The current volatile moment in the Israel-Palestine conflict must be used to mobilize political will and ensure accountability for Israel’s violations, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People heard today amid calls for a ceasefire in the region.
“Shame on the Security Council,” said Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, speaking at the virtual Forum on International Parliamentarian Support to the Question of Palestine, convened by the Committee. Even though the Council met several times and there was consensus on the need for a ceasefire, it was unable to say a single official word against the aggression. One country is preventing the Security Council to speak in a unified voice, he said, noting that the General Assembly, therefore, will meet on 20 May to address the crisis.
Calling on parliamentarians to demand their Governments pressure Israel to stop the carnage, he highlighted the humanitarian tragedy. More than 50,000 people are displaced in Gaza, he said, adding “they need to eat, they need medicine, they need inoculation against the pandemic, they need blankets, they need the ambulances, they need doctors”. The international community must mobilize assistance to enable Palestinians to deal with the natural catastrophe and the human-made one, he said, highlighting the role of the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) in particular.
Voicing alarm about the number of deaths and pointing to the evictions pending in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods, Mr. Mansour said the International Criminal Court must begin investigating Israel’s war crimes. The racist apartheid regime of Israel is attacking everything related to Palestine, he said, and Palestinian people need to be protected. Those who are fixated on Israel’s right to defend itself should remember that Palestinians live under apartheid and discrimination. “What would you do if you are under occupation,” he asked, adding that anything short of an end to the occupation will only be preparation for the next cycle of violence.
Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, also spoke at the Forum today, voicing concern about the lost civilian lives, which include children on both sides. Recent clashes between Israeli security forces and large crowds of Palestinian worshippers have intensified a deeply inflammatory atmosphere. Underscoring the urgent need to revitalize the peace process, she pointed out that this escalation is taking place amid an already deteriorating situation in occupied East Jerusalem, where hundreds of Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods are facing eviction from their homes.
Reiterating the Secretary-General’s call on Israel to cease evictions and demolitions, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, she said both parties must urgently de-escalate the dangerous spiral of violence between Israel and Gaza. Noting the important role of the Committee, she added that regional and international supporters of the Parliamentarians, through their legislative power and advocacy with their Governments, can reinforce the global consensus on the two-State solution. She also highlighted the roles of the Middle East Quartet, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the Division for Palestinian Rights, which serves as the secretariat for the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
In his opening remarks, Committee Chair Cheikh Niang (Senegal) recalled the many ways in which Parliamentarians are raising awareness on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. They have incorporated relevant international obligations and bilateral agreements into national legislation, while also promoting diplomatic recognition of the State of Palestine by their respective Governments and voting to incorporate aid for the Palestinian people into national and supra-national budgets.
Highlighting examples, he noted that the senate of Chile, host of one of the biggest Palestinian diaspora communities, recently approved a resolution calling on the President to adopt a law boycotting settlement goods. In 2020, more than 100 members of France’s Parliament called for their Government, and the European Union at large, to impose sanctions on Israel over its annexation policy. Further, parliamentarians in South Africa were requested to provide guidance to Palestinian civil society groups as they advocate for revival of the Centre against Apartheid to address the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Voicing support for the work of parliamentarians across the world, he said that recent events illustrate the importance of such work.
The Committee then held two panel discussions. The first — on the topic of “Parliaments, Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016), and Israeli Settlements: Calls for Accountability” — was moderated by Pedro Roque, President Emeritus and current Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, and included Francisco Chahuán, Senator of Chile; Julie Elliott, Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom; and Hubert Julien-Laferrière, Member of the National Assembly of France.
Ms. Elliot emphasized that the Palestine-Israel conflict is not a war between equals and has never been. At the moment, many hundreds of innocent people are being killed on both sides of the divide, but overwhelmingly on the Palestinian side, she said, noting that the only COVID-19 testing site in Gaza was put out of action on 17 May. Stressing that a ceasefire will not bring about lasting peace, she said only accountability can do that. “The status quo that is often talked about is not a status quo,” she said. “It is a creeping annexation.” This makes the two-State solution increasingly impossible to achieve. She called on the United Kingdom to support efforts seeking Israel’s accountability in the International Criminal Court. Expressing alarm about the attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque — an “appalling sight” to behold during the holy month of Ramadan — she said there must be agreement to restore access to the holy places in Jerusalem and called on the United Kingdom to end the sale of bombs to Israel.
Mr. Chahuán stressed the importance of multilateralism in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Recalling the several United Nations resolutions describing Israel’s settlements as illegal, starting in 1977, he said that Government has scoffed at such resolutions and continues to invoke the law of the jungle. Noting various international legal precedents that applied to the conflict, he also recalled the economic effects of the occupation, which deprive Palestinians from benefitting from resource-rich regions, such as the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. Palestinian political prisoners do not have access to due process, he said, calling that an infringement of basic human rights, as well as various international covenants. Turning to the “apartheid wall” which Israel started building in 2002, he said the International Court of Justice declared it illegal in 2004 and the United Nations demanded that its construction stop immediately. However, he said, the wall continues to separate Palestinians from Palestinians, divide families, and infringe on the right to free movement. He called on Parliamentarians to address these issues when considering agreements concerning possible investments, travel, trade and tourism.
Mr. Julien-Laferrière said there was great support for Palestine in France’s Parliament, as illustrated during the vote on the recognition of State of Palestine. Beyond laws, it is important to mobilize parliamentarians through public opinion, he said, describing an effort he coordinated against the Abraham Accords. However, he cautioned, “while we are wasting all this time, Palestine’s chances are also getting lost through settlements and annexation.” While France’s position supports the two-State solution, it is “soft” on sanctions and boycotting, he said, adding, “we speak great principles”. Increasingly, it will become impossible to create the Palestinian State and many Palestinians themselves are wondering if a binational State, in which both communities are equal, is more viable. It is crucial for Parliamentarians to mobilize at the regional level but also the transnational level, he emphasized.
The second panel discussion, on the topic of “Parliamentarians and Support for Efforts to Achieve a Just Solution,” included Solomon Lechesa Tsenoli, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa and Alexandre Boulerice, Member of Parliament of Canada. Mr. Roque moderated that panel as well.
Mr. Tsenoli said the deaths and displacement of Palestinians and destruction of their heritage reminds South Africans of apartheid years. “Our freedom in South Africa is dependent on the freedom of Palestinians,” he said, adding that parliaments of the world must demand peace for Palestine. The Middle East deserves peace, he said, stressing that the situation on the ground cannot continue. Ending the occupation is in the interests of both Israel and Palestine, he said, adding that South Africa will engage actively on international platforms to advocate for the resumption of the peace process. Unilateralism threatens the global balance of power, he said, urging the United States Administration to use its influence wisely.
Mr. Boulerice expressed shock and alarm at the situation in Israel-Palestine, including the large number of child victims of the violence. Sharing his experience as part of a pro-Palestinian parliamentary group in Canada, he noted that he travelled to the West Bank as part of a Canadian delegation. That enabled him to see all “the humiliations and frustrations that take place on a daily basis for thousands of people”, he said, adding that Palestinian olive groves and villages are disappearing because of the expansion of illegal settlements. The delegation also visited refugee camps that are practically towns since they have existed since 1948. “We had an unsettling visit to Hebron, the City of Martyrs,” he said, noting that the settlements there are protected by military authorities who blocked the delegation’s access. While the official position of Canada is good, it could be better, he said, but the bigger problem is the refusal to stand by the official position beyond “a few words in a press statement”.
In the ensuing discussion, the representatives of Cuba and Indonesia expressed solidarity with Palestine and called on the international community to act decisively. There was also an audience question concerning Canada’s foreign policy.
Responding, Mr. Boulerice called it a shame to see his Government being so cautious, given that historically, Canada had shown leadership when it came to the situation in South Africa. The drama that is playing out right now should incite the international community to demand consequence. Mr. Julien-Laferrière said that the history of Israel’s creation made it difficult to impose sanctions against it, despite its flouting of international laws. Ms. Elliot said that while the situation in Israel and occupied territories is not identical to what happened in South Africa, there are rampant inequalities between children born within a half mile of each other, depending on whether they are Israeli or Palestinian.
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