Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter
The question of Palestine was first brought before the General Assembly in 1947, when the Assembly decided to partition Palestine into two States, one Arab and one Jewish, with a special international status for Jerusalem (resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947). In later years, as the Arab State did not come into being and several wars were fought in the area, the Palestine problem was discussed as part of the larger Middle East conflict or in the context of its refugee or human rights aspects. It was only in 1974 that the question of Palestine was reintroduced in the Assembly’s agenda as a national question and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were reaffirmed and specified. In resolution 3236 (XXIX) of 22 November 1974, the Assembly stated that those rights included: the right to self-determination without external interference; the right to national independence and sovereignty; and the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property, from which they had been displaced and uprooted. The Assembly also stated that the realization of those rights was indispensable for the solution of the question of Palestine.
The following year, expressing grave concern that progress had not been achieved towards the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights, the Assembly decided to establish the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. By its resolution 3376 (XXX) of 10 November 1975, the Assembly mandated the Committee to consider and recommend to the Assembly a programme of implementation, designed to enable the Palestinian people to exercise its rights. The Committee was requested to submit its report and recommendations to the Secretary-General, no later than 1 June 1976, for transmission to the Security Council.
In its first report, submitted to the Security Council in June 1976, the Committee affirmed that the question of Palestine was “at the heart of the Middle East problem” and that no solution could be envisaged without fully taking into account the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. The Committee urged the Council to promote action for a just solution, taking into account all the powers conferred on it by the Charter of the United Nations. The recommendations of the Committee included a two-phase plan for the return of Palestinians to their homes and property; a timetable for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories by 1 June 1977, with the provision, if necessary, of temporary peacekeeping forces to facilitate the process; an end to the establishment of settlements; recognition by Israel of the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied territories pending withdrawal; and endorsement of the inherent right of Palestinians to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty in Palestine. The Committee also expressed the view that the United Nations had the historical duty and responsibility to render all assistance necessary to promote the economic development and prosperity of the future Palestinian entity.
The Committee's recommendations were not adopted by the Security Council, due to the negative vote of a permanent member, and have not been implemented. They were, however, endorsed by an overwhelming majority in the General Assembly, to which the Committee reports annually. The Assembly reaffirmed that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East could not be established without the achievement of a just solution of the problem of Palestine based on the attainment of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. The Assembly also requested the Committee to keep the situation relating to the question of Palestine under review and to report and make suggestions to the General Assembly or the Security Council as appropriate, and to promote the greatest possible dissemination of information on its recommendations through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other appropriate means.
In pursuance of this mandate, the Committee’s programme of work has been gradually expanded. With the establishment in 1978 of a supporting unit in the United Nations Secretariat (later re-designated as the Division for Palestinian Rights), the programme came to include the convening of international meetings and conferences, including meetings with civil society, in all regions of the world, with the participation of political personalities, representatives of Governments and intergovernmental organizations, United Nations officials, academics, the media and others. Ongoing cooperation with a wide network of NGOs and other civil society institutions active on the question of Palestine was established. In consultation with the Committee, the Division also began to monitor developments relevant to the question of Palestine and to prepare and publish periodic or occasional bulletins, studies and other documentation; it developed and continues to maintain and upgrade its computer-based information system on the question of Palestine; and instituted an annual training programme for staff of the Palestinian Authority. In addition, the Department of Public Information of the United Nations Secretariat started a series of special activities in cooperation with the Committee. To commemorate the 1947 resolution of the United Nations General Assembly partitioning Palestine, 29 November was designated as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, in observance of which the Committee introduced annual special events at United Nations Headquarters in New York, with similar activities taking place at the United Nations offices at Geneva and Vienna, under Committee sponsorship.
During 1982-1983, the Committee served as the preparatory body for the International Conference on the Question of Palestine, which was held at Geneva from 29 August to 7 September 1983. The Conference adopted a Declaration and Programme of Action for the Achievement of Palestinian Rights, which included guidelines for a solution of the Palestine question through the convening of an international peace conference on the Middle East under the auspices of the United Nations. The proposal and guidelines for such a conference were endorsed by the General Assembly and were then revised in 1988, following the Palestinian “Declaration of Independence” and the statement made before the General Assembly meeting in Geneva by Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Accordingly, during the 1980s, the Committee attached high priority in its work programme to promoting the convening of the proposed international peace conference. The Committee also continued to monitor the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and to call for international measures to ensure protection and respect for human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli authorities, particularly after the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising, the first intifada, in December 1987.
In 1991, the General Assembly welcomed the convening at Madrid, on 30 October, of a peace conference under the co-sponsorship of the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, with the goal of attaining a settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). The General Assembly considered, however, that the convening of a conference under United Nations auspices, as previously proposed, would contribute to the promotion of peace in the region. The Committee also voiced support for the Madrid conference and was of the view that an active role by the United Nations, the Security Council and the Secretary-General was essential for a successful outcome of the peace process. The Committee reaffirmed the international consensus that the attainment of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people was indispensable for the achievement of peace and expressed hope that the Israeli Government would recognize and respect those rights and institute radical changes in its policies in favour of peace.
Following the mutual recognition between the Government of Israel and the PLO, and the signing, in September 1993, of the “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements”, the Committee welcomed this evolution in the peace process as an important step towards the attainment of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in accordance with Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and other relevant United Nations resolutions. The Committee called for intensified support and assistance by the international community to the Palestinian people under its recognized leadership, the PLO, in order to ensure the successful implementation of the agreement reached. In particular, the Committee stressed the need for the full engagement of the United Nations in the peace process and in building the Palestinian Authority, as well as providing broad assistance to the Palestinian people in all needed fields. On its part, the General Assembly also welcomed the Declaration of Principles and reaffirmed that “the United Nations has a permanent responsibility with respect to the question of Palestine until the question is resolved in all its aspects in a satisfactory manner in accordance with international legitimacy”.
In subsequent years, the Committee welcomed the signing of various bilateral agreements in implementation of the Declaration of Principles, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip of September 1995 and other positive developments, such as the partial withdrawal of Israeli forces and the Palestinian elections to the Legislative Council and the Presidency of the Palestinian Authority. It also expressed its belief that, during the interim period, Israel must recognize and respect its obligations as the occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
While remaining firm on its position of principle, the Committee expressed its readiness to make adjustments in its approach and programme of work in order to take into account the new realities and to make a concrete contribution to ongoing international efforts in support of the peace process and the Palestinian Authority. It was in this light that the Committee decided to contribute to the Palestinian Authority’s “Bethlehem 2000” initiative, due to its religious, historical and cultural importance to the Palestinian people, the peoples of the region and the international community as a whole. At its meetings and conferences around the world, the Committee raised international awareness of the initiative and of the significant preparatory work needed for its implementation. Also, at the Committee’s request, a separate agenda item entitled “Bethlehem 2000” was included in the agenda of the General Assembly. The Assembly concluded its consideration of this important item in 2002.
By the late 1990s the Committee had started to voice increasing concern at the stalemate in the peace negotiations and the growing tension and violence in the region. Since 1997, it had been participating actively in meetings of the Security Council and of the General Assembly, including the Assembly's tenth emergency special session, convened to deal with the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. While condemning all acts of violence against civilians, the Committee expressed its alarm at the position and actions of the Government of Israel with regard to Jerusalem, the construction of settlements, land confiscation and punitive collective measures, which had a devastating effect on the Palestinian people and their living conditions and seriously undermined the peace efforts.
These concerns were further heightened following the outbreak of the second, or Al-Aqsa, intifada in late September 2000. The subsequent fierce escalation of violence between the Palestinians and Israel has left hundreds of people dead and thousands wounded and permanently disabled, mostly among Palestinians, including a large number of casualties among children. The Committee continued to express its grave concern over the illegal acts of the occupying Power, such as the attacks on the institutional and physical infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority, the reoccupation of population centers, the stifling internal and external closures, curfews and blockades, the extrajudicial killings and the arbitrary detentions, the demolition of houses, the destruction of agricultural land, and settlement construction. The resulting grave economic and humanitarian situation of the Palestinian population required immediate attention and generous contributions by the international donor community, the Committee stressed time and again, and reminded the Government of Israel of the need to fulfil its legal obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention. In the Committee’s view, the spiral of violence and the increasing suffering of the Palestinian people might destabilize the entire region.
At the same time the Committee supported all international efforts directed at stopping the violence and resuming the peace negotiations, with a view to ending the occupation and resolving the question of Palestine in all its aspects. The Committee welcomed the understandings reached by the parties at Sharm el-Sheikh and Taba, Egypt, in October 2000 and January 2001, respectively, and expressed appreciation for the involvement of the Secretary-General in these efforts.
The Committee was greatly encouraged by statements made in late 2001 and in 2002 by the United States, the European Union and other international actors concerning the eventual establishment of a Palestinian State. The vision of “a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders” was affirmed by the Security Council in its resolution 1397 (2002) of 12 March 2002. The Committee welcomed this affirmation and urged the swift realization of the two-State vision, through a concrete step-by-step mechanism covering the political, economic and security fields and within a specified time frame. In this respect, the Committee was also encouraged by the peace initiative adopted by the Arab States at their Summit in Beirut on 28 March 2002 and asked Israel to reciprocate in good faith. It welcomed and supported the continuing efforts of the “Quartet”, consisting of the United States of America, the Russian Federation, the European Union and the United Nations, in cooperation with important regional actors, to end the violence and to bring the parties to the negotiating table.
Membership and officers
At present, the Committee has 24 members:1/
The following officers (or Bureau) of the Committee were elected on 12 February 2002: Mr. Papa Louis Fall, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations, as Chairman; Mr. Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations, and Mr. Ravan A.G. Farhâdi, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations, as Vice-Chairmen; and Mr. Walter Balzan, Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations, as Rapporteur.
1/ At the time of its establishment in 1975, the Committee had 20 members.
2/ On 15 December 1988, the General Assembly adopted resolution 43/177, in which it decided that the designation “Palestine” should be used in place of the designation “Palestine Liberation Organization” in the United Nations system, without prejudice to the observer status and functions of the PLO within the United Nation system, in conformity with relevant United Nations resolutions and practice.
International meetings and conferences
The Division for Palestinian Rights of the United Nations Secretariat is mandated by the General Assembly to organize international meetings and conferences in all regions, in consultation with the Committee and under its guidance. Since the inception of this programme, numerous such meetings, including seminars and NGO symposiums, have been held in various regions. The Committee considers that its programme of meetings and conferences helps promote a constructive analysis and discussion of the various aspects of the question of Palestine and mobilize international assistance to the Palestinian people.
It has become established practice that one of the annual meetings is devoted to promoting international support for the peace process. In the late 1990s, with the peace process focused on the implementation of the Oslo accords, such meetings dealt mainly with the permanent status issues, as did the meeting in May 2000, in Athens. More recently, in light of the difficulties in the peace process, the international meetings held under the auspices of the Committee in July 2001, in Madrid, and in April 2002, in Nicosia, called upon the international community to intensify its engagement with both sides, so as to bring about the resumption of negotiations towards a permanent settlement.
International conferences convened under the auspices of the Committee are designed to focus wide international attention on specific aspects of the question of Palestine. Some of these conferences have been co-sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States. The first such major event, the Conference in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, was held in February 1998, in Brussels. In February 1999, the Bethlehem 2000 International Conference in Rome was convened in support of an important project of the Palestinian Authority. The International Conference on Palestine Refugees, held in April 2000 in Paris, reaffirmed the right of return and highlighted the significance of a just solution of that issue for the permanent settlement of the conflict. Equally significant was the International Meeting on the Convening of the Conference on Measures to Enforce the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, held in June 1999 in Cairo.
The Committee also holds an annual regional meeting, rotating from Africa to Asia, to Latin America and the Caribbean. Such meetings provide the opportunity to draw from the experience of the countries in those regions in their struggle for national independence and sustainable economic development. They are also geared towards mobilizing public opinion in the regions in support of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. In recent years, regional meetings have been held in Rabat (2002), Havana (2001), Hanoi (2000), Windhoek (1999) and Santiago de Chile (1998).
Starting in 1993, the Committee has convened virtually every year, in either Europe or the Middle East, a seminar on assistance to the Palestinian people. These events deal with different aspects of the socio-economic development of the Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. In recent years, the Committee has been deeply concerned about the serious crisis of the Palestinian economy and the alarming deterioration of the living conditions of the Palestinian people. The seminar held in February 2001 at the United Nations Office at Vienna reflected these concerns.
Reports summarizing the proceedings of the aforementioned meetings, conferences and seminars are available online, in UNISPAL, or can be obtained in hard copy from the Division for Palestinian Rights.
Cooperation with civil society
On the basis of the Committee’s programme of cooperation with civil society, which started in connection with the preparations for the International Conference on the Question of Palestine held in 1983 in Geneva, the General Assembly mandated the Division to increase its contacts with NGOs and convene meetings for NGOs in different regions in order to heighten awareness of the facts relating to the question of Palestine, a mandate that is being renewed every year. After the International Conference, the Committee started to accredit civil society organizations that have programmes in support of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. As of mid-2002, more than 700 organizations have been accredited with the Committee. In all, the Division liaises with over 1,000 organizations in all regions that have a special interest in the question of Palestine. A separate information note entitled “The United Nations and Non-Governmental Organization Activities on the Question of Palestine”, providing more details on the accreditation process, criteria and guidelines, as well as other relevant information, is also available online and in hard copy from the Division for Palestinian Rights.
Civil society organizations are invited to all international meetings and conferences organized under the auspices of the Committee. Moreover, some meetings in support of the Palestinian people are organized specifically for NGOs. In the 1980s and 1990s, annual NGO symposiums and international NGO meetings were organized in New York and Geneva or Vienna. More recently, NGO meetings in solidarity with the Palestinian people have been organized in conjunction with international meetings in Nicosia (2002), in Madrid (2001) and in Paris (2000). Also, regional meetings usually include a one-day workshop of NGOs, in order to discuss the relevant issues and to encourage participating organizations to adopt a plan of action in support of the Palestinian people. Such workshops have been held in Rabat (2002), Havana (2001) and Hanoi (2000). An International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People will be held in September 2002 at United Nations Headquarters in New York.
As the Committee encourages cooperation, coordination and networking among civil society organizations, the Division maintains contacts with national, regional and international coordinating mechanisms and periodically holds consultations with various organizations on ways and means of enhancing cooperation with civil society. On occasion, representatives of the Committee or staff members of the Division participate in conferences and meetings organized by NGOs.
Research, monitoring, publications and the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL)
The Division has been requested to monitor political and other relevant developments affecting the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. The collection and dissemination of information by the Division are considered by the Committee as being of particular importance to its endeavours to make a constructive contribution to the peace process, in support of efforts at reaching a just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine.
The programme of work of the Division includes the preparation of the following publications, on a regular basis:
º A periodic bulletin entitled “Developments related to the Middle East Peace Process”;
º A chronological summary of relevant events based on press reports and other publicly available sources;
º A special bulletin on the commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People;
º An annual compilation of resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly and the Security Council relating to the question of Palestine.
Over the years, the Division has published a number of studies on legal, political and economic aspects of the question of Palestine. The latest such study, currently being prepared for publication, is entitled “The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem, Part V (1989-2000)”.
In response to a General Assembly mandate contained in resolution 46/74 B of 11 December 1991, the Division has developed UNISPAL, the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine. UNISPAL is intended to contain all significant United Nations documents relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the question of Palestine, in a full-text format. These documents are available on the Internet at the following address: http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf , as part of the United Nations home page that also features a separate section on the question of Palestine at: http://www.un.org/Depts/dpa/qpal
Training programme for staff of the Palestinian Authority
As mandated by the General Assembly, the Division for Palestinian Rights conducts an annual training programme for staff of the Palestinian Authority. The programme is carried out in cooperation with the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, from September to December each year, in conjunction with the convening of the General Assembly. It is designed to help staff of the Palestinian Authority, usually two per year, familiarize themselves with the various aspects of the work of the United Nations. The trainees are briefed by Secretariat officials and attend meetings of United Nations principal organs, as well as of committees and other bodies. They interact with representatives of delegations to the General Assembly and with members of permanent missions to the United Nations. The trainees are also expected to conduct research and prepare papers on specific topics.
International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People
Pursuant to General Assembly resolution 32/40 B of 2 December 1977, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People is observed annually. The Day commemorates the adoption, on 29 November 1947, by the General Assembly, of resolution 181 (II), which partitioned Palestine. The observance takes place at Headquarters, at the United Nations offices at Geneva and Vienna and elsewhere. The event includes solemn meetings, at which statements are made by high-level officials of the United Nations and intergovernmental organizations, as well as by representatives of the international network of NGOs on the question of Palestine. It also usually includes, at United Nations Headquarters, the display of a Palestinian exhibit, film showings and other activities. At other locations, relevant activities are organized by governmental bodies and NGOs, in cooperation with the United Nations Information Centres around the world.