Without peace settlement, both sides face continued violence, UN civil society conference told (1/2)

The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Papa Louis Fall from Senegal (right) speaking at last year’s conference. Left is Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. (UN/Stephenie Hollyman)


Unless a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians was reached — and that could only be achieved through official political negotiations resulting in an agreement between the parties — both sides would face the grim reality of a never-ending stalemate and continued violence, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today at the opening of a two-day United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People.

In a statement read on his behalf by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, the Secretary-General stressed that the United Nations would remain deeply committed to alleviating the humanitarian situation in the PalestinianTerritory. Also important was the role of non-governmental organizations, which brought unique dimensions to the task of peaceful transition in conflict-affected parts of the world through important grass-roots initiatives and campaigns. Those endeavours offered fresh ideas for “give-and-take” that could be considered by official negotiators. More importantly, they energized the discouraged and the weary by proving that there were Israelis and Palestinians who were ready to make compromises and who believed that the peace and security of generations to come were well worth the price of compromise.

The Conference brings together all players involved in the search for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question, including representatives of governments, the donor community and non-governmental organizations. The aim of the Conference, with a theme “Ending the occupation — a key requisite for achieving peace in the Middle East”, is to provide civil society organizations from all regions of the world with an opportunity to discuss the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem; coordinate their activities; and develop action-oriented proposals in support of the Palestinian people.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Paul Badji, said that a final and sustainable solution to the conflict required a complete end of the occupation, the creation of an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian State, and the achievement by the Palestinian people of their inalienable rights, including the right of refugees to return. The realities on the ground, however, pointed to the opposite. Contrary to its declarations of “disengagement”, Israel continued to tighten its grip on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The Israeli practice of extrajudicial killings had claimed many lives, and the Committee strongly condemned those acts. At the same time, it also unreservedly condemned suicide bombings against Israelis. Those acts harmed efforts at reconciliation and pushed the goal of peaceful coexistence even farther away.

Regarding the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the construction of the barrier, which was rendered on 9 July, he said that it provided all actors of the international community, including civil society, with a powerful tool to pursue their peace efforts. There was a need for information, explanation and raising the level of understanding by the public at large. The ruling could also encourage the members of the Quartet to expedite the formulation of the action plan aimed at implementing the “Road Map”.

The Permanent Observer for Palestine, Nasser Al-Kidwa, identified the need to demand the cessation of the building of the Wall and settlements as the main priorities, saying that with the continuation of those activities, there could be no Road Map and no solution to the conflict. At this stage, the international community needed to display greater resolve by taking some bold steps forward to genuinely make a difference. Working towards a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine was a right and a duty of all Member States, civil society organizations and, indeed, the international community collectively. The central task at the current critical juncture was the follow-up to the advisory opinion of the ICJ.

Phyllis Bennis, Co-Chair of the International Coordinating Network for Palestine, said that, with the situation on the ground now “worse than ever”, there had never been a greater responsibility for the international community to solve the crisis. The road map to the solution existed in the resolutions of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions. The Quartet was in many ways a fake, however. It was a “solo act with some back-up singers to provide for political cover”, because one Power had too much power. The real challenge to that Power had to start with civil society, which had to broaden its ranks and pressure governments.

In a panel discussion that followed the opening statements, entitled “The Current Situation: Facts on the Ground”, the speakers focused on the latest developments in the occupied territories, the economic and humanitarian crisis there and the human cost of violence. It was pointed out that the death toll in the occupied Palestinian territory since the start of the intifada had now risen to over 4,000, most of them Palestinians. More than 670 children had been killed, of which over 570 were Palestinian. Positive developments were also highlighted, including the ICJ ruling and rulings of the High Court of Justice in Israel.

Presentations were made by Gabi Baramki, President, Palestinian Council for Justice and Peace; Rachel Greenspahn, Director for Development and International Outreach, B’Tselem; Jad Isaac, Director General, Applied Research Institute, Jerusalem; Adah Kay, Professor at City University and Co-Author, Stolen Youth: Israel’s Detention of Palestinian Children; and Praful Bidwai, Journalist, New Delhi.

The afternoon plenary session was devoted to the subject of “Occupation and International Law”, focusing on the implications of the ICJ’s advisory opinion, the analogies between the legal developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and international courts’ rulings on other disputes, the obligations of States in enforcing international law and the role of civil society in that respect.

The panel of the second session consisted of Michael Sfard, Lawyer, representative of Ha’Moked: Centre for the Defence of the Individual, Tel Aviv; Susan Akram, Clinical Associate Professor, Boston University School of Law; Iain Scobbie, Professor of International Law, School of Oriental and African Studies, London; and Victor de Currea-Lugo, MD, expert in International Law, Lund, Sweden.

The next plenary of the Conference — “The Role of Civil Society: from Alleviating Human Suffering to Advocating the End of Occupation” — will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 14 September.

Background

Drawing on the success of similar events in 2002 and 2003, the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People opened at the United Nations Headquarters this morning. Its theme is “Ending the occupation — A key prerequisite for achieving peace in the Middle East”. Convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Conference was mandated by General Assembly resolutions 58/18 and 58/19 of 3 December 2003.

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