Wednesday, December 17

MCC Palestine Update #91

MCC Palestine Update #91

December 17, 2003

This past week I received a Christmas card from our friends at the Wi’am Center for Conflict Resolution in Bethlehem. The illustration on the card (produced by Wi’am) was poignant and striking. Shepherds, sheep, donkeys, even Mary and Joseph find themselves separated from the Christ child by barbed-wire fences. Mary is pictured trying to reach through the fence to touch her son. The rays of the Christmas star, however, do manage to pierce through the barbed wire, shining down on Jesus in his simple manger. This card well summarizes the reality of Bethlehem and many other West Bank cities this Christmas: encircled by electronic fences, concrete walls, barbed wire. If Mary and Joseph tried to travel today from Nazareth to Bethlehem on the route they would have taken 2,000 years ago, they would be lucky to reach Jenin: checkpoints, roadblocks, barbed wire would stand in their way.

The good news of Christmas, however, is that, despite the roadblocks, the checkpoints, the fences and walls that create a reality of “separation” (apartheid), God’s incarnation is a reality. God’s incarnation in the Christ child extends into the Body of Christ, the church: despite the walls of separation being erected, the church in the occupied territories continues to witness to a reality of reconciliation that is built with bridges instead of walls. Palestinian and Israeli peacebuilders participated in this reality on Saturday, December 13, as they gathered in al-Ram north of Jerusalem to say NO to a future of walls that dispossess. The reality in the occupied territories this Advent is somber and grim, as Palestinians face being encircled and imprisoned by walls and fences. Yet hope can be found amidst this despair, as the church and Palestinian and Israeli peacebuilders witness through word and deed to a future consisting of bridges of reconciliation instead of walls of dispossession, aggression and hatred.

Please pray this Advent and this Christmas-season for the witness of the Palestinian churches and for the work of organizations such as Wi’am, Sabeel, and the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions.

MCC Project Update:

On December 26, Israeli Jewish members of Zochrot will visit the Bethlehem area as guests of the Badil Resource Center for Refugee and Residency Rights. The day will be an opportunity for refugee communities to become acquainted with this new Israeli organization that is dedicated to working on durable solutions for Palestinian refugees. Please have this meeting in your prayers.

Below you will find three pieces of analysis, all from MCC partners. The first, by Ghassan Andoni of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement, looks at how the “separation wall” constitutes an act of aggression. MCC recently gave a grant to Rapprochement to assist with its media center (the International Middle East Media Center): visit its website, The second piece is by Samia Khoury, a Palestinian Christian woman who serves on the board of MCC partner organization, the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center; Samia perceptively examines the reality behind what she calls “the Geneva hoopla.” The final item is a research bulletin from the Badil Resource Center for Refugee and Residency Rights; the bulletin examines how refugee participation in peace agreements addressing conflicts that have created refugees is essential to durable peace and reconciliation and discusses how Palestinian refugee voices have been excluded from political discussions concerning their future. This is the final update of 2003. Updates will resume in early January 2004.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Separation Wall, a Typical Mixture of Security and Aggression
Ghassan Andoni - IMEMC-Analysis, December 12, 2003

The UN General Assembly voted to demand for the International Court of Justice to give a legal advisory concerning the "separation wall". A resolution supported by 90 countries, opposed by 8, and around 60 countries abstained. It is still early to tell how significant this move can be. According to expert's expectations, it might take years for the court to conclude its work and issue an advisory. Therefore, it is likely that developments on the ground can take over any expected court decision. Israel faces a serious legal dilemma. To present a stand consistent with international law; it has to plea as an occupier power that "has the right to build fences and other types of constructions needed for security purpose". To plea as an occupation power contradicts the basic stand of all Israeli governments that defines the "territories" as disputed. Recognizing that Israel is an occupying power with certain rights stated in international law, would as well force Israel to recognize, as well, Jerusalem as an occupied territory. The story of the Separation wall is not different from that of settlements, closure, land grabs, settler's outposts, or by-passing roads. All were created for an alleged security reason, in few limited cases it was even possible to recognize that security need, but all of them were structured to serve an ideological or political purpose as well. In relation to the separation wall, every Israeli official stressed the need for the wall as pre-emptive to military attacks inside Israel, including suicide attacks. Yet, each of them avoided answering to why it needs to be built deep into the Palestinian territories and not on the green line. Even, the closest ally to Israel, namely the United States, could not but see another agenda in building the wall. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei expressed even interest in sharing the coast of the wall if it is built on the green line, but rejected for it to be built even a millimeter inside the Palestinian occupied territories. It is very right for Palestinians to point to the intentions to grab more land, force discontinuity to the Palestinian areas, define borders unilaterally, and being used as a way to collectively punish Palestinians. Israel could do, based on pure security assessment, a fence on the green line, and deploy more forces around settlements to "protect" them until their issue is addressed politically, yet rejecting to be partner to a truce agreement and continuing with the construction of the wall based on settler's interests reflects the set of priorities of the current Israeli government. In relation to road blocks and military check posts, it is clear that within a conflict period, more security measures are needed by even an occupying authority, yet, how security figures could explain the security need behind blocking the road between two adjacent Palestinian villages is still standing for an explanation. Recently, even army and security heads started to publicly criticize the policies of the current government as being counter productive and making Israel more vulnerable than protected. Amazingly enough, while the current government expressed no intention to compromise on any level, it became very forwarding, at least verbally, on the issue of easing Palestinian living conditions. This issue was until recently presented as the most security related issue of all. Confusing security needs with aggression becomes self defeating to security legitimate needs. No wonder why almost all the world, including the United States, are questioning and doubting the Israeli intentions and demanding for Israel to stop the aggressive act of building the wall deep inside Palestinian occupied territories.

2. The Hoopla in Geneva
by Samia Khoury
(Monday December 15 2003)

"It seems that all those dignitaries were getting together to endorse the redundancy of the United Nations and its resolutions since the stipulations of this initiative if implemented are supposed to supersede all previous UN resolutions. So in reality Israel is being rewarded for its intransigence and for defying the United Nations."

For the last couple of months, we have been reading details of the Geneva Initiative, and listening to opinions for and against this initiative. So finally the signing of this document took place in Geneva. But why all the fanfare. Listening to the music and singing one would think we are really celebrating Palestinian independence. It is bad enough that we commemorate November 15 the day of the announcement of the declaration of independence as independence day, when in reality we are still under military occupation. So was the hoopla in Geneva another overture for another date to add to our long list of commemorations?

It would be naive to think that people who have been dispossessed for over half a century and living under military occupation for the last thirsty six years are not anxious to live in peace. But it would be just as naive to think that the signing of this "unofficial document" in Geneva is really a "breakthrough in peace negotiations"

One would think that the region has learnt enough lessons from the various peace initiatives since the Madrid conference, which was based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. Initiatives that have been doomed to failure, basically because those UN resolutions and all previous ones, including the right of return have been defied by Israel all along. So what was magic about this initiative to make its fate any different? Did the occasion really warrant a celebration? It seems that all those dignitaries were getting together to endorse the redundancy of the United Nations and its resolutions since the stipulations of this initiative if implemented are supposed to supersede all previous UN resolutions. So in reality Israel is being rewarded for its intransigence and for defying the United Nations.

To contemplate making compromises on the right of return requires a clear mandate from the Palestinian refugees themselves. Those who continue to live in refugee camps in the Arab countries, and those who have been dispersed all over the world are the only ones who are entitled to speak on behalf of the refugees. We have heard people say that we need to be pragmatic since many, or most of the refugees might not want to return. To start with that is not an accurate assumption. Moreoever there is a difference between one's basic right and one's choice of how to deal with that right. So if some of the refugees do not want to return, it should be by their own choice, and not because somebody has made a deal on their behalf to deprive them of that right.

Palestinians have a historical narrative that asserts their rights, and there is no way peace negotiations can move ahead without the recognition of those rights. Unfortunately, Israel refuses to recognize its responsibility for our dispossession and for creating the refugee problem. Yet the Palestinians are demanded to make more concessions to their rights. Simply because, strategically they are powerless, they do not have the privilege of choice. Does this mean it is acceptable to trample over the powerless. In this century when the law of the jungle has been replaced by the United Nations, it would seem an unacceptable justification for the Palestinians to forfeit their rights simply because they are powerless.

It is indeed very sad that Palestinians are helping Israel to nullify the right of return. "Come on" they say; "do you really believe this can work out?" Why not? Or is it because Israel is involved, and it has become the norm that no power challenges Israel for its violations of international law. No injustice can be acceptable. Even if it is the norm, it remains immoral and illegal. So why should the Palestinians succumb to this logic and forfeit their right, especially that justice is on their side.

The widow in (Luke 18:1-8) was powerless, but she kept taking her case to the judge who "neither feared God nor cared about men." Yet she was persistent in pleading for "justice against her adversary" until he came to the conclusion that he needs to grant her justice so that she will stop bothering him and eventually wear him out. I do not think as Palestinians we have bothered the world conscience enough. We are the ones who have been worn out, and victimized. And to add insult to injury we have been labeled "terrorists." It is high time we are granted justice against our adversary.

The partition scheme in 1948 never worked out because it lacked justice and was based on creating a Jewish State on the land that was meant to be for all its citizens. With the present inequity, how do we envisage that a much smaller percentage of Palestine surrounded by an Apartheid Wall would be acceptable and will guarantee a viable and comprehensive peace. At the same time, if Israel is to be an exclusively Jewish State, how can it survive as a democratic and Jewish State when over 20% of its citizens are non Jewish. In the long run Israel will have to face this dilemma. Will an apartheid Jewish state guarantee its peace and security?

I was hoping that those experienced diplomats involved in the Geneva Initiative would have come up with an innovative solution to respond to the needs of both people. Maybe they should have thought of the one state solution which could help Israel in solving its dilemma, and it would help the Palestinians in realizing their right of return.

The effort that was put in the details of the Geneva Initiative seems a very serious effort, but likewise a similar effort could have been put in finding an inclusive and just structure for a binational democratic state that can be the solution for a comprehensive and viable peace amongst all the people who are destined to share this Holy Land without barriers or walls.

3. Peace Agreements and Public Participation – Lessons Learned

BADIL Occasional Bulletin No. 15 December 2003

This Bulletin aims to provide a brief overview of issues related to Palestinian Refugee Rights

Peace agreements—provisions on rights, refugees and participation: The following is the final part of a three-part series analyzing provisions in recent peace agreements. It deals with public participation. Parts I and II dealt with provisions on human rights and refugees in these agreements.

Always talked about but never included

Since the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference, Palestinians have been talked about, argued over and decided for but rarely included in any peace process.

Peace agreements are usually the result of negotiations between or among political elites followed by international assistance to facilitate implementation. It is the general public, however, who provide the best guarantee for effective implementation of peace agreements.

Agreements entail more than an end to conflict. They also address important questions related to the fundamental principles governing inter-state relations, the relationship between a state and its citizens (including human rights protections), legislative, executive, and judicial powers, good governance, and the allocation of state resources.

Public participation is therefore essential. Including the public at an early stage is critical for determining its will, not only in relation to ending the conflict, but also in determining the shape of the final peace. Public participation strengthens democratic principles and structures, expands the range of solutions to complex issues, lends greater legitimacy to agreements, engenders broad public ownership of the agreement and contributes to its long-term durability.

Recent comparative study of peace processes in protracted conflicts suggests that “where a peace process enables broad-based participation and public debate, intensely conflictual issues can be reclaimed as the normal subjects of political dialogue, problem-solving and constructive action.” This creates an environment where antagonists can more effectively resolve root causes of the conflict and ultimately take steps towards reconciliation rather than just conflict management.*

The following bulletin provides a brief review of the role of the public in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiation process and an overview of public participation in comparative perspective.

Palestinian-Israeli Negotiations

The Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking process has provided few opportunities for public participation, whether representative, consultative or direct. Historically, the Palestinian people have been denied the basic right to participate in key decisions concerning the conflict in Palestine.

During the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, following the end of WWI, for example, the major powers ignored the wishes of the Palestinian people in the selection of the Mandatory power for Palestine. “[W]e do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.” For the major powers, the imposition of British rule in Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in the country was “of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

In 1947, the UN held consultations in the region concerning the future of the country, but then chose to ignore the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who favored the established of a democratic state with equal rights for both Arabs and Jews rather than partition along ethno-national and religious lines. For the next several decades Palestinians and their leadership were largely excluded from successive peacemaking efforts.

It was not until the late 1980s that major international powers, most notably the United States, recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and as the designated interlocutor at the official level for peace negotiations. Peacemaking efforts, however, continued to exclude both consultative and direct forms of public participation.

Acceptance of the PLO as the body mandated to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people, however, came at a price. The PLO was required to forego the agenda set by the people themselves: liberation of their historic homeland and establishment of a democratic state. Palestinians were forced to accept UN Security Council Resolution
242 and the notion of ‘land for peace’ as the basis for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

The PLO had previously rejected Resolution 242 because it left Israel “many loopholes” for the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It also ignored “the right of the refugees to return to their homes.” The resolution also lacked a clear legal framework for ending the conflict. In addition, the notion of ‘land for peace’ always assumed that there was a mutual exchange between the parties when in reality there is and was an aysmetrical relationship with Palestinians having neither land (which Israel was to withdraw from) nor peace (which they were required to provide).

Nevertheless, and at an early stage, Palestinians attempted to create the space for their involvement in the peacemaking process through both consultative and direct forms of participation. In the early 1950s, for example, refugees organized committees to raise their demands before relevant UN bodies such as the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP). After meeting with refugees in Beirut, the Commission noted that it “was impressed by expressions of these spokesmen for the return of refugees to their homes to live there in peace with their neighbors.” The establishment of the PLO in 1964 constituted a new form of representative participation for the Palestinian people.

Exclusion gives rise to self-organization

Exclusion of refugees from the peacemaking process that began in Madrid in 1991 and continued in Oslo, combined with demands for better representation from their own leadership, gave rise to initiatives of political self-organization among refugee communities in the 1967 occupied West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, inside Israel, and in the diaspora. These initiatives were as much an expression of concern about the exclusion of specific rights and demands of refugees as they were about the popular demand for better representation and the democratization of the ‘Middle East Peace Process.’

A series of popular refugee conferences inside Israel followed by similar conferences across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, in 1995-1996 set out the basic principles, proposed structures, and mechanisms of a popular campaign for refugee rights. The campaign was to be a broad-based, non-sectarian, independent movement comprised of Palestinian popular organizations and initiatives (refugee and non-refugee) in the homeland and in the diaspora to pressure and lobby for the protection of Palestinian refugee rights and a durable solution based on UN resolutions and international law.

The proposed structures – popular refugee committees, popular conferences, elected refugee councils and a General Palestinian Refugee Conference held inside the historic homeland and in the diaspora each with an elected General Refugee Council – had the aim of providing a popular mechanism for the struggle for legitimate national rights, democracy, civil and human rights, not replacing the PLO. In effect, self-organization was a means to take back the space that had been usurped from the refugees, among others. It was a means to assert their right to have rights.

Nevertheless, international actors and national leaders have been reluctant to create space for public participation in the peacemaking process. Camp David I and II, the secret Oslo negotiations, the subsequent talks over interim arrangements, and the most recent Road Map, all failed to provide scope for public participation. Representative participation was further weakened when part of the PLO political infrastructure resettled in Gaza under the terms of Oslo as the Palestinian Authority, only responsible for Palestinians in the occupied territories, and the exclusion of Palestinians outside these territories from elections for the newly established legislative council.

Moreover, these negotiations and related agreements shifted from an agenda articulated by civil society to one that was subject to political pressures. This is particularly evident in relation to the issue of Palestinian refugees. Refugees were more often than not considered as objects of humanitarian assistance rather than individuals with rights and as legitimate actors in the peacemaking process. “The refugees themselves were assessed, surveyed, quantified, classified, tested, and their living standards, housing conditions, economic and social interests became the objects of study. The refugees themselves were nowhere to be found.”** Moreover, as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, has observed, the exclusion of refugees has effectively de-historicised the conflict, which no longer has an origin, and thus no longer the necessary means and mechanisms to resolve it.

More recent unofficial initiatives, including the Nusseibeh-Ayalon plan and the Geneva understandings also fail to incorporate room for effective public participation. While these initiatives may be considered as a form of quasi-civil society peacemaking they are, in the final analysis, understandings drafted between political elites. Both present the public with, in effect, a fait accompli, a take it or leave deal, much like the one former President Clinton and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to Palestinians at Camp David in July 2000. Subsequent attempts to garner popular support for these initiatives are just that, and not a serious effort to bring the public into the peacemaking process in a way that allows they themselves to shape the contours of peace.

These initiatives stand in contrast to other attempts to bring the public into the peacemaking process. In September 2000, for example, an all-Party British Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry came to the region to ask refugees how they envisioned a solution to their plight. Hearings were held in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The hearings, which were later transcribed and published, constituted a form of participation through open consultation. They allowed refugees to define the parameters of a solution and elicited many creative options.

Public Participation in Comparative Perspective

There are various forms of participation can take: the public may be represented in negotiations by political parties and/or other organized sectors of civil society. Consultative mechanisms may be established to allow the public to voice its concerns, demands, and visions for a durable peace. Individuals may also directly participate in peacemaking, providing the opportunity to both formulate and implement agreements to resolve the conflict.

Experience shows that mechanisms for public participation in peace processes do not just materialize. People have to make them happen. Nevertheless, there are many useful examples of public involvement in peacemaking processes around the world*.

In Mali during the mid-1990s, well-respected local figures organized more than 50 community meetings in areas of the country where reconciliation was most difficult. The number of participants ranged from several hundred to more than 1,000. Village elders, religious and community leaders took responsibility for negotiating local arrangements to control arms, reintegrate displaced people and fighters and other sensitive issues. These local attempts at public peacemaking, supported by Norwegian Church Aid, followed the collapse of a government initiative to involve different sectors of Mali society in the process. Conclusions of the local meetings were eventually funneled into a broader, consolidated process.

The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) attempted to provide an opening for some 27 organized groups, including political parties, trade unions and religious institutions, to negotiate a political settlement and lay the foundations for a new constitution. Delegates were chosen through a proportional representation list system and those selected were split into working groups around thematic issues with a rotating chair. Each group was assigned a resource person who researched and advised participants on best practices elsewhere in the world. Due to escalating violence and disagreements on the transitional process CODESA was eventually disbanded. But many of the ideas that had emerged were later included in subsequent multi-party negotiations. The public was also brought into the process over the new constitution through community-level consultation meetings held across the country. People could also contribute their ideas in written submissions dropped off at collection boxes in public locations.

In Northern Ireland, non-sectarian activists, many from the non-governmental sector, established a public forum known as Initiative 92. Its aim was to allow the general public to discuss central issues of the conflict that were otherwise raised in public discourse only by militants. Public hearings, organized by a seven-member commission chaired by an outside facilitator, were held across the country. The hearings were transcribed and published as a book which became the basis for follow-up activities aimed at stimulating public debate about the conflict and frameworks for peace.

The Guatemalan peace process also provided a significant degree of latitude for public participation. In the late 1980s the National Reconciliation Commission, comprised of representatives of 12 political parties, the government, the army and the Roman Catholic Church, organized a Grand National Dialogue. Nearly 50 different sectoral interest groups, including unions, business associations, and cooperatives participated with thematic commissions focusing on key issues of the conflict.

These talks contributed to the development of a general framework agreement. An elected assembly, which included representatives of 10 different social sectors, indigenous people and women, was subsequently authorized to draft papers on seven major issues to be resolved through the ongoing negotiations. However, the assembly began to lose influence as civil society leaders assumed new political positions and as talks assumed an increasingly bi-partisan format between the government and rebel forces.

Guatemalan refugees, moreover, organized themselves into commissions (Comisiones Permanentes) under which refugee leaders directly negotiated the terms of their return. These included public guarantee of their security; assurance of the right to return to lands; the right to organize and freely associate; guarantee that they would be subject to civilian and not military authority; and, the right to return under supervision of international observers. Refugee women subsequently organized themselves around their common objective to return to Guatemala and negotiate adequate conditions for themselves and their families. As several commentators have observed, refugees in Guatemala did not wait for peace, they helped forge it. Broad public participation also contributed to the democratization of institutionalized systems of exclusion.

In both Mozambique and Papua-New Guinea, grassroots initiatives including the involvement of church and women’s groups played an innovative role in developing and implementing peace agreements as well as in helping to consolidate the peace.

Public inclusion facilitates implementation

Political negotiators are often reluctant to open up the space for public involvement in the peacemaking process. Comparative experience, however, suggests that public participation, whether representative, consultative or direct, facilitates implementation of agreements and strengthens the durability of a negotiated peace.

A peacemaking process that fails to provide for public participation may exacerbate public mistrust and undermine the legitimacy of the agreement. Consultation on the contents of an agreement after it has been negotiated and signed is likely to be of only limited value because it is difficult to incorporate substantive input into the agreement at that stage. Peace agreements negotiated without adequate public participation may in fact be a trigger for further disagreements rather than reconciliation.

Public participation also provides a safeguard against a process that merely “recycles old power to re-legitimise it through new structures.” International involvement in the peacemaking process should strengthen and compliment initiatives for public participation rather than displace local ownership of the process or shift the agenda away from the priorities articulated by civil society.


For a list of Principles to Guide Policy and Practice on public participation in peacemaking visit Conciliation Resources:

* Catherine Barnes. Owning the Process: Mechanisms for Political Participation of the Public in Peacemaking. Joint Analysis Workshop Report, Conciliation Resources, 2002.

** Karma Nabulsi. Popular Sovereignty, Collective Rights, Participation and Crafting Durable Solutiosn for Palestinian Refugees. BADIL Working Paper No. 4, April 2003.

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