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(photo credit: AP)
Former Irish president and UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson warned on Thursday that if Israel does not freeze settlement construction, a two-state solution may no longer be possible.
"The balance is tipping and if it tips, there will not be a two-state solution and how would that make Israel safer?" asked Robinson, in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post.
She is here as part of a delegation of veteran world leaders known as The Elders.
"A one-state solution has huge implications. So for the sake of being able to have a two-state solution, we need a freeze on settlements," she said.
Robinson did not restrict her criticism to Israel.
"On the Palestinian side, there needs to be much more responsibility to come together in a responsible way, as the PA and Hamas and Fatah and other elements must be much more urgent on the discussions that they are having in Egypt.
"There is no time to delay on this and the civil society we are meeting are becoming impatient on leadership and want more leadership," she said.
Amid controversy over the records of some of the visiting Elders regarding Israel, Robinson defended the NGO as "balanced."
"In all of our meetings everyone can see that we want to further the purposes of peace. We want to probe a little bit, push a little bit to try to see if we can help in a nonpolitical way," she said.
"We're not involved in negotiations, but we ask the right questions in the right quarters to try to create some space."
The Elders includes Nobel Peace laureates Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. During their four-day visit to Israel and the West Bank, they have met with politicians, civic groups and young people.
"We are a group that contains a number of those who would be, if you like, perceived to be quite balanced on the Israeli side," said Robinson, who recently received of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. Pro-Israel activists had protested that award, slamming her for being anti-Israel, and in particular citing in her role at the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa.
"The leader of our group, former president of Brazil Fernando Enrique Cardozo, has very warm relations with Israel over the years, and [former prime minister] Gro Brundtland represents the great role of Norway and her own role in the Oslo Process, and Ela Bhatt, who is the head of the Self-Employed Womens Association in India, comes with a Ghandian true impartiality," Robinson said.
The group's goal was to "keep the focus on the people," she said.
"We have explained to each group that we are not in power and we are absolutely committed to peace and reconciliation and to peace and human rights on the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side. We are trying to further that," she said.
Israel should take a page from Ireland's book and look at positive steps that can be taken toward peace, Robinson said.
"I felt when I was in Gaza in November, which was before the bombing of Gaza a few weeks later, I was struck by the fact that there was the blockade and it was having its impact, but there was also a very tentative cease-fire," she said.
"And in an Irish situation, when the IRA Sinn Fein made any tangible step like a tentative cease-fire, there was always a move to consolidate it, there was always a step taken to ensure some dividend. And it did strike me that it wasn't wise that there wasn't such a step [with Gaza].
"And I know that the situation since became worse, but it's probably now back to where it was. I believe that if there is to be peace, there has to be reconciliation among the factions on the Palestinian side, and that must be fostered. And one of the ways to do that is to ease and hopefully remove the blockade.
"I am aware of the security concerns, they are very real and I don't underestimate them. But the real security is the lasting peace, and that we know from Ireland. I can go to Belfast now. It's a thriving cultural city, and now when I travel from Dublin to Belfast, I don't even feel anything when I cross the border," Robinson said.
Robinson also spoke out against the worsening situation for women in Gaza.
After speaking with two young Gazan women by video-conference, she said that they expressed concerned that the always-patriarchical society there was "getting worse."
"We met this afternoon with three PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council] members, including... former speaker of the PLC Abdel Aziz Dweik - all three were released from prison about three months ago. I raised this and said please that as elders, we are very concerned about the situation. We want it to be known that we raised it with you and please convey it back to Gaza."