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Human Rights Experts Calls for Creative Diplomacy in Israeli, Palestinian Talks

A UN special investigator on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory says creative diplomacy is needed to get Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume negotiations for a peaceful settlement and respect for human rights. The human rights expert has just returned from a visit to Gaza and the West Bank where he says living conditions for the Palestinians have seriously deteriorated and human rights violations have intensified.

UN Special Investigator John Dugard says economic sanctions against the Hamas-led government have taken a terrible toll on the Palestinian civilian population. He says the situation is intolerable and must end.

He says peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians must be quickly restarted. He says Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist and renounce violence will not be changed by isolation but by engagement and diplomacy.

He says the Quartet, which is comprised of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, has outlived its usefulness as a negotiating partner. He says the Quartet seems to believe that regime change is possible by applying international pressure through economic sanctions on the Palestine Authority.

"My own view on the subject is that it is unlikely to have this effect," he said. "I think that history teaches us that in situations of this kind when a government is under pressure from the international community that the people tend to rally around it. Again I speak as a South African. During the apartheid years when South Africa was subjected to international pressure, support for the apartheid regime grew rather than diminished."

Dugard, who is a law professor in South Africa, says trying to get Hamas to change its policy through coercion is unlikely to work. Constructive dialogue, he says, is likely to have a better chance. He says it is important to find a State or an international body that can come up with a formula that would allow the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian talks to go ahead.

"And it has been suggested that Hamas is not completely adverse to finding such a formula which would allow negotiations to proceed," added Dugard. "But, at present, no attempt is being made in that direction. What distresses me is that the obvious parties that might engage the Palestinian Authority on the subject have withdrawn."

Dugard says the United States is unwilling to adopt this approach as are the United Nations and European Union.

He calls the current hard-line policies adopted by the West counterproductive. He says applying a stick without a carrot is doomed to failure.

In the meantime, he says Israel, as the occupying power has the responsibility to provide the Palestinian people with food, medicine, health care and other basic services they need to survive.