One year after Botswana established diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine, Botswana Guardian reporter Ernest Moloi asks Botswana’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Charles Ntwaagae what progress has been observed in the protracted Israeli/Palestine internecine conflict.
Botswana Guardian: Do we see the (Israeli/Palestine) conflict as a humanitarian/human rights or peace and security issue; and in all these categories, what is our foreign policy posture regarding the Peoples of Palestine?
Ambassador Charles Ntwaagae:
Botswana remains resolute in its support for the Palestinian people in their quest to realize their inalienable right to self determination and the pursuit of freedom, peace, dignity and stable existence. It is in light of this that Botswana, as a gesture of continued support and solidarity, established diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine on 08 March 2017.
While we welcome ongoing efforts by the “Middle East Quartet” (United States, European Union, Russia, and United Nations), which continues to work tirelessly to find a lasting solution to the Middle East situation; Botswana regrets that in 2018, Palestinians still live in the face of an unrelenting human tragedy of multiple conflicts and fragile environment.
The Government of Botswana remains steadfast in her support for the International community’s efforts to resolve the Conflict in the Middle East, peacefully and amicably. We are still of the belief that, there is room for both Israel and Palestine to co-exist as good friendly neighbours.
The conflict is among the world’s oldest and most protracted. The conflict is multifaceted and has historical, religious, cultural, legal, political and economic dimensions. It would therefore be naive to view the conflict exclusively from the perspective of humanitarian, human rights, peace and security dimensions only.
This explains why the conflict remains one of the world’s oldest and most protracted, which inevitably received and continues to receive wide coverage by the international press. The point is that both Israelis and Palestinians have human rights which have to be respected by both sides to the conflict. Humanitarian issues relate to the welfare of the estimated 6 million Palestine refugees. In this respect, Botswana supports the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a threat to international peace and security. Hence, continued international efforts to resolve this old conflict. Botswana as a Member of the United Nations supports these ongoing international efforts to find a durable solution to the conflict through relevant United Nations Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions.
BG: What is Botswana’s Position regarding the Two-State solution? How has America’s (Donald Trump) recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel aided or abetted the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelites?
CN: Botswana is committed to Multilateralism and to the multilateral system that underpins it. It is therefore important to note that the position of Botswana on the question of Palestine is firmly rooted on principles of international law, specifically the various Resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council on the Question of Palestine. In line with these Resolutions, the future of the City of Jerusalem is among those that have been designated in the peace negotiations as “final status issues”, still to be negotiated and agreed between Israel and Palestine.
It is in the light of this that Botswana views the recently announced decision by the US Government to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as an unduly pre-emptive move, which also has the potential to undermine the integrity of the Two-State solution, as well as compromising the United States’ impartiality in the peace talks.
Botswana supports the two-State solution, which is considered by the international community as the only way to ensure a durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two-State solution underlines a negotiated settlement by Israelis and Palestinians. It entails having two sovereign States – the State of Israel and the State of Palestine living peacefully side by side.
BG: Who are the original occupiers of Palestine/alternatively what are the internationally-defined boundaries of the land originally known as Palestine? How did Israel come into being in the Middle East?
CN: Botswana as a Member of the United Nations is largely guided by principles of international law with respect to questions of territorial disputes of other sovereign States.
In this instance, it would be recalled that, the Assembly Resolution 181 (1947) (Partition Plan) adopted the plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into Two States, one Arab and one Jewish, with Jerusalem placed under a special international regime, and is still recognised and regarded by the UN as applicable.
Furthermore, the 1949 Armistice signed by Israel and Arab States as well as Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) are internationally recognised as a basis for the legitimate call for Israel to withdraw its armed forces from territories it occupied.
The aforestated Resolutions provide the broad historical context of this dispute.
BG: Do you suppose the United Nations Organisation has any locus standi to resolve this conflict, given that it is an interested party by virtue of demarcating the 1947 boundaries that created the state of Israel?
CN: Yes, the United Nations has locus standi to resolve this conflict. As the only multilateral organisation with near universal membership, the UN is enjoined by its Charter to find global solutions to global problems and challenges.
Action by the UN is premised on relevant Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions. As far back as 1948, by Resolution 54(1948), the United Nations Security Council determined that the situation in Palestine was a threat to international peace and security and consequently ordered cessation of hostilities. Since then, the United Nations has remained actively engaged in efforts to resolve the conflict.
In these efforts, the United Nations has enlisted the support of other players, including the neighbouring countries, the Arab League and the Middle East Quartet (the UN, US, Russia and EU). It has to be appreciated that both Israel and Palestine need a third party to assist them to amicably resolve this conflict, which makes the involvement of the UN imperative, on account of its universal membership, international legitimacy and moral authority, as well as primary responsibility for maintenance of international peace and security.
BG: How has the Israel/Palestine conflict affected bilateral & multilateral trade and other fraternal relations between Botswana and Israel and Botswana and Palestine?
CN: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not had any adverse effect on bilateral relations, either between Botswana and Israel or between Botswana and Palestine, or both. Botswana has otherwise maintained a balanced approach to its relations with both Israel and Palestine and enjoys cordial relations with both of them.
The Government of Botswana and the State of Israel have maintained close relations based on mutual respect and understanding. The two countries established formal diplomatic relations in 1993, following the latter’s signing of a peace accord with the then Palestinian Liberation Organisation that same year. Furthermore, the two countries established economic and technical cooperation in a number of fields, including agriculture, health, water resource management, human resource development and education. Batswana have in the past taken advantage of scholarships administered by the Israeli Centre for International Cooperation, MASHAV, which is responsible for the design, coordination and implementation of Israel’s development cooperation programmes.
As a demonstration of our continued support and solidarity with the Palestinian people, Botswana established diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine in March 2017. We remain resolute in our support for the Palestinian people in their quest to realise their inalienable right to self determination.
BG: What has been the position of the African Union and the Arab League on this conflict and do you suppose multilateral diplomacy can ever resolve this dispute?
CN: The quest to find a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict enjoys overwhelming support from the international community, including the Arab world, African Union, Asia and European Union. The Arab league has been at the forefront of the efforts to find a lasting solution to the Israel - Palestine conflict. In its support for Palestine, the Council of the League of Arab States adopted in 2002, an “Arab Peace Initiative” calling for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967, and Israel’s acceptance of an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel.
The question of Palestine is a standing agenda item of the Summit of the African Union and every such Summit issues statements of support and solidarity with the Palestinian people. For example, at the last Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit, held in Ethiopia in January 2018, the African Union reiterated its support to the Palestinian position in its vision of a final solution to the conflict based on the principle of a Two-State solution and the full withdrawal by Israel from the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories.
BG: As Botswana’s representative at the United Nations what role do you suppose Botswana’s much-vaunted peace credentials can play in the resolution of an impasse of such large scale and magnitude? And have you at any time proposed any resolution to the structures of the UNO?
CN: The fact that Botswana enjoys a fairly good reputation internationally as one of the Africa’s most politically stable countries, and also a champion of democracy, good governance, respect for the rule of law and human rights, provides the country with the moral ground to leverage peaceful resolution of this conflict.
To this end, Botswana uses every available opportunity at the United Nations (and also at other fora such as the African Union and Commonwealth) to reiterate its unequivocal support for the Two State Solution with the Israeli and the Palestine living side by side, in peace and security.
The Israeli/Palestinian issue is consistently reflected in the statements Botswana delivers during the annual Sessions of the UN General Assembly.
In addition, the United Nations Security Council conducts quarterly Open Debates on the Middle East Question, with particular focus on Palestine and Botswana consistently delivers statements of support to the Two State Solution during these meetings.
The delegation also lends support to Resolutions that support the humanitarian and human rights situation of the people of Palestine in different fora of the General Assembly.
Botswana also always issues a “Message of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”, during commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People which takes place on 29 November of every year.