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Mid-East Participants Want Jerusalem Status Deal

Source: United Nations General Assembly

International Middle East Meeting On Question Of Palestine Closes In Malta With Participants Calling For Early Status Agreement

[RECEIVED FROM A UN INFORMATION OFFICER]

Malta, 4 June 2008 -- As the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine closed this afternoon in Malta, participants urged support for all efforts aimed at achieving a final status agreement by the end of 2008, agreeing that the momentum provided by the Annapolis Conference of last November must not be lost.

For that purpose, current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must be sustained by tangible results on the ground, they said in a final document for the Meeting, which was held on 3 and 4 June 2008 by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People under the theme 'Advancing the peace process -- Challenges facing the parties'.

The Meeting aimed to foster greater support by the international community for creating a climate conducive to the advancement of final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. In an opening and three plenary sessions, it heard from experts and delegations on the impact of settlements, the wall in the Occupied West Bank and the issue of Jerusalem on prospects for a final status agreement.

In the outcome document, they said that meaningful results on the ground meant the immediate implementation of the first phase the Road Map for peace sponsored by the Middle East diplomatic Quartet. In that light, reiterating that the presence of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, was illegal under international law, they called on Israel to immediately cease settlement activity, including construction related to 'natural growth'.

For that reason, they expressed serious concern over the issuance by the Israeli Government of thousands of tenders for new housing in settlements in the West Bank. Of particular concern was the expansion and consolidation of large settlement blocks in and around East Jerusalem, which they said cut off Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and prejudged the outcome of final status negotiations. They also agreed that a negotiated solution to the issue of Jerusalem, based on international law, was absolutely critical for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In addition, participants emphasized the need for more serious action by the international community challenging the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and supporting the United Nations Register of Damage caused by the wall.

Affirming that 'violence by either side was damaging to the current political dialogue', they called for an immediate cessation of violence through a ceasefire. 'Negotiations should not be held hostage to the agenda of extremists,' they said, calling also for Palestinian unity and support to President Mahmoud Abbas in his quest for a viable two-State solution.

They expressed appreciation for the absolutely critical role played by the European Union and individual European States -- including the host country, Malta -- in support of the Palestinian people, and encouraged the Union to play a more active role in various aspects of the political process. In addition, they recognized that the Arab Peace Initiative remained important and should be seized upon.

The document was introduced by the Rapporteur of the Committee, Saviour Borg of Malta, in a closing session that also heard statements by Michael Frendo, Chairman of the Foreign and European Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives of Malta, representing the host Government; Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations; and Paul Badji of Senegal, Committee Chairman.

Prior to adopting the document, the final plenary panel of the Meeting was held under the title: ' Jerusalem -- Looking forward to a capital of two States'. Although all the speakers on that panel agreed that Israel had been consistently creating 'facts on the ground' in and around East Jerusalem since 1967, lawyer Danny Seidemann said that Israeli public opinion had gradually gotten used to the notion that the city could be shared. Both he and Khalil Toufakji of the Arab Studies Society were of the opinion that it was possible that Jerusalem, instead of being a symbol of divisiveness, could become a symbol of peace between civilizations, if extremists were disempowered and cooler heads prevailed.

However, Johanna Baker, a writer with the Palestinian Initiative for Global Dialogue and Democracy (Miftah) said that, while a united Jerusalem was a beautiful vision, with both peoples living side by side in harmony, that seemed like a 'mere pipe dream' today. A city divided fairly and justly -- not on the basis of religious and ideological superiority -- seemed to her to be the only option at present. The mutual love and respect for the city held by both Israelis and Palestinians was a cause for hope that a settlement could be reached. In any case, Hanna Siniora, a member of the Palestinian National Council and Publisher of The Jerusalem Times, warned it was essential for Palestinians to unite to prevent Israeli possession of the entire city.

Panellists' Statements

* KHALIL TOUFAKJI, Director of the Maps Department of the Arab Studies Society of Jerusalem, said on 10 June 1967, Israelis had started to demolish the Moroccan Quarter in East Jerusalem in what he called the first ethnic cleansing of the city. Since then, Israel had been constantly creating new facts on the ground. Israelis living inside East Jerusalem went from zero to over 190,000.

Using graphics, he recalled the changing borders of Jerusalem since the Ottoman period through 1967, after which there had been new expansion. Around 52 per cent of East Jerusalem had been made a green area, which was forbidden to Palestinians though Israelis had been allowed to get permits to build there. Two months ago there was the most recent confiscation of land to create traffic tunnels.

It had already been decided that Jerusalem should contain around 22 per cent Palestinians, but the population grew. Therefore, Israel decided to build the wall with the excuse that they needed to protect themselves. As a result, Palestinians were cut off from each other. Prime Minister Olmert wanted a Jerusalem that included only 12 per cent Palestinians so a new Jerusalem was created including settlement blocks. The United States gave Israel a green light to create those new facts on the ground. The vision was an unshared Jerusalem in the heart of Israel.

Israel did not belong to the Jews or the Arabs but to the whole world, he said. Sharing Jerusalem was the only way to bring about peace. He envisioned a Jerusalem that anyone who wanted to enter could enter.

* DANNY SEIDEMANN, Legal Counsel, Ir Amim, Jerusalem, said that the elephant in the room that was missing was the group of people with clout in the international community -- Americans and Britons for example. In addition, he said that the Middle East conflict would not be solved by recounting the litany of Palestinian suffering and evocations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In regard to the final status of Jerusalem, he showed a rudimentary map that was being considered in talks in 2000, stressing the lack of knowledge of negotiators at the time. Until Camp David, he said, Israelis had had a mantra that Jerusalem would never again be divided, but that had changed when Ehud Barak had considered it. Now division was a commonplace notion. Between Camp David and Tabba, there was a retraction in the Israeli negotiating position.

After the second intifada, there had been a recurrence of Israeli anxiety, and Ariel Sharon had agreed to the plan including the wall and negotiations on borders then occurred without Palestinian participation. Under Prime Minister Olmert's Administration, there had been further contraction in the Israeli position. However, there was not that much difference between his conception and the plan put forward in Geneva by much more liberal negotiators. That meant that everyone knew what was negotiable and what the hard and soft negotiating positions were. If there was no agreement, it was because of political dysfunctionality.

Unfortunately, the settler lobby had been able to get more building tenders since Annapolis. However, even if those 1,600 units had been built, it was still not a fatal bullet to a final status agreement. Earthmoving equipment should not be allowed to determine that status. The settlers of East Jerusalem could not be allowed to be spoilers. Development in Silwan, in particular, should be strongly opposed.

Jerusalem had a reputation of being nitro-glycerine, but it was actually a very placid place, he said, with religious Muslims, Christians and Jews going about their prayers. 'Things work,' he stressed. If the extremists on both sides could be disempowered, there could be a real solution and Jerusalem could be the place where 'civilizations meet without clashing'. That was how the situation must be presented to the movers and shakers of the world.

* HANNA SINIORA, Member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and Co-Chairperson of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information, recounted that the United Nations General Assembly created, in metropolitan Jerusalem, a separate entity, the Corpus Separatum, that included all of Jerusalem and also Bethlehem. As a result of the war of 1948, however, Israel had expanded its territory to include the western part of the city, while Jordan had incorporated the eastern part.

Since that period, few countries had accepted either side's claim to Jerusalem, he said. Only Pakistan and the United Kingdom had accepted Jordanian claims to the city, and since 1967 under Israel, only two countries, Costa Rica and El Salvador, had had embassies there. Legally, both East and West Jerusalem were part of an international entity that had been occupied by Israel since June 1967. Therefore, all Israeli declarations on Jerusalem were null and void.

Since 1967, he said, Israel 'had worked day and night to Judaise the city and to prevent the Palestinian people from establishing in East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine'. It had also built a ring of settlements surrounding East Jerusalem that separated it from the rest of the West Bank, with the last contiguous area now being prepared for the building of Maale Adumin. The West Bank was now divided into two areas that could only be connected by tunnels.

He said Israel had up until now prevented the possibility of reaching a final status agreement on Jerusalem and showed the clear intention to turn the annexation of East Jerusalem into a concrete fact. It continued to create more facts on the ground towards that effort, expropriating more land, demolishing more housing and closing Palestinian institutions.

It was clear, he said, that the Annapolis process was doomed to failure. For that reason, the most urgent issue for Palestinians was internal reconciliation; Hamas and Fatah must agree to work together to end the occupation. Otherwise, even with new leaders and new initiatives, the internal Palestinian difference would be used to continue the Judaisation of East Jerusalem and the occupation as a whole.

* JOHARAH BAKER, writer with Miftah -- the Palestinian Initiative for Global Dialogue and Democracy, said that at the crux of all the failed bilateral agreements signed between Palestinians and Israelis was the issue of Jerusalem. 'A fair and just solution is yet to be found, regardless of misconceptions that generous offers were made by Israel to the Palestinians,' she stressed, citing the Camp David offer, in which the Old City would have remained largely under Israeli sovereignty with Palestinian, Arab, Islamic and Christian administration of the city's holiest sites. Even now, in the negotiations following the Annapolis Conference, Jerusalem had not yet been seriously tackled, with Palestinians rejecting a proposal for 91.5 per cent of West Bank land in a final settlement that postponed dealing with the city.

A resolution to the issue was a prerequisite to a permanent settlement, however, and one must be found that did justice to the plight of Palestinians in the city, she said. So far, Israel had carried out a systematic policy of isolating Jerusalem from its surroundings by expanding settlements and building a wall cutting into the West Bank. It had also put policies into place which were meant to empty the city of its Palestinians as much as possible by taking away their residency rights through bureaucratic complications. She, herself married to a Jerusalemite for 10 years and living in the heart of the Old City, had not yet been deemed 'safe enough and worthy enough' to hold a Jerusalem identification card.

The key to a lasting solution, therefore, was a change in the mindset of Israel's leaders, she said, explaining that: 'As long as Israel proposes truncated solutions on the premise that Jerusalem is its eternal capital, there can never be a comprehensive nor lasting settlement'. The same claims that Israel made of historical bearings in that holy city could be made by Muslims and Christians alike, she asserted. Israel must acknowledge the inherent rights of Palestinians to Jerusalem and at least a portion of the city must be their future capital; it was unthinkable that much more could be compromised. While a united Jerusalem was a beautiful vision, with both peoples living side by side in harmony, that seemed like a 'mere pipe dream' today. A city divided fairly and justly -- not on the basis of religious and ideological superiority -- seemed to be the only option at present.

She said that the world could not wait for Israel to come to realize on its own. The international community must step up to the plate, enforcing the laws and resolutions it had created and to which it holds others so firmly. Israel's presence in East Jerusalem was that of an illegal occupying Power, which had been tolerated for far too long already.

Closing Statements

* MICHAEL FRENDO, Chairman of the Foreign and European Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives of Malta, noted that Malta had been very active in the Palestinian Rights Committee for a long time. He said that the international community had an obligation to bring just closure to the question of Palestine, if there was to be any faith in the rule of international law worldwide. It needed to be resolved to turn a fresh page in international relations.

He said he continued to believe that the United Nations had a large role to play in the solution of the problem. Of course, beside international law, there was also an element of realpolitik involved. However, that did not mean that the issue was too complicated to be resolved. There were many examples of countries which had previously been antagonists but were now working together in regional contexts. That vision of peace and stability had to be maintained. A solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be of tremendous benefit to both peoples and would 'usher in a new dawn for both of them', he said.

* RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, expressed gratitude to the people and Government of Malta for hosting the Meeting and for the principled positions they had shown. He also thanked participants for sharing their ideas and efforts; no one had a monopoly on ideas to bring to a conclusion such a complicated problem. However, agreements by Palestinians should be respected. If Palestinians agreed on a two-State solution, it should be supported.

In that connection, he said, Palestinians had a large task before them in putting their own house in order. Showing concrete results from the peace process would be the best way to help them in that context. Developments such as a freeze of settlements, a large release of prisoners, a removal of hundreds of checkpoints, a break in the siege of Gaza -- all those would go a long way to strengthening the Palestinian political dialogue.

To make progress, he said that the greatest number of people as possible should be exposed to the final status issues, and as many experts as possible should be allowed to comment on them. The process must be democratized and worked on by everyone, because, if a reasonable solution was not found soon, seeds would be planted for new extremisms in the region, leading to a massive amount of additional suffering. 'We cannot negate each other. We have to find solutions,' he said.

Final status issues must be based on internationally agreed bases and negotiators must come with an open mind and without preconditions, he said. Europeans must help to change Israel's behaviour so that could happen. That was why this meeting had taken place in Europe, in Malta in particular because it was a Mediterranean European country. Europe's help was needed now to exploit the current opportunity, before it was lost and Palestinians were pushed to the brink.

* PAUL BADJI ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee, expressed his appreciation to the panellists and other speakers who had contributed to the Meeting. There were indeed many obstacles ahead in the Middle East peace process, and participants had a better idea now of what was needed to achieve peace. None of the issues brought up at the Meeting could be ignored in final status negotiations.

Palestinians had suffered for far too long, he said, and the years of occupation had also affected the lives of Israelis. The unacceptable situation must be brought to an end. He pledged that his Committee would continue its work until the occupation of Palestinian territory was brought to an end and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict found a just and lasting solution.

Thanking the people and Government of Malta for hosting the Meeting, he said he looked forward to continuing the Committee's excellent cooperation with that country. He anticipated meeting in other European countries in order to stress the need for greater European involvement in the Committee's work.

Final Document

1. The United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine was convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in Qawra, Malta, on 3 and 4 June 2008. The Meeting was held in accordance with General Assembly resolutions 62/80 and 62/81 of 10 December 2007.

2. The objective of the Meeting was to foster greater support by the international community for the creation of a climate conducive to the advancement of the permanent status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Participants in the Meeting discussed the impact of the settlement construction on the current political process and the need for the parties to meet Road Map commitments. They also examined the effects of the construction of the wall in the Occupied West Bank, and the importance of finding a solution to the question of Jerusalem.

3. The participants concurred that the political momentum provided at the Annapolis Conference must not be lost, and that all efforts towards the goal of achieving a final status agreement by the end of 2008 should be supported. For this, the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must be sustained by producing tangible results on the ground. Most importantly, obligations under Phase I of the Road Map must be implemented by the parties without delay. In this regard, the participants expressed serious concern over Israel's ongoing settlement activity, with the Government continuing to issue thousands of tenders for new housing units in settlements in the West Bank. The participants also reiterated that the presence of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, was illegal under international law and called on Israel to immediately cease settlement activity, including construction related to 'natural growth'. Of particular concern was the expansion and consolidation of large settlement blocks in and around East Jerusalem, especially in the so-called 'E-1' area. It was observed that the presence of settlements in that area had resulted in severing Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, cutting the West Bank into two parts and prejudging the outcome of the final status negotiations.

4. The participants welcomed steps taken by the Palestinian Authority to reform its security forces and their deployment in Nablus and Jenin in conformity with their obligations under the Road Map. Participants called for the restoration of the situation in the Gaza Strip to that, which existed prior to the events of June 2007 to allow for regaining the unity of the Palestinian people as an essential condition for achieving a viable resolution of the question of Palestine. The participants noted that all efforts to achieve a ceasefire should be supported and lead to an immediate cessation of violence. Violence by either side was damaging to the current political dialogue. Negotiations should not be held hostage to the agenda of extremists. At the same time, President Abbas should be given all possible support to continue his quest for a viable two-State solution. The participants deplored the loss of many civilian lives, on both sides but overwhelmingly Palestinian, as a result of routine military operations or targeted assassinations carried out during Israeli incursions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. They reminded that Israel, the occupying Power, was obliged under the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect the Palestinian civilian population under its occupation and to act within the ambit of international law.

5. The participants were updated on the various aspects of the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its effects on Palestinian communities. The participants recalled the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, which clearly stated that the construction of the wall was illegal under international law and insisted on its removal. They emphasized the need for a more serious action by the international community challenging the presence of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The participants noted that the mandate of the United Nations Register of Damage caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory should be given full support and be implemented without delay.

6. The participants agreed that a negotiated solution to the issue of Jerusalem, based on international law, was absolutely critical for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and fundamental for a lasting peace in the whole region. The participants expressed serious concern that the Israeli policies and actions in East Jerusalem included the issuance of demolition orders against Palestinian properties, the forcing out of Palestinian Jerusalemites from the city, and the severing of the city from the rest of the West Bank through the expansion of settlements and the construction of the separation wall. In this connection, the participants stated that the status of Jerusalem could only be resolved through negotiations and in full accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions. The participants recalled Security Council resolution 252 (1968), which stated that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tended to change the legal status of Jerusalem, were invalid and could not change that status.

7. The participants expressed serious concern that Israel was not abiding by its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention to provide protection to the civilian population under occupation. The applicability of the Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, had been repeatedly confirmed by the Conference of the High Contracting Parties, as well as by the United Nations General Assembly, Security Council and the International Court of Justice. The participants reiterated that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could only be found in accordance with international law and based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002) and 1515 (2003), and all other relevant United Nations resolutions. The continued support of the international community was crucial for advancing the negotiations, namely, a consistent and sustainable effort by the Quartet and the regional partners with both parties. The Arab Peace Initiative remained an important element for advancing peace in the region and should be seized upon.

8. The participants of the Meeting, hosted by Malta, a European Union Member State, appreciated the absolutely critical role played by the European Union and other European States in support of the Palestinian people. They encouraged the policymaking organs of the European Union to play a more active role in various aspects of the political process, in addition to the European Commission's substantial economic assistance.

9. The participants were of the view that national parliaments and interparliamentary organizations had a special role to play in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian political process. Such organizations as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, the European-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly of the Barcelona Process (EMPA), the European Parliament, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union worked towards upholding international law and promoting an effective political dialogue aimed at resolving all permanent status issues.

10. The participants commended Malta for its proactive and constructive role in the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and encouraged its continuation. They learned with appreciation that the delegation of the Committee to the Meeting had met with the President and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malta and discussed how Malta and the Committee, respectively, were contributing to efforts at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The participants expressed gratitude to the Government of Malta for hosting the Meeting and the generous hospitality extended to them.

GA/PAL/1093

SOURCE: UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY

FOR INFORMATION MEDIA - NOT AN OFFICIAL RECORD

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