UN Meeting on Middle East Peace concludes with Adoption of Action Plan (1/2)

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)


PARIS — Civil society organizations committed to ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories and to achieving the Palestinians’ still unrealized rights, including the right of self-determination, today identified the coming year to inaugurate a global campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to end the occupation and comply with international law and all relevant United Nations resolutions, as the United Nations International Conference in Support of Middle East Peace concluded this evening in Paris.

Through the adoption by acclamation of an Action Plan, civil society participants committed themselves to internationalism and the belief that the United Nations remained central to ending the occupation.  As this week marked the first anniversary of the landmark advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the illegality of Israel’s “annexationist apartheid wall”, the settlements and occupation, and the consequences of that illegality, participants joined with their colleagues around the world to rededicate themselves to “bringing down the wall”.

But events on the ground in the Occupied PalestinianTerritories continued to deteriorate, with land confiscation, house demolitions, escalating violence at checkpoints and on roads, closures, curfews, a renewed Israeli policy of assassination, and plans for new settlement projects, their text said.  Participants were especially concerned about the consequences of Israel’s planned “disengagement” from Gaza, which would alter the form but not the essence of occupation and control.  Clearly, the “disengagement” from Gaza was not designed to end the occupation, but was a ploy to legitimize Israel’s annexation of wide swathes of territory in the West Bank, it stated.  

After participating in the reading aloud of the draft Action Plan, Na’eem Jeenah, Spokesman, Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa and President of the Johannesburg-based Muslim Youth Movement,said that, finally, Palestinian groups and the Palestinians, themselves, were calling collectively for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.  Today’s Action Plan — like the statement released by 200 Palestinian organizations in the West Bank and Gaza on 9 July to commemorate the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the illegality of the separation wall — had been inspired by South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, and resistance to injustice and oppression. 

Within the South African context, in which the 9 July call had occurred, the struggle against apartheid had been based on four pillars.  Two concerned internal resistance to apartheid and the international isolation of the apartheidState.  It was those pillars, which were crucial to bringing about an end to the apartheidState.  It had taken 30 years for that call to take root.  Palestine and the Palestinian people did not have 30 years.  From the Conference onward, it was time to intensify efforts, with the Action Plan the main focus for the coming year.  He urged those Palestinian groups that had issued the call this week to lead the campaign at the global level. 

Ravan A.G. Farhadi (Afghanistan), Head of the delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, under whose auspices the Meeting was held, thanked participants for their insightful opinions and creative ideas, which had brought the two days of deliberations to a successful conclusion.  The Action Plan pinpointed issues requiring urgent international attention.  It also enlisted detailed plans that should guide civil society organizations, like a “navigator”, in their strategy planning. 

More important than the discussions and the Action Plan — as a piece of paper did not feed Palestinian children or halt the wall’s construction — was the implementation phase, he said.  Participants should keep alive the energy of the past two days and create a series of influential global movements, by bringing together those working on the same subject and transforming them into one “global force” in support of the Palestinian people.  He was convinced that the International Coordinating Network for Palestine could play a major role in that regard. 

Closing remarks were also made by Somaia S. Barghouti, on behalf of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations; Phyllis Bennis, Political Analyst, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies, and Co-Chair, International Coordinating Network for Palestine, based in Washington, D.C.; and Hind Khoury, Minister of State of the Palestinian Authority. 

Earlier today, the Meeting convened a second plenary on “Strengthening civil society initiatives”, at which the following participants spoke:  Pierre Galand, Senator, Belgian Parliament, and Chairman of the Brussels-based European Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine; Na’eem Jeenah, Spokesperson, Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa and President of the Johannesburg-based Muslim Youth Movement; Raji Sourani, General Director, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Gaza; and Phyllis Bennis, Political Analyst, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies, and Co-Chair, International Coordinating Network for Palestine, based in Washington, D.C.  The Meeting also heard reports of the six workshops.

Plenary II

When the second plenary opened, participants of the two-day Conference heard reports of workshops held throughout the Meeting on:  yesterday, strategies to consolidate and broaden constituencies; strategies to mobilize public opinion; and strategies to engage governments; and today, European civil society in support of Middle East peace; cooperation with the United Nations; and campaigns in support of Middle East peace.

Reporting on the workshop on strategies to mobilize public opinion, a participant said that clear agreement had been achieved that now was the moment for campaigns in the form of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against individuals and societies, and governments — particularly against Israel — until it fully complied with international law.  The advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the wall was seen as a main instrument in that campaign.  

On the workshop on campaigns in support of Middle East peace, another speaker said it had been agreed that Israel should be pressed to change its policy because it would not do so by itself.  Sanctions were deemed appropriate, and refugee returns were also discussed, as was the advisory opinion and Israeli discrimination against Palestinian citizens.  The thinking was to try to build momentum, starting with individual action, and step-by-step, moving towards sustainability of action.  It had also been agreed that Israelis should take part in the call against occupation; that call that was neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel.   

The workshop on engaging governments had as its goal making governments comply with their own legal obligations, leading to lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and a viable, sovereign ad independent Palestinian State, its speaker said.  The group reached four recommendations towards achieving that goal:  raising governments’ awareness of their obligations under the Geneva Conventions, and of the advisory opinion and subsequent endorsement by the United Nations General Assembly; devise strategies to engage governments through public opinion and the media; work collectively to ask governments to take political and economic means, including sanctions and the cessation of military trade with Israel, to urge it to comply with international law; and increase efforts to counter the prevailing view among governments that the Gaza disengagement plan was a window of opportunity. 

Towards expanding and consolidating constituencies, that workshop’s representative said the group had elaborated broad thematic approaches to consolidate the opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza with anti-war activists.  The group also underscored the importance of combating against racism and the demonization of Islam, and promoting linkages between civil society groups in the West and inside the OccupiedPalestinianTerritories.  It also discussed the situation of Palestinian prisoners, especially children.  At the national level, in France, for example, suggestions had been made that the medical community could focus on the health consequences of occupation and promote the purchase of Palestinian olive oil in France.

Other suggestions had included academic exchanges between European and Palestinian universities, she said.  Some speakers saw the upcoming World Summit on Communications in Tunisia as an opportunity to advance the issues.  There was general agreement on, among other things, the need to push for a United Nations resolution to end all defence dealings with Israel.

In the workshop on European civil society in support of Middle East peace, its speaker said there had been agreement that European civil society had a vital role to play in the rights of the Palestinian people.  There were always obstacles in its work, but the change in the title of the Conference had been an indication of the Semitic shift even in United Nations quarters.  Thus, European civil society must be vigilant about how propaganda was used to make its work difficult.  Formerly, Israel had been seen as the biggest threat to peace; now that was Islam.  One concrete recommendation had been the creation of an international tribunal on the quest of the Palestinian people in the Middle East.  European civil society actors must work with their Israeli counterparts and peace groups to ensure that the struggle was not dismissed as anti-Semitic.

The speaker for the workshop on non-governmental organizations’ cooperation with the United Nations said it should be ensured that humanitarian and development cooperation did not perpetuate occupation.  The growing weakness of the world body was discussed, and several recommendations had emerged.  The first was to strengthen the United Nations by reminding governments of their commitments made at the world body, especially the ruling of the International Court of Justice.  The NGOs should highlight United Nations’ recommendations on violations by the Israeli occupation.  On the normalization of the status of Israel at the United Nations, attention was drawn to the fact that Israel was now part of the Group of Western States, in order to be able to stand for candidature on bodies’ bureaus and hold a seat on the Security Council.  NGOs should draw attention to that very serious issue of the IsraeliState normalizing its status at the United Nations, when it did not respect that Organization’s decisions or resolutions. 

Summary of Plenary II Statements

PIERRE GALAND, Senator, Belgian Parliament, offering a European view of the Palestinian question, said it was regrettable that he had not had sufficient time to better coordinate European participation at the Conference.

He said that Israel had unilaterally decided to disengage from Gaza.  If that was really a withdrawal from Palestinian land as part of the Quartet’s Road Map, then that could only be welcomed.  But if the Road Map was being cast aside, as indicated by Prime Minister Sharon, and there was no second phase of disengagement planned, then that was entirely unacceptable.  In addition, one year after the ruling of the International Court of Justice and the General Assembly’s endorsement of it on 22 July 2004, the wall had been extended and no measures had been taken by either the United Nations or any government in Europe or the United States to prevent the continuation of the wall’s construction. 

There was cause for concern, as what was being presented today as a new stage was only a unilateral step by Israel according to Israel’s own interest and which had very little to do with a genuine peace process, he said.  It was imperative, therefore, to call on the political leaders to tell them of that concern, and he was quite concerned. 

Turning to the Gaza disengagement plan, RAJI SOURANI, General Director, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Gaza, said it was a unilateral, Israeli-designed, Sharon initiative, which threatened to isolate Gaza — its 1.3 million people across 365 square kilometres.  Imports and exports would be severely curtailed, as there would be no access to any Israeli port, either by land or sea or air.  There would be one checkpoint for only three categories of people:  the VIPs, which comprised only up to 600 persons; international organizations like UNRWA and the Red Cross; and diplomats.  Practically speaking, the disengagement plan would totally disconnect the people of Gaza from Israel, from their people in Jerusalem and the West Bank.  In effect, the people of Gaza would be socially, economically and politically boycotted. 

He explained that the only crossing connecting the 1.3 million people of Gaza with the outside world would be the Rafah crossing, which would be under Israeli control.  That was not an issue for compromise in the foreseeable future.  Gazeans could only use the Cairo airport, if they were allowed to pass the Rafah crossing, and they would only be able to use two ports in the Mediterranean, almost 350 kilometres from Rafah.  Israel would retain control of land, sea and air, and occupation would simply continue in its legal and political form.  That was essentially a deployment of the Israeli Army in the Gaza Strip; that was the whole concept surrounding the evacuation of some 19 settlements, or 160 more kilometres. 

Gaza also suffered 65 per cent unemployment, and 81 per cent of its inhabitants lived under the poverty line, he went on.  If it was disconnected from Israel, it would become part of the Egyptian economy and inherit those economic disasters.  Without free access to the outside world, and remaining 100 per cent under Israeli control, would suffocate the people of Gaza, which was precisely Sharon’s plan.  His intentions were to derail the entire discussion of the real issues, through redeployment in the Gaza Strip.  Nobody was talking about the ethnic cleansing taking place in Jerusalem, or the building of the wall there.  Once completed in a few months, the wall would mean that 55 per cent of the West Bank had been annexed to Israel. 

At the same time, he said, settlements expanding vertically and horizontally.  Nobody was talking any more about the illegality of the settlements, which were flourishing.  No one was talking anymore about ending Israeli occupation.  Sharon’s strategy for the Gaza disengagement plan was to derail the entire discussion about Jerusalem, the settlements, the wall and about occupation, per se, as well as international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.  The latter were not Palestinian inventions; they were the “crème de la crème” of international law, aimed at protecting civilians in times of war.  And, Palestinians needed protection under those laws.  The strongest court on Earth had issued the advisory opinion in the most eloquent of ways.  At the end of the day, it was important to secure the benefits from that.

Adoption of Action Plan

Next, the Meeting turned to the draft 2005 Plan of Action entitled, “Peace in the Middle East:  Mobilizing to End the Israeli Occupation” of the International Coordinating Network on Palestine.  It was read out by members of the panel.

Action Plan Summary

Civil society organizations committed to ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and to achieving the still unrealized rights, including the right of self-determination, of the Palestinian people, agree to anchor their work in human rights, international law, and the United Nations Charter and resolutions.  They commit to internationalism and the belief that the United Nations remains central to ending the occupation.  These tools provide the only road map for the basis for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.

As this week marks the first anniversary of the landmark advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the illegality of Israel’s annexationist apartheid wall, the settlements and occupation, and the consequences of that illegality, participants join with colleagues around the world to commemorate the significance of that ruling and to rededicate themselves to the work of enforcing it and bringing down the wall.

But events on the ground in the Occupied PalestinianTerritories continue to deteriorate, the document states.  Despite the clarity of the Court’s opinion and the overwhelming support for the General Assembly resolutions affirming that opinion, expansion of the wall continues.  The wall has become the symbol of the continuing crisis of Israeli settlements — all of which is in violation of international law and specific United Nations resolutions — being built, expanded and transformed into armed centres of anti-Palestinian violence. 

It further states that occupation on the ground means land confiscation, house demolitions, escalating violence at checkpoints and on roads, closures, curfews, a renewed Israeli policy of assassination, and other violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Plans for new settlement projects in the Jordan Valley, and especially in Jerusalem, show the duplicity of Israel’s claimed commitments to a two-State solution, as Israel’s settlement-based seizure of land continues and a viable Palestinian State as part of a two-State solution grows less and less attainable.  There was a danger that the current “de facto apartheid conditions” on the ground could be transformed into a normalized reality.

Participants are especially concerned about the consequences of Israel’s planned “disengagement” from Gaza, which will alter the form but not the essence of occupation and control, the text says.  Certainly, as the occupying Power, Israel bears a unilateral obligation to completely end its occupation of all the PalestinianTerritories.  It is clear, however, that the “disengagement” from Gaza is not designed to end the occupation, but is a ploy to legitimize Israel’s annexation of wide swathes of territory in the West Bank as a quid-pro-quo backed by the United States in the letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in April 2004.  It will have the effect of establishing even greater Israeli domination over Gaza’s economy and society.

Civil society participants further agree that the urgency of implementing international humanitarian law — that prohibits settlements, house demolitions, and violence against an occupied population, and requires the creation of an independent, viable, contiguous and sovereign PalestinianState with Jerusalem as its capital — remains their vital concern.  The need to pressure their governments to enforce the Court’s decision regarding the illegality of the wall remains.  The need for developing new strategies to provide international protection for Palestinians living under the brutality of Israel’s military occupation has never been greater.

Their work of building an international challenge to Israel’s occupation is strengthened and empowered by our support from, and our participation in the broad global movement against occupation and for justice throughout the Middle East, their text states. 

Participants agree that their work to end the occupation of Palestine remains their solemn commitment.  They will work with solidarity campaigns, with civil society organizations, with parliaments, with governments and with the United Nations itself, especially the General Assembly’s Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights, to build a movement strong enough to end the Israeli occupation.

Further to the text, they support the work of their constituent organizations on a wide range of issues including implementation of the advisory opinion on the illegality of the apartheid wall and settlements, campaigning for international protection for Palestinians living under occupation, mobilizing support for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, strengthening the United Nations’ capacity to defend Palestinian rights, and commemorating the annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, on 29 November. 

In a “Call to Action”, participants recognize that, as an international network, their strength lies in their ability to work collectively in unified campaigns and actions.  To that end, they urge international, national and regional social movements, organizations and coalitions to support the unified call of Palestinian civil society for a global campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions [BDS] to pressure Israel to end the occupation and fully comply with international law and all relevant United Nations resolutions.  They have identified the coming year to mobilize for and inaugurate that campaign.  They call on partner organizations to intensify their activities, focusing on the BDS campaign, so that together, they will end the Occupation.

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