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The Question of Palestine: Divisions at the Top and Human Insecurity at the Bottom

31 Jul

The Security Council (SC) debated on 25 July 2012 whether or not Palestine could become a Member State of the United Nations in a debate entitled “The Question of Palestine.” Yet, the standard rhetoric clouded the issue and buried it within the ongoing Israel-Palestine and Israel-Arab world divides. Several other divides also surfaced stemming from historic occurrences, present actions and current ongoing conflicts that continue to produce gaps and stall peace negotiations. These divisions reveal the underlying fundamental issue: the divide between State security and human security and the disconnect that exists between high-level officials and the human perspective.

When discussing Israel and Palestine the underlying systemic issues dividing the Middle East and the international community surface. The continual divide between Israel and the Arab world; Iran’s alleged enrichment of nuclear weapons; and the Syrian Conflict – a subject within which there are multiple high-level divides – collectively clouded the focal issue on Wednesday and continue to form the broader backdrop against which the Palestine-Israel issue is framed.

The topic of peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel has been ongoing since 1967. A stalemate in negotiations between Palestine and Israel has endured since 2010. The “Question” of Palestine has been reviewed several times at Security Council meetings. Israel refused to attend the last Council meeting fearing it would only result in countries ganging-up on them from multiple sides. This was the reality at the 25 July 2012 meeting.

The meeting began with Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. Serry expressed that a continued stall in peace negotiations is perilous and an effort to restart direct talks between Israel and Palestine is critical. The “worrying issues on the ground” make this timing of the utmost importance. A Two-State agreement is vital to reaching peace and security in the region and on a global scale.

The stalemate in the peace process between Palestine and Israel is based on four main issues: Israel’s continued construction and encroachment of settlements, destruction of agricultural and orchard lands, violations of multiple international laws and the six year blockade in Gaza; the internal divides that exist within Palestine stemming from the ousting of Fatah from Gaza by Hamas in 2001,resulting in tensions  between the Hamas-lead government under Ismail Haniya and the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas; the pre-1967 boundaries; and a diminished or nonexistent level of trust due to enduring violence and conflicts as well as terrorist attacks in the region.

The Palestinians, as well as Egypt, Qatar, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Tunisia and Syria agreed that Palestinians were specifically targeted for war crimes and ethnic cleansing through the use of “demographic change via geographical expansions” and that it represents a “collective punishment” by the “colonizers.”

The majority of the SC, including four of the P-5 (excluding the United States), agreed that Israel’s illegal settlements as well as the blockade erected in 2004 were the main cause of the stalled peace negotiations, with Iran specifically stressing that Israel should immediately return all of its occupied territories – meaning their past military occupations of lands within Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

The U.S. delegate stressed that “unilateral decisions were contrary to reaching a two-State agreement,” which is essential to the end goal of creating an “independent Palestinian State living in peace and security alongside a Jewish democratic State.” The U.S. also did not support expansions of outposts. In response, Russia specifically suggested that the U.S. has been supporting Israel’s expansions– an accusation based on the U.S. veto of the 2011 UN Resolution which was to declare Israeli settlements illegal.

Israel was further accused of detaining multiple Palestinians illegally – many of which are children and not allowing visits from Palestinian families. Only recently was one visit allowed. Reports of continued hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners continue and allegations of torture ensued at the meeting. This is a grave and sensitive issue which fuels anger on the Palestinian side and further increases human and State insecurity in the region.

Palestine was blamed – mostly by Israel for engaging in, supporting and continuing acts of violence.  Israel blamed Hamas for carrying out continued terrorist attacks on Israeli soil and accused them of engaging in rocket launches. The majority of speakers at the meeting condemned such actions. All states at the meeting stated they condemned any and all acts of terrorism.

Israel also blamed Iran for supporting terrorism throughout the Middle East and specifically accused them of the attacks in Bulgaria. Accusations significantly escalated between Iran and Israel, with Iran later accusing Israel of targeting and killing its own citizens in order to blame and frame Iran. Further, Iran’s alleged uranium enrichment was raised and continues to trump the Palestine “Question” yet it is directly linked to the high-level divisions which exist on both topics – creating national, international and intra-national divides.

A majority of States blamed the SC, the Quartet and the international community for continually failing to find a solution to resolve the issues in Palestine and Israel.

Amidst all the finger pointing, disagreement and accusations, the actual purpose of the meeting was buried. Many States did not address the “Question,” whether or not they supported the Palestinian application for Statehood. The meeting merely demonstrated continued stalemates at the top levels. It illustrated the inability of high-level officials to properly address on-the-ground issues and reach any sort of standing resolution that will bring peace to a region that has been in the midst of conflict for decades.  While the top remains divided, human suffering and insecurity on the ground endure.  A connection between State and human security is missing.

For more analysis on the debate, as well as a reflection on the need for a “bottom-up” approach to the conflict, please click here.

— Cara Lacey