The case I want to make today is that when we examine the wall, the route it takes and the associated infrastructure of control in the Occupied Territories − closures, settlements, settler only roads − it is absolutely clear that Israel has no intention of agreeing to the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian State in accordance with international law and it helps no one to pretend that this is in prospect. And let us be clear that this is the policy of successive Israeli Governments whatever the leader or party. Israel made 14 reservations to the Road Map. Reservation 5 says, amongst other things, that
The provisional state will have provisional borders and ‘certain aspects of sovereignty’. It will be fully demilitarized without the authority to undertake defense alliances or military cooperation. Israel will control the entry and exit of all persons and cargo, as well as its air space and electromagnetic space.
It is important here to underline, that although Israel insisted on the PLO recognizing the right of Israel to exist, before entering the Oslo process; and Isarel and the international community insist that Hamas should do this before rather than after negotiations, successive Israeli Governments have not recognized the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state. They talk in their reservation 5 to the Road Map of “certain aspects of sovereignty”, other phrases used are autonomy plus and/or state minus.
Once we are clear about this and when we examine the route of the wall or security fence − it matters not what we call it − it is clear that Israel is intent on confining the Palestinian population to a series of cantons or enclaves which are intended to perform the same function as did the Bantustans under the South African apartheid system. Israel seeks to control the whole of Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river, and confine the Palestinian population to prison like conditions, as they currently experience in Gaza and increasingly in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The wall separates Palestinian villages from their land, surrounds Palestinian towns, separates East Jerusalem from the West Bank and incorporates massive settlements within Israel. The more than 300 permanent closures and the settler only roads mean that Palestinians cannot move about their territory. They are hemmed in and humiliated when they wish to travel. Their economy is shrinking and thus unemployment and poverty is growing and will continue to grow.
The second major point I want to make is that everyone knows that this behaviour is a complete breach of international law. Israel is incorporating territory taken by force in breach of the United Nations Charter. Its settlements, collective punishments, failure to provide decent conditions for civilians in the Occupied Territories, and its treatment of prisoners, are grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, and no country or high contracting party does anything about this. Israel of course denies that the Occupied Territories are occupied territories in international law but no serious authority accepts this.
We are all aware that in 2004, the International Court of Justice declared the route of the wall illegal and called for it to be dismantled. I will read a passage from the judgement:
The Court is the view that all States are under obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem. They are also under an obligation not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction. It is also for all States, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to see to it that any impediment, resulting from the construction of the wall, to the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination is brought to an end. In addition, all the States parties to the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 are under an obligation, while respective the United Nations Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.— ICJ ruling, July 9, 2004, Article 159
Given this, is it not outrageous that the US, UN, EU and Russia, and the rest of the international community, do nothing to enforce this judgement and continue to negotiate on the basis of the Road Map knowing what the International Court of Justice and the facts on the ground tell us.
The conclusion, I am afraid, is clear. Israel intends to offer the Palestinians a series of bantustans; it will give them no control over their borders, access to the sea or air, as in Gaza now and call it Palestinian autonomy. This could either be the outcome of the Road Map process of negotiation, or the negotiations can continue indefinitely or break down and never reach a conclusion but this will be the reality on the ground.
It is also notable that President Bush, in his letter to Prime Minister Sharon of April 14, 2004, basically spelled out that this proposal was acceptable. President Bush was responding to Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan. He spelled out that he intended to pursue the Road Map and what he calls his “June 24, 2004 vision of two States living side by side in peace and security as the key to peace, and now the Road Map as the route to get there and goes on to say that, “… the US understands that after Israel withdraws from Gaza and/or parts of the West Bank, and pending agreement on other arrangements, existing arrangements regarding control of airspace, territorial water, and land passages in the West Bank and Gaza will continue.” The letter goes on to say that “…a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of the final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian State, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel” – so it seems that the Bantustans also have to accept the refugees.
The third major undertaking in President Bush’s letter was the statement that “In light of the new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949”. So we must conclude that President Bush accepts the idea of Palestine as a series of bantustans with no control over its borders that the refugees should return here and that the settlement blocks can remain with Israel.
I am afraid we cannot comfort ourselves by arguing that this is the view of an unpopular President, whose term of office is about to end, because two months later, the House of Representatives endorsed these commitments in a vote of 407-9. The next day, the Senate did the same by 95-3. Prime Minister Sharon, as might be expected, called the vote supporting the Bush letter one of the greatest diplomatic achievements in Israel’s history.
And let us also be clear that it is not just the United States that is tearing up international law and accepting the idea of Palestine as a series of cantons/bantustans without any control over its borders, as an outcome of the peace process. The European Union has not uttered these words but it has a trade treaty with Israel which gives it privileged access to EU markets, which contains human rights conditionalities. But the EU has not seen fit to invoke them to uphold international law in relation to the Occupied Territory.
My conclusion is pessimistic. I agree that the best way forward to bring relief to the Palestinian people and calm the bitter anger of the Middle East and Moslem world, would be a two-State solution, leading on in time to an opening of borders and integration of Palestine and Israel into the region. But the facts on the ground and the realities of international diplomacy tell us that what is to be offered to the Palestinians is a series of Bantustans, with no control over their borders, within which they are to be offered autonomy. No responsible Palestinian Government can accept this and any that did would not have the support of the Palestinian people. The conclusion has to be that we are facing years, if not decades of suffering, bloodshed and conflict. We will see as Prime Minister Olmert has said a campaign growing again for one united Palestine for all its people – the second great anti-apartheid campaign. This will be the consequence of the reality on the ground that the prospect of a realistic two-State solution has been destroyed. This is a recipe for endless conflict and bloodshed.
In addition to this, the situation spells out the fact that, might is right and that international law can be set aside when it suits. This endangers wider international stability and feeds the justification for the use of violence by non-state actors.
So – we should ask ourselves – what is to be done? It simply isn’t good enough for us to meet and call for two States and compliance with international or to hope that a new US President will change or that the EU will suddenly change its tune.
We should instead – through this Committee – or as civil society or as groups of countries:
Make every effort to re-unite the Palestinians. All colonial history tells us that division creates weakness. Perhaps after Qatar’s success in Lebanon, we should ask them to act or groups of sympathetic countries should come together, talk to Hamas and work for Palestinian unity;
Civil society across Europe, North America and the Arabs and Moslem world should take up the judgement of the International Court of Justice and demand that international humanitarian law is implemented;
All pressure should be brought to bear in Europe and on the EU to invoke the human rights conditionality in the EU/Israel trade treaty to uphold international law;
The United Nations must withdraw from the Quartet. The UN role is surely to uphold international law, not collude in it being profoundly undermine;
All countries like Malta, Greece, Spain, Sweden, that understands that if we fail to stand up for a just peace for Palestine/Israel, we damage the interests of both people, of the US, EU, and the whole international community, should come together as a coalition of the willing, with countries like South Africa, Brazil and maybe China, and work for Palestinian unity and the enforcement of international law; Let us be clear because of German guilt and UK poodledom, plus the history of other countries, the EU will not act as a block.
We should hope and work for a change in US policy with a new President. But we should not expect it. Remember the vote in Congress on President Bush’s letter. We need civil society and coalitions of the willing to take the lead – otherwise the future is very bleak.