Thursday, October 06, 2011

Council of Europe: perplexity about the upgrading of the Palestinians to “Partners of Democrary” status

After yesterday’s vote at the Council of Europe (CoE) in Strasbourg on the Palestinian request for the status of “Partner for Democracy” within the CoE Parliamentary Assembly and in view of President Abu Mazen’s address before the Assembly this Thursday, some parliamentarians, delegates to the CoE by their national assemblies, expressed their concern in a letter sent to all their Colleagues. The letter conveys the parliamentarians’ perplexity for the rapidity and superficiality of the upgrading procedure adopted by the CoE Assembly. It has been undersigned by several MPs and among them: Hon. Roland Blum (UMP/France), Sen. Rosanna Boldi (Ldp/EDG), Hon. Fiamma Nirenstein (Pdl/PPE), Hon. Rudy Salles (EPP/France), Sen. Giuseppe Saro (EPP/Italy), Hon. Giacomo Stucchi (EDG/Italy), Hon. Marco Zacchera (EPP/Italy).

Here you can find the full text of the letter:

October the 3rd, 2011
Dear Colleagues,

it is with some perplexity and disconcertment that we witness the quick approval of a request for Partner for Democracy status within the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. We do not think that the way the subject as a whole has been managed and is going to be concluded will really help the Palestinian Authority in its effort to become a democratic State, a highly desirable goal for which we praise Mr Abu Mazen, while we convey to him our warmest wishes for his upcoming visit to our Assembly.
We also extend our wishes to both the Palestinians and Israelis for a prompt return to the negotiating table in order to achieve the aim that we all hope for, two States for two peoples living side by side in security and peace.

Our perplexity stems from the fact that it appears very difficult to reconcile the reality of the Palestinian Authority with the picture outlined in the Draft resolution that is going to be voted on Tuesday. While we wish that its aims could be pursued without delay, still we think that many principles and encouragements listed in this document ought to have been more thoroughly checked before we embark on the upgrading of the delegation sitting in the Council of Europe. We are worried that this well-intentioned upgrading could result in the opposite of what we expect and hope for the future of the Palestinian Authority.

The PA is very dramatically divided, from the political point of view, basically into two factions, Fatah and Hamas. In May 2011 there was a controversial pact of reconciliation and now, notwithstanding several disagreements, Mr Abu Mazen is trying very hard to renew it and make it effective. But Hamas is listed among the terrorist organizations in the European Union and in the USA; it bases its work on an anti-Semitic and anti-Western charter in which it promises to destroy Israel; it keeps the soldier Gilad Shalit as a prisoner in a secret refuge while nobody, not even the Red Cross, has ever been allowed to get direct information about him; it keeps its population under a heavy Sharia law.
The mandate of Abu Mazen’s presidency of the Palestinian Authority started on February 9th 2005, and actually ended on 9th of January 2009. He extended his term for one year, and afterwards he renewed it again. We hear now that elections are on their way: we wish that the Council of Europe will be able to see the return of the Palestinian Authority to the electoral system soon.

About citizens’ rights: according to the 2010 report of Freedom House, women “are subjected to restrictive personal status law, which retain discriminatory provisions related to marriage, divorce, and child custody. Domestic abuse remains a significant problem and violence against women has increased in the recent years… Discriminatory laws and tradition also affect inheritance, alimony, employment opportunities… So-called "honor killings," which typically involve the murder of women by relatives as punishment for extramarital sex, have also escalated”. As far as Hamas is concerned, the Islamist organization has incorporated in Gaza the hudud, a seventh century unified penal code that features punishments as amputations, whipping, stoning.
The Palestinian Authority applies the death penalty and, according to Human Rights Watch, at the moment at least 21 persons are waiting in prison for execution. In 2011 there have been three executions and two more persons have been condemned to death. In July 2011 two men have been hanged with the accusation of “collaborationism” with Israel. We must nevertheless recognize that President Mahmoud Abbas has requested from the judges a suspension of the death penalties since 2005.

‘Accidental’ but actually deliberate killings happen day after day without the possibility of the Security Forces to intervene in a decisive way, because there are factions and militias on political and family basis, fighting each other in the streets. We know that the Palestinian leadership tries to combat this phenomenon that nevertheless has a strong impact on society. The Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Israelis have been lynched or gunned in the streets, sometimes after being taken away from the jails where they were imprisoned.

Since the Palestinian law, based on the 1960 Jordanian penal code, prohibits homosexual activity, the gay community in the Palestinian Authority has a very hard life, subjected to sanctions and persecutions. Consequentially many gay people run away and seek refuge in Israel.

Even if the law prohibits it, many underage children (with estimates as high as 72 per cent) work in shops, family farms, factories, enterprises.

As for freedom of opinion, we read that in 2006 at least 16 Palestinian journalists have been either killed or wounded by armed groups and PA security forces. Security forces of the PA, writes Human Rights Watch, have arbitrarily detained and sometimes abused many West Bank journalists.

As far as the condition of Christians is concerned, we have many witnesses of bad behaviour or even persecution from the Muslim side: in Bethlehem, in the last decades, the Christian population has squeezed from 90 to 15 percent. Not to speak about Gaza, where persecutions are on a daily basis and do not stop at murder.

It must also be mentioned that it has been stated in many declarations of the Palestinian Fatah leadership that a future Palestinian State will not admit the presence of any Jews, and we certainly cannot accept this as a good premise for democracy and coexistence.

It is for these and other reasons that, while wishing a future of democracy and peace to the Palestinians Authority and appreciating the commitment implied in the demand of an upgrading at the Council of Europe, we see the need for an enormous effort in future in order to fulfil this commitment and on our side, the side of the European institutions, the necessity of being more accurate and thorough in monitoring and accepting this process.

Sincerely yours,
Hon. Fiamma Nirenstein (EPP/Italy)

Sen. Rossana Boldi (EDG/Italy)
Hon. Marco Zacchera (EPP/Italy)
Hon. Giacomo Stucchi (EDG/Italy)
Sen. Giuseppe Saro (EPP/Italy)
Hon. Rudy Salles (EPP/France)
Hon. Roland Blum (UMP/France)
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