OPINIONISTA: Middle East peace plan must guarantee sovereign equality between Palestine and Israel
South Africa, as a member of the United Nations Security Council , will continue to support all efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state, existing side-by-side and in peace with Israel, within internationally recognised borders.
Seventy-two-years ago, we spoke of a “catastrophe”, a period in Palestinian history known as the “Al-Naqba” when more than 700,000 Palestinians were forced to abandon their homeland and seek refuge in neighbouring countries and abroad as a Jewish state came into being on Palestinian soil.
Today, 72 years later, it would appear Palestinians are facing another imminent “catastrophe”, with Israel seemingly determined to annex parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley. The threats and pronouncements of annexation are in stark violation of international law, disregard international humanitarian law, United Nations Security Council Resolutions, including Resolutions 446 (1979) and 2334 (2016), agreed-upon parameters for peace, and further undermine any prospect of peace between the parties.
For more than half a century the world has stood by and watched as Palestinian land, olive grove by olive grove, village by village, town by town has been lost. We have witnessed the daily suffering of Palestinians as they are being subjected to the continued construction and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on their rightful land. We have watched as Palestinians have endured systematic discrimination as opposed to settlers who are provided services and allowed civil liberties such as freedom of movement and the issuance of building permits, a right denied to Palestinians living in the occupied territories.
Moreover, we have observed as Palestinian land and property was seized and livelihoods snatched away and destroyed, despite being on the right side of the law, as determined by international law and numerous United Nations General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.
We have borne witness as violence, riots and civil disobedience campaigns have swept across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as Palestinians have engaged in their struggle for their inalienable right to freedom and self-determination. We have looked on as men, women, the elderly and children have been victimised, assaulted and detained.
We have looked on as the humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate in the Gaza Strip with Palestinians continuing to live in unacceptable, precarious circumstances, where their movement has been restricted, where they have been given limited access to water and electricity, and deprived of the basic human rights you and I take for granted on a daily basis. We have also witnessed the occupying power restricting access to educational and economic opportunities.
Additionally, at a time when the world is facing a global pandemic with the spread of Covid-19, the Palestinians have to contend with a severely overburdened and fragile healthcare system. We have also unfortunately seen the reduction of contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which for decades has been providing basic social and humanitarian services to Palestinians.
It is said that history has a way of repeating itself, yet it would appear that we do not learn from these turbulent and painfully unjust historical events which continue to shape our present. South Africa has in its past not been spared these injustices, where one people are assigned a higher value above another. This, unfortunately, runs at the core of the occupation of Palestine. It threatens peace, stability and security, a collective value that is at the very core of the United Nations, which is commemorating its 75th anniversary this year.
We have to ask ourselves, what is theraison d’êtreof the United Nations Security Council if it continues to look the other way, adopt hollow resolutions, ignore current resolutions and fail to act against those that so arrogantly defy the very principles upon which the Security Council has been founded?
Israel, the occupying power in Palestine, has consistently illustrated through its actions a disrespect for legality and justice. This is, once again, evident in the United Nations Secretary-General’s 14th quarterly report on the implementation of Resolution 2334 of 2016 in which there are detailed accounts of continuous settlement activity by the occupying power, despite the intentions set out by adopted Security Council resolutions, such as Resolution 2334. In this regard, South Africa concurs with the observation by the Secretary-General that “the establishment and expansion of settlements fuel resentment, hopelessness and disillusionment among Palestinians and are key drivers of human rights violations, and significantly heighten Israeli-Palestinian tensions”.
Therefore, the intention to annex more Palestinian land should be regarded as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It is time that Israel, as the occupying power, be held accountable for its illegal actions and consistent violations of international law and resolutions of the Security Council.
To date, the Security Council has taken no action to stop the building of settlements on illegally occupied land; to stop the confiscation and destruction of Palestinian land and property; to stop the illegal blockade of Gaza. The Security Council’s inaction has failed the people of Palestine.
South Africa, as a current member of the Security Council, will continue to support all efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state, existing side by side and in peace with Israel, within internationally recognised borders, based on those of 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in line with all relevant UN resolutions, international law and internationally agreed parameters.
In this regard, peace can only prevail once both parties engage in inclusive dialogue and constructive negotiations without preconditions as this is the only means to ensure lasting peace, security and stability. Additionally, there must be an accountability mechanism in place to ensure that commitments are implemented. To this end, a viable and sustainable peace plan for the Middle East must ensure that Palestine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and economic viability is guaranteed, with sovereign equality between Palestine and Israel.
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