Israel Imposing Apartheid Regime against Palestinians, Speakers Stress, Noting 2021 among Deadliest Years in Over a Decade for Civilian Population
Intensified efforts are urgently needed to resolve the Israel-Palestine situation with a view to reaching the overall goal of two States living side by side in peace and security, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said today at the first formal meeting of the Palestinian Rights Committee in 2022.
“There is no plan B,” he told members of the 25-member entity, known formally as the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which the General Assembly established in 1975. “Time is running short. We cannot lose sight of the long-sought goal of ending the occupation and realizing a two-State solution. All parties must take concrete steps to improve the prospects of a negotiated solution and achieve a just and lasting peace.”
Piecemeal approaches to the question of Palestine will only ensure that the underlying issues perpetuating the conflict remain unaddressed, he said, emphasizing that unilateral steps and illegal actions that drive the conflict must stop. Concerned about continued violence across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said all settlement activity is illegal and must stop. Continued human rights violations against Palestinians significantly impede their ability to live in security and to develop their communities and economy, he continued, also calling on all parties to preserve the status quo at the holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.
While working towards reviving the political process, he said the international community must support efforts to improve the economic and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The United Nations Humanitarian Flash Appeal for Gaza has received vital support, reconstruction efforts in Gaza are ongoing and the Organization’s system continues with critical COVID-19 response efforts on the ground. At the same time, concerns remain about the dire fiscal situation facing the Palestinian Authority, which is undermining its institutional stability and ability to provide services to its people. In addition, the existential financial threat facing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is affecting the rights and well-being of Palestine refugees across the region.
Calling on Member States to increase their financial support to the Palestinian people and their contributions to UNRWA, he said Israeli decisions to increase the movement of goods and people in and out of the Gaza Strip is not enough. For sustainable improvement to lives and livelihoods in Gaza, it is important to expand such steps and work towards a full lifting of the closures in line with Security Council resolution 1860 (2009). For its part, the United Nations is committed to supporting Palestinians and Israelis to resolve the conflict, he said.
Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, an observer for the State of Palestine, regretted to note that 2022 has begun the same as 2021, as the occupation continues amid violence, displacement and trauma against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Leading human rights organizations have reached the same conclusions: that Israel is imposing an apartheid regime against the Palestinian people. As such, the international community must be clear: this is not about antisemitism, but about human rights, based on facts and international law. Citing such incidents as the Gaza blockade, she said there is ample proof that war crimes are being committed. Emphasizing that it is time to change this, she said that without action, the situation will become more deplorable as Israel becomes more bold in its impunity.
The Palestine leadership has proven that it is a partner for peace, she said, reiterating its commitment to using all diplomatic means to bring an end to occupation and achieve freedom and rights for all Palestinians. Calling on the international community and civil society to take action to resolve these serious concerns, she asked the Committee to address the root causes of the current injustices and to work towards achieving a just solution, with two States based on General Assembly resolutions. Reiterating an appeal for assistance for UNRWA, she expressed gratitude to the Secretary-General and the Committee for their tireless efforts and anticipated working with members towards achieving peace.
Cheikh Niang (Senegal), speaking upon his re-election as Committee Chair, thanking members for their hard work and commitment to the Palestinian cause, said the Committee is constantly working to improve and reinvent itself against an ever more uncertain backdrop. In 2021, the Palestinian people faced a particularly challenging year amid the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the further advancement of Israeli settlements, continued movement restrictions and the disproportionate use of force by Israeli security forces, which led to heavy human and material losses in May. As it stands committed to a peaceful settlement of the conflict, the Committee condemns all forms of violence and incitement to hatred, regardless of their perpetrators.
Urging both parties to return to the negotiating table to pursue a lasting peace through the creation of two sovereign States, he underlined the need to shore up the international community’s commitment to a two-State solution, which requires a relaunch of the peace process. The international community and in particular the Middle East Quartet should support the Palestinian Authority in working to bring an end to the conflict, and in facing such challenges as terrorism, poverty, violence, and exclusion. Warning against any unilateral steps by any party, he underlined the need for respect for the region’s holy sites, as well as the right of Muslim people to prayer at them. Meanwhile, UNRWA also needs support to continue providing critical services in education, health care, humanitarian assistance and sustainable development. The Committee will continue to engage with all stakeholders and support any initiative aimed at realizing the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in line with a two-State solution.
Highlighting some of the work ahead, he said the Committee will hold several virtual events during the session, including one in March on the issue of “apartheid” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, featuring prominent human rights organizations, including Amnesty International. Other virtual events include a panel on the margins of the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women and a discussion on illegal Israeli settlements, with a focus on the case study of Hebron.
The Committee re-elected Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta (Cuba), Arrmanatha Christiawan Nasir (Indonesia), Neville Melvin Gertze (Namibia) and Jaime Hermida Castillo (Nicaragua) as Vice-Chairs. The Committee is still in consultation to fill the vacant posts of Rapporteur and one Vice-Chair.
Mr. Pedroso Cuesta (Cuba), one of the Committee’s newly elected Vice-Chairs, took the floor to stress that resolving the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory requires renewed efforts by the international community. Noting that 2021 was one of the deadliest years for the Palestinian people in more than a decade, he declared: “Israel is criminalizing and attacking civilians and humanitarian workers, and nothing happens.” Emphasizing that the Palestinian people are facing a situation of genuine apartheid, he said it is the global community’s obligation to put an end to such colonial situations. Against that backdrop, he cited the Committee’s 2022 busy programme of work and pledged to work tirelessly towards a two-State solution that will finally ensure the Palestinian people the crucial right to self-determination.
In other business, the Committee adopted its programme of work for 2022 (document A/AC.183/2022/L.2).
The Committee will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.
Several Committee members took the floor to express their views on the body’s 2022 programme of work and on its mandate more broadly, as well as on the situation on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The representative of Egypt, congratulating the newly elected and re-elected members of the Bureau, said the Palestinian cause is currently at a critical juncture and facing a range of serious new threats. While neither side currently wishes to see a change in the status quo, recent months have seen increasing Israeli violations at holy sites in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as accelerating settlement activities. The Committee has a role to play in ending that worrying situation, including through its awareness-raising activities and by supporting a return to negotiations, he said.
India’s representative said his delegation has long supported the international community’s quest for a two-State solution, as reflected by its support to UNRWA and its bilateral work with the Palestinian Authority. Voicing concern over the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he warned against unilateral measures that alter the situation on the ground and pose serious challenges to the resumption of peace talks. Urging the parties to focus on constructive measures, he reiterated India’s calls for a resumption of dialogue leading to the establishment of two sovereign States living side by side in line with international agreements and pre-1967 borders.
The representative of Tunisia echoed other speakers in calling for an end to the long-standing Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian State. Expressing support for the Committee’s 2022 programme of work, he welcomed its openness to hearing the voices of civil society members, non-governmental organizations, women leaders, and a range of other crucial stakeholders, while pledging Tunisia’s support for its planned activities and events over the course of the year.
The representative of Indonesia, pointing out that the situation on the ground remains extremely distant from the vision of a two-State solution, urged the international community to redouble its concerted efforts to achieve that goal. As a member of the Bureau, he pledged his country’s unwavering support to the Palestinian people and vowed to work in defence of their inalienable rights.
Lebanon’s delegate noted the Committee’s outstanding efforts to keep the Palestinian question in the spotlight through conferences, seminars, workshops and activities, as reflected in its programme of work for 2022. Commending efforts to increase the world’s attention and interest in the situation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to shine a spotlight on the daily struggle of Palestinians, he said the Israeli practices of house demolitions, uprooting Palestinians from their homes, arbitrary detention and daily humiliation and aggression continue unabated. “Despite international efforts, multiple peace initiatives and relevant United Nations resolutions, the reality on the ground for the Palestinians has worsened over the last 70 years,” he said, as Israel continues to disregard international law.
The representative of China, joining other speakers in commending the Committee’s efforts to carry out its mandate, said 2022 marks the seventy-fifth year that the Question of Palestine will feature on the United Nations agenda. “Let’s hope that 2022 will not be another year without much progress on this file,” he said, urging the two parties to engage in direct negotiations as soon as possible and voicing support for efforts to enhance the Palestinian Authority’s authority in such areas as security and financing. Settlement expansion, evictions and forced demolitions — as well as violence against civilians — only further erodes mutual trust and exacerbates the situation. In that context, he called for the urgent holding of an international peace conference under the auspices of the United Nations and expressed his country’s support for a two-State solution and the peaceful coexistence between Palestine and Israel.
Also speaking were the representatives of Jordan, Turkey, Bangladesh and Venezuela.