For the recognition of a Palestinian state

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Tuesday, 20 September, 2011

With the US and Israel opposing the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson urge the European Union to seize this opportunity to support Palestinian self-determination and maintain its commitment to upholding international law. Originally published in Le Monde.

We warmly welcome the Palestinian leadership’s efforts to seek support for recognition of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations. Such a move is capable of being a real ‘game-changer’ that could revive the stalled Middle East peace process in a positive direction.

Contrary to the opinion of those who argue that going to the UN puts back the peace process, we believe that bringing the Israeli-Palestinian issue back to the UN is the right thing to do.

It was the UN that served as the midwife of the two-state solution in 1947, when it agreed to the partition of Palestine into two states and passed Resolution 181.The Jewish national movement was able to use Resolution 181 to pave the way for Israel’s statehood the following May. Sixty three years later, it is time that their Palestinian counterparts are accorded the same rights.

With the US and Israeli governments publicly opposed to the principle of seeking UN endorsement of Palestinian statehood, the position of the European Union will be key to the prospects of a resolution, regardless of whether it is introduced in the UN Security Council or General Assembly in the coming days or weeks. France, which has always based its positions at the UN on the principles of upholding international law, is well-placed to set a good example, both at the UN and in the EU.

The Elders, a group of retired statesmen and women of whom we are members, have written to the Foreign Ministers of all the EU member states urging them to adopt a strong common position in favour of a resolution that would endorse the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to statehood. We have reminded them that such a move would, in fact, be in line with European Council Conclusions of December 2009 which call for “a two-state solution with the State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security”. At the time, the EU announced its “readiness, when appropriate, to recognise a Palestinian state.”

On an issue of vital importance for the Middle East and for future relations with its neighbours in the Mediterranean region, we urge the EU to seize this opportunity to act positively and decisively. The Palestinians’ pursuit of freedom and self-determination is entirely consistent with European values and has broad public support in Europe. It has added importance in light of the dramatic changes underway in much of the Arab world, in favour of dignity, democracy and freedom. It is not realistic, nor reasonable to expect the Palestinian conflict to remain frozen while the Arab Spring brings so much change to the region.

What will be critical is not just the vote at the UN, should it take place. What follows, will be equally, if not more important.

Any future peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians cannot be a return to business as usual. If they are, they will be doomed to failure. Instead they must start on a fresh basis, one based firmly on international law and universal human rights with clear parameters and an agreed deadline for their conclusion.

Twelve months ago US President Barack Obama used his annual address to the UN to declare that he looked forward to welcoming Palestine to the ranks of the UN’s members by the start of its next session. Unfortunately, the bilateral negotiations that might have produced this desired result have not been possible, due in large part to the continued expansion of Israeli settlements on the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

These settlements have repeatedly been declared by the international community to be illegal under international law. To salvage the remaining opportunity to create a “contiguous and viable” Palestinian state, all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem intended solely for Jewish occupants must halt immediately.

Any negotiations that resume following action at the UN should aim to define the boundaries of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem. Such an accord could entail equal land swaps to allow for minor adjustments.

Fair and robust external mediation will be another essential ingredient as, under present circumstances, the parties are unlikely to be able to reach an agreement on their own. In this regard, a positive and united stand over the anticipated UN resolution by the European Union, Israel’s largest trading partner and, at a billion Euros per year, by far the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, would give it leverage to play a bigger political role to help resolve the conflict.

For over two decades, negotiations have been more about process than real substance, leading to understandable disillusionment and frustration among Palestinians and all those who seek a just and lasting peace agreement. It has been almost 65 years since the UN agreed to the creation of two states – this solution has been delayed for far too long.

Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson are members of The Elders; Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the United States, Mary Robinson was Ireland’s first woman President and is former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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