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5 Jun, 2012

Call for Different Kind of Diplomacy to Resolve Palestine Conflict


PARIS, (UN Department of Public Information) 31 May 2012 — The need to change the Israeli mindset towards Palestinians, dismantle Israeli settlements, apply rights-based diplomacy to end the conflict, and better coordinate civil society and United Nations efforts on the ground took centre stage as the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine concluded this afternoon in Paris. (Click here for original source of this dispatch).

Entitled “The role of the international community, in particular the United Nations and Civil Society”, the session was the last in the two-day Paris meeting, convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which aimed to mobilize international support for youth and women’s initiatives for achieving a peaceful end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Addressing the afternoon plenary session were Tal Harris, Executive Director of the Tel Aviv-based One Voice Israel; Phyllis Bennis, Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies and a member of the United States Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation; Rutie Atsmon, co-founder and Director of Windows: Channels for Communication based in Tel Aviv and Ramallah; Shifa Jayousi, Programme Officer of the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) in Jerusalem; and Fadwa Khawaja Al-Shaer, Ramallah-based Director General of the NGO (non-governmental organization) Department of the Ministry of the Interior of the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Harris said that the organization One Voice, with offices in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, maintained its support for full Palestinian membership in the United Nations and the two-State solution. As an Israeli, he did not share his Government’s view that Palestinian statehood would threaten Israel’s security. On the contrary, statehood was a prerequisite for it. Most Israelis and Palestinians were political moderates, but a violent fundamentalist minority in Israel was taking the lead. The YESHA Council, a major fundamentalist group, repeatedly pushed the Israeli Parliament and Government to enact and implement settlement expansion policies. It was working hard to sacrifice the future in the name of its maximalist interpretation of history.

One Voice was working to prevent Israel from turning into an apartheid and bi-national State, both of which violated basic human and civil values and the principle of self-determination, he said. It was working with Palestinian partners, who supported pragmatic Palestinian leaders like President Mahmoud Abbas, to monitor what Israel was doing and not doing to secure a two-State solution with mutually agreed land swaps. One Voice was not alone in Israel; 55 members of the 120-member Israeli Knesset supported the two-State solution. Hundreds of Israeli youth activists were working directly with almost 40 of those 55 members.

Together, they were confronting a bid by Knesset member Zevulun Orlev, set to be put to a vote this week, to legalize all illegal Israeli outposts in the West Bank before the order by Israel’s Supreme Court to dismantle those outposts took effect in the coming months. On Sunday, youth activists from across Israel would gather in front of the Israeli Prime Minister’s house to set up their own “illegal outpost”. They would also post signs across Jerusalem calling on Israel’s Prime Minister, Defense Minister and the head of the Kadima faction Mofaz to prevent the legalization of the outposts, as well as make hundreds of phone calls urging other Israelis to lobby for the same. “If YESHA Council and the far right want to legalize settlements let them begin with settlements in front of their own homes in proper Israel,” he said.

Similarly, Ms. Atsmon said she was participating in the meeting because “I would not and could not see the Palestinians as my enemy”. Her group, Windows: Channels for Communication, comprised Israeli Jews, Palestinians who were Israeli citizens and Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Its aim was to end the occupation and enable both sides to live together in dignity. For generations, Israelis had been raised to believe the whole world was against them, that the occupied land was theirs alone, and that all of Israel’s actions against the Palestinians were in self-defence. Many Israeli youth were unaware of the grave injustice against the Palestinian people; most of the Israeli public had not even heard of the Arab League’s peace plan.

Bringing together youth from both sides of the conflict enabled Israeli teenagers to break free from that perpetual cycle, and understand that the security they desired could only be achieved through a true rights-based peace, she said. It helped them understand the national, economic and cultural oppression of Palestinian society. At the same time, Palestinian youth learned that portions of the Israeli public supported Palestinian rights and aspirations. Together, the children were taught coping skills and how to work together to end the occupation. Their exchanges and shared information on such issues of concern as releasing prisoners, recruitment of youth to the Israeli army, and violent and non-violent struggle were published in a joint magazine.

Moreover, Windows: Channels for Communication worked to help teenagers understand the international community’s role in the conflict, and not be swayed by those with negative interests, she said. That included the financial interests of weapons manufactures that profited from the conflict, Governments that had influenced it from its early stages, diasporas advocating for the complete defeat of the other side, and international organizations, which, despite good intentions did not always know what to do.

In her talk, Ms. Bennis pointed to the failed international diplomacy over the decades to bring peace with justice to the region. The United Nations role in the Quartet, which was largely controlled by the United States, had done great damage to the Organization’s role in the region. Most United Nations resolutions often did not make it to the floor; those that were passed were almost never implemented. That failure had delegitimized the United Nations in the eyes of the Arab world and within civil society. She urged delegates to consider the 2006 speech before the General Assembly of Brazil’s President, which had acknowledged the failure of the global North’s role in diplomacy and called for the global South to replace it. When traditional diplomacy failed, it was civil society’s job to take up initiatives.

She said it was important to acknowledge that the peace talks had failed, and to develop an entirely different kind of diplomacy, centred on a rights-based approach. Moreover, United States policy must change. This year, while the United States economy was faltering, its Government had added $1 billion to its $3.1 billion in annual aid to the Israeli military. A new United States law required the United States administration to protect the Israeli Government from being held accountable in the United Nations for violating international law. The obstacles were even greater when United Nations officials were directly recruited from the United States Administration.

“The United Nations can do very little without the support of its Member States, so we as civil society need to call them out, and not allow the United Nations to be dominated by one Power,” she said. The Organization’s de-legitimization was due to its collaboration with the United States. The United Nations Charter began with “We the peoples” not “We the Governments”. Civil society must challenge how the veto power in the Security Council was used.

She pointed to growing civil society action to end the occupation and human rights violations against Palestinians, such as the hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners, protests against the separation wall, the Russell Tribunal and the World Social Forum Free Palestine to be held in Brazil in September. Moreover, United States public opinion was shifting towards rights and peace. The United States Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation advocated for boycotting Israeli products and divesting from and imposing sanctions on Israel. Growing civil movements in the United States, such as Jewish Voices for Peace, spoke out against the occupation. Sixty-three per cent of United States’ Democrats believed the Israeli settlements were built on illegally expropriated land.

Ms. Jayousi centred her talk on the need to engage civil society in the United Nations work, particularly since the Organization did not have the financial and human resources to alone respond to the needs of Palestinian women and youth. More than 25 United Nations agencies were working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to address challenges facing young people to employment, education, financing, coordination and freedom of movement. A major concern was the “brain drain” of Palestinians to other markets due to the lack of jobs at home. Palestinians also faced difficulty in dealing with an inadequate education system, despite private and international investment. The lack of financing for projects was creating donor-driven interventions and competition among civil society organizations for money for their respective activities.

Fragmentation and a lack of coordination and networking among various groups were also problematic, she said. There was little information about what group was doing what and with whom, as well as a lack of transparency, accountability and responsiveness to constituencies. The key was for civil society organizations to interact in a way that made their input at the United Nations more effective and in the service of Palestinian society’s basic needs. The Organization could and should do its part by working with civil society groups to clearly define a shared set of underlying principles, enabling frameworks, goals and operational systems for partnerships.

Ms. Khawaja Al-Shaer said there were more than 4,000 non-governmental organizations registered in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and 200 organizations registered with the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Interior. Another 450 had been de-registered for failing to represent their stated mandates or for serving as covers for other causes. Civil society organizations frequently complained that international organizations weakened the role of women’s and other civil society groups as well as used these groups to export and implement their own strategies. International organizations were also criticized for monopolizing areas in which local institutions were highly competent, weakening their power and ability.

Moreover, United Nations agencies either had weak coordination on the ground or did not coordinate their projects at all with local civil society groups, resulting in overlapping efforts and often negatively impacting programme implementation, she said. Non-governmental organizations that registered with the Palestinian Ministries were called upon to cooperate in good faith with Israel. But she had not seen the same tangible results on the Israeli side. She called on Israeli civil society groups to work to ensure that the status of non-governmental organizations was also clearly supervised to ensure reciprocal cooperation.

During the discussion, a journalist asked the Israeli panellists to elaborate on what they believed was a two-State solution and why right-wing politicians were increasingly elected to office in Israel.

The Minister for Women’s Affairs of the Palestinian Authority joined several others in lauding the efforts of the Israeli activists, but she cautioned that on a practical, physical level it was nearly impossible for Israeli and Palestinian activists to work together due to laws restricting their physical movement.

One participant asked Mr. Harris how, given the role of the Israeli Prime Minister, he would deal with the issue of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Some participants directed their questions to Ms. Bennis. One asked if there could ever be a realistic way forward to find a solution to the conflict as long as United States military aid to Israel continued.

Ms. Atsmon said the right wing in Israel was indeed getting stronger and that civil society groups like hers, with limited resources, were in ongoing competition with them. Still, there were positive changes on the ground. Israelis were increasingly refusing to serve in the army, particularly in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Thirty years ago, Israeli authorities did not talk about two States. Today, no one in Israel questioned the existence of Palestinians. The two-State solution was not a question of what, but of when. For her organization, it was important that any solution was based on equality and human rights. While tens of thousands of Palestinian and Israeli women were involved in such civic activism, too few women held political office. Civil society in Israel was working to end the occupation now before it was too late.

Mr. Harris said he envisioned a two-State solution based on 1967 borders and comprising a prosperous Palestine State. As Prime Minister, he said he would advocate two States and the right of return of Palestinian refugees to the Palestinian State and the right of Jewish refugees to the Israeli State. One Voice did not directly address human rights, focusing instead on political advocacy. As to why the right wing in Israel was strong, that was due to several factors, among them, the fact that 35 per cent of Israelis aligned with the centre-left did not vote at all.

Ms. Bennis said the problem was the United States, whose support made it possible for Israel to, at best, look at Palestinians as unequal partners. “The United Nations cannot be even-handed because the occupation is not even-handed,” she said. Moreover, a new road map was not needed; the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Conventions already were the road map. Civil society’s goal was to ensure international law guaranteed human rights and equality for everyone.

In the closing session, Rabiha Diab, Minister for Women’s Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, representing Palestine, said the proposals made during the two-day meeting could lead to a brighter future for Palestinians and an end to the occupation. Reflecting on the speeches, she said members of the Security Council had a particular responsibility to hold Israel to account. There must also be a change in the Israeli mindset, starting at a young age, so that Israelis and Palestinians could jointly end the occupation. She lauded Ms. Bennis’ views on the United States’ unconditional support for Israel, including in the United Nations, and said United States and European taxpayers should question why their money was being used to help Israel buy weapons.

She also praised the fact that young Israelis were refusing to serve in the Israeli army and encouraged more to follow suit, while calling for heightened awareness among Jews worldwide to stop immigrating to Israel, which further pushed out the Palestinians from the homeland. The use of modern information technology to resolve the conflict would in the end prove to triumph over all military arsenals. In closing, she expressed hope that Palestine’s entry into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) would be followed by its admission to several other international organizations.

In closing remarks, Abdou Salam Diallo, Chairman of the Committee on Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said he would include participants’ constructive ideas and recommendations during the past two days in his summary of the Meeting, which would be published in a few days on the Division for Palestinian Rights’ website devoted to the question of Palestine. Later, a comprehensive report would be issued as a United Nations publication. Other documents and information on the two-day Meeting, as well as the Committee’s past and future events, including the Committee’s next regional meeting scheduled for 10 to 12 July 2012 in Bangkok, would be available on the website www.un.org/depts/dpa/qpal.