials from the Bush Administration to provide a Palestinian input to the American policy makers as they formulated positions for President Bush's statement, he said. The Palestinian vision was well received by the Bush Administration, and its elements in many respects coincided with the United States positions on what a final status agreement should look like. It was important to convey the Palestinian vision for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at a time when the international community was seeking to formulate a comprehensive policy regarding the Middle East. The key elements of that vision included borders between the State of Palestine and the State of Israel that would be permanent boundaries between the two States. Also, there would be a permanent territorial corridor established between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip sections of the State of Palestine. East Jerusalem would become the capital of the State of Palestine and West Jerusalem the capital of the State of Israel. Jerusalem would remain open to all peoples. The Palestinian side would transfer sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter and the Wailing Wall section of the Western Wall in East Jerusalem to Israel, while retaining sovereignty over the remainder of the Old City.
He added that the future Palestine and Israel would establish security cooperation arrangements that preserved the integrity and sovereignty of each State. International forces would play a central role in those arrangements and the two sides would strive to establish a regional security regime. Neither State would participate in military alliances against each other, or allow their territory to be used as a military base of operation against each other or against other neighbours. No foreign troops might be stationed in the territory of either State unless specified in the permanent status agreement or subsequently agreed to by the two parties. Palestine and Israel's respective sovereignty and independence would be guaranteed by formal agreements with members of the international community. There would be a just and agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee problem based on United Nations General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 1948. The issue of water would be resolved in a just and equitable manner in accordance with international treaties and norms, and Palestine and Israel would be democratic States with free market economies. Importantly, the comprehensive permanent status agreement would mark the end of conflict between Palestine and Israel, and its complete implementation would mark the end of claims between them.
All of that required a parallel process that would create concrete and positive developments on the ground, he said. The Israeli sense of personal security needed to be reestablished, and Palestinians must be allowed to begin to live a normal life without onerous restrictions. The return to the situation as it existed on 28 September 2000, would require a policy of de-escalation and de-occupation, ensuring the protection of Palestinian and Israeli peoples in accordance with the rule of law, and the gradual introduction of attributes of sovereignty to buttress and prepare the ground for a permanent status agreement. The Palestinians believed that there should be a fixed timeline for the process with guaranteed diplomatic international involvement.
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