16 December 2005
Caracas Meeting Examines International Efforts to Achieve Settlement of Palestine Question
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
CARACAS, 14 December -- The Road Map ignored the huge power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians, Diana Buttu, adviser to the President of the Palestinian Authority, told the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on the Question of Palestine this morning in Caracas. It was a flawed document, which assumed equality between the parties and did not recognize that colonization and occupation had to be dealt with at the same time.
Ms. Buttu said the power balance could only be corrected by ending the colonization and occupation. Tiny steps would do nothing to change the situation.
Raymundo Kabchi, Professor at the Pedro Gual Institute of Higher Studies, said none of the resolutions calling for the reversal of the occupation had been implemented, while the reverse was true for resolutions adopted against any Arab or Muslim countries. Two different standards, based on the country involved, were used to measure the extent to which resolutions were implemented.
The coming elections in Israel would reflect which issue concerned Israelis most -- religion and State, war and peace or ethnic identity, Edy Kaufman said. The Co-chair of the Center for Research and Cooperation in Jerusalem, Mr. Kaufman said that if the subject of security and peace prevailed in the minds of the voters, they would most likely follow the leaders.
A representative of the Centre for African and Middle East Studies in Havana, Idalmis Brooks Beltran, stressed the importance of disseminating an objective awareness of the reality of the situation in the region. The distorted representation presented by the media never referred to the smooth process of Israeli repression, which was supported by its military potential to release violence.
Events in the Palestinian Territory today were not much different from what had happened in apartheid South Africa, the Vice-President of the General Union of Palestine Students in Santiago, said. The international community, however, had not reacted in the same way it had to the situation in South Africa.
Examining the state of international law, Victor de Currea-Lugo, international law expert, said that one failure of international law was that its structure invited impunity. It was difficult to explain to Palestinians that they had won in The Hague but lost in Gaza and the West Bank.
This afternoon, in Plenary III, a new panel of experts will consider support by Latin American and Caribbean countries for the realization by the Palestinian people of their inalienable rights through the United Nations. Issues to be explored are promoting support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people through the United Nations system, action by Latin American and Caribbean countries within the Non-aligned Movement, the Organization of American States, the Caribbean Community and other intergovernmental mechanisms and civil society initiatives in the region.
Plenary II: International efforts at achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine:
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.
DIANA BUTTU, Adviser to the President of the Palestinian Authority, said it was disheartening to see the construction of the wall and that nothing was happening on the ground to stop that activity. Some diplomats had told her that the Gaza disengagement was the best step to peace. The checkpoint she had to pass to get to her home, listening to an F-16 hovering over that home, several homes being bombed that evening and knowing that Palestinian fishermen could not go to sea, pointed to the irony of calling the disengagement a good step. A major problem was that the international community had never faced the problem dealing with both colonization and occupation at the same time. Disengagement was considered a positive step because it brought to a close one issue -- colonization -- in a small part of the country. It did not end occupation.
There had been a shift in the application of international law, she said. Rather than being firmly on the side of the Palestinian people, it leaned more towards balance. Law was not created in a vacuum but the shift would have detrimental consequences for Palestinians in the future. The settlements occupied large parts of the West Bank, and were connected to each other and to Israel by a series of roads. Palestinians needed permits to travel within the Palestinian Territory to get from one area to the next. Coupled with that was the wall, which was not built on the 1967 border. The town of Qalqilya, which sat atop a major water aquifer, used to be the most productive area, the major provider of agricultural produce for the entire West Bank. Palestinians who needed to travel only six kilometres to their fields needed a permit. Because of the permits, Palestinians in towns like Qalqilya could not access their own fields. Israeli law said that if land was not farmed for three years, Israel could confiscate the land. Preventing farmers from reaching their land was the first step in expropriating the land.
Describing the wall, she said it was either solid concrete or barbed wire and surrounded by trenches, military access roads, and electric wires. Anything in its path was demolished. The United States did not consider the wall controversial and despite the protests of the international community and the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), nothing was being done to stop its construction. When the wall was completed, more that 80 per cent of the settlements would stay where they were. The remaining 20 per cent would be on the other side of the wall, but those settlers were demanding that they be included inside the wall. It was time for the international community to step forward and act to stop the process.
She said the Road Map was a flawed document, which assumed that there was no occupation or colonization, and that there was equality between the parties, ignoring the huge power imbalance between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That power balance could only be corrected by ending the colonization and occupation. Tiny steps would do nothing to change the situation.
RAYMUNDO KABCHI, Professor, Pedro Gual Institute of Higher Diplomatic Studies, Caracas, said he was concerned about the ideas that had produced the Wall of Shame. What could other historical tyrants like Hitler have done differently? What could one do to make others aware of the situation? He sought a reaction from participations by posing a scenario in which he might denounce Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims for having forcefully occupied foreign territories in southern Lebanon, the Golan Heights, built the Wall of Shame at the expense of human rights, committed genocide in Sabra and Shatila; massacred and destroyed helpless people in Fallujah and other cities and deliberately erased vestiges of civilizations that used to flourish in the area. He listed a number of violations of international law and human rights that had been met with impunity and ascribed them to the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim terrorists.
He said that in 1947 the United Nations had adopted a resolution for two States on one land. In less than five minutes, the civilized world, excluding the Asian, African and Arab countries, had recognized the State of Israel. In subsequent years, none of the resolutions calling for the reversal of the occupation had been implemented. The reverse was true for resolutions adopted against any Arab or Muslim countries. Two different standards, based on the country involved, were used to measure the extent to which resolutions were implemented. Calling for compliance with and implementation of the resolutions for the Palestinians, he said that emptying the resolutions of their content of peace and justice turned them into an empty shell.
Regarding the right to return, he said, Palestinians who did not wish to return must be compensated. A lasting peace could not succeed if it was not built on justice. The Road Map had done nothing. The Wall of Shame had split families and homes and the international community had not lifted a finger. The victims were presented as perpetrators. Those who said they upheld the values of humanity were in fact the perpetrators and violators of human rights.
EDY KAUFMAN, Co-Chair, Center for Research and Cooperation, Jerusalem and Co-Chairman of the Palestinian/Israeli Human Rights Committee, said that analyzing historic processes revealed periods of continuity and periods of change. Now was a time of change. The question was whether it was taking place at the level of leadership or the level of public opinion. Leadership could make the difference in Israel now, here Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his opponent, Amir Peretz, were in favour of the processes under way. One hoped that in the case of Peretz there would be no change in his ideology despite the change in the Labour party. Changes in public opinion were also important. In the past election, the floating vote had been an unprecedented high of 10 per cent. The final competition would be between Sharon and Peretz. What happened in the next few months could decide the future policy towards the Palestinian people.
He said the vote would reflect which issue concerned Israelis most -- religion and State, war and peace or ethnic identity. If the subject of security and peace prevailed, voters would most likely follow the leaders. Paradoxically, while everyone was talking about security, a majority on both sides -- 70 per cent -- accepted the idea of mutual recognition of the State of Palestine, the two-State approach not based on coexistence but on separation. After Camp David, 75 per cent of the people had thought there was a chance for peace. Now, while there was a will for peace, only a small minority thought there would be peace in this generation. In an election where peace would be the main issue, the large floating vote would tend to vote for the strongest leader. Currently that would be Sharon. In the past, violence before the election had changed the outcome of the vote.
With regard to public opinion, he said the broad view supported a more egalitarian society. The majority supported Peretz on social issues, but only 10 per cent would vote for him. Based on his own background, Peretz could connect with the subject of poverty and link the social divides with the investment in the settlements, thereby gaining votes. The poor, intellectual leaders, marginal populations, Arabs and the young would support him. The fact that the present leaders were octogenarians was in his favour. Still, to win he would have to have Sharon's support. If he played his cards right and there was no violence there was a chance for change. If Sharon won, he believed that military power was the deciding factor. He might want to change the demography and the topography of the land. He believed that in the next 40 years, the Palestinians would resign themselves to the border at the wall. However, without East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State, there was no chance for peace.
IDALMIS BROOKS BELTRAN, Researcher, Centre for African and Middle East Studies, Havana, said that after the Madrid Conference the peace process had run into difficulties and had ultimately reached a dead end. The Latin American countries had supported United Nations resolutions in an effort to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and there had been an increase in contacts between the two regions.
She said it was important to disseminate an objective awareness of the reality of the situation in the region. The distorted representation presented by the media never referred to the smooth process of Israeli repression, which was supported by its military potential to release violence. She called for a linkage between academies and institutions to transmit unbiased information. Academics should develop a method to include information about the Arab-Israeli situation in the educational institutions. They must publicize the outcome of the conflict from the point of view of the social cost.
In Cuban academic societies, she said, an effort was made to provide an objective view and support inalienable rights and the search for a negotiated solution. They hoped to provide an assessment of the domestic situation and to disseminate information about the Palestinian population. They worked with media to provide information. The Cuban Government had promoted a number of resolutions to support the Palestinians. There was a need to mobilize world public opinion in the direction of solidarity with the Palestinian people and to demand that the United Nations bring about compliance with its resolution. The international community must also demand an end to violent action and call for peace negotiations to be resumed within the United Nations and under United Nations auspices. It must support any proposal to bring an end to violence in the Middle East.
XAVIER ABU EID, Vice-President, General Union of Palestine Students, Santiago, said the need to achieve peace was an imperative. Different initiatives had attempted to bring together the parties to the conflict but they had not changed the status of the people. Palestinians were not only unequal to Israel in economic terms but Israel was also supported by United States veto power. Events today in the Palestinian Territory were not much different from what had happened in apartheid South Africa but the international community had not reacted in the same way as it had to the situation in South Africa. The idea of normalizing relations with Israel had been hailed as a first step but United Nations resolutions seemed not to affect Israel at all. With the lack of coerciveness in the General Assembly, the situation in the Palestinian Territory worsened day by day. The attitude of the Quartet was completely passive.
He said it was a question of building bridges that united rather than walls that divided. There had been no punishment for violations. The conflict was not between equal parties. There was never talk of disarming Israeli settlers on Palestinian Territory. Palestinian security was never dealt with despite many Palestinians being killed and homes destroyed. Peace could not be created out of nothing but on the basis of concrete deeds. The international community was asking Palestinians to accept faits accompli. The tragedy of the refugees worsened every day. The situation of injustice was clear: Israel, which considered itself a democracy, considered a Jew who resided elsewhere to be more a citizen than an Arab citizen who lived in Israel.
The rich Jewish cultural tradition could not see itself represented in an occupation army, he said. Palestinian children did not have a dream of a good life. The military occupation had no respect for the smallest of them. President Mahmoud Abbas had called for negotiations on the status of education. The response was the building of the wall and more prisons. Such a policy destroyed any idea of a two-State solution. To strengthen the role of the United Nations and the Quartet in achieving peace, the occupying Power must comply with the resolutions.
VICTOR DE CURREA-LUGO, expert in international law, Lund, Sweden, said it was difficult to be optimistic about the state of international law, which needed real mechanisms to guarantee its implementation and prevent the impunity of criminals. In view of the constant disregard for international law in the Palestinian Territory, the United Nations, while it did have the primary responsibility to enforce international law, had failed to discharge its responsibility in that regard. International law should be the focal element of the debate. Israeli domestic law denied the Palestinian people their rights by refusing the applicability of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and by creating a body of rules to legalize the lack of rights of the Palestinians. It guaranteed systematic impunity to those responsible for violations of Palestinian rights, considered administrative detention legal and even applied it to children. Israeli Basic Law proclaimed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
United Nations resolutions were a ritual, he said. One after the other was adopted, with the Advisory Opinion becoming part of the list of meaningless United Nations resolutions. The Advisory Opinion was not prepared for non-governmental organizations or civil society but was addressed to the States. Treaties without a sword remained mere words. A failure of international law was that its structure invited impunity. It was difficult to explain to Palestinians that they had won in The Hague but lost in Gaza and the West Bank. Regarding international humanitarian law, he said, many examples illustrated the failure to guarantee humanitarian action and access to Palestinian victims. The Palestinian Red Crescent could only answer 10 per cent of the emergency calls it received. The application of international humanitarian law did not even require the end of the occupation. It only required political will to guarantee humane conditions.
The situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory was a disaster, he said. The perpetrators of human rights violations were not only the Israeli Defence Force but also the settlers. In the so-called negotiations and the peace processes, human rights and international law were excluded from most of the proposals and agreements. The failure of the Advisory Opinion was the failure of the United Nations. The Secretary-General had proposed a register of damages but that attempt had failed because Israel had modified its Compensation Law in order to prevent Palestinians from asking for any kind of compensation. More needed to be done to stop the building of the wall. Of 191 parties to the Geneva Convention, none had reacted to end the grave violations. How did one explain to the Palestinians that international law was on their side but the United Nations was not? What was at stake was international law as an institution.
* *** *