Press Releases

    GA/PAL/959
                                                                                                                            1 July 2004

    African Meeting Explores Strategies for Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue

    Speakers Review African Support for Palestinian Cause

    (Received from UN Information Officer.)

    CAPE TOWN, 30 June -- The current state in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was one of Israeli control without legitimacy and Palestinian legitimacy without control, Mohammad Shtayyeh told the United Nations African Meeting in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this morning in Cape Town.

    Mr. Shtayyeh, Minister of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, said because of restrictive Israeli measures and the continuing violence, there was a big gap of trust and loss of confidence between the two peoples.  Israel continued to try to defeat the will of the people.  As the experience in South Africa had shown, you could defeat an army but not the will of the people.

    The Cape Town Meeting, held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, heard a number of speakers this morning on the theme “Realizing a shared vision of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians”.

    Former Israeli Knesset member Yossi Katz said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, an overqualified non-conformist with a past characterized by rebellious acts towards his superiors, his political allies, his military colleagues and his opponents, had caused terrible damage to Israelis and Palestinians.

    He said that in response to the overwhelming objections to his unilateral disengagement plan, Sharon had modified his plan.  The involvement of Egypt testified to the failure of both Israelis and Palestinians to restore security and was an admission that Sharon’s most important election promise could not be fulfilled by Israeli force.  Sharon was ready to risk his political existence because like many statesmen, he was eager to be written into the pages of history.

    Frene Ginwalla, former Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa, said the South African Presidential Peace Initiative or Spier Initiative was created as a vehicle by which South Africans could share their experience of bringing about a peaceful resolution to the conflict and a successful post–conflict reconciliation.

    It provided an informal and non-directive opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to meet together and hear first-hand of the South African experience from all actors -- members of the African National Congress, the former heads of intelligence, national party leaders; the intent was to facilitate dialogue, she said.

    Ebrahim Ebrahim, Senior Advisor to the Deputy President of South Africa, said that in order to gain international support there must be some consensus among the Palestinians with a clear united message and common objectives for the establishment of a Palestinian State.

    During their struggle, South African groups had agreed upon the method of struggle and had committed themselves to observe the principles of the Geneva Convention.  The main thrust had been political rather than a military one.  Had the Palestinian national movement agreed on the correct method of struggle? he asked.

    The United Nations meeting will conclude this afternoon following presentations on “International efforts at salvaging peace in the Middle East and African support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people”.  Specific topics to be covered include supporting the voices of reason and peace  -- the South African Presidential Initiative; supporting international peace efforts, in particular through the United Nations system; action by African States within the United Nations system, the non-aligned Movement, the African Union and other intergovernmental organizations; and the role of parliaments in promoting support by governments and public opinion for a peaceful solution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

    Plenary II - Realizing Shared Vision of Peace between Israelis and Palestinians:

    Ending the occupation -- a key prerequisite for achieving peace in the region; current approaches to advancing a negotiated settlement; preserving and building on prior achievements in the peace process; and strategies to garner public support for renouncing violence and returning to the political dialogue.

    Statements

    MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH, Minister of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, said the current state in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was one of Israeli control without legitimacy and Palestinian legitimacy without control.  Past agreements reached between the parties were in fact agreements between personalities.  The Oslo agreement had actually been signed between Yasser Arafat and Itzak Rabin.  Since Rabin’s assassination there had been Israeli leaders who had vision without credibility or some had credibility without vision -- Peres, Barak and Netanyahu.  Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had reversed the achievements of Oslo including moving from final status negotiations to the disengagement from Gaza.  The withdrawal was supposed to take place by March 2005 but the process depended on the outcome of the American Presidential elections.  If George Bush won, the disengagement plan might hold.  If John Kerry was elected, the process would start again. 

    He said that last week, the World Bank had said the way it was designed, the disengagement plan would not improve the lives of the Palestinian people.  Seventy per cent of the total population lived on fewer than two dollars a day.  There was a fifty per cent unemployment rate.  Despite substantial donations, the Palestinian budget still faced a large deficit.  The Palestinian economy was in deep crisis as a result of the closures, seizures and checkpoints.  Because of those measures and the continuing violence, there was a big gap of trust between the peoples.  It had resulted in a total loss of confidence between the two peoples.  Israel continued to try to defeat the will of the people.  As the experience in South Africa had shown, you could defeat an army but not the will of the people.

    He said, according to the prescriptions of the Quartet, a Palestinian independent State should come into existence by the end of 2005.  Under President Bush there had been a total erosion of that concept.  Israel continued to colonize the West Bank and Gaza thus changing the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and consequently, its solution.  A process of South-Africanization of the struggle was taking place.  As the clock ticked, it was possible that the concept of two States was being eroded.

    YOSSI KATZ, Former Knesset member, said the terrible situation in the territories and its negative consequences had been described.  He would try to balance the opinion of the future from the eyes of a moderate Israeli.  He said that Sharon was an overqualified non-conformist with a past characterized by rebellious acts towards his superiors, his political allies, his military colleagues and his opponents.  He had caused terrible damage to Israelis and Palestinians.  In response to the overwhelming objections to his unilateral disengagement plan, Sharon had made substantial changes.  He removed the term “unilateral”.  He introduced a significant Egyptian role in facilitating the withdrawal and mediating between Israeli and Palestinian security establishments.  He also declared that he would demolish and evacuate Israeli settlements.

    Continuing, he said that by carrying out the redeployment in four phases, Sharon had introduced a monitoring mechanism that could stop the withdrawal if things went wrong.  The majority of Israelis rejected the idea of an immediate final agreement between the two parties.  The involvement of Egypt was a clear expression of the failure of both Israeli and Palestinian establishments to restore security in the Gaza Strip.  It was an admission by Sharon that his most important election promise could not be fulfilled by Israeli force.  It was also the first time the Israeli Government demonstrated willingness for substantial international involvement.  That step would be adopted in the Jordan Valley either by Jordanian or international forces.

    He said the international community should appreciate Egypt’s readiness to get involved in a “Pandora’s Box”.  Egypt’s delicate role was based on trying to satisfy Israeli security needs and helping to improve Palestinian security by restructuring and training Palestinian security forces.  The Americans had pressed Israel to agree on some modifications and had negotiated with the Quartet and the Egyptians regarding the final plan.  The demolishing of the settlements would satisfy the conscience of some Israelis and the Palestinians would be happy to watch the demolition of Israeli houses.  Sharon would have to make compromises with his allies and opponents and with the Israeli public.  Sharon was ready to risk his political existence because like many statesmen, he was eager to be written into the pages of history.

    FRENE GINWALA, Former speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa said that South Africans had settled for a common society but it respected the rights of Palestinians to make their own choice.  She could accept the concept of a two-State solution but not if they were unequal.  The two-State solution proposed by White South Africa involved the establishment of Bantustans.  In that plan, power was retained in white hands.  No country today could accept such a solution.  She observed that the right to self-determination was not recognized and universally supported by the international community.  Self-determination was a given right.  Why was that not true for Palestinians? she asked.  Any attempt to lay down principles that gave the Palestinians fewer rights than other peoples around the world would not work.  She asked why the Palestinians had been excluded from the post World War II decisions?  Their right to return was not recognized.  “Are we paying today for the racism of the Western world?” she asked.  Today's reality was a consequence of past actions.  The denial of the Palestinians’ right to choose their leader was an experience understood by South Africans.  During their struggle, South African leaders sat on Robben Island.  Only when De Klerk had the courage to deal with the African leaders, was a solution found.

    Who defined terrorism, she asked?  How does one differentiate between a State that employed terror and someone who is so casually called a suicide bomber?  The international community needed to move away from the concept of secure borders to one of secure peoples.  As the United States had learned, even borders separated by thousands of miles were not secure.

    She said that her Government had begun a deliberate policy of facilitating peacemaking, to engage all players in dialogue.  The Presidential Peace Initiative or Spier Initiative was created as a vehicle in which South Africans had shared their experience in bringing about a peaceful resolution to conflict and a successful post–conflict reconciliation with both parties.  It was an informal and non-directive opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to meet together and hear first-hand of the South African experience from all actors -- members of the African National Congress, the former heads of intelligence, and national party leaders with the intention to facilitate dialogue.  Israeli generals who came to South Africa spent a day with former South African generals to learn of their experiences and what it had felt like following the changes. 

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