Press Releases

     

    GA/PAL/940
    17 December 2003

    WORLD COMMUNITY MUST PRESSURE ISRAEL TO CEASE
    CONSTRUCTING SEPARATION WALL, BEIJING MEETING TOLD

    Participants Discuss Illegal Israeli Policies, Actions against Palestinians

    (Received from a United Nations Press Officer.)

    BEIJING, 16 December -- Warning that it might be too late to bring about any Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territories that would give the Palestinians an economically and politically sustainable land base, political analyst Helena Cobban told participants attending the first plenary session of the United Nations Meeting for Asia and the Pacific on the Question of Palestine in Beijing that it might be necessary to consider the creation of a unitary bi-national State in the whole of Israel-Palestine. 

    She emphasized that further adherence to “interim” or “transitional” arrangements were a recipe for further delay and additional years of conflict, disquiet and disaster.  The world community could not accept that the United Nations should continue to be entangled in the false hopes and dangerous delaying tactics of “interims” that never ended.

    This afternoon’s session, part of a two-day meeting, sponsored by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, heard presentations in a panel on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

    Asia must wake up, the Chairman of the General Assembly of the Democratic Leaders in Asia and the Pacific Kamal Hossain told the meeting. He said the question of Palestine was a test case of whether gross violation of international law could be committed with impunity.  Either law would be respected or it would be abandoned to those who would use raw power to do as they wished.

    Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi said criticism of Israel was nice but it was not enough.  There must be action.  The international community must pressure Israel to stop the construction of the apartheid wall and its two-fold strategy to confiscate Palestinian land and to encourage an exodus of Palestinians by denying them the ability to earn a living from their land or to access needed water.

    Statements were also made by Palestinian Legislative Council Member Ziad Abu Zayad, Special Envoy of China for the Middle East Process Wang Shinjie and Deputy Special Coordinator, Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Frances Okelo.

     

    The representative of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (HABITAT) spoke.

    Participants will meet again tomorrow morning to hear a panel presentation on strengthening international support for a peaceful solution of the question of Palestine.  Under that subject, experts will consider salvaging the political process:  the role of the Quartet in restoring the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue; upholding the primacy of international law -- the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine; and action by the non-aligned movement and intergovernmental organizations. 

    Statements by Representatives

    This afternoon, before the panel presentation began, the representative of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (United Nations HABITAT) said it was imperative that the Palestinian Authority and other stakeholders be concerned with housing.  The Palestinian Authority should not be a builder but an enabler for housing.  The Occupied Palestinian Territory was a highly urbanized territory and interventions tended to impact on the living conditions of the vast majority of the Palestinian people.  There was a critical need for donor countries to provide support.  He called attention to the establishment of a Trust Fund that was intended as a vehicle for a funding mechanism and to raise the profile of human settlements activities.  Rather than incur the costs associated with creating new institutions, the cost of housing could be kept low by calling on HABITAT's extensive experience.  The HABITAT was undertaking a campaign to raise funds for the Trust Fund and he urged governments to contribute to the Fund.

    Panel I:  The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem

    The illegal policies and actions of the occupying Power against the Palestinian people; the urgency of international protection of the Palestinian people; and humanitarian emergency and the destruction of the Palestinian economy 

    Statements

    AHMAD TIBI, Member of Knesset and a representative of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash), said he was one of eight Arab members in the Knesset and he represented the Arab Move for Change.  Arabs inside of Israel were a part of the Palestinian people, along with those in the Occupied Territory and those in exile.  The latest wave of criticism against Israeli policies had come from inside Israel with former senior Israeli officials speaking out against Israeli policies.  The importance of those statements would not be understood by outsiders.  Israel's official policy against the Palestinian people had always been full of antagonism and enmity.

    He said that Palestinians within the Occupied Territory had no parliamentary power.  The only thing they had was resistance to the occupation.  In trying to crack down on that resistance, Israel had taken drastic steps imposing measures that were illegal under international law.  The construction of the wall was the gravest violation and gave Israel a chance to occupy much more of Palestinian land than any action since 1967.  It killed every chance that Israel had to reach a peace settlement with Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.  To avoid criticism, the Israelis were trying to say they would take some steps towards fulfilling the Road Map.

    Another important development was the statement by George Bush in which he called on Israel to not prejudice final negotiations by its actions.  But Israel did not listen to the President's words and continued to undertake illegal measures.  It was time for the international community to take action and put an end to Israel's anti-Palestinian polices.  Criticism of Israel was nice but it was not enough.  There must be action.  The international community must pressure Israel to stop the construction of the apartheid wall and its two-fold strategy to confiscate Palestinian land and to encourage an exodus of Palestinians by denying them the ability to earn a living from their land and to have access to water.

    He called attention to Israel's maltreatment of Palestinian prisoners.  The use of administrative detention was illegal, he said.  It gave the administrating Power the right to lock people behind closed doors for six months without recourse and to extend that time at will.  The Israeli judicial system discriminated against Palestinian prisoners as opposed to its treatment of Israelis convicted of the same crimes.  Putting an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands was mandatory.  The creation of a Palestinian State alongside Israel was the optimal solution.

    ZIAD ABU ZAYYAD, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said the United States had tried to prevent any third party from attempting to play a role in achieving peace in the Middle East by stating that a peace process was already under way.  Meanwhile, the United States was playing a negative role by preventing the success of the peace process.  It was still trying to limit the role of the United Nations and even that of the Quartet.  He asked where the representative of the United States and the European Union were.  Why were they not at today's meeting?  Unfortunately, the Road Map was becoming a kind of slogan as Israel raced against time to create facts on the ground.  The time would come when there would be no possibility of a two-State solution.

    He said that the Geneva Initiative made it clear that there was a Palestinian partner for peace.  The Road Map did not spell out how to reach the final status.  He urged the Security Council to establish a mechanism that would allow the international community to move from words to actions.  The eight-metre wall with two double fences was not a temporary separation wall.  It was appropriating large portions of Palestinian land and not allowing Palestinians to communicate with their neighbours and families on the other side of the wall.  While people were disgusted by the segregation imposed between whites and blacks, there was no reaction to the segregation of Jews and Arabs.  That segregation was also racism, he said.

    The United States, sinking in the mud of Iraq, was approaching an election and did not want to provoke the Jewish lobby or the Christian right.  No one was interested in protecting Palestinian rights.  He emphasized the Palestinian's readiness for peace and urged participants not to compare the sufferings of the two peoples.  There should be no comparison between the victims and the victimizers.

    WANG SHIJIE, Special Envoy of China for the Middle East Process, said one could not choose one's neighbours but one could choose how to get along with them.  Responding to violence with violence never worked.  It exacerbated enmity and the thirst for revenge on both sides.  Achieving peace was the fundamental solution to the question of Palestine.  It required courage, a strong political will, ceaseless effort, mutual compromise and sometimes sacrifices on both sides.  It also required that each side treat the other with fairness and equality.  An unfair peace could not last.  If the modern problem of the Middle East had its origins in the establishment of the State of Israel, neither the question of Palestine nor the problem of the Middle East could be resolved unless Palestinian lands were returned and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people were restored.

    Continuing, he said that achieving peace also required mutual contact.  He understood Israel's concerns regarding security guarantees, but self-isolation could only exacerbate alienation, a siege mentality and estrangement on both sides.  Further, achieving peace required the joint efforts of the international community which must increase its concern about, and involvement in, the question of Palestine.  The question of Palestine should be resolved through negotiations based on relevant United Nations resolutions, the principle of land for peace and the agreements and common foundations mutually arrived at by the Palestinians and Israelis.

    He hoped that Palestinian and Israeli politicians would respond to the tide of the times and take the basic interests of their peoples as their point of departure.  They should concentrate on the larger picture by returning to the negotiating table as soon as possible and by beating their swords into ploughshares.

    HELENA COBBAN, political analyst, author and researcher, said that in the past few years, Israel, in the name of cracking down on Palestinian hardliners, had destroyed the ability of Palestinians to maintain any independent economic base.  It had also destroyed much of the administrative basis for an independent Palestinian State.  Some Israelis claimed that its policies were all actions based on the motive of immediate self-defence.  Others stated that the intention had been punitive.  The Israeli Defence Force has stated that the aim of its operations in the Occupied Territory was to break the Palestinians’ independence of will, but that had not happened.  Just as Palestinian acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians were unacceptable, so too was Israel’s policy of repressive collective punishment against the Palestinians, a policy which had resulted in the death of many more civilians than the acts of Palestinian hardliners. 

    She said the main effect of the Oslo Accords on the situation in the Occupied Territory was a complete transformation of the human geography of the West Bank in 1993 when the environment was mainly Palestinian at the human and economic level.  By 1999, there was a completely different environment dominated by the Israeli settlers.  Those transformations were a direct result of flaws in the Oslo Accords, which not only were unable to effectively ban settlements but rather, expressly allowed the building of a new road network to meet the needs of the settlers at the expense of the Palestinian community.  A broader failing of the Oslo Accords was to leave unresolved the issues of final boundaries, the settlers, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.  The Road Map appeared to make the same mistake.  In the absence of an agreed final outcome, the party with the greater raw military power was able to change the facts on the ground to its advantage. 

    Continuing, she said both national leaderships should be asked what vision they had for a stable, sustainable final status relationship so that the true issues would start to be discussed. The international community, in judging the answers, must adhere to the benchmark of simple human equality.  There was no such thing as a “Chosen People” who had a special claim on the rest of humanity.  The Jewish people were not the only ones to have suffered in modern times and a considerable amount of restitution had already been made to them.  Thus, they could not refuse to discuss Palestinian claims for the restitution of wrongs done against them in the 1940s.

    She questioned whether a two-State outcome that was sustainable for the Palestinians was politically winnable from Israel.  It might be too late to bring about any Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territories that would give the Palestinians an economically and politically sustainable land base.  It might be necessary to consider the creation of a unitary binational State in the whole of Israel-Palestine.  She emphasized that further adherence to “interim” or merely “transitional” arrangements was a recipe not only for further delay but also for additional years of conflict, disquiet and disaster.  The world community could not accept that the United Nations should continue to be entangled in the false hopes and dangerous delaying tactics of “interims” that never ended.

    KAMAL HOSSAIN, Chairman of the General Assembly, Forum of Democratic Leaders in Asia and the Pacific, Dhaka, said that since September 2000, the Israeli occupation had tightened significantly.  The imposition of a closure system has prevented Palestinian movement through the West Bank and Gaza and resulted in decimating the Palestinian economy.  Those were not security measures but an attempt to change the facts on the ground.  The international community had to seriously take stock of the situation when successive Security Council resolutions were negated.  He urged participants to read the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Territories. 

    By the end of the year, the construction of the Israeli wall meant to separate the West Bank from Israel would result in approximately 210,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank being economically and socially cut off from neighbourhoods to which they were formerly connected.  Presently, the wall intrudes six to seven kilometres into Palestinian land and there were proposals to delve still deeper into Palestinian territory.  All of Asia had to wake up.  The question of Palestine was a test case of whether gross violation of international law could be gotten away with impunity.  Either law would be respected, or it would be abandoned to those who would use raw power to do as they wished. 

     

    "We should say that we have read the writing on the wall and let the message go out from Beijing that enough was enough", he said.  The wall was a gross violation of the Geneva Convention.  He called on participants not to give the same old vapid reports to their governments.  The Road Map was important because of its sponsors but the rest of humanity had to say that its voice must be heard.  The Road Map could not be just another exercise that was driven by the asymmetry of power.  The Geneva Initiative was a genuine exercise.  It was imperative that international protection be extended to those who were the victims of the violations of international law.  The wall must be removed.  There had to be massive mobilization of the world to support peace.  Asia, the largest of the continents must awake and speak out.

    FRANCIS OKELO, representative of the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process, Jerusalem, said the Palestinian economy had suffered great losses.  It was estimated that the year 2001-2002 had seen economic losses of $5.2 billion.  Per capita consumptions had declined by 25 per cent since 1998.  At mid-year, the ratio of exports to imports had declined to a new low.  The ratio of loans had also reached a record low.  The humanitarian situation was equally bleak.  The number of poor in the West Bank and Gaza had increased dramatically.  Self-employed persons made up about 9 per cent of the force.  The economy remained at a 20-year low. 

    Commenting on the problem of access for humanitarian workers, he said the Israeli restraints had caused humanitarian donors to consider the situation unworkable. The Government constantly assured humanitarian donors that they would be given complete access but that did not reflect the situation on the ground.  As a result, many donors were reviewing how their operations could continue. The problems of access were real and they impeded and restrained the efforts of humanitarian workers.

    Referring to the “so-called security wall”, he said the latest reports from humanitarian agencies and the Secretary-General indicated that the wall isolated and impoverished Palestinians in its environs.  It separated the Palestinians from economic means of livelihood.  That situation would continue unless the separation barrier was removed.  To ease the fact of the barrier, the Israelis had established gates but there were serious restrictions to the so-called gate policy.  The Secretary-General had pointed out that the construction of the wall would make the establishment of a viable Palestinian State unachievable.  Yet, the Palestinians were determined to continue the struggle to achieve their freedom.  The Palestinian Authority continued to make internal reforms but it faced a real financial crisis because of a large shortfall in external budget support.  Unless there was external financial support before the end of the year, the Palestinian Authority would not be able to pay its salaries.  The rehabilitation of the Palestinian economy and a major improvement in the Palestinian living conditions was linked to the achievement of statehood for the Palestinians and for the Israelis to live within peaceful and secure borders. 

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