In the afternoon of the first day of our Study Tour, Mr. Hamid Abdeljaber introduced us to the root causes of the Middle East conflict. What a passionate briefing! Due to his personal (he was born in what is now the West Bank) and professional experience (he served as UN spokesperson in Irak until 2003) he was able to give us detailed information about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the role of the UN.
Mr. Abdeljaber has been working for the UN for 25 years. As UN staff, he is not a representative of a state, but is first and foremost loyal to the UN. However, he is aware that some pay a high price for their dedication: he left Baghdad just one day before the attack on the UN building, in which – among others – Sergio Viera de Mello, then UN Special Advisor to Iraq, was killed.
Mr. Abdeljaber took us back to the roots of the Arab Israeli conflict, which in his view dated back to 1897, when the idea of creating an Israeli homeland emerged in Europe. When the UN was founded, it also inherited the unresolved conflict in the Middle East. Ever since its creation, the UN has been involved in efforts to find a solution to this lasting conflict, from the Partition Plan of 1947, the “Right of Return Resolution” (GA Resolution 194), to ceasefires in 1956 and 1967, after Israel had occupied the Egyptian Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the West bank and a part of the Syrian Golan Heights
Mr. Abdeljaber emphasized the exceptional work of the UN by explaining Resolution 242 in which the Security Council laid down principles for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East: occupied territory for a Palestinian state and security for Israel. However, the proposal failed and the Palestinians continued their “War of Liberation”. In October 1973, war broke out again between Egypt and Israel and between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic.
During this conflict, the Security Council adopted Resolution 338 reaffirming the principles of Resolution 242. However, fighting continued in the region and in 1982, a large-scale massacre of refugees took place in the camps of Sabra and Shatila. Though both sides began to adopt a more pragmatic attitude, the conditions of twenty years of military occupation contributed to the eruption of the first Intifada in 1987.
In 1991 a period of constructive negotiation between all parties began (again with major UN involvement). To Mr. Abdeljaber, the Oslo Accord from 1993 was a major breakthrough, because the core problems were addressed. However, the peace process was shaken by a tragic event: the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
According to Mr. Abdeljaber, new settlements finally caused the second Intifada which started on 28 February 2000. The nowadays withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territory was decided unilaterally. Despite some progress four important issues have to be addressed if a comprehensive and lasting solution to the conflict should be established: the refugees, the settlement, Jerusalem and the boundaries of the Palestinian state. Finally, Mr Abdeljaber outlined the imperatives a resolution must answer: justice for the Palestinian side and security for Israel.
The briefing on Middle East Issues was really fascinating because of Mr Abdeljaber’s broad knowledge and his vivid lecture. What a comprehensive and instructive approach to this topic! Mr Abdeljaber’s observations contributed to many discussions in our delegation, and we even scheduled another meeting with him for the following day in order to continue the discussion.