It’s time for the UN to lead Middle East peace drive

May 16, 2007 - 0:0
Next month, the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip will mark 40 years of living under foreign military rule. The anniversary of Israel’s occupation raises an old but serious question: where is the final peace deal that could end the suffering of the Palestinians?

The U.S. recently presented a plan that it says could pave the way for the resumption of the peace process and ultimately bring an end to the decades-old conflict. But the proposal, which asks Israel to ease restrictions of Palestinian movement in exchange for its security, was rejected by both sides – each for different reasons. The Palestinians say it legitimizes Israeli occupation, and the Israelis say they cannot dismantles a network of barriers placed all over the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinians cannot wait for ever. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a crucial impact on global stability. The time has come for the United Nations and other world powers to join forces and end Washington’s near-monopoly over Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy for most of the past 40 years.

The last time the U.S. carried out any serious final-status diplomacy was the last-ditch effort that president Clinton launched in late 2000. But it was late, and it failed. For his part, President Bush has always been very reluctant to push for final-status peace talks that the Palestinians, and most Israelis, want.

Although a final peace deal would end the decades-long conflict that has weighed heavily on both sides, both nations would need to make huge concessions. The majority of people from both sides are ready for this, but in the absence of meaningful final-status diplomacy, such hopes are always dashed.

Israeli authorities continue with their plan to Judaize the West Bank. Today, as many as 440,000 Jewish settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians of the occupied territories, including East Beit-ul-Moqaddas.

Beit-ul-Moqaddas is one of the main obstacles to reaching a final peace agreement. Israel considers all of Jerusalem its eternal capital. The Jewish state built its major settlement blocs on West Bank land just outside east Beit-ul-Moqaddas, and says it would hold on to it in any final peace deal. On the other hand, the Palestinians want East Beit-ul-Moqaddas as the capital of any future Palestinian state. They fear the territory would never be split between them and the Israelis.

The Jewish population in Beit-ul-Moqaddas is a major concern for Israel. A recent study by an Israeli research institute showed that the number of Arabs in Beit-ul-Moqaddas has grown twice as fast as its Jewish population over the past decade. The Arab population increased by 257 percent from 68,000 to 245,000 in the past 40 years, while the number of Jews has risen by 140 percent from 200,000 to 475,000.

Settlers, now a minority in the disputed city, appropriate huge quantities of land and water that it is hard to imagine how any independent Palestinian state could be established on the territories that Israel has not (yet) taken.

Being ruled by a foreign military force is never a pleasant experience. Under international law, the occupation of "foreign" land is only a short, temporary phase, that should last until both sides, the occupier and the occupied, reach a final peace deal. International law makes it clear that military occupation gives the occupying power no lasting rights of sovereignty, and that that its powers cannot include settling its own population into the occupied area.

In the Arab-Israeli conflict of June 1967, the West Bank, Gaza, Syria’s Golan Heights, and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula all came under Israeli military occupation. In 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a peace deal that paved the way for the return of all of Sinai.

But the diplomacy regarding the Palestinian territories was stalled. In 1993, the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the (interim) Oslo accords with Israel. But the agreement eventually failed and both parties are now skeptical of further interim agreements. Oslo did not guarantee the security of Israel, and it didn’t deliver neither security nor an acceptable basis for daily life to the Palestinians.

Now is the right time for the international community to make bold diplomatic moves to resolve the conflict. Palestinian leaders and Arab governments have backed a plan drafted by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in 2002 and revived last March. If offers Israel full, normal relations with all the Arab states in return for a full withdrawal from the lands it seized in 1967.

The plan is an excellent building block for ongoing diplomacy.

But Olmert remains skeptical on the demand for a full Israeli withdrawal, and his government continues to approve plans for settlement expansion. "The last 40 years were only the beginning," the Israeli Prime Minister said today at a special parliamentary session marking 40 years since Israel conquered and annexed Arab east Beit-ul-Moqaddas. "I believe, I hope and I pray that we will continue to work together to reinforce Beit-ul-Moqaddas in order to extend its boundaries."

Obviously, the Israelis aren’t ready for withdrawal.

Israel's unilateral moves in Biet-ul-Moqaddas have been condemned by UN Security Council Resolutions, including one in 1980 that resulted in 13 Beit-ul-Moqaddas- based foreign embassies being moved to Tel Aviv.

However, the Security Council can still think of alternatives to the two-state formula it has insisted on since 1947 for the area of pre-1947 Palestine.

Of course, huge obstacles are hard to overcome. But right now, it seems that the U.S. cannot handle this alone. Not even with the help of the so-called peace Quartet that has been supporting all Washington’s proposals since 2002.

This is why it’s the right time for the UN to intervene. Global stability can no longer wait until the Israeli settlers realize all their dreams. (Source: