CARACAS — Coordinator, Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, Jerusalem, Jeff Halper, told participants this afternoon at the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on the Question of Palestine, that given the facts on the ground, a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was no longer viable.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he said, wanted a Palestinian State that would have no industry, no economy, no control of borders, resources or airspace, and no control over cultural and historical sites. Israel’s unilateral moves created an illusion of a Palestinian State that would leave Israel in control.
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 by experts on the question of Palestine.
Ambassador Edward Peck, President of Foreign Service International, Washington, D.C., said that an important obstacle to ending the Israeli occupation was Israeli democracy in which, as in every democracy, decisions did not always reflect the views of the majority but rather those of an active committed minority. If a small group wanted something and the rest of the country did not care that much, the minority would control the debate.
Jorge Rondon Uzecategui, former Ambassador of Venezuela to Iraq and Jordan, said that no negotiation should ignore the problem of the refugees, who should be allowed to return to their land and if possible to retrieve their property.
Reviewing media coverage, Professor of International Journalism, Catholic University of Sao Paulo, Pedro Brieger, told participants that the immense majority of Latin American journalists covered the Palestinian conflict from Israel. Seeing was not understanding, because it was important from where you were looking and language used disdainfully in describing Palestinians would never be used in reference to Jews.
The theme for tomorrow’s meeting is “International efforts at achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine”. Panellists will discuss supporting the efforts of the Quartet and other actors; maintaining international legitimacy in efforts at achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace; and the permanent responsibility of the United Nations.
Plenary I: The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory , including East Jerusalem:
Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank: the situation on the ground and implications; the humanitarian and socio-economic challenges facing the Palestinian people; and the urgency of strengthening Palestinian Authority institutions.
At the beginning of the meeting, it was announced that RIAD MALKI, Director-General of Panorama, the Palestinian Centre for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development and Member of the Palestine National Council, who was scheduled to be the first speaker, had been prevented from leaving the Palestinian Territory by Israeli roadblocks.
JEFF HALPER, Coordinator, Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, Jerusalem, said it was important for Israelis to participate in these conferences. Polls showed that 70 per cent of Israeli Jews did not want the occupation. Because the Government used terms like security and engendered fear, the Israeli public accepted that there was no solution. He had come to understand that Palestinians were not his enemy and it was constructive to consider different ways of looking at the issue. Since 1967, the strategy had been to create facts on the ground to set up the parameters of what could be achieved. He said that in the unit of land under discussion, Israel was on 78 per cent of the country although Palestinians constituted the majority of the population in the area. The Palestinians had given up their political claim to the area. Given the facts on the ground, the two-State solution was no longer viable.
Continuing, he said 95 per cent of the Palestinians were confined to 40 per cent of the West Bank. In that 40 per cent, there were about 200 settlements plus 100 outposts which surrounded the Palestinian enclaves. There were seven settlement blocks that isolated the Palestinian territory. Ariel Sharon wanted a Palestinian State that got the Palestinian population off Israeli hands. Such a State, however would have no industry, no economy, no control of borders, resources or airspace, and no control over cultural and historical sites. Israel’s moves were all unilateral to create an illusion of a Palestinian State but which would leave Israel in control.
He said the occupation was proactive. It was not providing security. Ninety-five per cent of the cases of house demolitions had nothing to do with security. His organization was taking responsibility for its Government’s actions by standing in front of bulldozers and rebuilding houses. Twenty-nine highways had been built to link the settlements, thereby incorporating the settlements into Israel proper. The country had been reconfigured so that a viable Palestinian State could not be established. The wall was not being built for security but was a political border that would surround all the Palestinians who would ultimately be confined to ten per cent of the territory. If the international community watched as a new apartheid situation evolved, it would send a dark message to everyone in the world. A just and lasting solution to the situation must encompass a national expression for both nations, economic viability and acknowledgement of the refugee issue. Importantly, there had to be a regional approach, as the issues that the two parties faced were faced by all the nations in the region.
EDWARD L. PECK, Ambassador, President of Foreign Service International, Washington, D.C., said that an important obstacle to ending the Israeli occupation was Israeli democracy. As in every democracy, decisions did not always reflect the views of the majority but rather those of an active committed minority. If a small group wanted something and the rest of the country did not care that much, the minority would control the debate.
He said he did not believe that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon ever had any intention of seeking a viable Palestinian State, but would prefer small Palestinian communities with sovereignty but no authority. There was a sharp difference between sovereignty which was symbolized by a flag, and authority which was symbolized by a gun. He found it interesting that the majority of the speakers in the opening session had not used the word occupation. Yet the basic issue was ending the occupation. There was a tendency to use euphemisms. It was not a conflict, he said, it was an occupation. The Palestinians never had a tank, an airplane, or an army. There were no negotiations. Negotiations were between two parties. The occupied could not negotiate with the occupiers.
He said the Gaza Strip today was the largest fresh air prison. There was no disengagement. The so-called disengagement had been negotiated between the Israelis themselves. In the United States, one did not read about the things that went on in the West Bank. One could ignore the situation, but at a price.
JORGE RONDON UZECATEGUI, former Ambassador of Venezuela to Iraq and Jordan, said the Palestinians had suffered for a long time because of the takeover of their land. Forty per cent of Palestinians were refugees. They had lived for many years in other countries where they were still considered second- or third-rate citizens. The Middle East was changing at breakneck speed irrespective of the plans that Israelis or Palestinians might have. United Nations resolutions had not been realized because one of the parties had refused to implement them.
He went on to say that no negotiation should ignore the problem of the refugees. They should be allowed to return to their land and if possible to retrieve their property. That was a human tragedy of great scope. The statement delivered earlier by Jeff Halper should alert the participants that a fair and just peace had to be achieved for both parties.
There were rumours that certain countries, under the pretext of reducing United Nations spending were trying to cut back spending on Palestinian programmes, he said. Those programmes should be upheld and strengthened.
JOSE ARBEX, JR., Journalist and Professor of International Journalism, Catholic University of Sao Paolo, said the Palestinian people represented the struggle against the universal enemy –- imperialism. In Colombia, United States’ soldiers were employing green gas that caused the people of the Amazon to leave the territory. The reason given for using the gas was that it had to do with drug trafficking. In fact, it was to expel the people of the Amazon in order to exploit its reserves. The United States was also trying to control the resources of Paraguay and had tried militarily to occupy the Amazon region, he said.
In the Middle East as in Central Asia, it was a quest for control of natural oil reserves that was behind United States policy, he continued. Israel’s loyal cooperation was key to that policy. The struggle of the Palestinian people constituted a major challenge. It was a symbol of tireless heroism and an example for all those struggling against imperialism. The fight of the Palestinians mirrored their struggle and the Palestinian destiny was their destiny.
In the Middle East, he said, there was no war between the Jews and Palestinians. They were both the victims of imperialism. The challenges confronted by the Palestinian Authority were the very challenges confronted by the world community. Was the United Nations just a fiction or would it be able to put restrictions on the empire? It was impossible to talk about challenges to the Palestinian Authority without talking about the problems of all the other nations.
PEDRO BRIEGER, Professor of International Journalism, Catholic University of Sao Paulo, noted a feeling of desperation that had been expressed at the meeting. When he had visited young refugees in Lebanon, they believed that they had no future. There was, however, something new. With the advent of the Internet, they had contact with people in their own lands giving them a new perspective.
He said the immense majority of Latin American journalists covered the Palestinian conflict from Israel. Seeing was not understanding, because it was important where you were looking from. Important Latin American newspapers with journalists in the area based them in Israel. The largest paper in Argentina had one correspondent, an Israeli Jew, covering the issue. He and others, like the correspondent for CNN, looked at the situation from the point of view of the Israelis. Moreover, the Holocaust was used as a kind of blackmail with the media. Any criticism of Israel was considered anti-Semitism. An Internet site called “Bad News” listed how the media service defamed Israel. Last year it had given a prize to the most anti-Israeli journalist in Latin America.
Language used disdainfully about Palestinians would never be used in reference to Jews, he said. He quoted a statement by Carlos Escude, calling for Israel to detonate a small bomb in Gaza. One would never make that statement in discussing the Israelis. The view of the Jewish community in Argentina was that the media was anti-Israeli when in fact it was pro-Israeli. The perception prevailed that the Palestinians attacked and the Israelis just responded to provocation. The Israeli bombardments were never called terrorist bombings. There should be a debate in the media and a definition of terrorist acts. He recalled that partisans in the Second World War were called terrorists. Was bombing civilian populations a terrorist act? he asked. If so, it should be defined as such. The public was not always aware of the manipulations that went on with regard to coverage.