As a delegation of The Elders wrap up their current Middle East visit, delegation leader Mary Robinson said in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon, according to their press release, that “Jerusalem lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and agreement on its future must also be at the heart of any solution. The changing ethnic and religious character of the city has regional and global implications. As Elders we try to bring hope, but I was shocked at the practices the Jerusalem authorities are being allowed to get away with. All kinds of clever methods are being used to surround and squeeze the Palestinian population – tunnels, settler houses, new roads, and now tourist attractions. A solution must be found that respects the human rights of all.”
A delegation of The Elders, headed by Mary Robinson and including Jimmy Carter [see our previous posts here] visited Silwan, a hotspot in East Jerusalem just outside of the walls of the Old City of East Jerusalem, and downwind of two major Islamic sites — Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock — is a volatile hotspot where thousands of Palestinians are living under threat of eviction as two settler groups literally dig in to try to discover and track King David’s presence in ancient times.
A few hundred Israeli settlers are protected by armed semi-private security guards who are not supervised by the police or military, and several Palestinian deaths by gunfire from these guards have caused disturbances there this year.
Both Carter and Robinson expressed hope that East Jerusalem would become the capital of a future Palestinian state.
An Associated Press correspondent has filed a “pool report” for the Foreign Press Association in Israel (FPA) describing the visit — during which Algeria’s former Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi (a UN official from time to time) was apparently not present.
According to Nuha + Khader Musleh’s very useful summary of the Palestinian press today, The Elders delegation was received by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday. [Too bad that it is so difficult, even impossible, to get useful information from the Presidential press office or any other Palestinian source for official information …]
Via a press release from a delegation of The Elders now visiting the Middle East, we learn that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said today in Damascus: “My fellow Elders have briefed me on their visit to Gaza – which confirms my fears that the situation is deteriorating sharply for the people trapped there. The blockade is one of the most serious human rights violations on Earth and it must be lifted fully. Expectations across the region for the current talks between Israel and the Palestinians are very low. One of the foundations of hope is to see things getting better, but things are not improving”.
In addition, the leader of the Elders’ delegation, former Irish President [and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights] Mary Robinson said: “A far greater sense of urgency is needed. People are tired after almost two decades of talks. They keep telling us that there is too much focus on process and not enough on results. They are asking themselves whether the United States and the Quartet are more interested in managing the conflict than resolving it. As Elders, we believe the two-state solution has the potential to deliver peace – but a more energetic and comprehensive approach is needed”…
The Elders “are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace-building and help address major causes of human suffering”, their press release says.
Their website is here. In the coming days, they will be in Amman, Israel, and the West Bank. The current tour of this Middle East delegation ends on Friday 22 October.
The Elders have entered the Gaza Strip today via the Rafah crossing from Egypt, after holding talks in Cairo with Egyptian President Husni Mubarak.
CORRECTION: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is apparently not with the group in Gaza, but will instead join them later.
Former Irish President Mary Robinson — who subsequently served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights — is in Gaza as Delegation leader of this group. In her time as High Commissioner, Mary Robinson being driven in a UN vehicle when it was fired upon while touring areas under Israeli control during the height of the second Palestinian intifada.
She noted in a statement today that “I was last here in 2008, just before the Gaza war. The situation has deteriorated to a shocking extent since then. This is not a humanitarian crisis – it is a political crisis and it can be solved politically. It is unconscionable and unacceptable that Israel and the international community have not lifted the blockade fully to allow Gazans to rebuild their lives and be part of the interconnected world that we take for granted. The easing of the blockade may mean more goods can be imported, but people are not free to come and go, reconstruction materials are still highly restricted, there is no real economy to speak of, and I have no doubt that things are not just stagnant – they are going backwards.”