Categorized | English, WSF 2010

MIDEAST: Civil Society Takes On Israeli Settlements

Posted on 22 January 2010 by editor

Palestinian primary school students in Rafah. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Jerrold Kessell and Pierre Klochendler

JERUSALEM, Jan 21, 2010 (IPS) – Salam Fayyad turned civil society activist this week. In Salfit, on the West Bank, the Palestinian prime minister threw onto a giant bonfire goods made in Israeli settlements.

The fire was lit by municipal officials as part of a new Palestinian Authority (PA) campaign to ban anything produced by settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories. Fayyad told the campaigners, “We must all, officials and public, join together in cleaning our markets of settlements products.”

Calling the campaign part of “the effort to strengthen Palestinian industry,” Fayyad had a special word of praise for Britain which last month began the mandatory labelling of products made in the settlements, and for some nations in Latin America which, he noted, have imposed a total boycott of settlement goods.

Parallel to this official campaign, an international boycott of settlement products is at the heart of a new call by a prominent joint Palestinian-Israeli NGO which is advising international policy makers to move on settlements in order to save, in “a last-ditch effort,” the two-state solution for Palestinian-Israeli peace.

“In spite of the challenges, there still are opportunities to solve the settlement problem,” states a policy paper put out by the Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ) which is based in East Jerusalem.

“There is a two-year window of opportunity to move forward, and it is critical that new, workable ideas are put on the table,” say the Palestinian and Israeli co-editors of the PIJ, Ziad AbuZayyad and Hillel Schenker.

“The settlements in the West Bank, and particularly the continuation of settlement activity in East Jerusalem, constitute one of the primary obstacles to a resolution of the conflict. The forum offers innovative and concrete recommendations for dealing with the problem,” they told IPS.

The recommendations, drawn up at a round-table forum of distinguished Palestinian, Israeli and international civil society activists and diplomats, have been made available to IPS ahead of an international conference to be held at the end of the month.

The face-to-face encounter between Israelis and Palestinians contrasts with the inability of the two leaderships to resume peace talks suspended since Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza and the election of a new Israeli government.

The advisory policy forum is sponsored by the European Union under its special “Crisis Response and Peace Building” programme. It convened under the Chatham House rules whereby no statement is attributed to any particular expert in order to allow for full freedom of expression.

In the policy paper entitled “Israeli Settlements and the two-state solution,” the PIJ forum stresses that “the viability of a Palestinian state depends on territorial contiguity, integrity and control. A two-state solution requires secure borders for both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine… Continued Israeli construction of settlements, especially in the East Jerusalem area, makes a permanent solution difficult to reach, even unrealistic.”

“For a two-state solution to be realised, the Israeli settlement project needs to be challenged, stopped and eventually reversed,” the paper states categorically.

According to statistics compiled by Civil Society activists in the forum, the number of Jewish settlers now exceeds 500,000, some 200,000 of whom are in occupied East Jerusalem.

The report cites the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics as putting the number of settlements at 121 compared to 200 specified by Palestinian sources. In addition, Palestinians count 239 “illegal” settlement outposts whereas Israel reports more than 100 such outposts.

The PIJ forum notes that, in contrast to the official Israeli position, the outposts are illegitimate since all settlements have been designated illegal according to international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

With regard to the international community, the advisory forum makes the following policy recommendations:

- The U.S. should lead at the political level. Washington should take legal and political action against all American NGOs which support Israel’s settlement activity.

- Both the U.S. and the EU should enforce a strict ban on any NGO and any individual supporting settlement activity, including that in East Jerusalem, with the objective of “drying up financial support for the settlement movement”.

- NGOs that use tax-payer money to fund activities which violate international law, the Fourth Geneva Convention and relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions “should be prohibited by law from doing that, and should be subjected to legal prosecution, as is the case in regard to the funding or support of terror activities.”

- Restrictions should be tightened around the import of any agricultural or industrial products from the settlements.

- A broad public campaign should be launched against academics who support settlement activities.

- A campaign should be mounted against any college or institution based in the settlements.

With regard to the Palestinians, the paper supports the stance of the PA in demanding a total settlement freeze, but the PA is urged “to provide alternative work opportunities for Palestinians who work in building settlements.”

As for Israel, the forum calls on the Israeli government “to clarify its position on outposts and to remove them in accordance with its obligations outlined in the Peace Road Map.”

There is a message for Israeli pro-peace civil society; Israeli peace groups are urged to expand their lobbying campaign among the Israeli public by explaining the detrimental implications of settlements for the two-state solution.

The paper concludes with a declaration of principle: “All efforts should be strengthened and coordinated to make settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem unpopular and a costly enterprise for the Israeli government, the settlers and any bodies involved in the settlement project.”

(END)

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