I should like, first of all, to express my gratitude to the members of your Committee for the able manner in which they are fulfilling their mandate on the basis of the General Assembly resolutions.
I should also like to congratulate you, Mr. Ambassador, on your wise chairmanship of this Committee during the past few years. This manifests the just and consistent support that your great country has given to the search for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. As you have been assigned to another post and will be leaving New York in the near future, I wish you all success in your new assignment.
The General Assembly has, at its fiftieth session, reaffirmed the mandate from which this Committee derives. The past few years have seen the moulding of history in the Middle East. And in the past few months, the peace process has continued and made progress.
It is true there have been some setbacks. But, by and large, the vision inherent in the Declaration of Principles signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993 has been sustained. Both parties have demonstrated their commitment to the principles and provisions of the agreements signed by them. And, equally important, they have shown their determination to proceed in the implementation of the agreements they have reached.
Both have accepted negotiation as the means to resolve immediate and long-term political differences between them. They have persevered in attendant efforts. Their commitment to the peace process has been maintained, indeed strengthened.
I am encouraged by this evidence of responsiveness and responsibility. I welcomed the signing, in Washington on 28 September 1995, of the agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The world applauded their leaders whose resolve and dedication to peace helped to reach this agreement.
Sadly, one of the great contributors to the fulfilment of that agreement is no longer with us. Yitzhak Rabin proved himself truly to be both a national leader and an international statesman.
I was privileged to count him as a distinguished and personal friend. I pay tribute to his memory and affirm the resolve of the United Nations to pursue with vigilance the ideal of regional peace for which he worked to the very end.
The Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip represents an important step towards the full implementation of the Declaration of Principles. The timely withdrawal of Israeli troops and the successful holding of Palestinian elections have been further crucial milestones along this road.
It is my hope that these achievements will encourage progress in the next important and delicate stage of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, due to start in May, as well as on the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks of the Middle East peace process. This is essential if we are to realize a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement based on United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).
The security situation in the region remains a cause of concern. Over the past year, I have had, on several occasions, to express condemnation over acts of violence which were clearly intended to try and derail the peace process. Two days ago another such attempt was made -- how many more innocent people must die and suffer before we have peace in the region.
Extremism from any quarter must be curbed. There can be no more effective way to do so than to ensure that the negotiations continue and that tangible benefits deriving from the agreements already reached are apparent, and accessible, to all who are concerned.
It is essential to redress the economic instability and improve the poor living conditions which persist, especially in the Gaza Strip. The United Nations family of organizations is contributing to the economic and social development upon which an effective transition to Palestinian self-rule must be based. This, in turn, will be an assured foundation for a lasting peace.
The programmes and agencies of the United Nations system will continue to provide all possible assistance in the field of economic and social development. I have only recently designated my senior advisor and trusted colleague, Under-Secretary-General Peter Hansen, to be the Commissioner-General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East with his headquarters in Gaza. I am confident he will continue and build upon the work of his distinguished predecessor, Ilter Türkmen.
I have placed the greatest possible emphasis on sustainable economic and social development in the occupied territories. As you are aware, my Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, Terje Rod Larsen, has continued to guide and support the ongoing activities of United Nations programmes and agencies. These include facilitating the development of public works projects to create immediate employment opportunities and bring visible changes to the Gaza Strip.
A coordination mechanism has been established on the ground to ensure effective disbursement of donor funds. Training and other assistance for the Palestinian police is being coordinated. The committed efforts of the international community are gradually beginning to bear fruit and a number of improvements in the situation have taken place. This is particularly so in the areas of institution-building and the development of infrastructure.
Allow me to once again express my appreciation for the continuing efforts of this Committee in our joint pursuit of a just peace in the Middle East. Your work and deliberations are an important source of strength. I also appreciate the Committee's acknowledgment last year of the financial crisis which is afflicting the Organization and its readiness to be flexible in its use of the resources allocated to it. I regret that the recent aggravation of the crisis obliges me to urge the Committee to exercise greater restraint and economy this year. Thank you.
My congratulations go also to the Ambassador of Afghanistan and the Ambassador of Cuba on their re-election as Vice-Chairmen and to the Ambassador of Malta on his re-election as Rapporteur of this Committee. This reaffirmation of your commitment to peace in the Middle East is renewed testimony of the trust that your colleagues have placed in you.