memorandum by Mr Marcenaro, rapporteur
2. Since 2010, we should welcome the liberation of Israeli soldier
Shalit and that of more than one thousand Palestinian prisoners.
However, it is regrettable that the peace process between the Israelis
and the Palestinians has not progressed and Palestinian reconciliation,
although announced several times, has not taken place; and that
the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and of the
“separation wall” have continued, as have rockets launched from
the Gaza Strip into Israel.
Several events have, however, had an influence on the situation:
the “Arab Spring”; the civil war in Syria; the continued development
of Iran’s nuclear programme; the recognition of a State of Palestine
by the United Nations General Assembly; and the recent elections
in Israel. Concerning the Assembly, a relevant development has been
the granting of partner for democracy status to the Palestinian
National Council in October 2011.Note
4. I was appointed rapporteur in November 2011 and I had the
opportunity to visit the area on the occasion of the meetings of
the Sub-Committee on the Middle East of the Committee on Political
Affairs and Democracy, in Jordan and Palestine from 6 to 9 April
2013 and in Israel from 28 April to 1 May 2013, where I collected
most of the material for the present report.
5. We have stated time and again that the Council of Europe was
not the United Nations or the European Union. The Parliamentary
Assembly is perfectly aware that its role is not that of solving
issues such as the status of Jerusalem, the return of refugees,
the borders between Israel and Palestine or the Israeli settlements.
6. The Assembly did, however, set up a Tripartite Forum with
the Knesset and the Palestinian Legislative Council to discuss,
at parliamentary level, issues which could improve the daily life
of the populations concerned. With the passage of time, and after
holding many discussions, even this approach has failed.
7. The Sub-Committee on the Middle East, in which both the Israeli
observer delegation from the Knesset and the partner for democracy
delegation from the Palestinian National Council take part, remains
however an open channel to be used whenever the two delegations
8. I believe that, for its part, the Assembly, whilst encouraging
and supporting any initiative which could bring an end to the conflict,
should concentrate on the core business of the Council of Europe
and try to assess the state of democracy, the protection of human
rights and the functioning of the rule of law rather than limiting itself
to the political aspects of the peace process.
2 The Arab
In October 2011, the Assembly adopted Resolution 1831 (2011)
on co-operation between the Council of Europe and the
emerging democracies in the Arab world. It welcomed, and expressed
its full support for, the emergence of democratic regimes in that
region and recognised Europe’s responsibility in helping to “bring about
a peaceful transition to democracy and respect of human rights in
the Arab countries concerned, some of which are its immediate neighbours,
with humility and mutual respect, and prevent the emergence of military or
theocratic regimes, or degeneration into chaos following a prolonged
absence of authority”.
In this resolution, the Assembly expressed its belief “that
the stability of the Arab world aspiring to democracy would be facilitated
by finding a solution to the main conflicts which remain in the
region; it calls, in particular, on the Israelis and the Palestinians
to take advantage of the opportunity brought about by the Arab revolutions
to reopen peace negotiations, on the basis of the principles it
already set out in its Resolution
on the situation in the Middle East”.
12. Furthermore, it held six urgent procedure debates on related
issues: flare-up of tension in the Middle East in June 2010, the
situation in Tunisia and recent violence against Christians in the
Middle East in January 2011, the situation in Syria in April 2012,
the crisis of democracy in Egypt in June 2012 and the European response
to the humanitarian crisis in Syria in October 2012. Further to
our visit to the Syrian refugee camp in Za’atri (Jordan), the Assembly
held a current affairs debate on “Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey,
Lebanon and Iraq: how to organise and support international assistance”
in April 2013.
13. It should be pointed out that no flags of Israel or the United
States were burnt in the demonstrations that started the Arab Spring,
as these demonstrations were about more democracy and respect for
human rights in their own countries. Today, in mid-2013, the least
one can say is that the early optimism and expectations have been
considerably toned down. In Egypt and Tunisia, democratic elections
led to the establishment of majorities based on Islamic parties
within which there is ongoing confrontation between democratic and moderate
positions, on the one hand, and conservative and traditional positions,
on the other. In Libya, an armed conflict ousted the former dictator
but the situation remains unsettled, with fighting between rival
factions still erupting occasionally. Protests have broken out in
many other Arab States. While reforms have taken place peacefully
in Morocco and in Jordan, in Syria the civil war has killed almost
100 000, caused more than 1.2 million refugees and several million
internally displaced persons.
14. Of course the road opened up by the mass movements in so many
Arab States is a long and difficult one. It is the relationship
between Islam and democracy that is being put to the test in a debate
important not only for the region, but for the international community
as a whole.
15. Some of our colleagues complained that in those countries
where the Arab Spring started, namely Egypt and Tunisia, the situation
of women and the respect for the rights of minorities have deteriorated.
What certainly has deteriorated is their economic situation, as
a result of the crisis affecting Europe, together with a sharp decrease
in investor confidence and in the tourism industry because of social
and political unrest. I was told that the average salary in Egypt
had decreased from around US$60 per month to around US$35.
16. The “Arab Spring” was inevitable and a good thing in itself,
as we were also told by the Speaker of the Knesset. Clearly, the
road to democracy is long and sometimes bumpy but there is no going
back to a situation where stability was “guaranteed” by dictators.
The Council of Europe – and its Parliamentary Assembly – as a platform
for dialogue on democracy, human rights and the rule of law, should
continue to assist those Arab countries which so wish in their reform
3 Other recent developments
17. The Parliamentary Assembly decided to grant partner
for democracy status to the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in
October 2011. Since then the PNC delegation has participated very
actively in the work of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy
and of the Assembly as a whole.
18. Also in October 2011, the General Conference admitted Palestine
as a member of Unesco by 107 votes in favour and 14 votes against,
with 52 abstentions. Finally, in November 2012, the United Nations
General Assembly accorded Palestine non-Member Observer State status
in the United Nations by an overwhelming majority of 138 votes in
favour to 9 against, with 41 abstentions.
19. These decisions do not change the situation on the ground,
nor do they create a Palestinian State where it does not yet exist.
However, they are an indication of strong support of the international
community for an independent Palestinian State, and recognition
of the efforts by President Abbas and his team.
20. Following his nomination on 1 February 2013 as Secretary of
State by President Obama, John Kerry undertook renewed efforts of
mediation between Israelis and Palestinians. President Obama himself
visited the region in March 2013. When we met President Abbas on
7 April, he was going to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry
later the same day. When we met Ms Tzipi Livni on 1 May, she was
called on the phone by Mr Kerry. This coincidence seems to be an
indication that the American administration is committed to making
things move, which was confirmed by Mr Kerry himself, who has said
that he hopes to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the short
term. On 26 May 2013, a comprehensive economic plan for the West
Bank was announced by Mr Kerry and welcomed by President Abbas and
21. At the same time, following President Obama’s visit to Israel,
Palestine and Jordan, a series of major diplomatic initiatives have
taken place: the rebuilding, under the auspices of President Obama,
of the relationship between Israel and Turkey; the joint declaration
by John Kerry and Sergeï Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, in favour
of an international conference on the Syrian crisis; the Washington
meeting of Arab States’ Foreign Ministers; the simultaneous visit,
albeit not a joint one, to Beijing by Mahmoud Abbas and Benyamin Netanyahu;
John Kerry’s meeting in Rome with Tzipi Livni and the Jordanian
Foreign Minister; and the new visit by John Kerry to the Middle
East to meet Mahmoud Abbas and Benyamin Netanyahu on 21 and 22 May.
22. It is important, of course, not only for negotiations to be
resumed, but also for them to be successful. In this respect, more
attentive observers are drawing attention to the possible partial
outcomes which may indicate a reversal of the tendency of recent
years and lead to a positive development in the situation. These outcomes
may include an agreement on conflict management methods which, in
the absence of a definitive solution during this phase, which would
prevent new and greater crises from breaking out – incidentally,
during the meeting with the sub-committee, President Abbas expressed
a fear of a new intifada, a risk that needed to be avoided – and
the creation of conditions for a new UN Security Council resolution
setting out detailed guidelines for a possible agreement.
23. The great Israeli political scientist, Shlomo Avineri, wrote
that “there is now no chance of a permanent agreement. … diplomatic
efforts must be invested in alternative arrangements – interim agreements; confidence-building
measures; unilateral (but mutually acceptable) steps; and continued
pragmatic co-operation on the ground”. From the unsuccessful attempt
to find a comprehensive solution to small steps to manage the conflict,
while still heading firmly towards the diplomatic prospect of a
“two States for two peoples” solution. In this context, important
easing measures can be identified, such as the release of the prisoners
held longest, reducing obstacles to the movement of people and goods
on the West Bank and with Israel, more work permits in Israel, reconsideration
of the possibility of family reunification and revision of the law
on marriage, co-operation on security matters, and the transfer
to the Palestinian Authority of certain parts of Area C in the West
Bank under full Israeli control.
4 The visits to the
24. My predecessor, Mr Konstantinos Vrettos, tried to
organise a visit to Israel and Palestine in the spring of 2012 but
this proved impossible due to changes in the Israeli Government.
25. The sub-committee had not met in the region since March 2001
and it started preparations for a meeting in Israel and Palestine
in June 2012. A first date was proposed for the end of November
but this had to be postponed due to the dissolution of the Knesset
and the convening of general elections in Israel for January 2013.
The dates were then agreed for the beginning of April but the visit
had to be split into two as the Knesset was in recess on that occasion.
Both parts of the visit were extremely informative and I wish
to thank all the relevant authorities for their co-operation.Note
4.1 Jordan and Palestine
(6-9 April 2013)
27. The visit to the Za’atri Syrian refugee camp had
a profound effect on us all. Some 140 000 refugees, mostly women
and children, were there when we visited. The Office of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Jordanian
authorities are doing an excellent job and should receive more support
from the international community. Unfortunately the problem will
only be solved with the end of the war in Syria, and there is no
indication that this might happen in the near future.
28. A fair and just solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
was referred to as a very important issue by the Speaker of Jordan’s
House of Representatives and by most of our Jordanian interlocutors.
Such a solution should increase the prospects for peace and stability
in the region and allow the return of the Palestinian refugees who
came to Jordan in 1948 and again in 1967.
29. In this context, Jordan supports the Arab Peace Initiative
first proposed in 2002 at the Beirut Summit of the Arab League.
The Chairperson of the Arab and International Affairs Committee
of the House of Representatives of the Parliament of Jordan expressed
the hope that Europe would also press for a two-State solution.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs also felt that Europe had an important
role to play.
30. Jordan is, of course, extremely concerned with the situation
in Syria and deplores that the international community finds itself
unable to reach a consensus. While the Jordanian parliamentarians
that we met agreed that Jordan should continue to assist Syrian
refugees, they disagreed on the attitude towards the conflict itself. Some
complained that the Syrian opposition was not representative and
feared that Salafists might seize power, which they consider to
be bad for the region as a whole.
31. As far as the situation in Jordan is concerned, members of
parliament recognise that political reform had been modest so far,
while members of the non-parliamentary opposition claimed that it
was merely cosmetic and that, if the country was to be a real democracy,
the constitution should be reformed.
32. I should like to put on record that the sub-committee was
granted a private audience with His Majesty King Abdullah II, which
was most enlightening.
33. In our meeting with the Arab and International Affairs Committee
of the House of Representatives, we referred to the status of partner
for democracy and we left relevant documentation with its members.
I am pleased to point out that, further to our visit, the Speaker
of the House of Representatives of Jordan has stated interest in
obtaining the status.
34. President Abbas reaffirmed the Palestinian commitment
to reach a peace agreement with Israel for a two-State solution
based on the pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps. If
this basis was accepted by Israel, a positive outcome could be attained.
This same commitment was voiced by many of our other interlocutors.
35. The occupation of their territory by Israel and its colonisation
by settlers was referred to by all our Palestinian interlocutors
as the reason for all the other problems. While the occupation of
the West Bank dates from 1967 and had not changed significantly
since then, the settlements in the West Bank have increased and there
are now more than 400 000 Israeli civilians (including some members
of the present government) living there.
36. In recent years, the growing number of Israeli settlements,
the extensive network of roads and tunnels built to serve those
settlements and link them with Israel, the progress of the building
of the wall, have veritably transformed the geographical situation
and make it problematic to refer to the pre-1967 borders. It was
also in response to this situation that the Minister for Foreign
Affairs of Qatar, speaking recently in Washington on behalf of all
the Arab States, and hoping for a rapid resumption of negotiations,
opened up the possibility – firmly within the pre-1967 borders –
of a limited land swap.
According to Amnesty International, “as Israel’s military
blockade of the Gaza Strip entered its sixth year, its impact on
basic infrastructure, including water, sanitation and power supplies
continued to be severe”.Note
38. Elections in Palestine are long overdue but have yet to be
organised due to opposition by Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Several agreements between Hamas and Fatah, which controls the West
Bank, have been announced in the last few years, often brokered
by Egypt, but have not yet materialised.
39. The split between Fatah and Hamas was also considered by Israel
as a reason why negotiations could not take place, whereas the Palestinians
claim that the body which represents them in such negotiations is
the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), which is formally
unaffected by the split. However, Hamas is not represented in the
40. Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas might guarantee, for
the negotiations with Israel, a more authoritative and reliable
Palestinian interlocutor, who can speak and make requests and commitments
on behalf of all Palestinians and with the guarantee of all Arab
States, and who can guarantee compliance with the agreements, starting
from those concluded to date. An interlocutor who, while claiming
the Palestinian people’s right to create its own State, should acknowledge
the State of Israel’s right to live in security. This is why it
is important for the agreement with Hamas, which has not yet acknowledged
that right, to be concluded on a transparent basis, for its contents
to be made public so that everyone – the Palestinian people, Israel
and the international community – can judge its value and meaning
in terms of the crucial issues which have, for a long time, been
the focal point of discussions and international attention.
41. Other issues raised by the Palestinians included the situation
of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, including women and
children; the use of torture; administrative detentions; the lack
of control over their natural resources – with a special focus on
water; severe limitations to free movement inside their own territory; villages
being cut off from their fields by the separation wall; and the
situation in Gaza. We were also informed that revenue from tourism
was much less than it could be if Israeli tour operators stopped
advising tourists not to stay overnight in Palestine.
42. According to Amnesty International, “hundreds of Palestinians,
including scores of children, were detained by Israeli forces in
the Occupied Palestinian Territories and many were held incommunicado
for prolonged periods. Most were later released without charge,
but hundreds were charged with security-related offences and tried
before military courts, whose procedures often failed to meet international
standards for fair trial. Almost all Palestinian detainees were
held in prisons in Israel in violation of international humanitarian
law, which prohibits the transfer of detainees to the territory
of the occupying power. This made it difficult or impossible in
practice for detainees to receive family visits”.
43. While in Palestine, the sub-committee issued an appeal to
the Israeli authorities about the case of Mr Isawi, a Palestinian
prisoner in Israel who was on hunger strike and was at risk of dying.
His case was solved satisfactorily. We were also informed of the
impossibility for a member of the Palestinian delegation to the
Assembly, Ms Jarrar, to travel in order to attend meetings. The
Israeli authorities had said that this was due to the fact that
Ms Jarrar was a member of the Palestinian Popular Front – which
they consider to be a terrorist organisation – and therefore her
“travelling out of the area would endanger public safety”.
44. When we asked what parliamentarians from Europe could do,
we were told that we should ensure that our respective governments
would recognise the Palestinian government which would result from
the next elections, even if it included members from Hamas. In their
view, Europe should also ban products produced in the Israeli settlements
in the West Bank and put pressure on Israel to respect its obligations.
45. We had an interesting meeting with Mr Ahmed Qurei, who played
a key role in the Oslo process. He complained about Israel’s unwillingness
to reach an agreement. When asked about Palestinian flexibility,
he replied that Palestinians were willing to recognise Israel within
the 1967 borders and accept only 22% of the historical Palestine;
that they were willing to agree to limited land swaps around those
borders and to discuss details about Jerusalem and its holy sites,
but they were not ready to discuss the fact that East Jerusalem should
be the capital of Palestine.
4.2 Israel (28 April-1
Before the meetings of the Sub-Committee on the Middle
East on 30 April and 1 May, I had a series of separate meetings
with Israeli personalities and representatives of non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) on 28 and 29 AprilNote
My comments are based on such meetings as well as on the meetings
of the sub-committee.
47. The sub-committee had very interesting meetings with Mr Yoel
Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset, and Ms Tzipi Livni, Minister
of Justice and Chief Negotiator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace
talks. It attended an interesting dinner hosted by Mr Yaakov Peri,
Minister of Science and Technology and former Head of the Israeli Secret
Service. It had a very informative exchange of views with Mr Christophe
Bigot, Ambassador of France in Israel; a meeting with Mr Zeev Elkin,
Deputy Foreign Minister, and briefings at the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and at the Institute for National Strategic Studies. Finally,
it visited the Hadassah Medical Centre and to Yad VaShem, Holocaust
48. One of the first observations was that the Palestinian issue
did not seem to be a priority, either for politicians (it had been
absent from the electoral campaign) or for Israelis in general.
Palestinians were no longer seen as a threat to the existence of
the State of Israel and the separation barrier was seen as an effective
protection against suicide bombers.
49. This lack of priority explains the divergence of opinions
on the issue among members of the present government. Mr Edelstein,
Ms Livni and Mr Peri declared themselves firmly in favour of a two-State
solution; while Mr Elkin, who is a settler, seemed to be against.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Bennett, is on record as also being
against. The Prime Minister, Mr Netanyahu, had declared that he
was in favour of a two-State solution but nobody could explain what
exactly his views on the issue were. The present government was based
on internal, not external policies.
50. The other members of the Knesset that we met – two from the
government (Yesh Atid) and two from the opposition (Meretz and Labour)
– also expressed themselves as in favour of a two-State solution.
We were told that 60% to 70% of the Israeli population would approve
a peace agreement with the Palestinians proposed by the government.
Israelis were, however, very suspicious of Hamas, and feared the
possibility of this organisation winning future elections in the
West Bank. Therefore they ask that any withdrawal of Israel from the
West Bank be matched by security guarantees.
51. There are as many Arabs as there are Jews between the Mediterranean
and the Jordan River and they should be able to live in peace with
each other. Demography, however, favours the Arabs, and therefore
the status quo is not sustainable. The Israeli authorities are
thus under pressure to act. On the other hand, demography works
in the long term and some still feel that time is not pressing.
52. The visit to the Paediatric cardiology unit of Dr Rein in
the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem, and the exchange of views
with Dr Gavri Sagui and Dr Muriel Haïm, was a good example of how
co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians, at different levels,
can work perfectly well, to the benefit of Palestinian children
with serious heart conditions, who were able to undergo surgery
53. Many of our Israeli interlocutors expressed concern at the
development of the Iranian nuclear programme, in particular its
uranium enrichment programme. Diplomatic efforts to stop the programme
short of developing nuclear weapons capacity were favoured as the
best option available. However, failing these, pre-emptive Israeli
military action was preferred to letting Iran build a nuclear bomb.
To this effect, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu set a “red line”
of Iran’s nuclear capability.
5 Democracy, human
rights and the rule of law
5.1 With respect to
54. One of the most sensitive questions is the definition
and request for recognition of Israel as a Jewish State. Israel’s
status as the “national State of the Jewish people” seems to be
an established fact which cannot be called into question again.
That was its historical origin and the signification of the resolution
approved by the United Nations General Assembly on 29 November 1947,
which confirmed the right of the Jewish people to found its own
State. And notwithstanding the violence of the conflicts preceding
and accompanying its foundation, that State was conceived as a democratic
State, governed by a freely elected parliament, and where various
minorities were given a guarantee that they would be able to live
together with equal rights. The question is whether the assertions
made increasingly frequently in recent years by the Israeli authorities
on the Jewish character of the State of Israel give rise to any
change in this fundamental arrangement. This is not an abstract
question, but relates to whether the contradictions in the field
of human rights, democracy and the rule of law arising out of the
continuation and development of the conflict are regarded as aspects
to be remedied, or whether they indicate a new tendency, and ultimately
a different character of the State.
55. This is why the problem of the Israeli Arab minority, which
constitutes approximately 20% of the population of Israel, is crucial.
Many of them complain of being suspected of providing cover for,
or of actually being accomplices to, murdering terrorists. And when
it is not actual bombing that is feared, there is a “demographic
time-bomb” believed to threaten the existence of Israel. All of
this brings consequences in terms of the equality of citizens on
which the rule of law is based. Some major positive steps have been
taken in respect of, for example, the possibility of performing
civil service and thereby gaining access to the benefits and advantages
available by law to anyone who has performed military service. But
further steps should be examined in respect of both the guarantee
of equality of individual rights (such as freedom of movement, the possibility
of family reunification, the law on marriage) and the recognition
of minority rights.
56. There is also a certain contradiction between the “right of
return” granted to every Jew in the world wishing to go to Israel
and the denial of a “right of return” for those Palestinians wishing
to go back to where they once lived.
57. The allocation of financial resources appears unbalanced.
The Arabs, who are at the lower end of the social ladder, only get
10% of the welfare budget. They make up 9% of the Knesset members,
8% of the police and 7% of the civil service. The access of Arabs
to land is also unequal as compared to that of the Israelis. As regards
access to water, we were told that Israeli settlers use ten times
more water than neighbouring Palestinian villages. However, the
Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs told us that measures had been
taken to ensure that Arab civil servants progress in their careers
faster than their Jewish colleagues in order to correct the imbalance.
The OECD, in its Review of recent developments and progress in labour
market and social policy in Israel, also mentions positive discrimination
measures in the field of education.
According to Amnesty International, “over 500 Israeli checkpoints
and barriers in the West Bank, as well as the fence/wall, restricted
Palestinians’ movement, particularly in East Jerusalem, part of
Hebron, the Jordan Valley and areas near settlements. Palestinians
were required to obtain permits from the Israeli authorities while
Israelis, including settlers, enjoyed free movement in these areas.
There were continued reports of harassment and abuse of Palestinians
at checkpoints by Israeli personnel. Movement restrictions also impeded
Palestinians’ access to medical care, water and farmland”.Note
Israelis tended to agree that the
so-called separation wall was discriminatory against Palestinians
and was detrimental to the Palestinian economy, while claiming that
it was, however, necessary for security reasons. The Israeli authorities
pointed out that the construction had started in 2003, following
the second Intifada.
59. In the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, Israeli forces
had demolished scores of Palestinian homes, forcibly evicting families
and leaving hundreds of people homeless. The targeted homes lacked building
permits, which were systematically denied to Palestinians.
According to Human Rights Watch, “Israeli authorities demolished
homes and property under discriminatory policies in the Israeli
Negev and the West Bank, and harassed non-violent protesters and
built unlawful settlements in occupied territory”.Note
5.2 With respect to
61. The Parliamentary Assembly is in the course of evaluating
the partnership for democracy status of the Palestinian National
Council and I do not wish to interfere with the report being prepared
by my colleague Mr Tiny Kox (Netherlands, UEL). That said, I shall
however make some considerations on democracy, human rights and
the rule of law in Palestine.
62. From the start, a distinction must be made between the situation
in the West Bank, where corruption is fought by the authorities
and the status of women is protected, and in the Gaza strip, where
human rights are not respected by the Hamas.
63. The inclusion of suicide bombers among Palestinian martyrs,
and therefore their presentation as role models, undermines a culture
for peace and should be avoided. We met with a lady who, despite
her sorrow, seemed proud that all five of her sons had either been
killed by Israel or were in prison, serving several life sentences
According to Human Rights Watch, “In the West Bank, the Fatah-led
Palestinian Authority carried out arbitrary detentions and allegedly
tortured detainees. In Gaza, Hamas committed similar violations,
as well as executions after unfair trials. Armed groups in Gaza
launched indiscriminate rockets into Israel, killing civilians, and
summarily executed Palestinians accused of spying for Israel”.Note
November 2012, gunmen killed seven Palestinian prisoners accused
of collaboration with Israel. A video circulated showing one of
the bodies being dragged by a motorcycle. The Gaza government has
apparently not even begun the promised investigation into these
There have been complaints of bloggers and journalists being
arrested and sentenced in the West Bank for criticising the Palestinian
Authority or its President, Mr Abbas.NoteNote
66. The occupation is seen by many Palestinians as the reason
for all the evil that happens to them. It must be said, however,
that the end of the occupation would not transform all the evil
into good. It would be the starting point of a long road for the
Palestinians, as is the case today for so many other Arab countries.
67. There has been no visible progress in peace negotiations
between Israel and Palestine in the last few years. The situation
could even be seen as worse than it was when the Assembly last debated
a report on the situation in the Middle East, in January 2010.
68. Many of the sub-committee members were not optimistic at the
end of our visits. The halting of the negotiations and deterioration
of the situation on the ground have driven some groups, Israeli
and Palestinian alike, to regard the “two peoples, two States” solution
as impossible, and to call for the abandonment of the move towards
application of the principle of separation. It is my belief, on
the other hand, that the “two peoples, two States” solution remains
the only possible way of reaching a peace agreement and bringing
the conflict to an end.
69. I nevertheless believe that the arguments of those who criticise
this path should be listened to and taken into consideration. These
are a sign of a deep-seated lack of confidence that deprives the
prospect of peace of credibility and impetus. Certainly that position
is influenced by the practical problems that the spread of settlements
and building of the wall have caused to the conception of the territorial
continuity which is one of the conditions for the existence of a
State. On the other hand, however, criticism of the “partition”
principle also reflects an awareness that Jews and Palestinians
will continue to live together on the tiny territory of historic Palestine.
70. The lives, rights and cultures of the Palestinians and Jews
within that territory are closely intertwined and practically inseparable.
Paradoxically, the development of settlements has further strengthened
this reality, transforming the geographical situation. It will be
difficult or impossible in future to make an absolute distinction between
those Palestinians living as citizens of the new Palestinian State
and those who have opted to remain Israeli citizens and as such
to claim their own individual and collective rights. A similar situation
seems likely in future for that Jewish minority which, in the same
way will continue to live in a Palestinian State. At that point there
will be no alternative to tackling at the same time as the problems
of status those of standards, and therefore of the guarantee for
everyone, Arabs and Jews, Israeli and Palestinian citizens, of certain fundamental
goods: respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
71. It would thus be appropriate to refer not only to “two peoples,
two States”, but also to “two democratic and pluralist States”.
72. This is the field in which the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary
Assembly can make their own specific contribution, promoting dialogue
and debate, firstly between representatives of the respective parliaments,
and making available their experience and skills. It is a contribution
that can be made before a peace agreement is achieved, in order
to rebuild the trust necessary for successful negotiations. But
it is also a contribution that can continue subsequently, in the
knowledge that the peace agreement for which we all wish to strive
will just be the beginning of a long process of reconciliation and
elimination of all the hatred propagated by decades of conflicts
73. While the Israelis declare that they are ready for the start
of negotiations without pre-conditions, the Palestinians refuse
this approach as a waste of time and ask for a freeze in construction
in the settlements in the West Bank as proof of Israel’s good intentions.
Signals from Israel on this issue are utterly confusing: On 7 May
2013, Mr Netanyahu instructed the Housing Minister not to press
ahead with tenders for 3 000 new homes in the West Bank; two days
later, permission was granted to build nearly 300 new houses in
a settlement close to Ramallah, and on 16 May 2013, the government
took steps to authorise four new Jewish settlements in the West
74. I believe that there is still a little room for optimism and
that Europe should play a more important role in the region than
in the past.
75. The Parliamentary Assembly, for its part, should continue
to promote dialogue and confidence-building between representatives
of the Knesset and the Palestinian National Council, in particular
in the framework of the Sub-Committee on the Middle East of its
Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy; make available to both
representative bodies its own experience in the field of human rights,
the rule of law and democracy; and pursue efforts to establish relations
with other parliaments in the region, notably in Egypt and Jordan,
with a view to considering granting them partner for democracy status.