Palestine and the Middle East Peace Process – UN written statement

The following is the latest version of NCF’s written statement submitted to the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It has been prepared by Mrs Hana Efendic and Mrs Shamsa Hussain, NCF Research Officers. We welcome your feedback or comment.

Steps toward Peace between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority

The confrontation between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority remains unresolved 73 years after its genesis and an effective peace process seems more unattainable than at any other point in history. Meanwhile the building of settlements on the West Bank continues, and pressure mounts on an already poorly performing Gazan economy because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reinforced by systemic closures of Gaza’s border crossings, in part as a consequence of intermittent rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel that are almost taken for granted. Nevertheless, The Next Century Foundation believes that the grounds exist for a sustainable negotiated resolution to this ongoing confrontation.

Two-State Solution

The Next Century Foundation strongly encourages both the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s government to return to the negotiating table to find a path towards a two-state solution based on the excellent work already done to establish the Clinton Parameters of 2001, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, and the Genève Initiative of 2003. Steps at addressing Israel’s security needs and Palestinian’s right to live freely should also be taken into account, like those outlined in the 2013 Allen Plan. The peace plan almost achieved by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel’s former Premier Ehud Olmert in 2008 confirms that the means for successful negotiation exist, if both sides  are willing to make concessions in the pursuit of peace. In this manner, both Israel’s and Palestine’s aspirations for peace, security, sovereignty, and prosperity can be achieved.

The Next Century Foundation calls upon the international community, particularly the governments of Arab states that have declared peace with Israel, together with those of the Russian Federation and the United States of America, to use their power and influence to urge the leaders of Palestine and Israel to come to the negotiating table, much as was done in the Madrid Conference of 1991.

We commend the United States of America for its commitment to the renewal of donations to UNRWA, a measure that will reinstate life-saving services, health care, education, and will ease the economic and social hardships faced by three million refugees, whilst raising the basic level of dignity for millions. The new administration in the United States of America could and should now lead the peace process by:

  1. Appointing a dedicated special envoy for the Middle East Peace Process. This would re-establish the US’s role as the Middle East peace maker and oversee potential steps that are taken on the ground towards the fruition of peace.
  2. Reopening the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington which would provide some measure of political recognition of the Palestinian Authority and their role as negotiating party to the two-state solution.

The Next Century Foundation further strongly encourages the Hamas government and that of the Palestinian Authority, and those elected to represent the Palestinian people in both Gaza and the West Bank, to show good will and a willingness to work together towards rapprochement. This reconciliation is essential for a unified position on the common cause of recognised Palestinian statehood, which will lead to peace in the region. The basis for this conciliation should be the Prisoners Document for National Accord, which promotes the inclusion of Hamas into the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). This would benefit all Palestinians and end existing volatile divisions and help to provide a consolidated position, making the journey to a peace deal with Israel realisable. 

Gaza Closures

As for the situation in Gaza, we call for the end on the closure of the border crossings by the governments of Israel and the Arab Republic of Egypt. The Palestinian people should be allowed to move between the West Bank and Gaza. Travel between the two areas is currently restricted to medical patients, senior merchants and emergency visits caused by deaths or grave illnesses through the Erez crossing. Such travel has been less frequent due to COVID-19 restrictions. In relation to the flow of goods and services into Gaza, the only commercial crossing in operation is via Kerem Shalom which is controlled by representatives of the Israel Defence Force. These restrictions have dampened the potential for economic development within the Gaza strip, attested by the loss of $16.7 billion these restrictions have created for the Gazan economy between 2007 and 2018.

The presence of COVID-19 in Gaza has exacerbated Gaza’s difficulties. With rampant unemployment, the persistent closure and external control of Gaza’s borders has rendered most of Gaza’s two million population reliant on humanitarian aid. Most Gazan families lack adequate sources of income to cover mere necessities.

The situation at hand highlights the urgent need to solve the border issue and grant Gaza a taste of normalcy. Furthermore, the current status quo also poses a major threat in the general pursuit of a peace process and therefore:

  • We call for the reopening of the border to allow the movement of goods and services and people to and from Gaza, in exchange for the complete cessation of rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel enforced by the leadership of Hamas. The rocket attacks target civilians and thus, in the eyes of the Government of Israel, justify both the classification of Hamas as a terrorist organisation, and the Gaza closures. However both the rockets and the closures are inconducive to the enactment of a two-state solution and if the effort is made to correct this, it may lead to a greater willingness from both sides to come to the negotiating table and discuss steps forward for peace.

Moreover, given the lack of means that Palestinians have in availing themselves of COVID-19 vaccines, we would call on Arab nations to provide these vaccines to the Palestinians who will continue to suffer economically and medically without them. The director of international cooperation at Gaza’s Ministry of Health has emphasised a shortage in medications by 47 percent and medical laboratory supplies by 62 percent which alongside a high population density and only 87 intensive care beds for a Gazan population of two million, indicate that neglecting the Palestinians on this front could be very costly. The United Arab Emirates for example has already generously provided vaccines to many in Egypt for free. A similar position could also be taken by an Arab nation with regard to the Palestinians.

Palestinian Elections

The Next Century Foundation welcomes the Palestinian legislative and Presidential elections scheduled for May and July 2021, respectively. We strongly recommend these elections are not cancelled or postponed, as has been the case with previous elections in Palestine. Elections should be fair and free, without the blocking of candidates and with the inclusion of all voters, in any municipality whether in Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza. Without these elections the political situation in both Gaza and the West Bank remains ossified and only acts as a hurdle when it comes to restarting negotiations on an Israel-Palestine peace deal. Recent talks between Hamas and Fatah have focussed on reviving Gaza’s economy. In our view this is notably dependent on moving beyond the present Hamas policy of facilitating long-term cease-fires, which inevitably always prove ineffective. That said the ending of the rocket attacks are as vital to peace as an end to the building of settlements. Genuine peace is needed if the rebuilding of the economy is to be prioritised.

The Next Century Foundation respectfully urges the Government of Israel to release Marwan Barghouti, a prisoner in Hadarim prison, Israel. In our view Marwan Barghouti does not pose a threat to Israel, and on the contrary, is in a position to negotiate peace with Israel. Barghouti’s release, particularly in light of the upcoming elections, will provide unity for Palestinians, and if he were to stand and was elected President, he would be a single voice with whom Israel can enter dialogue and progress the two-state solution.  Without such a single voice, negotiations will remain hindered at best.  By releasing Barghouti, those that have reservations about Israel’s true intentions for peace, will stand corrected.

Grassroots Peace

As a final recommendation, the Next Century Foundation would like to vouch for the young hearts of Israel and Palestine to be united through initiatives resembling those organised by Seeds for Peace and Football for Peace that have pioneered creating opportunities for dialogue and interchange between the youth of Palestine and Israel. Promoting such contact ensures the establishment of the future peace that we all strive to see within and between Israel and Palestine. International government commitment to such initiatives through extra funding is an avenue we should not ignore. It is notable that when peace talks are going well at governmental level, there is ample funding available for grassroots peacebuilding efforts. When the Middle East Peace Process is faltering, such funding opportunities dry up. To paraphrase the late great Jon Kimche: Peace is not a mere matter of living side by side without violence. Peace is a matter of concord, of living together in harmony. Peace requires commitment from all. With dedication, peace will come.

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