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Opening session of the International Conference on the question of Jerusalem - “Preserving the cultural and religious character of Jerusalem”

Press Release
Convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) in cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation


CHEIKH NIANG, Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations, opened the Conference, introducing the speakers and thanking the participants who had travelled from all over the world to participate.

PHILIPPE BAUDIN-AULIAC, Head of the Political Affairs and Partnership Section in the Office of the Director-General in the Office of the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva delivered a statement on behalf of Director-General Michael Møller, Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The question of Palestine had been on the United Nations agenda almost since the Organization’s inception, he said, and yet the United Nations were unable to put an end to the conflict and realize a just and lasting solution. Still, the issue had lost none of its urgency. Intense flare-ups of violence were occurring, especially in Gaza where the population remained under tight closures by Israel made daily life for Palestinians exceptionally hard. The 2.5 million Palestinians in need of some form of humanitarian aid, and over 5 million registered Palestinians refugees were of great concern. The international community was called to continue support to Palestinian refugees, through UNRWA. Settlement expansion, including in East Jerusalem, had continued at an increased pace; they were illegal under international law and a major obstacle to peace.

Both parties were called to implement their bilateral agreements and avoid taking unilateral action that undermined the two-State solution. It was only by realizing the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Palestine, and all final status issues resolved permanently through negotiations, that the legitimate national aspirations of both peoples would be achieved. Any idea falling short of the parameters set out in relevant United Nations resolutions had no chance of success. As the Secretary-General had stated repeatedly, there was no Plan B. It was important to preserve the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem as the common patrimony of humanity. It was also a key final status issue. Without a solution to its status, no Israeli-Palestinian agreement was possible. Measures aimed at changing East Jerusalem’s demographic composition, character and status were a violation of international law and United Nations resolutions. Israeli authorities were called to refrain from passing legislation that redrew the municipal boundaries of East Jerusalem, thus changing its character. It was essential to respect the status quo of the holy sites and observe relevant agreements. All Member States were called upon to fully implement S/RES/2334 (2016).

CHEIKH NIANG, Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations, stressed that in these critical times for the future of the Palestinian people, a much-anticipated United States plan for the region was being developed, including an “economic workshop”, but economic commitments could not replace political solutions, and the latter could not be imposed from outside. The pledges of the international community to the Palestinian people were very clear and present in the relevant United Nations resolutions and international agreements. Day after day, the world witnessed Israeli actions on the ground to create faits accomplis that undermined those agreements. Throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, of which East Jerusalem was a part, Palestinians faced disproportionate use of force, the blockade of Gaza that made life unbearable, and the destruction of Palestinian property, which had increased exponentially in 2019.

Israel continued to illegally extend its legal regime to parts of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, violating international law. Throughout the occupied territory settlements kept expanding, eating away the land of the future independent State of Palestine. Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016) had to be fully implemented. In East Jerusalem, occupation had already given way to claims of formal annexation by Israel in 1980, which the Security Council had immediately ruled null and void. Recent moves of embassies to Jerusalem were therefore flagrant violations of international law and the Committee strongly urged all Member States to refrain from establishing or maintaining diplomatic missions in Jerusalem, in compliance with S/RES/476 (1980). Legislation redrawing the municipal boundaries of East Jerusalem, combined with other measures, risked excluding an estimated 120,000 Palestinians from the City, while absorbing some 140,000 Jewish settlers into it.

AHMAD MAJDALANI, Minister of Social Affairs of the State of Palestine, stated that the current political developments needed to be seen against the many international resolutions on the various subjects. This week, in Bahrain a so-called “economic workshop” was concluded in the absence of any legitimate Palestinian representative. The main objective of this workshop was to improve the livelihoods of Palestinians living under the occupation. Yet, Palestinians had clearly said that they did not want an economic solution that would perpetuate occupation; they needed their right to self-determination. They did not want to sell their land, and Jerusalem was not up for sale.

Unsurprisingly, this economic workshop was a resounding failure. There was no legitimacy and there were no results. The political track was the foundation, and the economic track could only be in support of a political solution. The State of Palestine believed that security assurances were needed for both parties, not only for the occupying party. Implementation of international normative frameworks did not work with double standards. It seemed that Israel was above international law and enjoyed impunity, which is why it continued to violate international law and resolutions. The State of Palestine was always facing a United States’ veto in the Security Council, in defence of Israel. The protection of the peace process and the security of the region required speedy measures, including recognition of the State of Palestine. The international community was called upon to shoulder its responsibility. The collapse of the two-State solution would have grave consequences not only for regional, but also international peace and security.

SAMIR BAKR, Assistant Secretary General for Palestine and Al-Quds Affairs of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that this meeting consecrated the collaborative spirit required to promote solidarity and cooperation in fulfilling responsibilities towards supporting the rights of Palestinians. All measures by any party aimed at forcibly altering the legal, historical, cultural and political status of occupied Jerusalem, including attempts to relocate diplomatic missions, were blatant violations of international law. The sovereignty of States should not be used as a pretext to entrenching colonial occupation and legitimizing the acquisition of territory by force. Israel’s illegal and oppressive polices, including its military aggression, “apartheid wall,” colonial settlement construction, ethnic cleansing and the blockade of Gaza threatened to weaken the international system and were in violation of international law.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation believed that Israeli violations against Christian and Islamic holy places in occupied Jerusalem were a deliberate attempt to undermine the international community’s efforts to engender inter-religious tolerance. The dire situation in Palestine was becoming even more dangerous due to the decision of Israeli authorities to withhold Palestinian tax revenues. This was an act of piracy and collective punishment. Addressing the economic empowerment of Palestinians was imperative but it should not overshadow the essence of the question of Palestine and the root cause of the woes of people, which was Israeli colonial occupation. At its heart, the Palestinian issue was political.

CARLA KHIJOYAN, Programme Executive for the Middle East, World Council of Churches, addressed ways in which space and identity were interrelated in Jerusalem, a city that embraced the history of – and was revered by – three monotheistic religions, yet whose citizens were segregated into different ethnic groups. It was a symbolic city whose pain was deeply rooted in its glory and heritage. It was a city with tensions and conflict, a symbol of economic, social and environmental struggles. The holy land was not only a theoretical concept but manifested itself in the self-understanding of different ethnic groups as well. If one walked the streets of Jerusalem, one would understand the different facets of the City through every language and every culture. Jerusalem was made not only of stones but also of hope and stories. The gates of Jerusalem had to remain open to the world, beyond the conflict.

The global Christian fellowship shared with the world a profound concern for the people living in Jerusalem. A peace could only be lasting if it was founded in justice. The Palestinian people lived under occupation and the future of Jerusalem had to be a shared one; it could not be the exclusive possession of one faith or people over another. Jerusalem had to be a city of three religions and two people. In 2006, Jerusalem’s Christian leadership had said that Jerusalem had a unique character and that two people carried the responsibility to organize their lives in the City and welcome all “pilgrims” from all over the world. The World Council of Churches reiterated its strong commitment to dialogue. The unique status of Jerusalem had to be affirmed in a concrete international pact that ensured its availability to two people and three religions and had to be part of a wider international peace agreement.