PALESTINIANS, ISRAELIS, INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
KYIV, 14 May -- The "Road Map" was a clear trade-off that hardly met the needs of Palestinians and Israelis, a representative of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said this morning at the International Meeting in Support of Middle East Peace in Kyiv.
Oleg Ozerov, Deputy Chief of the Middle East Process Division added that the plan’s main value was that it served as a starting point for peace talks and building a sovereign, independent Palestinian State capable of cohabiting with Israel in peace and security
Palestinian Legislative Council Member Ziad Abu Zayyad stressed that the Road Map should be for implementation and not for negotiation.
Also referring to the Road Map, Political Consultant to the Palestinian Authority Edward Abington said the plan was frontloaded with difficult but critical security obligations that the Palestinians must undertake.
Mr. Abington, a Washington lawyer and former Consul General in East Jerusalem, said that the Road Map and international efforts to implement it were dependent not only on Israeli and Palestinian political will, but just as importantly on the determination of the international community to put an end to the conflict. It was far from clear whether any of the three sides had the will to do what was required.
Presentations were also made by former Knesset Member, Yossi Katz, and Executive Director of the Association of the Middle East Studies in Kyiv, Ihor Semyvolos.
The two-day meeting, held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People will conclude this afternoon following a panel presentation on "Working for a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine". Talking points include establishing a viable framework for the political process -- the Quartet’s Road Map; the permanent responsibility of the United Nations, including the Security Council; the role of intergovernmental organizations in supporting peace in the region; and the contribution of civil society.
ZIAD ABU ZAYYAD, Member, Palestinian Legislative Council, Jerusalem, said that the Israeli Government doted on the ideology of expansion and more annexation. In Washington, the Christian right wing and the influential Jewish lobby saw the State of Israel as the achievement of a messianic prophecy. Meanwhile, despair in the Palestinian street, fed by Israeli killings and destruction, pushed some people to commit suicide attacks. Those attacks were then used as an excuse by the Israelis to justify further killing of Palestinians. At the same time, there was a continuation of Israeli activities to integrate the settlements with one another and with the rest of Israel. If that process continued, the idea of a two-State solution would become unrealistic. Currently, he could not see an area where there could be a Palestinian State.
He said the attack on Palestinian lands was intensified in Jerusalem where there was an attempt to practice a policy of ethnic cleansing, forcing the Palestinians out and forming a belt of Jewish areas. The Israelis intended to destroy the infrastructure of the Palestinian people and end the democratic process that was just beginning. As a Member of the Legislative Council, he knew that Council members could not function properly because they were not allowed to travel to meetings. The Israelis decided when the Legislative Council and the Palestinian Government could and could not meet. After the Iraq war and as a result of European pressure, the United States announced the Road Map, but experience showed that the Israelis were professional in delaying tactics. They had successfully employed a major deception campaign to divert international attention from the Israeli crimes against what they described as Palestinian crimes.
The concept of "illegal" settlements was a joke as all Israeli settlements were illegal, he said. The Israelis had succeeded in a character assassination of Chairman Arafat and presenting it as though he was the problem. In actuality, there was no difference between Arafat and Abu Mazen. The new Palestinian Government would not be able to do anything unless there was change in Israeli politics. Furthermore, no new Palestinian Government could sign an agreement. Only the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had the power of attorney from the Palestinian people to strike a deal with the other side. As head of the PLO, only Yasser Arafat could sign an agreement.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon believed that he should continue the vision of what David Ben Gurion had started and failed to complete. Israel should have total control over resources and continue settlement activities in the Palestinian territories. Some Israelis believed that after the Iraqi war, conditions were good for the fanatics in Israel and their allies in Washington. If the current situation was maintained, there would be no chance for peace. The Road Map should be for implementation and not for negotiation. The other side must begin implementation. He urged the United Nations not to give up.
YOSSI KATZ, Former Member of Knesset, said anyone who wanted to present his/her position on the issue of the Middle East peace process could not ignore the global reality. The Americans and their allies, who had demonstrated they were capable of independent action in opposition to international opinion, were willing to ignore large geographical distances and major differences in attitudes and politics and had determination in the face of apparent difficulties and obstacles. Many people now hoped that Americans would invest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even half the energy they had put into Afghanistan and Iraq. Such involvement must include imposing a settlement that would bring both sides to the path of sincere and practical negotiations and lead to permanent arrangements; international participation including the use of an international policing force; and economic and financial aid. Without such involvement, it would be impossible to create an atmosphere of peace or to defeat those who sabotaged the political process.
He said hatred had increased to an appalling level. The only chance of breaking down and reducing that hatred depended on the beginning of economic growth, side by side with the political process. If the world wished to have quiet in the region, it must invest a great deal of effort and resources in the economic area. Moreover, the Israelis must take immediate steps to send a positive message through the reduction of road blocks, ending of closure, easing of economic and humanitarian restrictions, more freedom of movement and withdrawal to the borders of September 2000. There must also be an uncompromising declaration of the right of Palestinian people to live in their own viable State. Preventive revenge killing must be stopped.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian side must implement a total ceasefire, he said. There could be no killing, controlled or regulated. Any level of violence always turned into terrorism. The first step taken by David Ben Gurion after the Israeli independence was to destroy the underground movement and to dismantle Jewish commandos. It was difficult but essential. The delicate and sensitive issues, the core of the conflict, could easily be resolved but all the issues must be on the agenda of both sides. No one should be allowed to set preconditions. If Mr. Sharon was trying to remove the issue of the right of return, he was jeopardizing the process. Unfortunately, the solutions discussed at Camp David under President William Clinton would be the guidelines of future settlements. For the first time in a long time, he said, there was some optimism in the Israeli public that the chances for the end of the conflict had improved. The establishment must be encouraged and society educated in how to meet the challenge.
OLEG OZEROV, Deputy Chief, Middle East Peace Process Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow, said the Road Map was a clear trade-off that hardly met the needs of Palestinians and Israelis. Its main value was that it served as a starting point for peace talks and building a sovereign, independent Palestinian State capable of cohabiting with Israel in peace and security. Russia had advocated such a solution for many years and viewed it as a radical step forward in forging international consensus. He drew attention to the provision stating that it was important to move towards a comprehensive settlement both on Palestinian and Syrian-Lebanese tracks. The Palestinian leadership had already given its endorsement. Now Israel must follow suit.
He said the construction of the so-called protective wall, which was contrary to the letter and spirit of the Road Map, must be stopped. The key objective at this stage was to put into place the elements outlined in the Tenet plan and Mitchell recommendations. The Palestinians had implemented a significant number of provisions in the first part of the Road Map. It would be only logical for Israel to reciprocate by taking steps to lessen tensions around Palestinian territories and setting the stage for the continuation of reform and resumption of the political settlement process. Russia would fully support the implementation of the Road Map by both parties. In that regard, he called for an early start of informal monitoring and Quartet consultations with the parties on the institutionalization of a monitoring mechanism.
Continuing, he said that while implementing the Quartet plan, the parties should review their progress in meeting their commitments and take into account the proposed time frame. That would help to avoid delay in the peace process and move forward to the next stage, which provided for normalization of Israeli relations with Syria and Lebanon. The proposed settlement was neither a gift nor a sanction. It was based on the understanding that there was no viable alternative to a trade-off political settlement. Other options would imply a war that would last a hundred years.
IHOR SEMYVOLOS, Executive Director, Association of Middle East Studies, Kyiv, said President George Bush was not eager to speak about a peace conference. He was trying to achieve peace on United States conditions. Must one side undertake the first step towards compromise or must the parties act in parallel? he asked. Currently, Palestinian steps preceded any Israeli steps. The impression was that the Quartet was trying to meet the demands of both parties. The new initiative must not become an endless loop of discussions. The role of the United States could be changed. Currently, they wanted maximum progress with limited involvement. Mr. Bush Jr. would not risk his political image or take steps where success was in doubt. In his last speech about the Middle East, he had not mentioned the Road Map. If one step was not successful then the entire process was under threat. Formerly, American involvement consisted of short-term visits to the region within a short period but this time, greater involvement was required.
He said both Palestinians and Israelis must have a guaranteed right of self defence. Currently, any manifestation of self defence by Palestinians was viewed by Israel as terrorism. Was the intifada a people’s legitimate struggle or terrorism? he asked. If it was terrorism, then Abu Mazen could stop it. If it was resistance, then it could not be brought to an end. Steps to dismantle and disarm the armed resistance groups were not realistic but rather provocative.
Palestinians expected relief from their daily suffering and that the new Government would prevent Israeli punitive operations in Palestinian territory. Someone had to guarantee the return of Palestinian villages to Palestinian control, and the withdrawal of Israeli forces. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom’s approach had been more realistic. He recommended that Israel undertook unilateral activities that would not affect security but the Israeli army was against that approach. There was no other decision-making body that could be viewed as an alternative to the military. There was no third way. The cult of power in Israel was centreed on the military -- all its relations with its neighbours were based on military might and the military solution to any problem was seen as inevitable.
EDWARD ABINGTON, Political Consultant to the Palestinian Authority, Washington, D.C., said the United States had created a new strategic reality in the Middle East. Last June, President Bush made a speech committing United States policy to support the establishment of a Palestinian State as a way of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It was the first time that an American President had explicitly endorsed the creation of a Palestinian State. President Bush also called for a transformed Palestinian leadership, thus contributing to the isolation of President Arafat. The Palestinian reform movement had gathered momentum in the past year which had helped to create new openings for peace. Considering how little Palestinians had to work with, it was surprising that they had accomplished so much. Their accomplishments included a constitutional committee firmly rooted in the rule of law, transparent and accountable budget judicial reforms, and the creation of the position of an empowered prime minister. Those reforms opened the door for efforts by the Quartet to restart the peace process. President Arafat and Prime Minister Abbas need to resolve their differences and unite behind a common strategy for achieving statehood and a negotiated final status agreement with Israel. For too long internal Palestinian divisions had weakened their hand and their negotiating position with Israel. Prime Minister Abbas would need not only Palestinian unity, but also the support of the Quartet, the international donor community, especially Israel. He also needed to show positive accomplishments to the Palestinian people, to demonstrate that their lives will begin to change for the better.
The response of Prime Minister Sharon, however, had consisted of a few cosmetic gestures that made little difference in the daily life of Palestinians, he said. Meanwhile, large-scale military actions continued, as did assassinations and housing demolitions. Israel needed to stop provocative actions -- take concrete steps to ease the grave humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people, dismantle unauthorized outposts established during the past two years and totally freeze all Israeli settlement activity, including the seizure of any additional Palestinian land. It needed to end construction of the so-called security wall in the West Bank, ease the internal fragmentation of the West Bank and Gaza and quit treating the Palestinian Authority as an adversary but start working with it once again as a partner. Finally, Israel needed to accept the Road Map, as have the Palestinians, and get on with its implementation. Ending violence by both Palestinians and Israelis was critical if there was to be any chance to break the current deadlock. He expressed concern over a growing sense of nihilism among some young Palestinians who had a fatalistic belief that there was no alternative to the current conflict.
He said the Road Map was frontloaded with Palestinian obligations in the security field that would be very difficult for the Palestinian Authority to meet. Rebuilding security capability by the Palestinian Authority would be a slow and painstaking process, but it was a critical step that the Palestinians must take. The entire issue of the Road Map and international efforts to implement it were dependent upon political will by Israel and the Palestinians, first and foremost, but just as importantly upon the determination of the international community to put an end to the conflict. It is far from clear whether any of the three sides had the will to do what was required. It was not clear that the current Israeli Government was committed to a political solution that would be even minimally acceptable to Palestinians.
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