Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee Presents Report

The Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee presented its report to the President of the U.S. on 30 April 2001. The report was also shared with the U.N. Secretary-General and the Palestinian and Israeli sides. The sides have been given until 15 May 2001 to respond to the report prior to its publication.

The Fact-Finding Committee was formed by the U.S., in consultation with the two sides as well as the Secretary-General, in accordance with the understanding reached at the Summit of Sharm El-Sheikh, which was held on 17 October 2000. The Committee was established to determine what had happened since 28 September 2000 and how to avoid it from recurring in the future.

The Committee was composed of the following: George Mitchell, former U.S. Senator, who served as Chairman of the Committee; Suleyman Demirel, former President of Turkey; Thorbjoern Jagland, Foreign Minister of Norway; Warren Rudman, former U.S. Senator; and Javier Solana, European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The report details the Committee’s findings after its visits to the area, including the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel. During the visits, the Committee members gathered information and advice from various individuals, organizations and governments in order to assess the situation and make conclusions and recommendations. The report itself is divided into four sections: Introduction; Discussion - including the following: What Happened, Why it Happened, End the Violence, Rebuild Confidence, and Resume Negotiations; Recommendations; and Attachments.

With regard to what happened, the Committee found that Sharon’s visit to Al-Haram Al-Sharif was not the cause of Al-Aqsa intifada and that the intifada was not planned by the Palestinian Authority. The Committee, however, found that the Sharon visit was indeed provocative and poorly timed. The Committee further states that the decision by the Israeli police on 29 September to use rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition against Palestinians, killing 4 people and inuring about 200, was a significant development leading to the situation getting out of control.

In the Committee’s recommendations, and specifically with regard to the Israeli settlements, an issue of importance for the Palestinian side, the Committee clearly states the "Government of Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the ‘natural growth’ of existing settlements." In addition, the Committee indirectly calls for the removal of settlements that are the focal points for substantial friction.

Palestine & The UN will likely revisit this issue in greater detail once the report becomes public in its final form. It is important, nevertheless, to indicate that the Palestinian side accepts the report in general and furthermore has proposed a high-level meeting for the participants of the Sharm El-Sheikh Summit to consider the Fact-Finding Committee’s report. From the Palestinian perspective, it is extremely important now to use the report as a platform for necessary actions to end the current tragic situation and to revive the Middle East peace process.