15 June 2001


Participants Examine UN Activities Regarding Question of Palestine

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

HAVANA, 13 June -- Speakers at the United Nations and Latin American and Caribbean meeting on the question of Palestine in Havana this morning focused on "Upholding international legitimacy -– the path to a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the conflict".

Participants addressed issues such as the resolutions and decisions of the United Nations and the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine. Speakers also discussed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and actions by the Israeli peace camp.

Several speakers called attention to the need to set up an international observer force to protect and monitor the human rights of Palestinians and called on the international community to support the establishment of such a force.

The representative of Iran spoke. The Ambassador of Palestine to Brazil, Musa Amer Odeh, made a presentation.

Statements were also made by two representatives of the Centre for Studies on Africa and Middle East, Havana, Idalmis Brooks and Olga Ruffins Machin; Visiting Scholar, Columbia University, New York, Andelfo Garcia; Professor of Political Science, Haifa University, Ilan Pappe; Director for Contemporary Arab- Islamic Studies, University of Chile, Eugenio Chahuan Chahuan; and International Legal Officer for the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, Dianne Luping.

The two-day meeting, sponsored by the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, will hold its third plenary session this afternoon when it will take up the question of international support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.


Upholding International Legitimacy –-
Path to Comprehensive, Just and Lasting Solution of the Conflict

IDALMIS BROOKS, Researcher, Centre for Studies on Africa and the Middle East, Havana, said Jewish settlements were a hindrance to the negotiation of a solution to the Middle East conflict. Despite the call for a ban on the creation of new settlements or expansion of old ones, there was no control over the increase in Israeli settlements. In actuality, there had been an incredibly rapid increase in the number of settlers -- 8 per cent in one year. The Israelis reserved the right to meet the growth needs of the existing settlers. The term "natural growth" covered up more ambitious projects to stifle the increase of autonomous territory, making it easy to repress the Palestinian people. There was clear evidence that Israel maintained effective control over the Palestinians. The occupied territories had become a bundle of knots of isolated territories, allowing for violent military attacks and incidents of violence by settlers against Palestinians. If the current trend continued, many more lives would be lost.

She said the question of natural resources basically involved the control of water. Israel diverted 500 million cubic metres of water, while allowing only 218 metres annually per capita to Palestinians. Accordingly, water resources were a source of conflict and an obstacle to negotiation. The most controversial water issue was in the city of Hebron.

She said the United Nations had often condemned settlements, given the current violence by Israel and the contravention of the Geneva Convention of 1949. Today, the international community was also discussing the need to protect Palestinian civilians. Yet, the Israeli Government had plans for new settlements. The Sharon Government had spoken about dismantling settlements in the occupied territories, but he would do everything to avoid any dismantlement. Only a change in policy could bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The Mitchell Report had to be implemented to avoid further loss of life.

MUSA AMER ODEH, Ambassador of Palestine to Brazil, said the right of return was an individual and collective right enshrined in the United Nations Charter and specifically reiterated by United Nations resolutions. Volumes of resolutions called on Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian occupied territory, including Jerusalem; denounced Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights, the use of collective punishment, land confiscation, and control of natural resources; and condemned Israeli settlements activity. The question of Palestine was the longest outstanding issue on the agenda of the United Nations. The United Nations had the greatest role to play in bringing the occupation to an end. Advocating the notion that ending Israel’s occupation should be a matter resolved between the two parties would mean giving Israel the upper hand. Ten years of negotiations had demonstrated that Israel adhered not to the terms of reference agreed on at the Madrid Conference, but to its own preconditions.

How could the international community accept, encourage and sometimes sponsor mass Jewish immigration to Israel, while allowing Israel to reject Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes and properties? he asked. Palestinians had the deeds and keys to their homes and properties, but were denied their right to return home. The right of return was a basic inalienable right that was not diminished by the passage of time or the change in the political situation in the refugee’s country of origin. Likewise, self-determination was a legal right as stated in the Charter. No measure of brutal force or political coercion had ever diminished the inalienable right of a people to self-determination. The Israeli policy of building and expanding settlements would not give them legal status. There was no question about the illegality of occupation and the policies and practices of the occupiers. What was lacking was the will to empower and enable the Palestinian people to regain and practice their rights.

He said a mechanism was needed to ensure an end to the hesitant and apologetic approaches and reluctance of the international community to describe and condemn Israel’s occupation for what it really was. Urgent and long overdue action was needed to ensure Israel’s compliance with international legitimacy. Finding excuses and justifications and granting immunity to aggressors and occupiers only led to chaos in the world order.

ANDELFO GARCIA, Visiting Scholar, Columbia University, said that with the Middle East process at a crossroads, the United Nations could act as a catalyst through the efforts of its various organs. The position repeatedly expressed by the General Assembly that the United Nations had a permanent responsibility concerning the question of Palestine, until the question was resolved, was more valid now than ever.

Reviewing United Nations activity on the question of Palestine dating back to beginning of the Organization, he said it was both important and necessary that the General Assembly continue to provide political support for the resumption of the peace process. In general, the Organization, including organs such as the Commission on Human Rights, should continue to monitor developments in the situation. The ideal solution, however, would be for the Security Council to discharge fully the mandate entrusted to it under the Charter and take effective action such as that contained in the 23 March proposal by the Non-Aligned Movement caucus. The draft resolution presented to the Security Council called for the establishment of a United Nations military and police observer force in the occupied territories. The proposed force would help to implement the Sharm el-Sheik undertakings, secure an end to the violence and guarantee the security of Palestinian civilians. The veto, however, made it difficult for the Council to act forcefully, if at all.

Under those circumstances, he continued, the role of the Secretary-General was particularly important. In today’s unipolar international system, the Secretary-General, with his moral authority and international standing, was destined to play an increasing role in monitoring the peace process and in helping to overcome the obstacles in its path. Those obstacles would have to be dealt with as the international community got closer to tackling the substantive problems that remained outstanding. The active role of the Secretary-General must be developed and decisively expanded. In addition, the activities of the Palestine Rights Committee needed to be strengthened, particularly in regions such as Latin America. He noted that the position of most Latin American countries was expressed by the Rio Group in October 2000 in excessively moderate terms. That highlighted the need for a more active and determined diplomatic and public information effort in the region to avoid governments and pubic opinion in those countries becoming hardened to the situation prevailing in the occupied territories.

ILAN PAPPE, Professor of Political Science, Haifa University, said there was not much remaining of the Israeli left which, for the most part, was represented currently by the Peace Now movement. For the members of the Peace Now movement, peace and reconciliation meant the mutual recognition of the separate national narratives of the two sides without conflict. According to Peace Now, the way to achieve that would be to divide everything that was visible -- land, resources, blame and history -- into a pre-1967 era when Jews were "Right and Just" and post-1967 when Palestinians were the victims. From that perspective, victimhood could also be divided into those two historical periods. Such a division was important because being "Just" in the pre-1967 period justified the existence of Zionism and the whole Jewish project in Palestine. It obliterated any discussion of the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Jews in 1948, the destruction of 400 Palestinian villages and neighbourhoods, the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians and the massacre of several thousand civilians.

On the other side, he said, the Palestinian narrative was that of suffering, reconstructed on the basis of oral history. In that narrative, Zionism or Israel was the absolute evil. How could that image be divided in the business-like approach to peace preached by the Israeli peace camp? he asked. Practically speaking, the peace camp had refused to listen to voices that told them that that kind of approach would not contribute to the end of the conflict. The movement’s main problem was the agreement of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to cooperate in the Oslo Accord. The peace camp read that consent as an acceptance of the Zionist left’s interpretation of the reality.

Could the younger generation offer hope? he asked. The way the present system worked in shaping youngsters’ perceptions and attitudes did not offer hope. They were in the hands of public educators who helped to construct and preserve a national narrative that eliminated the collective Palestinian memory. That elimination was not less violent than expulsion and destruction. It was the main element in the construction of the collective Jewish identity and manifested in the tales of child minders, curriculum and textbooks, graduation ceremonies and the print and electronic media. It was mostly evident in Israeli academia, a situation that required non-partisan scholars to rethink about their relationship with an academia that supported oppression, occupation and discrimination. The Israeli non-Zionist left was a small constituency in Jewish society and relied heavily on the Palestinian minority in Israel.

The representative of Iran said a new atmosphere had been created in the occupied territories. Any move that did not meet the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians was doomed. Issues related to Palestine were getting more complicated and indicated that the approaches of the past decade were wrong. A new approach was needed. All citizens of Palestine had inalienable rights, including the right of return. His Government had held an important conference of solidarity with the Palestinian people. The conference had condemned the organized crimes of the Israeli regime and reaffirmed the establishment of an independent state of Palestine. The international community should call on Israel to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.

EUGENIO CHAHUAN CHAHUAN, Director for Contemporary Arab-Islamic Studies, University of Chile, referring to the words of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, said one does not look back at past crimes because one continued to live in the present time. Individual and collective memory was capable of recalling the heroic existence of Palestine. Those words reflected the sentiments of the Palestinian people. He said he could review the accumulation of resolutions referring to the question Palestine, but it was clear that international law was on the side of the Palestinian people. They had given up 72 per cent of their demands in their attempt to achieve peace, but the other side had not given up on their conditions.

Unfortunately, he said, the entity responsible for ensuring the compliance with international law was allied with the other side. After 53 years of resistance and exile, the Palestinian people, as a national entity, had to seek a way of promoting compliance with international law. The panellists had exhaustively reviewed figures and data concerning the systematic violation of Palestinian rights. Such analyses, however, did not curb the actions of the occupying Power. Such actions were favoured by the way in which the Israeli Government had interpreted the Oslo accords.

The international community must move from evaluation and analyses to more effective action. The Palestinian people were being subjected on a daily basis to martyrdom. As Darwish had said, the intifada yesterday and today was the legitimate expression against slavery, the dirtiest form of apartheid which sought to dispossess the Palestinians of their lands until the day their State would be referred to as a cage.

OLGA RUFFINS MACHIN, Researcher, Centre for Studies on Africa and the Middle East, Havana, said the Arab-Israeli conflict was one of the most complex and long- lasting issues in modern history. It went beyond the regional context. Solutions proposed in recent years were open to different interpretations. The United Nations had the major responsibility for a solution since the background for the issue was Security Council resolution 181 (1947). The Israeli policy had been always geared toward expansion. The Madrid peace conference was an important first step in the peace process but today, while the international community was still discussing solutions, the region was faced with a crisis. Meanwhile, more Palestinian people died and suffered.

There was still no solution with a guarantee of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, she said. The Israeli army continued to violate agreements signed with the Palestinian Authority. Although many analysts had dealt with the 1991 agreement, there had been a lack of political will on the part of successive Israeli Governments. There was a need to analyze what had been happening in the negotiations. Was it possible that Israel now had the political will for peace? she asked. She thought not. Through all the years the international community had witnessed the arbitrary actions of Israel. Yet, the slow route of the peace process had had tangible results, including the fall of the Barak government, division within the Labour Party and the coming to power of the Likud Party. Israel could never have stability unless it respected its agreements. There was barely any culture of peace left in the country. The overwhelming majority was locked into its own concept of what was national security. There could not be stability unless there was a viable Palestinian State.

The Palestinian people had a right to enjoy their inalienable rights on the basis of a global approach, she said. The Israeli Government had demonstrated that it was determined to avoid at any cost the establishment of a Palestinian State. More than ever before, there was a need for greater United Nations participation and the support of regional groups. She urged the Palestinian Rights Committee to step up its activities. The credibility of the international community demanded that the Organization provide a solution to the question of Palestine and support to the Palestinian people. The United States had said it wanted to distance itself from the Middle East problem, but it was bound to live up to its commitment to Israel. The United Nations must focus on promoting concrete solutions that were monitored and observed to ensure that they were implemented. The issue was to save a people.

DIANNE LUPING. International Law Legal Officer for the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, said that she was the only participant coming from the occupied territories. She had been allowed to leave because she was a foreigner. She said Israel’s campaign had moved from closures and curfews to a state of siege. Tanks had been installed at most entrances of towns and villages. Since May, the imprisonment had spread further. Some towns had literally been locked up with keys to town gates being held by Israeli soldiers. More than 1 million Palestinians were living under the poverty line. The forecast was that the most destitute would soon start to starve if their situation was not alleviated.

She said that, in addition to Israeli sniper attacks, there had been regular bombing attacks against homes, hospitals and civilians. There were incidences of wilful killing. A large proportion of the wounded would be permanently disabled. Sharon’s policy of further massacres loomed in the future. She appealed for the establishment of a protection force. In addition to considering the issues inside the occupied territories, the international community must consider the issues faced by all Palestinians wherever they might be. All had a shared experience of victimization and a shared history. Palestinian refugees were the only refugee group that was not living under the official protection of the United Nations. Forcible evictions had created a minority within Israel which was subjected to various forms of discrimination. The wider international community had not recognized the twin discriminatory systems of colonialism and the Israeli brand of apartheid.

She called for a truly democratic State of Israel with a Palestinian State existing along side of it. Israel’s policy of segregation and domination fulfilled the definition of apartheid aimed at making greater territorial gains and driving out the Palestinians. She asked the international community to join Palestinians in their fight against colonialism and apartheid. She suggested that the international community impose the sanctions and embargoes that brought South Africa to the negotiating table.

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