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5 Jun, 2012

UN Chief Upholds Role of Women, Youth in Peaceful Settlement of Palestine Conflict


Paris, (UN Department of Public Information) 30 May 2012 – Stressing the important role of Palestinian women and youth in achieving a durable peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a greater say for both groups in decision-making, as he kicked off the United Nations International Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process this morning in Paris. (Click here for original source of this dispatch).

“Palestinian women and youth have a right to fulfil their aspirations without barriers and without discrimination,” Mr. Ban said in a video message. “We cannot just make speeches about them. We must listen to them. We must work with them.”

The two-day meeting, convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, aims to mobilize international support for on-the-ground initiatives of youth and women, harness their energy and resourcefulness to achieve a peaceful end to the Israeli occupation, empower them through education, training and economic opportunities, and involve them more in the political process. It will also look at social media networks and their impact on building an open Palestinian society, while considering how Governments, United Nations entities and international civil society organizations can better coordinate efforts with Palestinian and Israeli youth and women’s organizations to peacefully solve the question of Palestine.

In addition to Mr. Ban’s statement, this morning’s opening session heard from Getachew Engida, Deputy Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Abdou Salam Diallo (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; Rabiha Diab, Minister for Women’s Affairs of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah; and Stéphane Frédéric Hessel, Honorary Ambassador of France and author of the Indignez-vous! (Time for Outrage) manifesto.

Mr. Ban said that while Arab women and youth largely drove the events of the “Arab Spring”, rising up against human rights abuses and speaking out for equality and decent work, those living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continued to grapple with exclusion, unemployment and poverty. Israel’s occupation further impeded their access to education, jobs and health care, and internal divisions only exacerbated the problem.

That must change, he said, encouraging both Palestinian and Israeli youth to build a future of peace and urging greater involvement of women in the peace process. He pledged the United Nations full support for their efforts, and noted that the Organization worked every day to promote economic and political empowerment throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Mr. Diallo said that youth accounted for 64 per cent of the Palestinian population and women comprised half. It was paradoxical that while they suffered the most under the occupation, their capacity to help achieve peace and create a sovereign Palestinian State remained largely untapped.

“This will help you to better understand why we have gathered here to ponder the best way to make use of this tremendous potential for achieving peace while the two-State solution still has a chance of becoming a reality,” he said. He invited youth to “share you questions and ideas with us” via Twitter and to spread the word “so that together we can initiate a global conversation” to generate ideas and identify pitfalls.

Through social media, youth had shown their readiness to become agents of change, he said. They should use the Internet to further create pathways for peace and refrain from spreading messages of hate. “What we need is people with good practical skills, whether in the professional, organizational or political arena, and people with the ability to think critically,” he said.

Mr. Engida said that today’s meeting came at a watershed moment, seven months after Palestine had become the 195th member of UNESCO. The organization was deeply committed to a just, lasting peace in the region and it was working to create conditions for genuine dialogue, based upon respect for shared values and equal dignity for all. As part of its long-lasting commitment to strengthen Palestinian institutions, UNESCO’s Ramallah office was highly active in educational and cultural activities. Building the defences of peace must start with women and it must begin in the minds of girls and boys. Experience showed that women’s empowerment was a breakthrough strategy for sustainable development. UNESCO was working towards that goal in Palestine.

With financial support from the Norwegian Government, UNESCO was collaborating on research to better understand women’s place in Palestinian society, he said. It had introduced capacity-measures in several ministries on gender-related issues, such as advocacy and training. Since 2006, UNESCO had supported Gender Equality: the Palestinian Women’s Research and Documentation Centre to promote women’s empowerment and capacity-building for post-conflict reconstruction and governance. The Centre served as an information observatory and clearinghouse, and a space for networking and critical thinking.

“All of this work is guided by the conviction that women’s participation is vital to development and that recognition of women’s rights is a powerful signal of a wider commitment to the values of equality, justice, freedom and human dignity,” he said. Moreover, in 1997, the position of UNESCO Chair in Human Rights, Democracy and Peace had been established at An Najah National University in Nablus to promote research, training, information and documentation in those fields. Thanks to funding from the office of Sheikha Mozah, a wife of the Emir of Qatar, UNESCO was providing psycho-social support to teachers and students, and working to better ensure their safety, as part of its commitment to uphold the right to education in emergency situations.

Education, which was the foundation for building more peaceful and prosperous societies, must be at the heart of all rehabilitation and development efforts in Palestine, he said, stressing that no country better illustrated the importance of the right to education than Palestine. UNESCO’s Ramallah office had developed an integrated response to protect education for schools in Gaza at high risk of attack. The Arab Spring had shown the implications of underestimating young people’s needs and aspirations.

Ms. Diab, speaking on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, said that notwithstanding all that was happening in the region and the present obstacles, the Palestinian people still extended their hand to achieve the two-State solution and to live peacefully alongside all the nations of the world.

Speaking as a keynote presenter in her capacity as Minister for Women’s Affairs, Ms. Diab echoed the call for women to have a central role in resolving the conflict and creating a strong, vibrant Palestinian State. Palestinian women had demonstrated their resistance by standing up to the occupier for over 60 years alongside men and through women’s groups and women’s movements, and they played a major role in building State institutions. Since the outset of the conflict, they had been devoted to their people and had effectively contributed to political parties and the political arena, with the understanding that their involvement was vital. They also played an important role in agriculture.

But after the signing of the 1993 Oslo peace agreements, just 3 of the 300 Palestinian negotiators deciding on such important issues as health and water had been women, she said. The alarming situation at that time had prompted Palestinian women to advocate their equal representation in every step of the peace and development process, not just in times of crisis. Women devised principles, which the authorities had taken on board. Fully one third of the recently formed Government was comprised of women, including six women ministers. Women served as ambassadors, judges, governors, engineers and members of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. They had since entered into areas previously unimaginable, representing heads of state security and police divisions.

Those female leaders promoted a positive image of women, which encouraged the Palestinian Authority to include other women in national decision-making and to integrate a gender focus into all ministries, she said. The Palestinian Authority’s strategy to fight violence against women, President Abbas’ signing of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and creation of a law that allowed women to run for President were a testament to the Government’s commitment to women’s empowerment. Indeed, Palestinian women were ready, alongside men, to set up national institutions for their future State.

Despite those achievements, women still were poorly represented in some sectors of the labour market, she said. Thanks to women’s efforts, however, that was changing. Last year, 37 per cent of civil servants had been women, up from 27 per cent in 2010. Women were increasingly educated, representing more than 60 per cent of college graduates. But job opportunities after they graduated were limited. To prosper, young women needed a peace that guaranteed their rights. She appealed to the international community to consider the plight of women and of youth, who were the key to the future.

“As a Minster, a representative of the Palestinian Authority, as a former detainee and a mother, I appeal to Israeli mothers: how much longer is the war to last? Are we to condemn this bitter reality to our children?” she asked. Palestinians were ready to build their own State and a future free of violence. They would never give up or accept anything less than a real sovereign State, not disparate cantons. Only that way could their children enjoy the same rights as other children around the world, she said, appealing for support from the international community.

Mr. Hessel, in his keynote speech, agreed that UNESCO’s acceptance of Palestine as a member State was a major step forward, and it was long overdue. Ms. Diab’s speech, which conveyed the oppressive feeling felt by the Palestinians, had brought home the point that Palestinians were still in an unacceptable predicament, subjected to continuing occupation and divided into small groups, with no strong links to each other. Israeli propaganda had prevented many in the world from truly understanding the Palestinian’s plight. But all was not lost; the battle must continue.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine, launched in 2009 by human rights activists and lawyers, with international law as a legal frame of reference, had scrutinized the actions of Israel, the European Union, United States and major industrial companies that violated international resolutions and court rulings concerning the rights of the Palestinian people, he said.

The United Nations principle “We the Peoples” must be applied to Palestine, he said. But the Israeli public, which was kept in the dark about the reality of Palestine and Palestinian suffering, found that difficult to understand. That further exacerbated the unconscionable delay in advancing the peace process. Successive Israeli Governments had never taken seriously the need to move towards peace. But one day they would have to acknowledge they had gone down the wrong path, as it was in the Israeli public’s best interest to understand that their Government’s policies were criminal and that Israelis and Palestinians must be able to stand on equal footing to build a prosperous Middle East.

It was revealing that, when asked what people most inspired them, many Palestinian children did not first point to prominent Palestinian leaders, he said. Rather, they cited Israeli women lawyers that defended the rights of Palestinians in Israeli jails. That fact enabled one to think of a possible future civic rearrangement among the citizens of Israel and Palestine that allowed them to live together peacefully.

The representative of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement stated his full support for Palestine’s admission to UNESCO and expressed hope that today’s meeting would promote women’s empowerment. Palestinian women had set an example for women in other Arab countries. In early 2011, the region’s people had risen up to protest oppressive policies and appeal for freedom and dignity. “We will no longer accept that the Palestinian people remain victims of these policies,” he said, calling for sweeping change.

The representative of Senegal expressed concern over the lengthy Israeli occupation’s impact on Palestinian society, particularly women and youth. He stated Senegal’s full support for the Palestinian struggle and he called on the Palestinians to not give in to hopelessness. Through their commitment to social matters, Palestinian women and youth fully supported Palestinian society as a whole. If they could voice their views, they could play a catalytic role for a better future.

The representative of Turkey pointed to his country’s assistance programmes for Palestinian youth and women through the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency and the Turkish Red Crescent. It was building nurseries, primary schools, schools for disabled children and hospitals, as well as providing them and women’s organizations with equipment. During 2011 and 2012, Turkey had issued 120 scholarships to Palestinian students, and that number was increasing annually. It was also contributing to Palestinian state-building by supporting education programmes for doctors, police officers and others.

The representative of Sri Lanka called on all those in the Palestinian struggle, particularly youth organizations, to declare a moratorium on targeting and killing of Israeli civilians. The murder of Palestinian civilians did not justify the killing of Israeli children. The latter would only evoke more memories of Jewish children killed in the Holocaust. He implored the Palestinians to heed the lessons learned in liberation struggles in Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique.

The representative of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), who read out a statement of OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, stressed the need to work towards a just, comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question through relevant United Nations and European Union resolutions and international mechanisms. He pledged OIC’s solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The representative of the League of Arab States said the Arab Peace Initiative adopted in Beirut was still on the table, but it could disappear due to current Israeli policies on the ground. It was vital to mobilize regional and international forces to put an end to that dangerous drift, otherwise things would revert back to square one. Bold strategic decisions must be made to prevent the status quo from determining the contour of a future peace.

The representative of Gabon, who spoke on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said issues of settlement building and Palestinian political prisoners had been overlooked today. International meetings had shown their mettle, but also their limit. It was necessary to explore new avenues to bring about a two-State solution, she said, calling for support to the Israeli lawyers representing Palestinian political prisoners.