Israeli-Palestinian relations bedevilled by lack of framework – UN envoy (2/3)

Somaia S. Barghouti, First Counsellor of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations speaking at a UN meeting in May 2005. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)


SOMAIA S. BARGHOUTI, Permanent Observer of Palestine, expressed the Palestinian Authority’s deepest regret for the painful events that had taken place in London some days ago and today and condemned such terrorist acts targeting innocent civilians. She said the Council was meeting to debate difficult and deteriorating conditions in the occupied Palestinian land, including Jerusalem. While the international community was focusing efforts on the success of Israel’s exit from Gaza, Israel, the occupying Power, was accelerating steps to expand colonial settlement, accelerating the building of the wall and isolating the occupied part of Jerusalem from the West Bank. The path of the separation wall inside East Jerusalem was a grave development and a flagrant challenge to the international community.

She said it had been one year since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had issued its opinion, which stressed that the wall was illegal, that Israel must immediately cease construction activities, that Israel must demolish parts that had been build and must abrogate all laws and regulations thereon. The Council, according to the opinion, must consider measures to put an end to the situation. The reluctance by the international community to put pressure on the Israeli Government, as well as the condoning of activities undertaken by Israel in settlement expansion and confiscation of land, would not necessarily revive the peace process or return to implementation of the Road Map. “Such a situation is an omen of a veritable catastrophe for the Palestinian people, the region and the world, and might undermine the solution of the two-State concept”, she said.

Today, she continued, conditions were deteriorating because Israel, the occupying Power, continued to violate international law and international humanitarian law and to flout Council resolutions, as if it were a State above the law. Describing the killing, wounding, and destruction executed by the occupying forces, she said the United Nations had been informed of them and of Israel’s violations, such as extrajudicial killings, closure, prevention of movement of individuals and goods, the continuing expansion of illegal settlements and the building of the wall. The understanding reached in Sharm el-Sheikh had been an encouraging beginning to restart the peace process. The Palestinian Authority had taken steps to implement its commitments under that understanding. However, Israel had not implemented any of its commitments.

She said the Palestinian Authority was keen to see the success of the Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in a calm manner, and stressed, in that regard, the importance of the completion of disengagement before the end of the year. The international community, however, must not get distracted from Israel’s colonial expansion of settlements in the West Bank. She called on the international community to abide by the legal opinion of the ICJ. The bodies of the United Nations were called upon to accelerate the implementation of the provisions from the legal opinion, including a fast establishment of a record of damages. She announced that she would call for a resumption of the tenth emergency session of the General Assembly. That would, however, not set aside the obligations of the Council. She would look forward to the day that the Council and the United Nations would ensure Israel’s abiding by international law and international humanitarian law.

DAN GILLERMAN (Israel) said it was necessary to ask why the Council was meeting today. Was it to deal in acrimony, or, at the current watershed moment in the history of the war-torn region, seize the moment to see the larger picture? He felt a certain degree of gratitude for the opportunity to discuss what the initiators of the session had called “the dire situation on the ground”. More than 25,400 terrorist attacks against Israelis in less than five years were indeed dire. The ground in Netanya, where on 12 July a young Palestinian strapped with explosives had detonated himself at the entranced of a shopping mall, smouldered. Five people had died in that suicide attack, including two teenage girls. The ground was dire in the village of Nativ Ha’asara, where, on 14 July, a woman sitting on her porch was killed by a Qassam rocket. Hamas and Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade had showered the skies this month with Qassam rockets. The situation in the Middle East was dire, when on the other side of Israel’s northern border the only force that was in control of the territory was a terrorist organization, sponsored by two United Nations Member States.

As the Council met, Israel’s Government was preparing to implement a fateful and unprecedented initiative — the disengagement of all Israeli civilians and forces from the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of four settlements in the northern West Bank. Israel was taking bold, courageous action to reinvigorate the peace process on behalf of all of those involved in the drawn-out conflict. That initiative was unprecedented in its scope, challenges and hope that it had the potential to give to the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. It was a painful and heart-wrenching moment for the Israeli people. The implementation of the plan, in the absence of any corresponding acts of good faith from Palestinian neighbours, had created troubled divisions within Israeli society. But the Israeli Government, at no small political and personal risk, was determined to follow through on its commitment to implement the initiative.

The disengagement initiative was not Israel’s first plan or choice, he said. Israel would have preferred a fully negotiated agreement with its Palestinian neighbours. The Palestinian Authority showed no sign of implementing even the first commitment of the Road Map, which, among other things, called for an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism. The terrorist attack in Netanya gave voice to the sad truth behind the plethora of terrorist attacks: they endangered not only the lives of Israeli citizens and innocent Palestinians, but also the new Palestinian leadership, the disengagement plan and the peace process as a whole. Israel would not waiver, however, in its intention to complete the disengagement and pursue peace.

The prevention of terror emanating from Palestinian areas was entirely the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership, he said. Even the previous period of quiet had been only superficial. In fact, the campaign of terror had continued unabated, at varying levels of intensity, since September 2000. The Palestinian delegation had requested the meeting to discuss the “condition on the ground”. There should be no confusion about the situation in Israel, which was in the midst of an historic, courageous political decision to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. It was almost cynical that the Palestinian Authority raised the issues with the Council at a time when the deteriorating security situation was the result of the Palestinian terrorists and the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to fulfil its obligations. The impression was left that the debate was a smokescreen for more broken Palestinian problems.

The onus to prevent Palestinian terrorism in all its forms lay clearly with the Palestinian Authority, he said. Israel had transferred control over cities to the Palestinian Authority and had armed the Palestinian security forces in exchange for promises that the Palestinians would combat terror. As a result of the Palestinian leadership’s failure to confront terrorism, Israel had been left with no choice but to find defensive measures to protect itself, such as the security fence. The reality was that the fence worked. It had saved hundreds of lives. There had been a reduction of over 90 per cent in successful terrorist attacks, a 70 per cent reduction in citizens killed, and an 85 per cent reduction in the number of wounded.

Israel remained sensitive, however, to the impact of the necessary defensive measures it had been forced to take, he added. Israel was coordinating with Palestinian Authority officials in order to facilitate humanitarian passages in all areas. Indeed, the fence’s routing had been altered a number of times. Each section of the fence was scrupulously examined in light of strict humanitarian criteria, as determined by the Israeli High Court of Justice, the only justice system in the region where an Arab or Palestinian could go to court against his own government and seek justice, rather than get thrown in prison or be beheaded.

It should also be noted, he said, that construction of the fence had enabled Israel to remove checkpoints, thus, relaxing day-to-day freedom of movement in northern Samaria. Israel had further established methods to address difficulties that might arise as a result of the fence’s construction, both on the practical and legal levels, by providing affected landowners the possibility of lodging objections to the proposed route, as well as claiming compensation from a special standing fund established for that purpose. That mechanism guaranteed appropriate compensation for those affected, and obviated the need for any alternative measure, such as the proposed register.

In the absence of any demonstrable leadership on the Palestinian side, it had fallen to Israel to implement its disengagement initiative, he said. But even as a reluctant fallback plan, the disengagement initiative was not a replacement for negotiations. Indeed, Israel had repeatedly stated that the initiative could pave the way for the Road Map’s implementation. For the disengagement initiative to play that role, it required recognition that there were rights on both sides of the equation, including the Israeli side, and responsibilities on both sides, including the Palestinian side. The Road Map was predicated on the assumption that both sides had commitments and responsibilities for which they must be held accountable. Initiatives that exaggerated Palestinian victimization, while avoiding Palestinian responsibility, not only ignored Israeli concerns, but were also a grave disservice to those Palestinians seeking reform.

The Council convened today to address grievances that did little to improve peace efforts in the region, he said. While critics of Israel had been historically obsessed with ending the occupation of disputed lands, once Israel entered a plan to hand over land, its critics obfuscated the issue by diverting the Council’s attention to unnecessary discussion. Today’s discussion signified yet another blemish in the Council’s agenda. He called on the Council to look beyond the diversion and see the larger picture — a tiny country, marred by terrorism, mobilizing its citizens and political will to take a bold step for peace in the region.

ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria) expressed concern at the recent worsening of the situation in the Middle East after a calm of a few months. Extrajudicial killings and violence had resumed, and civilians, the majority of them Palestinians, were the victims. There had been some hope with the national Palestinian consensus of a ceasefire and Israel’s commitment to withdraw from the Gaza and some parts of the West Bank, coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. However, Israel, once again, was casting doubt on the resumed peace impetus. It had taken the decision to expand settlements in the West Bank and to construct the wall in the Al-Quds. Expansion of settlements was Israel’s attempt to establish a fait accompli, impeding establishment of a PalestinianState. Israel had constantly adopted a fait accompli policy. The latest provocation was the 9 July decision on the route of the wall around Al-Quds, one year after the legal opinion of the ICJ. The provocation was proof of Israel’s disregard for international law.

He said Israel’s decision was a blow for international efforts under way and would lead to a deterioration of the situation. The Court had recommended that the Council consider action to put an end to the illegal situation of the wall’s construction. The Council should also take measures to stop Israel’s extrajudicial executions, among other things. The Quartet should dissuade Israel from implementing its decision to expand the settlements and convince it to honour its commitments under the Road Map. He expressed concern at the worsened economic situation in the OccupiedTerritories. He was also concerned with the situation in the Syrian Golan, where ongoing settlement policy continued to undermine peace efforts, and with the situation in Lebanon, where in recent weeks provocations had taken place. The international community was called upon to take action to arrive at a lasting settlement of the conflict, according to resolutions 242, 338 and 1397, as well as the principle of land for peace.

ALEXANDER V. KONUZIN (Russian Federation) said he was alarmed about the resumed flare-up of tensions as a result of attempts by extremist forces to do their utmost to worsen the situation preceding Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and a portion of the West Bank. The best answer to those forces would be a responsible and restrained position by the parties and coordinated steps by security forces designed to prevent anarchy. It was important for both parties to adhere to the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement. Russia, with the other members of the Quartet and other interested parties, was prepared to assist where necessary to actively facilitate efforts to establish a comprehensive and just peace.

He called on parties to refrain from steps that would predetermine the results of final settlement negotiations. Although expressing concern about the construction of the wall, he affirmed the right of Israel to self-defence against terrorist attacks. He was, however, concerned with the settlement issue. He called for achievement of a comprehensive Middle East settlement, including the Syrian and Lebanese issues. The Road Map was the only alternative, he said, the implementation of which was the only way to achieve a settlement for the Israelis and Palestinians. He reiterated the proposal to conduct a high-level expert meeting by the end of the year.

JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIÈRE (France) said the situation in the Middle East, just weeks before Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, was a matter of concern. Everything must be done to ensure that there was not a new escalation of violence. To preserve the ceasefire — one of the most valuable and fragile achievements in recent months — the parties must resume dialogue and cooperation, including in the areas of security. France strongly condemned the suicide attack in Netanya one week ago, as well as rocket and mortar fire that had cost the lives of Israeli civilians. He called on the Palestinian Authority to intensify efforts to restore public order in the PalestinianTerritories. For its part, Israel must show restraint and end its policy of targeted killings, which could only lead to a further wave of violence. The success of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was in the interest of all. The political future of the Palestinians must not be limited to the withdrawal, however, but must be an initial step in the framework of the Road Map. The Quartet must assist the parties to implement their obligations under the Road Map. France favoured the holding an international conference at an appropriate time.

Regarding the security barrier, while he recognized Israel’s right to take forceful measures to protect its citizens, he noted that the wall’s path gave rise to a number of concerns, including that it extended several kilometres to the east of the green line within the PalestinianTerritories, in contradiction with the relevant provisions of international law. The construction, if irreversible, would be de facto annexation of a substantial part of the West Bank. The construction of the wall was also giving place to large-scale dispossession, putting thousands of Palestinians in a precarious situation. He called on the Israeli Government to stop all construction of the wall within PalestinianTerritories, including around East Jerusalem, and dismantle the posts already in place.

TUVAKO NATHANIEL MANONGI (United Republic of Tanzania) noted that recent unrelenting violence in the Middle East had overshadowed positive gains, resulting in injuries and deaths, as well as the loss of property. Condemning the suicide bombing in Netanya and rockets that had killed several innocent Israeli civilians, he said those events, coming less than one month before Israel’s scheduled withdrawal from the Gaza and parts of the West Bank, should not be allowed to undermine it.

He also expressed regret for continued construction of the separation wall in and around East Jerusalem, as well as accelerated settlement activity. Stressing that such actions went against earlier understandings and could undermine a true spirit of mutual confidence, he urged the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to remain steadfast in seeking peace and security for their people and region.

RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG (Brazil) said the recent escalation of violence ran counter to interests of both parties, which must do their utmost to ensure restraint and abide by the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings with a view to maintaining the ceasefire. Extrajudicial killings by Israeli forces, resumed in recent days, must be halted. Brazil had also followed with deep concern the intensification of rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups against Israeli targets, including civilians, one of which had resulted in the death of an Israeli girl of Brazilian origin. Brazil also condemned the recent terrorist attack in Netanya.

He expressed alarm at news of increased settlement activities in the West Bank. Even worse, Israel’s revision of the route and acceleration of the construction of the wall around Jerusalem prejudged the resolution of a dispute over an issue that had been central since the Partition Plan and subject to many United Nations resolutions. Any solution to the status of Jerusalem should take into account the legitimate concerns of both sides and include internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and conscience of all its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to all its holy sites by the people of all religions and nationalities.