Chapter Five

CLOSURES IN THE CONTEXT OF THE PEACE PROCESS

The high hopes Palestinians held for the peace process have been met with the continuing deterioration in living conditions and economic hardship. The most severe closures ever experienced have been imposed on these areas by Israel since the signing of the Interim Peace Agreements. This incongruent situation is significant, its concomitant implications for the Final Status Agreement, and for the achievement of self-determination by the Palestinian people, ultimately for peace in the Middle East, should be of concern to the international community.

i. Role Of The International Community

Silence on part of the international community in regard to Israel’s imposition of the very strict closures in 1996 Implies tacit acceptance of this policy. The issue of closure is inextricably intertwined with the most crucial of issues relating to the current peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, including the territorial integrity of the Palestinian territories, Jerusalem, borders and security, and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. With these fundamental implications, it is thus a policy of profound importance.

The closures have caused the decimation of the vulnerable economies of the Occupied Territories, and the violation of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people, plunging them into degrading and impoverished living conditions. This has taken place in the context of the peace process and under the gaze of the international community, whose responsibility it is to urge the Israeli Government, (especially since the incumbency of Benyamin Netanyahu and a right wing government), to respect the Agreements signed with the PLO, its humanitarian obligations under Geneva Law and international human rights standards. This responsibility is particularly addressed to donor and sponsor countries.

Specifically in relation to Israel's adherence to the IV Geneva Convention, all HCPs are under obligations “to ensure respect for the... Convention in all circumstances”.127 Thus the international community is under an obligation in respect of the Geneva Convention to ensure Israel’s compliance in its treatment of the Palestinian Territories.

Furthermore, it is the role of the international community to ensure that the Final Status Negotiations lead to the full enjoyment for the Palestinian people of the fundamental human rights to which they are entitled, and that their inherent right to self-determination is not artificially constrained by the Final Status agreement. To this end the final agreement must constitute an equitable arrangement that does not contravene international law. Such an agreement cannot exist while Israel's forces maintain control of Palestinian movement in and out of the Occupied Territories, and while illegal Israeli settlements are maintained within the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and encircling East Jerusalem; and while the economies of the Occupied Territories are suspended in a state of impotence by Israel.

ii. The Obligation to Settle Disputes Peacefully

All States, and arguably the PNA, are obliged to settle their disputes peacefully and without aggression.128 The peace process provides a framework and a self-contained mechanism for the redressing of wrongful conduct, the settlement of disputes and an appropriate forum in which a legitimate formula for combating terrorism can be constructed. 129 Such a framework provides a basis for practical measures and discussions between the parties which could satisfy Israel’s security concerns, without compromising the developmental concerns and collective well-being of the Palestinian people.

Conclusion

The respect for human rights and the protection of the Palestinian civilian population is an immediate issue which cannot be neglected. It is unacceptable to link human rights with political settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and so it is unacceptable for agreement to be negotiated which does not take account of the human rights of the Palestinian people. This attitude has so far been accommodated because it was thought that any agreement was better than none. However the experience of the Palestinian people since the coming into force of the Interim Agreements raises considerable doubts as to the validity of this approach. The greatest potential danger currently facing the whole region comes from oppression of the severe closures on the Occupied Territories.

Living conditions have deteriorated dramatically the Occupied Territories since the coming into force of the Interim Agreements. This state of affairs confirms the need to end the nature of the current relationship between Israel and the Occupied Territories. This can be attained only by allowing the Palestinian people to practice their right to self-determination, including complete political and territorial independence. Only then can relations between the PNA and Israel become more equitable and beneficial for the Palestinian people, only then can the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people be protected and only then can there be peace and stability in the region.

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