Global NGO coalition in support of two-State solution proposed

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Gershon Baskin recommends that the U.N. Security Council be fully authorized to use all its tools to bring about Israeli withdrawal. The implementation mechanism could be the empowerment of the Quartet. Israel must then immediately remove outposts and stop settlement expansion. The Council would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the two States and, recognizing the importance of the Holy Sites, place them under international guardianship. The Council would also announce its readiness to deploy peacekeeping forces. Once that plan was put into place, the Provisional Government of the State of Palestine would set a date for new elections, and Hamas would either recognize the State or be removed from relevance by the Palestinian people.

At today’s United Nations Public Forum in Support of the Palestinian People, non-governmental organizations, students and others discussed ways in which civil society could promote more solidarity with the Palestinian people and how they could join forces to support a peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stressing that the two-State solution was the only way.

The one-day event followed the United Nations Asian and Pacific Meeting on the Question of Palestine that took place in Jakarta on 8 and 9 June 2009. Both events, hosted by the Government of Indonesia, took place under the auspices of the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

In opening remarks, Desra Percaya, Director for International Security and Disarmament, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, encouraged NGOs to assist in the peace process, as their ideas and enthusiasm were critical to the international community. In order to be effective, however, NGOs must not only be abreast of developments, they must also work in close collaboration with other NGOs to form a strong network.

Chairman of the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Paul Badji, commended civil society organization for their efforts to uphold international legitimacy with regard to the question of Palestine through advocacy and the mobilization of public opinion, and urged them to harmonize their efforts at the local, national, regional and international levels.

The Forum consisted of two panel discussions on the themes of “Civil society in solidarity with the Palestinian people” and “Joining forces – Civil society of Asia and the Pacific and worldwide initiatives to support a peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, during which panellists highlighted their organizations’ activities and offered ideas and plans for advancing the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

Opening Statements

PAUL BADJI, Chairman, Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the Committee periodically held consultations with civil society representatives to seek their input and new ideas as to how the Committee’s work could be improved. The Committee commended civil society organizations for their efforts to uphold international legitimacy with regard to the question of Palestine through advocacy and the mobilization of public opinion. It encouraged civil society organizations to broaden their base, involving trade unions and other large organizations, and to focus and harmonize their efforts at the local, national, regional and international levels.

He said the Committee had been following with great appreciation various activities in support of the Palestinian people carried out by civil society organizations in the Asian and Pacific region. It was highly appreciative of Indonesian civil society organizations’ strong support for the Palestinian people. The holding of the International Humanitarian Conference on Assistance to Victims of Occupation late last year in Jakarta was a clear sign of it. It was also aware of the very strong civil society community in the Pacific region organizing many solidarity and awareness campaigns in support of the Palestinian cause.

He informed participants that the Committee would convene in Geneva, on 22 and 23 July 2009, the UN International Meeting on the Question of Palestine with the theme “Responsibility of the international community to uphold international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the wake of the war in Gaza”.

The Palestinian people had suffered for too long, too much, he said.

Regrettably, the international community had failed to stop the devastating offensive in Gaza. Governments, the United Nations and civil society must each play their own role to bring the long lost justice back to the Palestinian people. The Committee stood ready to work with civil society organizations in that endeavour.

DESRA PERCAYA, Director for International Security and Disarmament, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, welcoming all, said the longstanding Palestinian-Israeli conflict had had many faces, including war, destruction, dislocation and humanitarian stress, and Palestinians had been denied peace and justice for far too long. He hoped that civil society would contribute ideas on how to continue to search for answers on how the Palestinians could enjoy a sovereign and independent State. He encouraged NGOs to assist in the peace process. Their ideas and enthusiasm were critical to the international community.

He said that to be effective, civil society actors should ensure that they were organized and up to date. Not only must they be abreast of developments, they must also work in close collaboration with other NGOs to form a strong network. He hoped that regional NGO networks could work in solidarity with each other to move the peace process forward until the final objective was achieved. His Government was prepared to work with the NGOs that demonstrated organization and commitment. An opportunity such as the Public Forum was a starting point to demonstrate readiness to participate in support of the Palestinian people to achieve their right to an independent, prosperous and peaceful State.

Panel on “Civil society in solidarity with the Palestine people”

The Panel was moderated by RAM KARTHIGASU, grassroots organizer from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

JOHARAH BAKER, Senior Writer with MIFTAH – The Palestinian Initiative for Global Dialogue and Democracy and former Editor of the Palestine Report , said that as a Palestinian writer involved in the media, it had been increasingly difficult not to be overwhelmed with frustration. Trying to portray the Palestinian perspective meant running against an extremely strong counter current of biases about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the majority of western media. In the mainstream English language media, the image of violence when covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was almost always prevalent. The coverage of Israel’s operation Cast Lead in Gaza was an example of terrible distortions.

She said for the Palestinians in the media dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the main purpose was to convey the goal of all Palestinians, namely ending the occupation. All too often, that goal was lost in the details. It was important to keep in mind that the conflict was not about Hamas, Fatah or even about a military conflict. It was about ending an illegal Israeli occupation.

Mainstream English language media often ignored that fact, she said.

When an apartment in Gaza City was bombed, killing 19 civilians, because Israel wanted to take out one Hamas operative, the Israeli rhetoric was one of defence and security. The fact that civilians were killed was brushed aside, and that they had lived under oppressive occupation for over 40 years was not taken into consideration. The media had grown accustomed to a kind of tunnel vision, where there was Palestinian “terror” and “Israel’s necessary retaliation”.

Although she did not support suicide bombings or violence, she did take issue with the fact that people often refused to consider the possibility that suicide bombings were a symptom of a much bigger problem.

The Palestinian media had not done a sufficient job in conveying their just cause properly. It is a duty to seek out the truth even if that meant to put oneself in the way of criticism or even ostracism. There were bold Israeli journalists who spoke a truth that many in their own society would rather not hear.

She said there was no absolute truth or complete objectivity, but a responsible piece written from a certain perspective could offer a window into a situation not available otherwise. As Edmund Burke once said, “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

GERSHON BASKIN, Co-Chair, Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), Jerusalem, introduced a plan devised by a strategic unit of his “think and do tank” on how to move forward following the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, with the assumption, among others, that there was now a chance that the United States would cease to use its veto in the Security Council on Israeli-Palestinian issues. As the Israelis had always coordinated strategic issues with Washington, now it might be possible for the Palestinians to coordinate their strategies with Washington as well.

He said that the Palestinian State existed and had been recognized by more than 100 countries. The borders had been defined, and it was decided that Jerusalem would be the capital of the two States, Israel and Palestine. As the Palestinian State already existed, President Abbas should now submit a formal request for membership to the United Nations, with the knowledge that the United States would not block that request with a veto in the Security Council, he said. Such a request would certainly get the needed two-thirds support in the General Assembly. That would change the rules of the game, he said, as Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was no longer an occupation of undefined territories, but an occupation by one United Nations Member State of another Member State.

The Security Council would then be fully authorized to use all its tools to bring about Israeli withdrawal. The implementation mechanism could be the empowerment of the Quartet. Israel must then immediately remove outposts and stop settlement expansion. The Council would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the two States and, recognizing the importance of the Holy Sites, place them under international guardianship. The Council would also announce its readiness to deploy peacekeeping forces.

Once that plan was put into place, the Provisional Government of the State of Palestine would set a date for new elections, he said. Hamas would either recognize the State or be removed from relevance by the Palestinian people.

HIKMAHANTO JUWANA, Professor of Law, University of Indonesia, Jakarta, addressed the impact of academia and academicians’responsibilities. He said the conflict had been researched by professors and students and some of that research had been published in newspapers.

Faculty members and students had held seminars. It was the moral responsibility of academicians and students to inform the public at large, as they had sometimes been influenced by biased information.

He said academicians had the responsibility to explain the complexities of the conflict to the public according to their specializations. They had the responsibility to ensure that people were not misled and that the public was well enough informed so that it could advocate its solidarity in a civilized matter. Academicians could also strengthen Government positions. When Gaza had been invaded, various means to stop that invasion had been considered by the Indonesian Government, including asking the Security Council for a resolution.

He said he had written an article saying that there should be a call for a “coalition of the willing”, as had been done in other cases. Such a coalition of the willing was a crazy idea, but it would get the attention of Israel.

NIZAM BASHIR, Member of the Legal Team, Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalize War, Malacca, Malaysia, noted that today, 10 June, was the forty-second anniversary of the Six Day War. Yet Israelis continued its occupation of the Palestinian Territory. One of the reason that the status quo had remained unchanged since then was that the media had failed to highlight the illegality of Israeli actions under the objective parameters of international law.

He said the International Court of Justice, at the request of General Assembly, had issued an advisory opinion, in which it decided that the construction of the separation wall on Palestinian territory was illegal.

The ICJ held that the settlements had been “established in breach of international law”. The ICJ had also concluded that settlements in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” were illegal, thereby countering Israel’s claim that East Jerusalem was part of its eternal and undivided capital.

As Israel had often been accused of human rights violations, it should first be established whether Palestinians enjoyed any human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory according to international human rights and humanitarian law. The ICJ clarified that matter in its Advisory Opinion, as it found that the Fourth Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child applied to Israel within the Occupied Palestinian Territory as Israel exercised territorial jurisdiction there.

The Advisory Opinion had affirmed that the construction of the wall constituted breaches of Israel’s obligations as it changed the demographics of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, restricted freedom of movement, and impeded the exercise of the right to work, health, education and to an adequate standard of living. Other human rights violations were assessed by such organizations as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The media, however, presented an alternate reality. The Occupied Palestinian Territory was referred to as disputed territories. There was, however, no dispute as the ICJ had confirmed the borders. Some media insisted that the wall was necessary because of security concerns. That argument had also been rejected by the ICJ decision, which said “[…] the infringements resulting from that route cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of national security or public order.”

The media stated also that Israel obeyed to rules of wars. That could not be reconciled with the number of Palestinian civilians killed as compared to the numbers of Israeli civilians killed. It was time for the media to realize that international law was important.

MARIE ANTONETTE S. LEVISTE, Outreach convener, Young Moro Professionals Network, Manila, Philippines, said the Quran and the Bible taught peace, as did the Torah. If people stopped for one moment to reflect the essence of their faiths, perhaps there would be no need for today’s forum. As Mr. Obama had said, “The interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart”.

She said it was not justice and peace that one had to create.

Rather, there was a need to remove the obstacles that prevented justice and peace from thriving and flowing freely. “Our work must be to stand with the marginalized, seek out the root causes of injustice and violence and then work to remove those root causes. To be called a member of the human race, we must first practice our humanity by forbidding the inhumane”, she said.

Using slides to show the devastation and deaths caused by Israelis, she asked rhetorically, “Why are Palestinians reacting against Israel?”

She said a picture was worth a thousand words and the images shown spoke for themselves. She would make it her responsibility to spread those images to all corners of the globe with the help of the Internet, along with an enthusiastic force of over 300,000 Young Moro Professionals, “one click at a time”.

She said, regardless of race, religion or station in life, whether one was Muslim in Mindanao, a coloured man in America or a Jew in Palestine, “All of us share common aspirations: to live in peace and security; to get education and to work with dignity; to love our families, respect our communities and pray to our God”. She said one of the characteristics of a good Muslim was “having patience in facing difficulties during extreme poverty, sickness and doing battles”. “We have been patient, but God helps those who help themselves”, she said.

Panel on “Joining forces – Civil society of Asian and the Pacific and worldwide initiatives to support a peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”

The panel was moderated by HIKMAHANTO JUWANA, Professor of Law at the University of Indonesia.

RAM KARTHIGASU, Grassroots Organizer, Kuala Lumpur, said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affected foreign policy, diplomatic relations as well as international trade for many countries, even those as far away as Malaysia. The NGOs in Malaysia were often spearheaded by radical NGOs.

That was the result of the failure to explain the fact that there were hundreds of Jews and Muslims in the region that did not take part, because they did not want to encroach on other faiths.

NGOs could be stronger if they cooperated regionally, he said. Asian civil society had to work on specific issues and identify specific causes in order to have categorized yet collective efforts. There must be efforts ranging from creating awareness of the refugees’ right of return to the current humanitarian plight of the citizens of Gaza, the wall, et cetera.

There must also be information campaigns regarding Israel’s military links to countries in the Asian region and what could be done to counter such ties. Malaysian NGOs tended to focus on general issues of peace. If they would take on issues one by one, their efforts could have greater impact.

He said the issue was used as a pretext for both state and conventional terrorism. The conflict resulted in further violence in the region and elsewhere, and the situation had evolved into a stage where governments were constantly on their toes, ensuring the world remained in a state of paranoia and high tension.

It was not a religious war, he said. Jews and Muslims had been living with each other peacefully for centuries. The myth that the conflict was one purely between faiths, however, had been successfully propagated by those who benefited from such thinking. Asian civil society must play an important role in eradicating that illusion.

There was a constant need for awareness and advocacy campaigns to ensure that enough pressure was put on governments to take constructive action on the international stage, he said. The recent attempts by certain members of the United Nations to invoke resolution 377 – “Uniting for Peace” – in relation to the invasion was a good example of civil society-government cooperation. As the UN had always utilized civil society organizations in global issues, there was a need to maintain and further maximize the potential of that partnership.

LATIF DORI, Secretary, Committee for Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue, Tel Aviv, said civil society organizations could fulfil a very important role in confronting the Occupation. Combining the forces of civil society of Asia and the Pacific to that end should have high priority. There was a need for a comprehensive and dynamic plan of action, organizing and mobilizing international efforts.

He said his organization was launching several international campaigns, including a campaign for “an end to the Occupation”, with demonstrations, marches, hunger strikes, press conferences and more. It was also launching international campaigns in support of Palestinian prisoners and of Palestinian women, among other things. Those and other campaigns would culminate in a giant demonstration in Jerusalem that would attract tens of thousands from all over the world to express their identification with the struggle of the Palestinian people and with the Israeli peace forces.

Numerous organizations for peace and solidarity with the Palestinian people had managed to bring out millions of people to rousing demonstrations against the Israeli invasion in the Gaza Strip, including in Skahnin, with some 150,000 Palestinian Arab participants as well as a large Jewish delegation. The activities of the Israeli peace movements encountered numerous difficulties, however, especially since the right wing government had come to power. They needed to be included more fully in the international activity.

Quoting the Arab proverb “The dove flies with both its wings”, he said the joint struggle would cause the dove of peace to fly with both Israeli and Palestinian wings, arriving at the two Jerusalems: the Jewish western Jerusalem, capital of the Israeli State, and the Arab eastern Jerusalem, capital of the Palestinian State. “And from both of them, may the dove fly on to Amman and Damascus, to Beirut and Baghdad, and to Tunis and Rabat,” he said

SONJA KARKAR, President, Women for Palestine, Sydney, said the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s occupation, ethnic cleansing and institutionalized apartheid over 61 years was the defining struggle of the twenty-first century. The savagery of Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza had brought a seismic shift in the way people thought about the question of Palestine. The ripple effect was reaching the four corners of the globe, including Australia.

She said that nevertheless, there were a number of challenges that impeded Australia’s solidarity work for the Palestinian people. Melbourne had the largest post-Holocaust population in the world after Israel, and Zionist organizations played a significant role in legitimating the illegal occupation at the highest governmental and business levels. Australia’s support for Israel went back to its creation in 1948, and the country had increasingly aligned itself with US foreign policies.

It was against that background that Palestine solidarity groups were having to battle, she said. A reframing of the Palestine advocacy agenda in Australia had helped to provide a much more effective voice. Israel’s attack on Jenin in 2002 had been the catalyst for that change and it had first come from women in Melbourne, who had staged weekly public vigils in the city centre. Other volunteer groups had begun forming and their work had done much to help raise the profile of the question of Palestine.

Unfortunately, a single national solidarity movement still did not exist.

Concentrated international pressure was the only way that Israel’s stranglehold on the Palestinians could be broken, she said. Israel had to hurt economically and politically, and the most effective way of making that happen was to undertake global campaigns of boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS campaigns).

Under the banner of the “Australian Coalition Against Apartheid Israel (ACAAI)”, several solidarity groups in Australia had come together and had already launched several boycott campaigns. The global BDS campaigns currently running against corporations were extensive and effects of those campaigns were beginning to show. Consumer boycotts of Israeli goods in the UK and Scandinavian countries, for instance, had led to a 21 per cent drop in demand of such products.

Giving examples of other campaigns, she said that every November, in solidarity with the global “Stop the Wall” campaign, a mock Wall was erected in Melbourne to remind people of the most easily recognized edifice to Israel’s apartheid, racist ideology.

She said Israel was working hard to make the two-State solution impossible. The focus of campaigns must be to expose Israel’s apartheid regime as the most prolonged colonial enterprise of modern times. In the event of any compromised two-State solution being implemented, there was a moral duty to expose the restrictions that would prevent full Palestinian sovereignty. In the two-State solution scenario, Palestinians must be allowed to have a viable and sovereign nation-state amongst all other nations.

DIN SYAMSUDDIN, Chairman of Muhammadiyah, an Indonesian Islamic organization, said concern in Indonesia for the Palestinian cause stemmed from an Islamic motive, but also from Indonesia’s Constitution, which was against all kinds of colonialism. There were many groups in Indonesia that showed solidarity with the Palestinian people.

He said many Islamic movements had been consolidated in one organization, the Indonesia-Palestine Friendship Initiative. Other motivations for NGOs included a perception of the conflict as a territorial dispute or as a problem of injustice. NGOs were also putting pressure on politicians and the Government to take concrete and hard measures based on the constitution, and the Government was listening.

What was needed, he said, were campaigns and advocacy activities to create awareness in order to “mainstream” the question of Palestine as an issue of peace. That was why he agreed with the two-State solution.

Mainstreaming peace and emphasizing the importance of the two-State solution was a realistic way, he said and encouraged the Government and all movements for solidarity with Palestinians to follow that “middle way”.

He suggested the a global coalition or a global movement of strategy coalitions for solidarity with Palestinians be launched in order to encourage the new United States Administration to concretely implement the very good speeches of President Obama. There were people of peace and goodwill.

After the presentations, representatives of several NGOs and civil society groups participated in the discussions following the Panels’ presentations, including: Indonesia Committee of Religions for Peace; Indonesia-Palestine Friendship Initiative; Junior Diplomatic Course, Foreign Ministry of Indonesia; Australians for Palestine; Australian Friends of Palestine Association; and All India Indo-Arab Friendship Association.”.

Closing Remarks

PAUL BADJI, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, expressing sincere appreciation to all for participating in the Forum, said participants had learned about the work of Palestinian and Israeli friends and their respective organizations to support the two-State solution and to bridge the divide between the two peoples. They had also heard about various activities and the unique role played by civil society organizations in the Asia and Pacific region in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace. He hoped the Forum would help broaden their base further and that their advocacy efforts at the local, national and regional levels would also lead to concerted efforts at the international level.

He said the Committee would continue to work with civil society organizations towards the two-State solution, the only feasible solution to the conflict. Civil society organizations closely working with the Committee came together in the framework of the International Coordinating Network on Palestine (ICNP) and other umbrella organizations. He hoped that more Asian and Pacific civil society organizations would become involved in that chain.

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.
Gershon Baskin