Ending 50 years of occupation by Israel was not only a matter of international security, but also of defeating Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), a senior Palestinian official said today as Headquarters hosted a forum to commemorate that milestone.
In opening remarks at the two-day June forum marking 50 years of occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan following the 1967 war, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erakat said the occupation had created the “right environment for the birth of extremism” in the Middle East. Yet, 99 per cent of those fighting ISIL were Arabs, he pointed out. “Let me be very clear; we have a political conflict”, not a religious one.
While emphasizing that the best option for the Palestinian people was “to live and let live”, he declared: “Unfortunately, we do not have a partner in Israel today,” adding that it was time to hold that country’s Government accountable and to rebuke the apartheid policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel believed it could continue enforcing apartheid and get away with it, he added, pointing out that in the West Bank, 60 per percent of which remained outside Palestinian control, locals compelled to carry identification cards had different vehicle registration plates from those issued to Israelis.
Urging countries to recognize the two-State solution, he said discriminatory laws were being discussed in the Knesset. “In 2017, a nation State that bragged about being the only democracy in the region is introducing laws to ban Palestinians from using buses, from using roads,” he said, adding: “This cannot stand.” Occupation should not be rewarded.
He said that although he recognized Israel’s right to exist — stressing “we are going to live and let live” — he wanted Israelis to change from occupier to neighbour. “We have negotiated enough,” he said. “It’s time for decisions.” Ending the occupation was a direct responsibility of the international community, yet Israel, with its settlement policies, continued to enjoy military might, as well as the backing of the United States Congress and Ambassador Nikki Haley. “If it is my word against any Israeli, or the United States Congress, I do not stand a chance,” he said.
The new Trump Administration offered an opportunity to engage and give peace a chance, he continued, pointing out that no one stood to lose more in the absence of peace than the Palestinian people. Hopefully, a day would come when Israel would sit at the table without feeling as though they were merely doing the Palestinians a favour, he said. Perhaps a day would come when they would feel as though they were doing themselves a favour as well. He also emphasized that Hamas was a democratically elected Palestinian political party, and that there could never be a Palestinian State without Gaza. The time had come for Hamas to end its “coup d’état” and allow the Government to function in Gaza, he stressed. “We must resort to ballots not bullets.”
The Secretary-General, in remarks delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, said that ending the occupation was the only way to lay the foundation for an enduring peace that met both Israeli security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood. Resolving the conflict would also help to remove a driver of violent extremism and terrorism in the Middle East.
Fifty years of Israeli occupation, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Syrians had imposed a heavy humanitarian and development burden on the Palestinian people, he continued. Generations of Palestinians had grown up in crowded refugee camps, many in abject poverty, and with little or no prospect of a better life for their children, he said, adding that 50 long years of occupation had fuelled recurring cycles of violence and retribution. It was vital to return to direct negotiations, he emphasized. “It is time to end the conflict by establishing an independent Palestinian State, side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel.”
The Deputy Secretary-General spoke in her personal capacity, underscoring the deep despair of the Palestinian people. The international community had for far too long failed to find a just and lasting solution to their displacement, she said, noting that generations of Palestinians and Israelis had been confined by a conflict that had shaped their world with concrete walls, checkpoints and watch towers, all under a heavy atmosphere of fear, mutual distrust and despair.
“Some think that the situation can be managed,” she said. “They are wrong; it must be resolved.” A two-State solution was the only path to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis could live in peace, security and dignity. It was crucial to end all unilateral actions undermining a two-State solution, she said, pointing out that settlement construction — illegal under international law — had prevented progress, as incitement to violence had exacerbated mistrust between Palestinians and Israelis. Spotlighting the occupation’s humanitarian cost, she said nearly half of the 4.8 million people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory depended on humanitarian assistance. In Gaza, the situation continued to deteriorate because of an energy crisis. As usual, the most vulnerable were paying the highest price for political failure.
For the last 50 years, the question of Palestinian had remained a symbol and rallying cry, she said, while cautioning that it was easily misappropriated and exploited by extremist groups. Peace required political will from all sides, and the international community had a responsibility to support that process, she stressed, while looking forward to a future in which Palestinians and Israelis would each enjoy security and thriving democracy.
Fodé Seck (Senegal), Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that since its creation in 1975, the Committee had worked tirelessly to mobilize efforts towards ending the occupation. Unfortunately, there were still two realities in the Middle East: a democratic and prosperous State of Israel — as envisaged by the United Nations — on one side, and the Palestinian people in search of an independent and viable State on the other. Today’s gathering was occurring in the midst of worrying developments, both in terms of the situation on the ground and the political process. The Committee would continue to support the common goal of an independent and sovereign State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, he said.
The Committee held two panel discussions, “The Costs and Consequences of Fifty Years of Occupation” in the morning, and “Beyond Occupation: The Path Ahead to Palestinian Independence and a Just Peace” in the afternoon.
The forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 30 June.
Moderating the morning panel discussion, on “The Costs and Consequences of 50 Years of Occupation”, was Michele Dunne, Director and Senior Fellow, Middle East Programme, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It featured presentations by the following panellists: Saeb Erakat, Secretary-General, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO); Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Israel; Nabil A. Elaraby, former Secretary-General, League of Arab States; and Zaha Hassan, former Coordinator and Senior Legal Adviser to the Palestinian Negotiating Team.
Ms. DUNNE opened the discussion by recalling that Israel had taken control of East Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza, Golan and Sinai at the end of June 1967 war, eventually, returning Sinai to Egypt while the other territories remained in a patchwork of different arrangements.
Mr. ELARABY described the 50 years of Israeli occupation as an affront to the international legal order, recalling that, when a permanent member of the Security Council had occupied Crimea, the international community had decided to take action. “Here, you looked the other way,” he pointed out. He recalled that he had been present in the Council in June 1967 and in October 1973, and had participated in the 1973 peace conference in Geneva. “I have seen attempts by the international community to do something,” he emphasized. “Now the narrative is ‘let’s talk’.” Noting that he had negotiated with Israel over for more than 15 years, he stressed that time was of great strategic importance. Two principles must apply to the Palestinian territories, as the International Court of Justice had made clear: non-annexation and the welfare of the population. It was important to see a conference dedicated to implementing resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), he said, noting its similarity to the 1973 Geneva meeting. During the Camp David negotiations, he added, it had been agreed that resolution 242 (1967) would apply to Palestinian territories, but all kinds of justifications had been advanced simply to postpone that action.
Mr. BEN-AMI said that, for Israel, 1967 meant military grandeur on the one hand, and moral and political crisis on the other. At that time, Israel’s historic encounter with Judea and Samaria had shifted every political party to different positions from their pre-1967 attitudes. The National Religious Party had been the least “trigger happy” in government, but that had changed after its contact with the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria — the terms used at the time. The Haaretz newspaper had been affected by a messianic sense, he recalled. Settlements had been started by the bloc of the faithful and sanctioned by the Labour Party. The distinction between political settlements in the heart of the West Bank — biblically sensitive places — and others favoured by the Labour Party had blurred with the Likud Party’s ascension to power, he said, pointing out that the rise of the Israeli right could not be separated from the 1967 war. The “old secular, modernizing Israel” was in decline while “Jerusalem Israel” was on the rise, he said. It represented Jewish history and the rise of ethnic nationalism reflected in the Government of Benjamin Netanyahu, whose power base had realized that emphasizing Israel’s Jewish character was a “winning horse”.
Some had cautioned that the persistence of occupation would create spill-over effects on the other side of the Green Line, including the rise of illiberal practices, he continued. Today, Israel was endorsing all kinds of laws that one would not expect in a liberal democracy, which in turn, was related to the “ecosystem” established in the Territories. Israel had never had the kind of global outreach it enjoyed today, and the “Boycott, Divestment Sanctions” campaign had had only a marginal effect — if any — on conditions inside the country. Israel’s shift to the right was also linked to perceptions of why the peace process had failed. “We do not want a one-State solution,” he emphasized, while noting that many questioned why Israel would make any effort towards two States now, when its economy was booming, international relations had never been better, and there was a friendly United States Administration in place. Israel had become a tacit member of the Sunni alliance in the Middle East, he said. “Why go back to the 1967 borders?”
Ms. HASSAN said no part of the conflict revealed the pervasive oppression, particularly of young people, more than the situation in Gaza, where they represented more than 60 per cent of the population. She said that, had she been born in Gaza, she would more than likely have been the child of a refugee, someone who had known nothing other than occupation, who had graduated from high school during the first Intifada, who had seen friends arrested and possibly killed. She said that she would have seen the Oslo Accords and carried hope for the creation of a State, which would have been dashed quickly. Palestinians in Gaza must feel powerless, praying that their food did not spoil, that their children would not give up hope and provoke their own suicide. Emphasizing that she would not count on a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel, she said young people today were probably not seeking a Palestinian State since they knew nothing other than humiliation. “What they do want to see is their dignity preserved,” she said. Noting that 2017 also marked a decade of the siege on Gaza, she said that she would have been “most interested” in trying to survive it. It could be that Governments all over the world welcomed Israel, but the reality was that their solidarity with Palestinians was growing, having witnessed three invasions of Gaza and Israel’s disproportionate use of force. Eventually, Israel would need to ask if it wanted to be known as a racist State or welcomed into the family of nations as a true democracy.
Mr. ERAKAT described the question of Palestine as the longest-running issue on the United Nations agenda, marked by the killing of thousands of people and the exile of millions, most of whom still lived in refugee camps; the demolition of 50,000 homes since 1967; and the confiscation of land and exploitation of natural resources for colonial settlers living in occupied Palestine. “Let me be very clear: We have a political conflict,” not a religious one, he said. While calling Judaism one of God’s great religions, he said Israel’s Prime Minister was trying to transform the conflict into a religious one. Israel believed it could continue enforcing apartheid and get away with it, yet 99 per cent of those fighting Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) were Arabs. He recalled that King Salman of Saudi Arabia had been approached at an Arab-American summit about the possibility of rapprochement with Israel, and had remarked that, should Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders, “then we’ll talk of normalization, not before”. Urging countries to recognize the two-State solution, he said discriminatory laws were being discussed that in the Knesset. “In 2017, a nation State that bragged about being the only democracy in the region is introducing laws to ban Palestinians from using buses, from using roads, he said, emphasizing: “This cannot stand.” Occupation should not be rewarded. He said that although he recognized Israel’s right to exist — stressing “we are going to live and let live” — he wanted Israelis to change from occupier to neighbour. “We have negotiated enough,” he said. “It’s time for decisions.”
In the ensuing discussion, a speaker from Seeds of Peace recalled a young Palestinian man’s comments about the essential need for hope. A speaker from Al-Haq, which he described as a Palestinian human rights organization, said there were key questions around who benefited from the occupation, and whether the Israeli elite was exploiting religion for economic gain, thereby placing civilians in harm’s way. A speaker from The Jerusalem Post asked about the presence of speakers from organizations like Al-Haq, with its alleged ties to terror organizations such as Hamas, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, while another, from Save Israel Stop the Occupation, asked how one could oppose the occupation if one did not recognize it.
Mr. BEN-AMI, on the occupation’s beneficiaries, emphasized that the colonial reality, especially in terms of “real estate”, could not be denied. Israel was a city-State built around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with parts of the West Bank the providing “natural suburban land”. For Orthodox Jews, real estate was expensive, so they were settling in neighbourhoods or settlements adjacent to the Green Line, but on the Palestinian side. The Orthodox, historically “a-Zionist” or anti-Zionist, were becoming nationalist, he said, noting that the cheap real estate they had in the West Bank had served a purpose. Describing other elements of cui bono (who benefits?), he said that when one occupied a land, it became a dependent economy. The highways traversing the West Bank from north to south, where one would normally pay tolls to the Palestinians, and aquifers mostly used for Israeli purposes, were among the colonial components that could not be denied, he said.
Ms. HASSAN said there was a growing movement among the young Jewish community in the United States to work for the end of the occupation, noting efforts by Jewish Voice for Peace to lobby Congress. That country’s Democratic Party was also changing, especially during President Barak Obama’s term, and skipping speeches by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Noting that young Jews were largely Democrats, she expressed her belief that they would become a driving force for change.
Mr. ERAKAT underlined the need for hope, pointing out that when Prime Minister Netanyahu commented that “your State is not on my watch”, the message was one of despair. He added that he held the Prime Minister accountable for the plight of Palestinians today, noting that those fighting ISIL were from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and elsewhere.
Mr. ELARABY called the occupation the biggest challenge to the international legal order.
In another round of questions, the director and producer of the film Disturbing the Peace — about former enemy combatants working to end the violence — said apathy was the biggest obstacle and asked the panellists how to overcome it.
Mr. BEN-AMI commended any initiative focused on bringing Israelis and Palestinians together to explain the benefits of peace. Emphasizing that change would not be generated by pedagogic exercises, however important, he said that his son was a physician in Tel Aviv who regularly treated Gazans. Yet, that ability was absent when politicians sat around the table to address the Temple Mount or the return of refugees. “Peace is not about trust, it is about respect,” he said, pointing out, however, that Israelis did not address Palestinians with respect. Negotiating with what looked like a movement created insecurity because it was not a State, he said, stressing that a change of attitude on the part of leaders would make a difference.
Mr. ERAKAT said the future was about two equal neighbours, adding that he often asked himself what Israeli negotiators had against him. He added that he recognized them, wanted to make peace with them, and more than 70 per cent of Israelis and Palestinians wanted nothing less than two States based on the 1967 lines. Yet, new Israeli politicians believed that the cost of killing Palestinians was much lower than that of taking a risk on him as a person.
AGHIN MEHDIYEV, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said that, for over five decades, Palestinians had lived under one of history’s most oppressive colonial regimes, which seized land for its colonial settlements in actions amounting to war crimes. The world could not simply stand by, he said, emphasizing that the issue must be addressed meaningfully. The solution to the Middle East situation depended on resolving the Palestinian question, he said, citing the international consensus on a two-State solution based on the peace process, Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative, among other efforts. The United Nations had a special duty to find a solution, he stressed, calling upon the Security Council to fulfil its moral, legal and political responsibility for peace and justice in the region during 2017.
ABDULAZIZ S M A ALJARALLAH (Kuwait), speaking on behalf of the League of Arab States deplored Israel’s defiance of United Nations resolutions, noting that its unlawful policies in Palestine continued unabated. Its inhumane practices, including the Gaza blockade, constituted grave violations of international law, as did its targeted air strikes and settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem. The League opposed all unilateral steps aimed at undermining the two-State solution, he said, underlining that a lasting, comprehensive and just peace was a strategic Arab choice that could only happen through resumed negotiations. Peace should be based on the relevant resolutions, the land-for-peace principle, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the Road Map, all of which called for Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian, Syrian and other Arab territories, he said, calling also for the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) condemning Israel’s settlement activities.
ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) said the occupation and the overall Israeli-Palestinian conflict threatened international peace, citing construction of the separation wall, flagrant human rights violations, the killing of children, administrative detention, isolation, home demolitions and collective punishment. The Security Council must work to end the occupation, she said, emphasizing that the only solution was the peaceful coexistence of two independent States, including a sovereign State of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, within the pre-1967 borders. She reaffirmed Cuba’s solidarity with struggle of Palestinians to exercise their right to independence and sovereignty.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said there was no mystery about where Palestine had been or where it ought to be. Palestinian children had seen their dreams of an independent homeland dashed, their land turned into settlements, a wall built to divide their people, as well as repeated violence. On 23 December 2016, the Council had adopted resolution 2334 (2016), he recalled, describing that text as among the most significant on the Palestinian file. It warned that ending all settlement activities was essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and declared settlements illegal. The Council also stated it would not recognize any change to the 4 June 1967 lines, he said, suggesting a look at the past in order to forge a path forward. The answers lay in resolution 2334 (2016), the land for peace principle, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Middle East Quartet’s Road Map, he reiterated.
JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua), recalling General Assembly resolution 181 (1947), which called for the establishment of two States, said resolution 2334 (2016) must also be implemented. Nicaragua supported dialogue and reaffirmed the position of the Heads of State attending the seventeenth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Margarita, as well as the statement by the Movement’s Ministerial Committee on 27 June. He underscored the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), expressing hope that its budget deficit would be overcome.
CARMELO INGUANEZ (Malta) emphasized that the viability of the two-State solution was a core priority due to the frustration on the ground arising from the absence of a political horizon. Peace could not be imposed, and would not be attained unless the parties embarked on a negotiation process, he said, adding that the international community was obliged to help them launch a meaningful process that would lead to a comprehensive and durable peace. The expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem’s Areas C and D placed the parties on a high-stakes collision course, with the legalization bill fuelling that threat, he noted, describing those activities as illegal and an obstacle to peace. It was incumbent upon all concerned to distinguish between the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967, he stressed. Concern by the situation in Gaza and by the discovery of tunnels built under two UNRWA schools there, he called for the start of meaningful direct peace negotiations.
Moderating the second discussion, titled “Beyond Occupation: The Path ahead to Palestinian Independence and a Just Peace”, was Mouin Rabbani, Senior Fellow, Institute for Palestine Studies. Making presentations were the following panellists: Robert Serry, former United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process; Galia Golan-Gild, Darwin Professor Emerita, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Aida Touma-Saliman, Member of Knesset from the Joint List, Israel; and Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine to the United Nations.
Mr. SERRY said there was a possibility of renewed United States-led peace talks, but one would have to be a very big optimist to believe that the next round of talks would finally produce peace and a lasting solution. There had been much talk recently of regionalizing peace talks, he said, cautioning that such a step would risk reinforcing ongoing regional instability and deepening the Sunni-Shiite divide. He expressed concern that perhaps the United Nations had become part of the problem rather than the solution. If the efforts of the United States had not been fruitful, it may be time for Europe to intervene. “Whose backyard is it, after all?” The core principle of a Europe-led conference would be to end belligerency against Israel and to recognize Palestine. Europe could be the catalyst for achieving that, he said, adding that while the Arabs ended their belligerency against Israel, Europe could recognize the State of Palestine, he suggested, while underscoring the role of the Palestinian delegation and stressing that any future peace efforts must ensure the stabilization of Gaza.
Ms. GOLAN-GILD said much had happened since 1967, spotlighting the PLO’s 1988 decision to recognize Israel. While there were solutions to the issues of Jerusalem, borders, security and even refugees, leaders were needed who could go forward and do what must be done, she emphasized. Another decision that had paved the way forward was Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), a practical decision designed to address what had been going on since 1967. It was designed to stop Israel’s creeping annexation of land, as well as Israeli actions that would render a two-State solution impossible. Israel’s task was to change public opinion, which was the only way to get leaders to enter negotiations with a different attitude, she said. Civil society and opposition parties, with help of the international community, must change in Israel Government. “I do believe we can work together against the occupation and for peace,” she stressed. Israel had a right to exist, and there could be two sovereign States, side by side, she insisted. “It’s not too late yet,” she added, warning against extremists on both sides gaining ground.
Ms. TOUMA-SALIMAN said that as a Palestinian member of the Knesset, she had a view of the situation from within and from the other side as well. Reclaiming the word “occupation” would help in addressing it. “There is a State that is still occupying people who do not have a right to self-determination,” she stressed, adding that framing it in that way helped people understand the situation and analyse it accurately. “All people of the world have a right to resist occupation.” She said the international community had a responsibility to guarantee that occupation was not profitable but costly. The current situation was a crucial juncture in Palestinian history, she said, noting that all the talk of a two-State solution did not address the already existing one-State situation. Israel was ruling with the tendency of an apartheid State and the window for a two-State solution was closing, warning: “We are in the last one- to two-year window.” The international community must take responsibility, and the Palestinians must end the division among them. Describing unity as a significant tool in the liberation struggle, she said peace forces inside Israel must also take responsibility for their future, while expressing concern that civil society was being persecuted by the Government, which attacked any basis for democracy “again and again”.
Mr. MANSOUR said the Palestinian struggle against occupation was built on the steadfastness of the people living in the occupied territories. Some of them had succeeded in pushing the limits and, therefore, in liberating their lands. If that became a massive phenomenon, then the struggle against the occupation would be intensified. “It is our duty as Palestinians,” he said, emphasizing that unity was crucial. Noting that Palestinians were fighting harder today for their national rights, he said today’s generation had grown up within the reality of the State of Israel and were not afraid or too timid to stand up to it. The Knesset was racist in nature and their anger was growing, perhaps because Palestinians were growing stronger, he said, emphasizing that the State of Palestine existed but remained under occupation. He also underlined the efforts of anti-occupation civil society, particularly in the United States and including among the Jewish community. The international community, particularly countries in Europe, must intensify their efforts and advocate a two-State solution, he added.
In the ensuing discussion, a representative of Al-Awda: Palestine Right to Return Coalition sought clarification of Mr. Serry’s comments about Arab belligerency against Israel.
Mr. SERRY said Arabs had a part to play in resolving any conflict with Israel.
Ms. GOLAN-GILD, asked by a representative of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation how to deal with Israel when so many of its people viewed themselves as the “chosen people”, said she did not believe most Israelis saw themselves as the “chosen people”. However, a sense of victimhood remained prevalent in that society, she said, adding that “fear of manipulation” continued to work and the Government played it.
Ms. TOUMA-SALIMAN described the generation of young people who had absolutely no idea of everyday Palestinian struggles as the most dangerous creation of Israel’s right-wing Government.
When asked by a representative of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America how religious leaders could support a solution in the Middle East, she said Prime Minister Netanyahu continued to spread the idea that the conflict was between Arab terrorists and Jews. However, religious reconciliation would only happen when the occupation ended, she said, emphasizing that the prevailing situation now was not religious, but purely political.
Ms. GOLAN-GILD agreed, pointing out that President Trump was somehow tying the Israeli-Palestinian to the fight against ISIL/Da’esh. Religious leaders standing up together might make a difference, she suggested.