Conference of Supervisors of Palestinian Affairs concluded in Arab League headquarters

Meeting denounces UNESCO’s placing Jerusalem as capital of Israel on its website

The 85th session of the Conference of Supervisors of Palestinian Affairs in Arab Host Countries concluded meetings at the Arab League General Secretariat headquarters in Cairo this week.

The 3-day conference discussed many issues, including the Israeli settlement activities, particularly in Jerusalem, the racial separation wall, confiscation of the Palestinian lands in addition to repercussions of these policies on the lives of the Palestinians in the social, economic and legal domains.

In a speech, Head of Syria's delegation, Director-General of the General Commission for Palestinian Refugees Affairs Ali Mustafa, stressed Syria's commitment to providing support and help for the resident Palestinian refugees and treating them as Syrian citizens with preserving their Palestinian identities until their return to their homeland where they were displaced from in 1948.

For his part, Assistant Secretary General for Palestine Affairs at the Arab League Mohammad Sbeih said the conference discussed important files in a critical atmosphere that the Palestinians are living in because of the Israeli aggressive policies.

Sbeih called for taking strict procedures against Israel for foiling the efforts to reach peace, its obstinacy in continuing settlement and aggression policies and denying the legal and firm rights of the Palestinian people.

Representatives from the Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees, which are Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt in addition to Palestine, representatives from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Arab Organization for Education, Science and Culture (ALECSO) and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) are participating in the conference.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has received strong criticism after naming Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

In closing statements, the conference addressed UNESCO’s calling Jerusalem Israel’s capital on its website, declaring it a violation of international law and the UN General Assembly’s decision declaring the city a part of the occupied Palestinian territories.

The conference, which stretched over four days, recommended that the Arab League general secretariat follow the situation and try to reverse it. It suggested sending a letter to the UN general secretariat and UNESCO discussing the seriousness of the situation.

It also called for twinning Arab capitals with the holy city and called on educational and cultural organizations to twin with Jerusalem organizations to ensure support for the city and its Palestinian natives.

In addition, the conference called on the Arab League to continue discussing the possibility of prosecuting Israel in national and international courts for its violations against Jerusalem and its people.

The conference also made a focus of the affairs of Palestinian refugees and addressed the UN Relief Works Agency’s removal of the words “relief works” from its title. It said that recent calls for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state were aimed at relinquishing the refugees’ right of return.

The hosting Arab states called on donor states to fulfill obligations concerning UNRWA’s budget, emphasizing the need to cover the agency’s 2010-11 deficit to ensure that it can execute its programs according to previous budgets.

The Arab League on Thursday endorsed a Palestinian plan to seek full membership at the United Nations this fall, setting up a likely confrontation with the United States in the powerful U.N. Security Council.

Negotiations with Israel on the terms of Palestinian statehood have been frozen since 2008. As an alternative, the Palestinians have decided to seek U.N. recognition of an independent "Palestine" in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Arab League foreign ministers, meeting Thursday in Doha, Qatar, said they would support the Palestinian bid.

The ministers pledged in a statement to "take all necessary measures and to rally needed support of all world countries, starting with members of the Security Council, to recognize the state of Palestine ... and to win full membership of the United Nations."

"Comprehensive and just peace with Israel will not be accomplished unless Israel withdraws from all occupied Arab territories," it said.

There was no immediate official reaction from Israel or the United States to the decision. However, the United States, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, has strongly hinted it would veto a Palestinian membership request.

A U.S. veto would derail a quest for full U.N. recognition.

As an alternative, the Palestinians could go to the General Assembly and seek recognition there as a non-member observer state, a largely symbolic nod. Still, widespread support in the General Assembly would signal that a majority of countries support Palestinian statehood in the pre-1967 lines.

After Thursday's announcement, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians would appeal to both bodies, beginning with the council. "We hope the United States will not use its veto against this decision," he said.

Speaking from Doha, Erekat said the Arab ministers decided to form two committees – one to work on procedural matters and the second to rally international support for the Palestinians.

Taking on the U.S. is potentially risky for the Palestinians, since Washington is the main Mideast mediator. Already, there is a move in Congress to cut off funds millions of dollars in aid if an emerging Palestinian unity government includes the militant Hamas group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the West.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects a full withdrawal from the occupied lands, where some 500,000 Israelis have settled since 1967, including 300,000 in the West Bank and 200,000 in Israel-annexed east Jerusalem.

Netanyahu says Israel will never relinquish east Jerusalem, which he considers an integral part of its capital. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but continues to control its borders, sea and air space.

Palestinian officials acknowledge a victory at the U.N. would not immediately change the situation on the ground, but they believe a strong international endorsement would step up pressure on Israel to withdraw from occupied territory.

Israel and the United States say a Palestinian state should be formed through a peace deal with Israel.

The latest significant round of peace talks broke down in late 2008. At the time, Netanyahu's predecessor and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed on the principle of swapping some West Bank land for Israeli territory, in order to enable Israel to retain some major Jewish settlements.

However, the leaders were far apart on the extent of such a swap, and other key disputes, including the fate of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have said they will not resume talks unless Israel agrees to freeze settlement construction and accepts the pre-1967 lines as the basis of a peace deal. Israel says issues like settlements and borders should be on the negotiating table.

Israel's Channel 10 TV reported late Thursday that Netanyahu approved a plan to build 210 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, a response to a grisly attack in March when a Palestinian stabbed to death a couple and three of their children, including a baby.

The report said Defense Minister Ehud Barak would need to approve the plan.

A government official confirmed the project is in the early planning stages, adding that it would be years away from implementation.

He noted that Netanyahu pledged new construction as a response to the attack. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no statement was made.

Extremist settlers in Itamar frequently clash with Palestinians in nearby villages.

The expansion of settlements deep inside the West Bank, such as Itamar, would pose a particular obstacle to eventual partition of the land.