Position Paper Re:
Sharm El-Sheikh Emergency Summit
18 October 2000
18 October 2000
Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law again Sacrificed
On 18 October 2000 the Sharm El-Sheikh Emergency Summit, in which the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak participated, was concluded with a statement of understanding read by the U.S. President Bill Clinton. President Clinton summarized what had been agreed upon in three areas, which can be outlined as follows:
- Both sides agreed to issue public statements unequivocally calling for an end of violence. The also agreed to take immediate, concrete measures to end the current confrontation, maintain calm and prevent recurrence of recent events. In order to achieve this both sides agreed to take steps to return to the situation that existed previous to the current crisis, including restoring law and order, redeployment of forces, eliminating points of friction, enhancing security cooperation, and ending the closure and opening Gaza airport.
- The United States will develop with the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as in consultation with the United Nations Secretary General, a committee of “fact-finding” on the recent events and how to prevent their recurrence. The committee’s report will be shared by the U.S. President with the UN Secretary General and the parties prior to publication. A final report shall be submitted under the auspices of the U.S. president for publication.
- The United States will consult with the parties within the next two weeks about how to move forward, resume efforts to reach a permanent status agreement based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and subsequent understandings.
Even as the emergency summit was concluded, clashes between the Israeli occupation forces and Palestinian demonstrators continued yesterday and today. As a result the number of Palestinian casualties and fatalities at the hands of Israeli occupation forces and settlers has increased. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights fears that the outcome of Sharm El-Sheikh Summit may in fact increase tension in the region. Two factors in particular will increase a sense of frustration amongst Palestinians, firstly the silence of international community regarding the use of excessive and lethal force of the Israeli occupation forces. Secondly, the widely held perception that the U.S. can never constitute an honest broker in this context. Palestinians have once again seen their legitimate rights under international law undermined. Palestinians are again disappointed that the international community, and particularly the High Contracting
Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention have failed to take any concrete steps to ensure its respect and implementation in the occupied Palestinian territories, and to provide protection for Palestinian civilians.
PCHR believes that the understandings between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, as they were summarized by President Clinton, will not suffice to defuse this crisis, and will not end violations of human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian civilians and their properties. Nor do these understandings provide a concrete mechanism for fair investigation of the current events by an international committee under the auspices of the United Nations. Our main concerns with the understanding are as follows:
- The Absence of International Humanitarian Law and Principles of Human Rights:
Like all the agreements, memorandums and understandings concluded between the Palestinian and Israeli parties under the auspices of the United States since the beginning of the negotiation process, the recent Sharm El-Sheikh understanding is not based on international law. Particularly, these agreements, including the most recent understanding, ignore international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions on the protection of civilians in the time of war. The understanding has no reference to the principles of human rights. Once again international humanitarian law and human rights have been sacrificed for political considerations.
One of the major failures of the peace process as a whole is the sacrifice of human right for peace. Seven years have passed since signing the Declaration of Principles in Oslo, peace has not been achieved, and human rights violations against Palestinian civilians have continued. The current events reinforce the view of human rights organisations that a just, comprehensive peace cannot be achieved in the region without providing basic guarantees for the respect of human rights and international humanitarian law, including the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.
- Calling for Return to the Situation Previous to the Current events:
Calling for a return to the situation that existed previous to the current events in fact amounts to a call for returning to a situation which was, and will unfortunately remain, ready to explode. Sharon’s visit to Al-Haram Al-Sharif (the Holy Sanctuary) was merely the spark that ignited this barrel of gunpowder. This situation has accumulated as a result of anger and frustration among the Palestinian people at an unbalanced negotiation process, which has failed to meet their minimum aspirations.
Ten years have passed since the peace process started in Madrid, and 6 years have passed since signing the first interim agreement and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in parts of the occupied Palestinian territories. The Israeli occupation forces still have control over 90% of the West Bank, and more than 40% of the Gaza Strip. The negotiation process failed to put an end to ongoing human rights violations by the Israeli occupation forces against the Palestinian people and their land.
During recent years, the Israeli occupation forces continued land confiscation in the occupied Palestinian territories to expand existing settlements and establish new settlements and bypass roads, which link those settlements to Israel. Both the Israeli occupation forces and Israeli settlers continued to kill Palestinian civilians. Thousands of Palestinian prisoners remain in Israeli jails, where they face not only appalling living conditions but also violence and torture from the interrogators of the Israeli General Security Service. Also in recent years, Israel has intensified the use of closure to besiege the occupied Palestinian territories, restricting the movement of people and goods. This amounted to a policy of economic suffocation, and in recent years we have seen an escalation in Israel’s violations of the economic and social rights of Palestinian civilians, in addition to their violations of civil and political rights of Palestinian civilians.
The deadline for ending the interim period, 4 May 1999, passed without the Israeli Government meeting its commitments under the Interim Agreement with regard to redeployment of its troops in the West Bank. Soon after this Ehud Barak was elected Prime Minister in Israel and the Labour party came into power. This raised expectations in the international community for a ‘breakthrough’ in the peace process. As a result the conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to address mechanisms to ensure the implementation of the Convention in the occupied Palestinian territory, which had been called for by the United Nations General Assembly in response to escalating Israeli violations, was effectively postponed indefinitely. Palestinian and international human rights organizations did not expect such a ‘breakthrough’, and warned of deterioration in the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. They also emphasized the necessity of the conference adopting immediate, practical measures in response to ongoing and grave Israeli violations of the Convention.
Unfortunately experience has proved that international optimism was unfounded as Barak has gone on to adopt policies in the occupied Palestinian territory which closely resemble those of his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, and wide spread violations have continued. These include settlement activities, closure and use of excessive and lethal force against Palestinian civilians.
On 26 July 2000, two weeks of negotiation between the Palestinian and Israeli sides
under the auspices of the United States ended without concluding an agreement on key issues which were postponed to a final settlement, including the issues of refugees, Jerusalem, settlements and borders.
Returning to the situation previous to the recent events, according to the understandings of Sharm El-Sheikh, ignores entirely the root cause of the problem, which is the ongoing Israeli occupation and ongoing and grave violations by the Israeli occupation forces of human rights standards and humanitarian law. As such it cannot and will not end the violence.
- The Recent Events and an Investigation Committee:
The fact-finding committee which the United States will develop with the Palestinian and Israeli sides will not provide a mechanism of fair and neutral investigation of the recent events. Such a committee will not be mandated to identify violations of human rights and humanitarian law, nor to determine those responsible for such violations.
In brief, it will be a political committee rather than a professional one. Amongst other things, its report will be shared by the parties under the auspices of the U.S. president personally prior to publication.
In contrast, local and international human rights organizations call for establishing an independent international commission of inquiry under the auspices of the United Nations, to investigate violations, including the use of excessive and lethal force by Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian civilians.
- 97 Palestinians killed, of which 25% are children, by Israeli forces and Israeli settlers protected by the army between 29 September and 17 October 2000.
- More than 3000 Palestinians wounded, mostly in the upper body. Some of the wounded are in critical conditions, and some are clinically dead. Fifteen people, including some children, were wounded directly in the eyes by live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets.
- Israeli occupation forces attacked Palestinian homes and buildings with missiles and high velocity ammunition, using combat helicopters, gunboats and tanks.
- Israeli occupation forces fired heavy machine guns from combat helicopters towards unarmed Palestinian demonstrators.
- Israel has adopted measures of collective punishment against Palestinian civilians by imposing a total closure over the occupied Palestinian territory, preventing the movement of persons and economic transactions, in addition to closing all border crossings and Gaza International Airport.
In recent weeks Israeli occupation forces have perpetrated grave and wide spread violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory. The failure of the international community to immediately intervene to end the killing of Palestinian civilians, is a failure of the international community to implement international law, particularly the Geneva Conventions, in a situation that required, and continues to require, immediate intervention.
The Sharm El-Sheikh understandings will not resolve this crisis as they ignore its root causes. Moreover, they contradict international human rights standards and humanitarian law. Tension and frustration will continue, unless and until the international community adopts effective measures to put an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. This will enable the Palestinian people to exercise their legitimate rights, including the right to self-determination and establishing an independent Palestinan state on the whole occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.
To prevent deterioration of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, PCHR calls for:
- Establishing an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate the violations perpetrated by the Israeli occupation forces and Israeli settlers, who perpetrate their crimes under the protection of these forces, against Palestinian civilians.
- A clear international condemnation of the killing of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli occupation forces and Israeli settlers.
- Providing international protection for Palestinian civilians in the face of aggressions by the Israeli occupation forces settlers, to avoid deterioration of the situation and many more deaths of Palestinian civilians.
- Reconvening the adjourned conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to address and adopt measures to ensure Israel’s respect of the Convention in the occupied Palestinian territories, and to meet their legal obligations to provide protection for Palestinian civilians.
- The European Union to activate Article 2 of the Euro-Israeli Association Agreement which requires Israel’s respect of human right.
- Reinforcing the presence of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) in the occupied Palestinian territories in order to play a more effective role in protecting Palestinian civilians.
- Increasing the services, assistance and presence of UNRWA in the occupied Palestinian territories.