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An open letter from Palestine's human rights community

Oct. 2, 2009 5:59 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 6, 2009 9:37 A.M.)
To: The Member States of the United Nations General Assembly:

Upon the culmination of the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian human rights community would like to take the opportunity to raise its collective voice in reasserting the significance of the role of the UN in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) and to call upon the General Assembly in particular to take a more proactive role in ensuring a just resolution to the conflict.

Despite few conflicts having received as much international attention as that between Israel and the Palestinians, hopes for peace have been repeatedly dashed in the light of Israel’s refusal to end 42 years of military occupation. Israel’s ongoing denial of Palestinian rights and political freedoms, including the basic right of Palestinians to self-determination continues unabated.

The parameters of what constitutes a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis are clearly defined under international law and as set forth in resolutions of the UN General Assembly and Security Council. In combination these serve as the ultimate arbiter of what a just and lasting peace will be. So long as Israel is permitted to violate international law with impunity, peace will remain elusive, if not impossible.

The UN has repeatedly acknowledged the need for Israel to comply with international law if peace is to replace conflict. Numerous resolutions to this end have been adopted by the General Assembly, including Resolution 194 asserting the right of return of Palestinian refugees, as well as by the Security Council, such as Resolution 242, obliging Israel to withdraw its forces from the territories occupied in the 1967 war.

Despite such action at the UN level, Israel remains actively in violation of international law. The occupation continues, with the construction of the wall proceeding without regard or consequence to the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice which had deemed it to be unlawful, while the construction and expansion of settlements explicitly prohibited under the Geneva Conventions and affirmed by the ICJ, also continues without regard to any diplomatic or legal pressures. A settlement freeze is an obligation under previous agreements, endorsed by the United Nations, not a pre-condition for the resumption of peace negotiations.

Given such a situation, it falls upon the General Assembly of the United Nations to take meaningful collective action to restore the primacy of international law as the basis of peace negotiations. The Security Council remains impotent in the face of Israeli transgressions of international law, having never resolved to act under Chapter VII of the Charter to pass collective measures such as sanctions against Israel to ensure its binding measures are adhered to. The veto mechanism of the Permanent Five Security Council measures has reinforced this passive approach, with the US alone having vetoed over 20 draft Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel’s policies and practices in the OPT between 1983 and 2006.

In light of the findings and recommendations of the Report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict published in September, it is now incumbent upon the General Assembly to use its powers as set forth in UNGA Resolution 377 A (V) ‘Uniting for Peace’ to ensure that collective measures be taken to safeguard the rights of Palestinians by ending Israel’s continuing breaches of international law.

The Goldstone Report places into sharp focus the extent to which Israel is in breach of international law in the OPT, its conclusions being that the gravest of international crimes were committed by Israel in Gaza, including possibly crimes against humanity, and that Israel has committed serous violations of international law in its ongoing blockade of Gaza, as well as in the West Bank.

The Goldstone Report identifies concrete actions to be taken by the UN, emphasizing the need for accountability, whether it be through the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, referring the situation to the International Criminal Court or that by states fulfilling their obligations to bring perpetrators to account under universal jurisdiction. It thus represents a significant turning point in terms of the need of the UN to take serious and immediate action to ensure accountability and to end Israel’s breaches of international law.

Were the UN General Assembly to remain inactive in light of the Goldstone findings and recommendations it will be a clear message to Israel, as well as to other states, that even the most manifest and egregious violations of international law will be tolerated by the UN, suggesting therefore that international law has no meaningful role to play in the resolution of conflict. Such a scenario cannot be countenanced.

The General Assembly has a historic, moral, and legal obligation in ensuring that Israel abides by international law and a corresponding duty to safeguard Palestinian rights: it was General Assembly resolutions that recommended the partition of Mandate Palestine and admitted Israel to the UN. In order to prevent a situation in which international law is rendered academic in regulating the behaviour of states, and noting the General Assembly’s historic involvement in Israel-Palestine, it is incumbent upon the General Assembly to take concrete and urgent action to end Israel’s violations of international law in the OPT.

In particular we call for the following:

· That the General Assembly recommends to member states of the UN, and to the Security Council, that the basis of any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians must be grounded in international law.

· That UN member states adopt a principled and determined stance, using the powers granted to the General Assembly under Resolution 377 A (V): ‘Uniting for Peace’ to: (1) recommend that Israel be subjected to the full weight of collective measures until its occupation of the OPT is ended and the rights of the Palestinian people are achieved; and (2) ensure that the recommendations of the Goldstone Report are followed in full in order to ensure that there is full accountability for the crimes committed in Gaza.



Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights

Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre

ADDAMEER Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association

AL-DAMEER Association for Human Rights - Gaza

Defence for Children International – Palestine Section

Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling

ENSAN Association for Democracy and Human Rights

Ramallah Centre for Human Rights Studies
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