UNITED NATIONS – Parliamentarians from various countries expressed support to the creation of a viable Palestinian state and called for the de-escalation of violence, as they celebrated the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People at the United Nations headquarters in New York on November 24. The meeting focused on “the role of parliamentarians in ensuring respect for international law”.
The United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People convened this meeting within the framework of the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The celebration is usually observed on November 29 but it falls during the weekend this year.
The conference started with a minute of silence to commemorate the deaths in the recent Israel–Gaza conflict.
“Much more needs to be done to abide by international law,” said Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the U.N. “International law is clear,” he added. “The settlement activity is illegal.” Yet, Jerusalem’s municipal planning committee approved 78 new homes in two settlements in the West Bank on November 19.
The meeting follows several weeks of deadly violence between Palestinians and Israelis, which culminated in the attack by two Palestinians killing four rabbis and a policeman at a Jerusalem synagogue on November 18.
And on November 23, a majority in the Israeli government expressed support for a controversial bill to pass a proposed nationality law that would legally define the country as a Jewish homeland. Opponents of the law say that it undermines Israel’s democratic character. They argue that some of the language is racist and illegal.
The Secretary-General condemned Hamas’ rockets on Israeli civilians as well as the Israeli military’s “destruction” of Gaza during the recent conflict.
“Extremists on both sides are dictating the agenda,” explained Mr. Ban. He lamented that “the people of the region are losing any sense of connection, any sense of empathy, any sense of mutual understanding of our common humanity.”
“Extremists on both sides are dictating the agenda”: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
“Israel has unleashed war, a war of racism and has disregarded the two-state solution,” said Mr. Ahmed Fathalla, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States. He read out a message from the League’s Secretary-General. He added that Israel has disregarded international public opinion as well as international law by committing “war crimes and genocide.”
Widespread support for a Palestinian state
The Committee expressed support for recent positive developments in favor of the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Mr. Fodé Seck, the Committee’s chairman, pointed to the momentum to recognize Palestinian statehood. On October 2014, Sweden became the 134th nation in the world to support the creation of a Palestinian state. The British Parliament, the Spanish Parliament and the Irish Senate have also expressed support for Palestinian statehood.
He also mentioned that the Palestinian Authority’s joined the Geneva Convention – which governs the rules of war and military occupations – and 14 other international treaties in April 2014. “This is a historical and long-overdue move in the face of the ongoing harassment and violence against Palestinian civilians by Israeli settlers and military forces,” he said.
“Does Israel, the occupying power, understand all the messages in this regard?” asked Mr. Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N, who read Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s message to the Committee.
He recalled that Israel’s admission to the U.N. in 1949 came with a commitment to Resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state as well as Resolution 194 for a peace initiative and Palestinian refugees’ right of return to their homeland.
“Despite all the challenges, hardships and setbacks, we continue to have faith and hope that a just peace can be achieved in our region and that the truth must prevail,” Mr. Mansour said.
He also lamented the attempts at “Judaization of East Jerusalem,” referring to provocations connected to the Al Aqsa Mosque and Haram Al Sharif (Temple Mount) – two holy sites for both Jews and Muslims.
Mr. Mansour said that Israel was behaving “as if it was a state above the law.”
“We continue to have faith and hope that a just peace can be achieved”: Mr. Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N
“It is for the people of the region themselves to agree on the details of their political structure and governance,” said Mr. Mark Koenig, Co-chair of the Israel-Palestine NGO Working Group, who spoke on behalf of civil society organizations active on the question of Palestine at the UN. “Nonetheless, the difference in balance of power between the state of Israel and Palestine is a major impediment,” he added.
Condemnation of businesses’ support
“The special committee has urged the international community to transparently investigate the activities of companies in their respective country that profit from the exploitation of Israel in the West Bank,” said Mr. Palitha T.B. Kohona, Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.
In a June 2013 statement, the committee highlighted businesses’ responsibility “to not be complicit in Israel’s policies and practices that openly violate Palestinian rights.” Members listened to reports of multinational corporations profiting from Israel’s settlements.
A 2011 report1 titled “Financial Support of the Israeli Settlement Enterprise By United States Non-Profit Foundations and Organizations During 2009” stated that U.S. foundations and tax-exempt charities committed tax fraud with grants to settler organizations.
Settlements in Palestine, a research and advocacy watchdog, revealed that U.S. organizations channeled US$274 million to settlements from 2002 to 2009. This added up to the US$600 million Israel’s government spends annually to support settlements.
A timely issue
“Time is running out,” warned Mr. Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). He said that 65% of Palestinian refugees in Syria are displaced or have become second-time refugees in neighboring states. “Fleeing the conflict in Syria has become more dangerous as borders are closed,” he explained.
The situation is dire as UNRWA is facing a severe financial deficit that has led to cuts of essential services to millions of Palestinian refugees.
In addition, “sustained development of the Palestinian economy is crucial,” said Mr. Gary Francis Quinlan (Australia), current President of the Security Council. He explained that boosting the Palestinian economy could have a positive effect on peace negotiations.
“If we fail in our duty, history will not forgive us. History will not absolve us,” said Mr. Ahmed Fathalla, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States. “It is the duty of the Security Council responsible for international peace and security to take decisions which will set a deadline for withdrawal by the occupying power from Palestinian territory,” he said.
The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People also featured a photo exhibit on Palestinian refugees and a concert by the traditional Palestinian band The Joubran Trio.