Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
SITUATION IN OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY DISCUSSED AT United Nations LATIN
AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN MEETING IN SUPPORT OF ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
SANTIAGO, 11 December -- A panel of five experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict analysed this afternoon the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, during the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace taking place at the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile.
Speakers at the Meeting, organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and hosted by the Government of Chile, spoke of the impact of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the effects on Palestinian communities of the construction of the wall in the West Bank, and the need to strengthen Palestinian Authority institutions.
Ahmad Soboh, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, praised the generous donation of the international community to the Palestinians this year, but confessed that his people did not need more funds to improve their lives under occupation but instead sought to live with less but free from occupation.
The wall construction in the West Bank had already had serious negative effects on the Palestinian population, said Idalmis Brooks Beltrán, Researcher at the Centre for African and Middle East Studies in Havana, Cuba. Those included the division of families, loss of lands, increasing difficulties in accessing medical care, and stricter controls at checkpoints for Palestinian students whose schools were located on the other side.
Meanwhile, Adi Ashkenazi, Director of the Business and Economics Department of the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, suggested ways in which Israel could contribute to Palestinian development, notably by easing movement restrictions within the West Bank, defining long-term policies on Palestinian employment in Israel, and upgrading security cooperation.
Statements by Panellists
AHMAD SOBOH, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, said that the PLO had provided the legal-political framework acknowledged by all parties for the signing of any agreement, however partial, in benefit of the Palestinian Authority.
During the Israeli leadership of Yitzhak Rabin, he said the Israeli Government had abided by the agreements and the bilateral relationship with the Palestinians had born fruit. Almost 80 new laws had been approved, creating a legal framework that could serve as the foundation for the development of a future Palestinian State and Parliament. However, with Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination in November 1995, this context favourable to an incipient peace accord had died with him, he stated.
Mr. Soboh asserted that that first historical stage of negotiations had provided hope for a provisional peace agreement, with parties sitting down to negotiate, Palestinian prisoners being freed from Israeli jails, and a strong international drive in favour of a peaceful settlement to the conflict. Some $500 million a year of international assistance had been donated to Palestinian institutions, contributing to finance education, health and other social areas that consumed 80 per cent of the Palestinian budget. However, he noted, the next Israeli Governments had frozen the process and that continued to date. The fragile foundations of a future peace agreement had been destroyed, interrupting the negotiation process. The Israeli Governments had made no efforts to continue the work of Prime Minister Rabin, he said.
This year, the international community had donated €1 billion to the Palestinians, said Mr. Soboh, and that was the highest amount ever allotted to a people in the process of achieving independence. Although he was grateful for that support, Mr. Soboh said that the Palestinians did not need funds to improve their lives under occupation, but instead preferred living with less, but free from occupation.
IDALMIS BROOKS BELTRÁN, Researcher of the Centre for African and Middle East Studies in Havana, Cuba, referred to the effects of the construction of the wall on the Palestinian population, indicating that as of today, 57 per cent (409 km) of the 721 kilometres of the wall was already up. The wall continued to be extended to include settlements with a large number of Israelis, said Ms. Brooks, and that if finished, nearly 10 per cent of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, would end up isolated by the barrier and connected to Israel.
The construction of the wall had had negative effects on the Palestinian population from the beginning, the most evident of which were the limitations on the movement of people, the division of entire families, the loss of land, increasing difficulties in accessing medical care in Israel due to the permits required by the Israeli authorities, and the heightened controls of the Israeli army, with students having to go through checkpoints in order to get to their schools and universities on the other side of the wall.
Ms. Brooks said if the wall was concluded, it would have a devastating effect on the Palestinian population. Nearly half of the over 60,000 Palestinians living in 12 towns would be completely surrounded by two different stretches of the barrier, and 124,300 living in 28 towns would be surrounded on three sides by the barrier and physically closed off on the fourth side, separating them from the rest of the West Bank. In light of that scenario, Ms. Brooks demanded that the Israeli Government cease the construction of the wall in the West Bank and dismantle what had already been built, thus complying with the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, which had ruled that the barrier was illegal and called on Israel to immediately halt its construction.
PEDRO BRIEGER, Argentine sociologist and journalist specializing in international affairs, spoke about “Nakba” (the catastrophe) as a political and communication phenomenon. The concept was frequently used among Israelis, Palestinians, the media and politicians, he said. In the ideological battle between Israelis and Palestinians, the Palestinians had triumphed by validating the term.
The media had begun using the term Nakba coinciding with another circumstance that had bolstered the Palestinian position, and that was the emergence of new Israeli historians questioning what had always been the ideological foundation for the creation of the Israeli State. Among them were Simha Flapan, author of The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities; Benny Morris, who wrote The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949; Ilan Pappé, author of Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-1951, and Avi Shlaim, who published Collusion across the Jordan.
Mr. Brieger explained that the ideological construction of Nakba was of very recent date, approximately 20 years, and today, when reporting on Israel’s anniversary events, practically all newspapers, especially in Argentina, mentioned Nakba as the expulsion of the Palestinian people in 1948, revealing a shift in balance on the positioning of Israelis and the Palestinians in the media.
ADI ASHKENAZI, Director of the Business and Economics Department of the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, provided data and statistics on the economic situation of Israel and the Palestinian people, and suggested ways in which Israel could contribute to Palestinian development. In 2007, he said, Palestinian exports to Israel had totalled $367 million, while it had imported $2,758 million from Israel. About 50,000 Palestinian workers entered Israel daily, and another 134,771 entered Israel for humanitarian purposes. The Palestinian economy was Israel’s second largest export market after the United States, he noted.
Mr. Ashkenazi referred to three main lines of action Israel could surname to contribute to the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan: easing movement restrictions within the West Bank, such as internal checkpoints and border passages; defining long-term policies on Palestinian employment in Israel; and upgrading security cooperation, which directly enhanced economic growth. Trade might be facilitated by a number of measures, stated Mr. Ashkenazi, such as upgrading the security check system to reduce checking times; introducing an online data system with easy access and customer information; issuing permits for building privately-operated logistics centres; and approving the engagement of the Palestinian Authority in day to day activities at border crossings. At sea ports, Israel could introduce a transit goods agreement to reduce dependency on Israeli institutions; allocate a platform for Palestinian goods at ports; and allow door-to-door transportation using trucks driven by Arab Israelis.
Mr. Ashkenazi recommended a number of additional measures for Israel, such as increasing access to credit, investments and capacity building for medium and small enterprises; developing the agricultural service sector and increasing land efficiency use and other natural resources; supporting industrial development and modernization; and developing an internationally competitive tourism sector.
DANIEL JADUE, Vice-President of the Development Organization of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, spoke about two phenomena that permeated the thinking, feelings and behaviour of Israelis, Palestinians and the international community. The Israelis, he said, were suffering from a collective schizophrenia, which was also reflected among world Powers and the international community, creating an Israeli society fearful of a heap of sticks and stones, in spite of its own weapons arsenal. “In spite of all the destruction and crimes it has committed, Israel appears as the victim of a conflict for which it is solely responsible. This distortion of reality is not spontaneous. It is the consequence of a global communications policy of which the international community has also fallen victim,” he said.
Palestinians, on the other hand, had sunk into a learned hopelessness, the fruit of traumatic and unjust experiences and the denial of their most basic rights, from which the Palestinians had been unable to defend themselves adequately, Mr. Jadue said. The Palestinian people did not believe anyone anymore, he added. They did not believe the Arab world, which, possessing such a powerful economic weapon -- their oil reserves -- had never done anything to pressure Western Powers.
The Palestinians did not believe in the intentions of the Israelis, who had always acted with double standards, speaking about peace while planning warfare, said Mr. Jadue. Israel had kept its own society and the international community prisoner of the collective illness that made them regard the Israelis as the natural projection of Holocaust victims. The international community did nothing to force Israel into compliance of international law, in spite of the many condemning resolutions and its constant disregard for international law and human rights.
Mr. Jadue added that Palestinians did not believe in the international community either, which had reacted swiftly and mobilized the biggest army in the world in the case of other, much shorter occupations. “The European Union and the United States have become true accomplices for covering up or ignoring the worst, most extensive and dramatic human rights violations that contemporary history has ever witnessed,” said Mr. Jadue. “This is a military occupation. What we need is an end to the occupation,” he concluded.