28 June 2006
UN Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Presses Need to Renew Talks, Respect International Law, Ease Trauma
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
VIENNA, 28 June -- As the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace entered its second day with events on the ground increasingly drawing world attention, participants considered the peace process and challenges ahead, hearing expert views about the "catastrophic" developments in the Gaza Strip, and the critical need to renew the peace negotiations and strictly uphold international law and United Nations resolutions.
The two-day meeting brought together internationally renowned experts, including Israelis and Palestinians, representatives of UN Member States and observers, parliamentarians, representatives of the United Nations system and other intergovernmental organizations, the academic community, and representatives of civil society and the media to examine the state of the conflict and consider ways to put it back on the track towards a negotiated settlement.
The former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Andreas Van Agt, said the record was appalling with respect to implementation of the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concerning Israel's construction of the separation wall. In flagrant violation of the Court's ruling -- a ruling that had been requested by the General Assembly -- Israel had not dismantled the wall and was steadily expanding it, causing more damage to the Palestinians living in the area. Settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem had not been removed, but had hurriedly been enlarged, and the occupation continued unabated. That was the "shocking picture of boundless disrespect for international law".
The Palestinian people had been told repeatedly that they must not resort to violence, he said. Israel had brushed aside the ICJ ruling, as had the United States and the Europeans and others. All those countries that had dismissed the ruling had no moral ground on which to lecture Palestinians to renounce violence, for they themselves had disregarded a ruling of the highest Court. Some had argued that the ruling had been advisory and was, therefore, not binding. But the ICJ had concluded that the obligations violated by the wall's construction were essentially imperative rules of international law, the existence of which could not be denied by any State. The time had come for the Assembly to put the matter before the Security Council, requesting it to compel Israel to abide by its resolution affirming the ruling.
The head of the Political Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah, Abdullah Abdullah, stressed that third-party intervention should be based on international law and United Nations resolutions, as well as on the Advisory Opinion of the ICJ on the building of the separation wall. After receiving a ruling by the Court that the wall's construction was illegal, Israel continued unabated to infringe on the rights of Palestinians, not by separating Palestinians from Israelis, but by separating Palestinians from Palestinians. Israel was gradually deteriorating into an apartheid regime, building roads for use by Israelis only; separate roads were built for the Palestinians. The culture of peace did not start from "the barrel of the gun". It flowed from a mutual recognition that all people were human beings, first and foremost, and able to live with each other in peace and harmony.
Colette Avital, Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset from the Labour Party, said that many of her friends and colleagues had tried to dissuade her from coming to the Meeting, saying it was just another exercise in Israel-bashing. But, she was inclined to take advantage of any meeting where she might meet her Palestinian colleagues and search for ways to "get us out of this mess". There had been some progress, at least in terms of changed attitudes. Several years ago, only 5 per cent of Israelis favoured the two-State vision, whereas now a full 70 per cent supported it. At the same time, however, developments on the ground had made that goal more difficult to achieve. The results of the last Palestinian elections, having been democratic, should be respected, but many Israelis and Palestinians had seen the result as a setback. No one knew if and when there would be a change in attitude among the Hamas, so it was felt that the elections had taken the situation back to "square one".
Asserting that the creation of the Palestinian state was unique, in that it was supposed to be created under occupation, without control of its borders or airspace, with its citizens subjected to the control of an occupying country, Harald Haas, Senior Researcher, Institute for Strategic Research, Austrian National Defence Academy, urged world and regional leaders to rethink their traditional strategies and methods of conflict management. No one doubted that the best solution would be a mutually negotiated final status agreement guaranteeing Israel its security needs, and creating a sovereign, independent and economically viable Palestinian state, guaranteed by the international community. But, collective trauma on both sides, transferred from generation to generation, had impeded the peace negotiations since 1992. A psychological understanding of the conflict would create the possibility of finding a political framework that suited the respective peoples and their history.
The conference will meet again at 3 p.m. to continue its thematic debate and consider a final document with which to close the session.
The morning session considered the theme, "the peace process and challenges ahead". Participants were expected to address the following topics: enhancing prospects for peace by accepting the goals of the Road Map and the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative; the need to achieve a negotiated settlement of the conflict; and the importance of upholding international law, including United Nations resolutions.
Statements by Experts
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Head of the Political Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ramallah, said that the Gaza Strip was facing catastrophic times. That was not just a problem for the Palestinian people, but for anyone with a conscience. He was confounded by the cruelty one human being could inflict on another, one people on another. As for action, he urged that a strong voice was needed to call on Israel to restrain its attacks, including the ones that had not yet occurred. The Palestinian victims in the hospitals could not get the required oxygen or refrigerated medicines. The bomb victims, although fewer than 10, would likely grow in number. The Gaza Strip was crowded, and sometimes a single bullet hit more than one person, not to mention the gun ships and rockets, or the tanks massed at the international airport in Gaza, ready to move.
He said that all of that, however, would never prevent the Palestinians from seeking peace. The older generation of politicians, both in Israel and Palestine, realized that there could be no military solution; only peace would lead both peoples to live side by side, first as neighbours, and then as friends. The Israelis claimed that there was no Palestinian partner for peace. Two brave Israeli journalists had written a book called Boomerang, which had explained how Israeli security organs were filing faulty reports, claiming that Palestinians were seeking to destroy Israel and how they were no longer partners for peace. That book might have come too late, but it was still possible to solve the problem. However, the two sides could not do that by themselves. They needed third-party intervention and strong voices. The international community must not leave it to Israel whether to make peace or war.
Yesterday, a speaker had reported that in the month of June alone, 32 Palestinians had been killed in conflict-related deaths, and more than 100 had been wounded, and still others had been detained, he recalled. Israeli forces went about that business in daylight, sometimes disguised as Palestinians. If Palestinians did that in Israel, the reaction would be enormous. He wondered where those people who had a moral responsibility to uphold international law and morality were during the murder of Palestinians. He wondered where in the world a woman could be detained for six months without a trial, and even without formal charges. Those detainees now exceeded 3,000 people, and the total number of Palestinians in prison totalled more than 10,000.
He stressed that third-party intervention should be based on international law and United Nations resolutions, as well as on the Advisory Opinion of the ICJ on the building of the separation wall. After receiving a ruling by the Court that the wall's construction was illegal, Israel continued unabated to infringe on the rights of Palestinians, not by separating Palestinians from Israelis, but by separating Palestinians from Palestinians. Israel was gradually deteriorating into an apartheid regime, building roads used only by Israelis, while others were built for use by the Palestinians - and it was easy to recognize which was for which. The culture of peace did not start from "the barrel of the gun". It flowed from a mutual recognition that all people were human beings, first and foremost, and able to live with each other in peace and harmony.
COLETTE AVITAL, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Labour Party, Tel Aviv, said that many friends and colleagues had tried to dissuade her from coming to the Meeting. They felt that it might be another exercise in Israel-bashing. But, since she was inclined to take advantage of any meeting where she might meet her Palestinian colleagues, to search ways to "get us out of this mess", she had decided to attend. Admittedly, yesterday morning had not been easy for her, and she had regretted some of the statements she had heard. One country had denied Israel's existence altogether and had called for a conference of the "deniers of the holocaust". She saw first-hand the events in Israel. She saw Israelis killed by acts of terrorism, so to hear that Israelis were killers only was too much.
For a long time, she said, she had been part of the peace camp in Israel. She had fought against the occupation, not only because it was unethical to "occupy" another people, but because that occupation had inflicted a great deal of moral and public harm to even her own country. By fighting against the occupation, she had, at certain times, paid with her career. But, to make progress, it was very important to speak about both sides and to consider the events that had pushed people to despair.
Israelis had left the Gaza Strip 10 months ago with a great deal of pain and a high political price, which had included the breakdown of the Israeli political system. But, they had left because they felt it was the right thing to do, because the Israeli Prime Minister had said it was the right thing to do. Settlements had been dismantled, but in 10 months, not one day had passed when Israeli cities had not been attacked by rockets. In every situation, there were two sides to the story.
She said that it took a lot of courage and determination, and much trial and error, to get out of the mess. Considering the news today, the prevalent fear in Israel was that it might again faced renewed escalation, and yes, Israel was part of that escalation. There would be a rocket attack, and then Israel would retaliate, sometimes with excessive power, and then the other side attacked again. That was escalation. It should be clearly understood that Israeli disengagement had carried a 'heavy' price, and had left people miserable on both sides of the fence. That had paved the way for Hamas to win the elections this year.
Nevertheless, she said, progress had been made, in principle and in attitudes, although on the ground, the situation was much worse. By progress, she was referring to the fact that 70 per cent of Israelis in the past three years or so had said that the only solution was the two-State solution. That was indeed progress, because some years ago, maybe five per cent of Israelis had believed that. At the same time, however, developments on the ground had made that goal more difficult to achieve than in the past. The results of the last Palestinian elections, having been democratic, should be respected, but many Israelis and many Palestinians had seen the result as a setback. No one knew if and when there would be a change in attitude among the Hamas, so it was felt that the elections had taken the situation back some 20 years to a time when the Palestinians and Israelis had refused to negotiate. Oslo had been a major breakthrough because it had enunciated the basic principles. It was felt now, however, that everyone was "back to square one".
Regarding the so-called "prisoners document", she said it was important because of the position that the prisoners held in Palestinian society. In principle, it had enunciated a few welcome points. First, a division of responsibility had been set out between Hamas and Fatah. The latter had the responsibility of foreign affairs and negotiations, while Hamas would take over domestic affairs. That was a way for Hamas to circumvent the thorny issue of having to negotiate with Israel. The results of those negotiations could be submitted for public referendum. If and when such an agreement was reached, bringing it to the public would be a very good step. Most of the people who had elected the Hamas had probably done so, not because of external policies, but because of internal problems, such as corruption. Submitting an agreement concerning Israel to a public referendum might finally pave the way for a return to the peace process. As a member of the Parliament, she believed that Israel had a partner for peace in the Palestinians. Above all, it was important for both sides to understand each other's narrative, each other's claim to the land. Only when both sides acknowledged each other's pain would they be able to engage in negotiations.
HARALD HAAS, Senior Researcher, Institute for Strategic Research, Austrian National Defence Academy, said that the creation or "non-creation" of the Palestinian state was un0ique: it was supposed to be created under occupation, without control of its borders or airspace, with its citizens subjected to the control of an occupying country. Today's world and regional leaders had not yet rethought their traditional strategies and methods of conflict management. The most interesting question with regard to the conflict might be why it had been kept alive for more than half a century. No doubt, the best solution would be a mutually negotiated final status agreement guaranteeing Israel its security needs and creating a sovereign, independent and economically viable Palestinian State, internationally guaranteed.
He said that international law should make it quite easy to find and impose a final agreement. International law favoured the Palestinian cause, while condemning Israeli actions and policies. It also provided clear guidelines for a final settlement. Unfortunately, that did not help the United Nations Security Council impose its "Chapter VII" resolutions upon Israel. The sponsors of the so-called "Oslo Process", begun in September 1993, had had their own national interests at heart, and none of them really favoured a sovereign Palestinian state. That process had been doomed from the start because it ignored the fundamentally contradicting expectations of both parties, as well as the need to negotiate and agree on the most crucial contentious issues before signing. It had also failed to establish a global control regime to supervise the process. Most crucial of all, it had failed to fulfil the basic needs of the Palestinian masses, namely, socio-economic well-being and freedom from suppression.
In the years that followed, between 1994 and 2000, the process met a dead end, he recalled. The last promising mutual negotiation since then produced the Geneva Accord in 2003. That agreement had been the result of an unofficial peace initiative between Palestinian and Israeli politicians, and peace activists. Besides its imbalance in favour of Israel, the accord never received broad support among other side. New strategies for international actors in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would have to concentrate on bipartisan mediating efforts, leaving aside Western points of view, acknowledging the needs of both sides and challenging both sides, thereby creating symmetric relationships. A purely political point of view could not explain why both sides had so far been unable to negotiate a comprehensive and sustainable solution. It was imperative, therefore, to look deeper at the conflict's roots.
He said that approaches to a lasting peaceful solution of the Middle East conflict had so far failed, most likely because the roots of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had never been dealt with seriously, and approaches to the solution touched only the surface of the conflict. The ongoing war between the two peoples was an inevitable result of many reasons, including the psychological burdens both peoples had been carrying with them for more than half a century and their effects on the interactions between them. Feelings of guilt, shame and humiliation were handed down from one generation to the next because the terrible events that both peoples had suffered had not been fully addressed. Trauma existed latently over generations and flared up if triggered by even small events. That led to violent conflict.
The psychological burdens were manifold, and collective trauma on both sides was one of the main problems, he said. Collective trauma, which had been transferred from generation to generation and had been re-enacted again and again up to the present, had also been influencing Palestinian-Israeli negotiations since 1992. The basis for mutual peace negotiations should be mutual understanding, but that could only be achieved if both sides came to terms and coped with their respective history and trauma. Coping with the psychological wounds of as many people as possible on both sides might lead to coping with the psychological wounds of the two nations, leading to a sustainable peace among them. In other words, a basic psychological understanding of the conflict would create the possibility of finding a political framework, which suited the respective peoples and their history.
That approach would lead away from the policy of usual mutual accusations and lead to insight, he said. The approach would also show that, for the time being, both the Palestinians and the Israelis were "simply incapable of negotiating successfully with each other". Both the psychological and political reasons for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict interfered with each other, and neither could be solved apart from the other. Unfortunately, however, "it is not possible to put a whole people on the couch". Without undergoing a process of internal, as well as cross-border reconciliation, no sustainable and lasting peace would be possible; formal agreements and treaties alone could not solve the problem. Palestinians, as well as Israelis, would have to accept their fate as well as their history. Both had to acknowledge the other's suffering, as well as their own responsibilities. And, both would have to understand each other. Israel would have to formally apologize to the Palestinian people for what it had been doing to them up to now.
Decision-makers and negotiators should be enabled to cope with their own trauma and strains, lest they act out of their own history and remain trapped in the past, he continued. Secondly, the negotiations required a neutral control regime and neutral supervision. Thirdly, although the talks should be guided by the principle of equality, one must not ignore the fact that the impact of the ongoing conflict on the two sides was a different one. Pre-negotiations meetings for Palestinian and Israeli decision-makers and negotiators should be held to eliminate obstacles and guarantee lasting success. The possibility of involving high-ranking decision-makers in such a process, however, was not very high. Thus, security should be provided from the outside by impartial international actors. Again, that would need time, a lot of time, and it might take another generation to see the fruits of such a process.
Traditional methods of conflict management applied by the United States and the European Union with respect to conflict resolution in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had so far failed, he went on. Thus, those actors should rethink the dominant traditional paradigms and conventional wisdom about conflict management. So far, neither the United States nor the European Union had proven to be an impartial mediator. The United States was traditionally an advocate for Israeli interests. The current Republican administration combined solidarity with Christian religious fundamentalism, thus supporting Israel uncritically. The United States "pretended to be an honest broker" in the region, but in fact, it was a "conflict party". It might be honest and fruitful to consider the United States an ally of Israel, to deny it participation as a mediating party, but to involve it actively at a stage when international security guarantees were needed, before and after concluding a final status agreement.
He said that the European Union was also not an impartial broker. Officially, the Union had promoted democracy and Western standards in Palestine. Officially, it unreservedly condemned terrorism, violence or incitement. Terrorist attacks against Israel had no justification whatsoever, and the Union had included Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other armed Palestinian groups in its list of banned terrorist organizations. The Union recognized Israel's right to protect its citizens from those attacks and urged the Palestinian National Authority to show determination in the fight against extremist violence and to confront individuals and groups conducting and planning terrorist attacks. When it came to Israeli occupation and aggression, however, there was no condemnation; the Union did not urge Israel to fight against and disarm its armed forces and settlers.
Instead, he said, the European Union rather mildly called for further Israeli steps, including the freezing of settlement activities and dismantling of settlement outposts, and Israeli abstention from measures that were not in accordance with international law, including extrajudicial killings and collective punishment. Hamas' landslide election victory in January 2006 had shocked the Union, and shortly thereafter, it got tougher on the Palestinians. In short, the Union acted asymmetrically by favouring one side, the Israeli one, thereby prolonging a victim-perpetrator scheme. The Union should follow a twofold path: to negotiate with President Abbas; and to channel aid through non-governmental organizations. The United Nations should undertake the following: let Hamas prove its capabilities with regard to establishing a clean and effective administration; seek to establish peace and security within Palestine; convince Hamas to maintain the unofficial ceasefire towards Israel; and force Israel to refrain from any violence against Palestinians.
In general, the European Union, besides the United Nations, seemed to be the most capable mediator in the conflict because its interest in the region aimed at creating peace and stability on a sustainable and strategic level, he noted.
In principle, there was no need for the international community to deal with Hamas too much since those who insisted on commitment to previous agreements must know that those stated that any Palestinian administration was not allowed to establish and keep up formal foreign relations. Only the Palestine Liberation Organization was entitled to do so. The question was which framework should be used as a basis for future negotiations -- the Road Map or the Arab Peace Initiative. The former path appeared to be, not only insufficient for paving the way towards a comprehensive Middle East peace but even contradicted the requirements for such a way forward. The Road Map, for example, sought a return to the situation that had led to the outbreak of the intifadah, and it had been based on a speech of an ally of Israel. Although the Road Map called for a "fair" solution to the refugee problem, it avoided any mention of international law guaranteeing the right of return as a base for the Road Map, thus weakening the Palestinian position. Moreover, it contained no objective criteria for compliance or non-compliance.
He said that the Arab Peace Initiative, on the other hand, had been created by local actors and was not a Western product. It was balanced, and it was flexible with regard to the return of refuges to what was now Israel -- the one Palestinian right that would never be implemented. In addition, the Initiative offered the historic chance for a comprehensive peaceful settlement of the conflict.
In conclusion, he said there was "no reason to be optimistic about a quick and lasting peaceful solution". There was also no reason to believe that, at present, negotiations between the two peoples might produce a fruitful result. So far, the knowledge about the "unconscious psychological mechanisms" had not had a substantial influence on politics, diplomacy and political sciences. Successful talks should meet the following requirements: careful preparation and knowledge of all parties involved; elimination of all imbalances; impartiality from the outside, in order to avoid victim-perpetrator schemes; and provision of a conflict manager from the outside for human beings trapped in their pasts. Europe, having experienced decades of peace and prosperity, should be able and willing to act as an impartial broker in the Middle East.
ANDREAS VAN AGT, Professor and former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, under the heading of "justice or jungle", said that it had been said several times at this meeting that it was being held almost on the eve of the second anniversary of the landmark ruling of the International Court of Justice. On 9 July 2004, the United Nations' judicial branch, responding to a request of the General Assembly for an advisory opinion, had ruled, among other things, that Israel's construction of the separation wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, was contrary to international law and that Israel was under an obligation to cease forthwith the building of the wall and to dismantle its structure immediately in the Occupied Territory. The Court had also obligated Israel to make reparation for all damages. And, it obligated States not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the wall's construction and not to render aid or assistance in maintenance of that situation.
Further, he recalled, the ruling had obligated all States parties to the 1949 Geneva Convention to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law. The ICJ further stated that Israel's policy of establishing settlements in the Occupied Territory was in breach of international law, a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In that context, the Court recalled Security Council resolution 465 (1980), which had called on States not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used in connection with settlements in the Occupied Territories. That resolution was not the only United Nations verdict or request ignored or dismissed by United Nations Member States. As of 1967, both the General Assembly and the Security Council had issued numerous resolutions calling on Israel, demanding or urging or requesting it, to end the occupation, but time and again, to no avail.
There was no contesting the fact that United Nations' authority, hence, its efficacy, was badly bruised when a Member State could persistently disregard its messages. Co-responsibility for that "disgraceful state of affairs" was Israel's protector, vested with veto power. European countries could also be blamed. They failed to take a firm stand on behalf of international law by not clearly dissociating themselves from their transatlantic ally. Europeans failed by shrinking from applying real political pressure on the adversary of the United Nations resolutions in question. If the European Union had "the spine to act", it would suspend implementation of the Association Agreement with Israel, which yielded Israel huge economic benefits.
He said that the record was appalling with respect to implementation of the ICJ ruling. The wall had not been dismantled and was steadily expanding, causing more damage to the Palestinians living in the area. Settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem had not been removed, but had hurriedly been enlarged. And, the occupation continued unabated. That was the "shocking picture of boundless disrespect for international law". Palestinians had been told, time and again, that they should not resort to violence. Israel had brushed aside the ICJ ruling, and so had the United States and the Europeans and others. All those countries that had dismissed the ruling had no moral ground on which to lecture Palestinians to renounce violence, for they themselves had disregarded a ruling of the highest Court.
Some had argued that the ruling had been advisory and was, therefore, not binding, he noted. The ICJ had concluded that the obligations violated by the wall's construction were essentially imperative rules of international law, the existence of which could not be denied by any State. Those fundamental rules applied to Israel and other States, independently of the Court's opinion. That was why the General Assembly had voted overwhelmingly to demand that Israel and all other Member States comply with the legal obligations contained in that advisory opinion. The Assembly decided on 20 July 2004 to reconvene to assess implementation of its resolution. The time had come now for the Assembly to put the matter before the Security Council, requesting it to compel Israel to abide by its resolution. As European Union members had voted in favour of the Assembly's resolution, breaking ranks with the United States, they might be counted on to follow that up. In the event that they violated that logic, they would be showered with indignation and derision from all over the world.
A striking parallel to the case was that of Namibia, on the legal consequences of the continued presence of South Africa in that country, he recalled. The ICJ had found that South Africa was obligated to end its occupation in Namibia and that United Nations Member States should refrain from lending support or assistance to South Africa's presence in Namibia. The similarity was conspicuous with the present case in Palestine. In Namibia's case, the Security Council adopted resolutions calling on States to discourage their nationals and companies from dealing with South Africa. It was up to the Council now to follow the precedent it set in the Namibia case and take similar action as Israel continued to construct its illegal wall and continued enlarging its settlements.
Turning to the latest news, namely the "disaster" developing in the Gaza Strip, he said that the abduction of a member of an occupying army was indisputably legal and legitimate, according to international humanitarian law. Punishing the entire Gaza population was a grave violation of the Geneva Conventions, incontestably. The international community was under a legal, as well as a moral, obligation to rise to its feet now and take a firm stand to save international law from any more damage. The Security Council should speak out loudly and clearly. Incapacitating that body by using a veto right now would be no less than "morally despicable" and would deal another, very devastating blow to the United Nations' authority.
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