Ideas posed by the UN Conference on Palestine Geneva 22-24 of July
There is a growing consensus that "business as usual" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is coming to an end and that Israel´s "free lunch" might soon have a price on it.
There are a number of new elements. Strengthened by a stronger US position, the Palestinian Authority seems determined not to renew negotiations unless there is a real freeze on settlement building. The EU´s High Representative Javier Solana has suggested that the UN Security Council set a mandatory deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian State, whether there is a negotiated settlement or not, placing on the table the ultimate threat to impose a solution to the conflict with International forcese. The Quartet is pressuring heavily on Israel to ease the blockade and accept the entrance of construction material (11.5 million euros) for the completion of public works projects in Gaza that have been pending for years and there is growing pressure to start reconstruction work in Gaza as well.
The loud and frequent calls for war crimes trials against Isrrael will probably not go anywhere but for the first time the UN is pressing Israel seriously to pay reparations for the UN property and material destroyed during the Cast Lead operation. The EU is not vocal on this issue. At the same time there seems to be growing criciticism among European Commission Officials that the present massive expenditure paid by taxpayers for maintaining Palestinian life under the occupation cannot continue indefinitely and without any costs for Israel. The present status quo is not successful "state building", with no final agreement in sight, and it is not creating political progress on the ground. Instead, dependency on EU aide is creating a vast "occupation business" with vested lucrative interests while Israel pays little or nothing for the endless occupation. It was suggested in my presentation that the EU and the International Community should condition this form of indirect aide to Israel (who should legally pay as the occupier) to concrete improvement in the situation on the ground, lifting the seige in Gaza and the opening up a political perspective for peace. Obviously this threat of withdrawal o change in EU aide does not mean harming the well-being of the Palestinian civilian population nor cutting humanitarian aide but it does mean making Israel understand that the present situation is unsustainable both economically and politically.
At the conference, there was an interesting presentation by Israeli and Palestinian journalists that showed the monolithic self-censorship of the Israeli press that covered up everything that went on in Gaza during the war and became uncritical spokesmen of the IDF. They also spoke of the dehumanization and the invisibility of the Palestinians in Israeli press and society.
The Palestinian Ambassador closed the conference outlining the concrete initiatives to start the reconstruction of Gaza, with or without an agreement with Hamas, the procedures for seeking reparation for the Gaza operation and many diplomatic fronts to accelerate the process ot the creation of a Palestinian state. He was very clear that the ANP would not go back to an endless peace process while settlement building continues and the seige of Gaza was in place.
Everyone seems to be waiting the effect of US pressure on Isreal.
Here is a summary of my intervention in the conference:
THE ISRAELI - PALESTINIAN
CONFLICT IN THE WAKE OF THE GAZA OPERATION
How to break the status quo through international accountability, public pressure and the application of International Law.
THE GAZA CAST LEAD OPERATION:
It should be noted that the operation against the civilian population continues. The present humanitarian siege is an illegal form a warfare that denies fundamental rights to civilians. I will not go into great detail because the impact of the Cast Lead operation and the violation of International Humanitarian Law is well documented in the Amnesty International report recently published and I coincide with its recommendations and demands toward Israel, Hamas and the International Community that include an arms embargo, reparations, a criminal investigation and international protection of civilians.
WHAT WE SAW ON THE 10TH OF JANUARY IN GAZA:
We saw a helpless population totally dependent on international organisations, mainly UNRWA, for all basic necessities. We saw the destruction of all public buildings that often affected the homes adjacent to them. There was no electricity nor potable running water. There was no rubbish collection No cars were in the street. There were no signs of armed people. We only saw military aircraft and other aerial Israeli equipment. The bombing continued a few hundred metres from where we were. We picked up off the ground the leaflets launched by the Israelis warning the population of heavy bombing and to seek safe refuge. Mothers with babies in their arms pulled on our arms asking for help to stop the bombing. We were the only European representatives to visit Gaza during the Cast Lead operation. It is important to point out that the prohibition of the presence of international press and witnesses was one of the keys of impunity during this conflict that resulted in so many deaths of innocent civilians.
POSITION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
The European Parliament has repeatedly supported the following positions over the last 5 years in different resolutions adopted by a wide majority:
-Lifting of the siege of Gaza and the end of collective punishment of the civilian population.
- The end to the use of disproportionate force, illegal weapons or indiscriminate victimisation of the civilian population on the part of Israel.
- The end to the firing of rockets by Palestinians from Gaza on the civilian population of Southern Israel.
- In favour of a unity agreement of Hamas and Fatah as a necessary step for international peacemaking measures in Gaza and the West Bank.
- A total suspension of the settlement building.
- The free movement of people and goods both in Gaza and the West Bank.
- The conditioning of future EU policy to concrete progress on the ground.
- The investigation of possible war crimes committed by Israel and by Hamas in the Gaza conflict.
- The deployment of international forces in and around Gaza.
- The building of a large solar plant for electricity and desalinisation in or near Gaza for energy and water autonomy.
- Against the upgrading of relations with Israel under the present circumstances.
Note: The Parliament has no foreign policy co-decision but can influence policy through its opinions and through the control of budgetary control.
What needs to be done:
UPHOLDING INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW NEEDS GREATER INTERNATIONAL SUPERVISION AND INVOLVEMENT
BREAK THE POLITICAL DEADLOCK: SET A DEADLINE BY UN SECURITY COUNCIL FOR THE "TWO STATE SOLUTION" WITH THE ACCEPTANCE OF PALESTINE IN THE UN
The European Union's top foreign policy representative Javier Solana has recently called for the United Nations Security Council to recognise a Palestinian State and the two-state solution by a certain deadline even if Israel and others do not. This initiative should be considered for support by the international community.
We find ourselves in a dangerous stalemate and only the short-term interests of the Israeli Government and the most radical elements on both sides, not the long-term well-being of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, are benefited by the perpetuation of status quo. The Palestinian Authority leadership currently refuses to enter negotiations with Israel until it stops construction of illegal West Bank settlements, recognises past agreements, and agrees to the creation of a sovereign Palestinian State. At the same time the uncompromising positions of Netanyahu on settlements, Jerusalem and Gaza are far from being a basis for any fruitful negotiations with any Palestinian counterparts. The Arab League Plan for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East is being ignored while the lack of Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas is a serious barrier to a serious political peace process. After more that forty years of occupation the international community should take the initiative.
After a fixed deadline, a UN Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution and the declaration should include the borders of the Palestinian State, the fate of Palestinian refugees, control over Jerusalem and security arrangements and international guarantees.
It would accept the Palestinian State as a full member of the UN, and set a calendar for implementation. It would mandate the resolution of other remaining territorial disputes and legitimise the end of claims,"
The UN Security Council should mandate a return to Israel's borders before the 1967 war in which it occupied the West Bank and Gaza, except for agreed upon land swaps and mediators should set a timetable for a final peace agreement. If the parties are not able to stick to it (the timetable), then a solution backed by the international community should be put on the table. It is a time of action not a time for words but for deeds. This conference should support Solana´s proposal that is basically in line with the proposals of the Arab Peace Initiative and other similiar proposals.
EU Political Policy on the Mid-East does not really exist; it usually echoes US policy or plays the role of a "Sherpa" for Obama´s new policies
It should be noted that Foreign Policy is competence of the Council of Ministers that must act with unanimity and the reality is that a number of countries have very different views on the Middle East. Italy and some Eastern European countries hold very uncritical positions toward present Israeli policy.
IS THE EU FINANCING THE "OCCUPATION BUSINESS" THROUGH ITS FINANCIAL AIDE? IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE? If tHe EU pays it should also play.
The EU greatest allotment of aide per capita is for the Palestinian authority. If this is added to money donated by member states the amount is staggering. Teachers, nurses, civil servants, police and others all receive their monthly salaries from the EU. As well, tens of thousands of Palestinians depend on EU humanitarian aide. Nevertheless, we should evaluate if this policy is a positive one that contributes to the building of institutions for peace or if it simply is a massive subsidy of the Israeli occupation that eliminates Israel´s legal responsibility of providing services to the occupied population. In other words, are we helping to make the occupation economically bearable and not costly for Israel, basically letting the occupier off the hook. Another question is if decades of massive "occupation business" made possible mainly by the EU is actually creating vested interests and dependency on both sides, both economical and political, for the indefinite continuation of the occupation. Where is the incentive for reaching a two-state solution? What would happen if the EU decided to cut off all but humanitarian aide unless Israel took a number of measures to make life more bearable for Palestinians with regard to the siege of Gaza, movement and settlements. Israel would dread the threat of withdrawal of aide and the possible collapse of institutions. It is evident that the present status quo cannot continue. Since the EU pays it must play as well.
A MORE POLITICAL EU POLICY ON MID-EAST PEACE?
The EU should condition the continuation of its substantial economic aide to substantial improvement of conditions on the ground for Palestinian life in the occupied territories and concrete benchmarks with consequences for Israel concerning settlements, freedom of movement and changes in the status quo in Jerusalem. The issues of rights for the Palestinian minority in Israel, the rule of law under the PA and Hamas, freedom and equality of religion and non-discrimination in land laws, demolitions and building should shape economic relations and the participation in EU programmes.
The EU is not a humanitarian NGO. It cannot continue to be a big payer but a very small player. The lack of clear and effective EU policy reflects the absence of ambition and the great weakness of the present procedures of decision making in EU institutions. To a great extent the outcome of the present conflict of the Obama Administration with the Israeli Government over settlement building and especially Jerusalem will express the possibilities of success of both US and EU policy.
Only strong political and public pressure can bring EU leaders and member states to act more forcefully and in accordance with International law.
The alternative is to face the relentless pedagogy of catastrophe.
It is not a question of being pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. It is in the interest of all to take steps toward the negotiated end of the conflict and to place strong international guarantees against violence and suffering of both Palestinians and Israelis.