London, 4 June 2011
The far reaching changes we have seen across the Arab world in recent months have underscored the universal desire of all people for freedom and dignity; this wish is no less the case for Palestinians. At this crucial moment, we therefore call on all governments around the world to support a renewed effort to achieve a comprehensive solution based on international law and respect for basic human rights.
The Elders have consistently called for intra-Palestinian reconciliation as an essential step towards the larger goals of ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and creating the right conditions for the establishment of an independent state, living in peace and security alongside Israel.
In this regard, we welcomed the agreement signed in Cairo on 4 May between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, as a step in the right direction. However, in supporting the accord, we note that much hard work remains to be done on the ground to translate the parties’ stated willingness to cooperate into facts that will enable Palestinians to live in a democratic and free society based on the rule of law.
By supporting Palestinian unity – including giving support to a new, non-partisan government to be established under the unity agreement, one charged with preparing for fresh elections in 2012 and rebuilding the Gaza Strip – the international community can demonstrate its practical commitment to the two-state solution.
The policies of the past, whereby the divided parts of the intended future Palestinian state – Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – have been progressively separated from each other, and fragmented into separate mini-cantons, should be discarded. Instead, we recommend support for a new approach, favouring a shared commitment to build a viable and contiguous Palestinian state on lands beyond the 1967 Green Line – a goal that US President Barack Obama stated on 19 May was his government’s policy.
Looking ahead, the Elders note the stated intention of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to seek recognition of a Palestinian State by the UN General Assembly at the start of its 66th Session, in late September. Should this course be followed, we are of the view that the pursuit of recognition of a Palestinian state does not contradict the wish for a negotiated settlement of the conflict; rather, it should be supported as a means of stimulating serious negotiations. Far from being an act aimed at isolating Israel, as some have claimed, it could be a move that encourages Israel to accelerate its own wish to resolve – once and for all – the fundamental dilemmas that have dogged Israel since its founding in 1948.
Considering the historic role of the United Nations in the creation of the State of Israel, through its passage of Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947, and bearing in mind the subsequent failure of the international community to help bring about a parallel Palestinian state on the former British Mandate territory of Palestine, as had been intended, it would be appropriate for the General Assembly and Security Council to re-assume their central responsibilities for the question.
At the same time we, as Elders, are keenly aware that recognition by the United Nations will not alter the situation on the ground in the occupied territories. Nor will it preclude the need for intensified bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to resolve the core issues between them. These remain: borders, refugees, security, settlements, water and the status of Jerusalem.
Without a renewed effort to achieve a peace agreement based on the well-known contours of a two-state solution, we fear the risks of a return to general violence in the region; this, in turn, could undo all the hard work undertaken so far to build a Palestinian state, while its planned future territories remain under occupation. In mid-May alone, there were unarmed protests by peaceful demonstrators on all of Israel’s four borders, as a result of which some 15 people were killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli gunfire.
As Elders, we have already given our support to the Palestinian non-violent struggle to end the occupation and will continue to endorse this entirely legitimate course of action. The risk however is that, whoever may be responsible, violent incidents could spark a further downward cycle of bloodshed.
At this volatile and fragile time for the region, we therefore urge the international community to come together to support Israelis and Palestinians in reaching a just and lasting agreement, brought about with the help of even-handed, and robust, mediation. We call upon all governments to take a rights-based approach to this terrible conflict and insist that future negotiations be based on respect for universal human rights and international humanitarian law.
Our purpose in writing this letter is to help bring peace and security to the region and we stand ready to do all that we can in support of this objective.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration and esteem.