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Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

26 November 1996


Assembly Begins Debate on Palestine; Israel Declares Commitment To Settlement,
Foresees Direct Negotiations on Permanent Status

The policies of the new Israeli Government under Prime Minister Netanyahu had caused the Middle East peace process to falter, Farouk Kaddoumi, Head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told the General Assembly this afternoon as it began discussing the question of Palestine.

He said the mood of optimism which had followed the 1991 Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid had been replaced by scepticism which had led some Arab nations to interrupt the process of normalizing relations with Israel. The new Israeli Government, with its policy of expanded settlements, ignored the principle of "land for peace" which was the cornerstone of the peace process.

The representative of Israel said the Government and people of Israel were committed to the peace process with the Palestinians and to the implementation of agreements signed by both sides. When the current negotiations on the implementation of the Interim Self-Government Agreement had been successfully concluded, direct negotiations would begin on all aspects of a permanent status, including the issue of the settlements. He urged the Assembly to refrain from adopting resolutions on those issues, which tended to predetermine the results of the negotiations before they were concluded.

The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Ibra Ka (Senegal), said that the Middle East Summit meeting in Washington, D.C, in October had been a new beginning for the peace process. But the United Nations must continue to shoulder a major responsibility until the objectives were achieved. His committee would continue to closely monitor the situation, and adopt its work programme to meet the developing challenges.

The report of the Committee was introduced by its Rapporteur, Joseph Cassar (Malta).

Statements were also made by the representatives of China, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Colombia.

Also this afternoon, acting in accordance with recommendations of its General Committee, the General Assembly decided to include two new agenda items on its current agenda: "Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration"; and "Proclamation of 7 December as International Civil Aviation Day". The Assembly also decided that those items would be considered directly in plenary session.

The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 2 December, to continue its consideration of the question of Palestine.

Assembly Work Programme

The General Assembly met this afternoon to begin its consideration of the question of Palestine, and a recommendation of its General Committee on the inclusion of new items in its agenda. Beginning its review on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the Assembly was to discuss a report from the Secretary-General on the matter, and the report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The Assembly also had before it four draft resolutions relating to the question of Palestine.

The Secretary-General's report on Palestine (document A/51/678-S/1995/953) reviews both the progress and set-backs during the last year of the Middle East peace process. The report notes that Israeli troops were withdrawn from the major West Bank cities, with the exception of Hebron, which led to the first Palestinian general election in January. Violence in Israel, such as bombings in February and March, threatened to stall the peace talks and prolonged the closure of the occupied territories and led to further violence in September.

The Secretary-General urges all parties to the peace talks to show determination and flexibility in negotiations and calls for progress on the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks of negotiation. The United Nations will continue to support the peace process and to respond to needs of the population in the West Bank and Gaza. The coordinated approach to the delivery of assistance implemented by the United Nations Special Coordinator at the time has proved effective, particularly in times of crisis. However, economic and social conditions in the West Bank and Gaza remain dire and it is to be hoped that ways will be found to improve them in the near future, including by further easing and eventual lifting of the closure.

The report also contains information received by the Secretary-General from the Security Council and the parties concerned on means to promote peace in the region. The members of the Council stressed the need of the parties to pursue negotiations and to fulfil their obligations under the agreements. The Security Council states its continuing determination to back the peace process and to support implementation of agreements reached.
In a note verbale of 30 September, the Permanent Observer of Palestine states that the new Israeli Government of Prime Minister Netanyahu has adopted guidelines which contradict the letter and spirit of the binding agreements signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization, namely the 1993 Declaration of Principles and the 1995 Interim Agreement. In addition, the Government of Israel has said it would not honour the agreed timetable and the Government has resumed colonial settlement activities in the occupied territories, activities the Assembly has repeatedly termed as illegal.
The international community, represented by the General Assembly, needed to uphold inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, the principles of the Charter, international law and the validity of the Security Council resolutions, the note continues. For the current peace process to succeed, the principles of earlier agreements and relevant Security Council resolutions must be followed.

Egypt, in a note also dated 30 September, states that the new Government of Israel has adopted and implemented policies which contradict the interim self-government arrangements, as well as the relevant United Nations resolutions and the principles of international law. Egypt opposes these policies and is deeply concerned over the future of the Middle East peace process. The Government of Israel should fully respect and promptly implement the agreements reached and re-launch the peace process.

The report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (document A/51/35) reviews actions taken during the past year by the Committee and by the Division for Palestinian Rights in accordance with General Assembly resolutions on the question of Palestine. The Committee continued to monitor the situation in the occupied territory, while working to promote implementation of the 1995 Declaration of Principles. In addition to the work of the Committee, the report discusses actions of the Security Council, other United Nations bodies and intergovernmental organizations.

Reviewing efforts undertaken by the Department of Public Information (DPI) as mandated by the Assembly, the report notes that the world-wide dissemination of accurate and comprehensive information remains of vital importance in heightening awareness of and support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. The Assembly requested DPI to continue its special information programme on the question of Palestine for the biennium 1996-1997, with particular emphasis on public opinion in Europe and North America. The report reviews DPI activities in the following areas: dissemination of information; publications; audio-visual material; fact-finding news missions; encounters for journalists; assistance in the field of Palestinian media development; International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People; and media relations and logistical support.

During meetings with the Committee Bureau, DPI senior officials stated that financial constraints had influenced the review of all the programmes under the responsibility of DPI, including that related to the question of Palestine. However, it was agreed that more regular consultations between the Committee and DPI would help to identify the most efficient manner to utilize resources.

The report also reviews recommendations made by the Committee. The Committee invites the General Assembly once again to recognize the importance of its role and to reconfirm its mandate, with overwhelming support. The Committee considers that a broadening of its membership to include countries that support its objectives but have not yet participated in its work, would greatly enhance the contribution of the Assembly to promoting peace. The Committee emphasizes the essential contribution of the Division for Palestinian Rights and requests the Division to continue its programme of publications and to continue to train staff of the Palestinian Authority in the workings of the United Nations system.

The Assembly had before it a draft resolution on the Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (document A/51/L.36) which would have the Assembly reaffirm the necessity of achieving a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Assembly would also express support for the ongoing peace process, stressing the need to scrupulously implement agreements reached between the parties and to begin negotiations on the final settlement.

Calling upon the concerned parties, as well as the co-sponsors of the peace process and the entire international community, to exert all the necessary efforts to ensure the success of the peace process, the Assembly would urge Member States to expedite the provision of economic and technical assistance to the Palestinian people. It would stress the need for the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people; the importance of the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967; and the need for resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees.

By the terms of a draft resolution on the Department of Public Information (DPI), (document A/51/L.35), the Assembly would note that several defined provisions of the special information programme on the question of Palestine of DPI are yet to be implemented, and it would stress the importance of implementing all provisions. The Assembly would request that DPI, in full cooperation and coordination with the Committee, continue its special information programme for the biennium 1996-1997, with the necessary flexibility.

In particular, DPI would be asked to disseminate information on all the activities of the United Nations system relating to the question of Palestine; to continue publications on the question of Palestine; and to expand its audio-visual material on the question of Palestine. In addition, DPI would be asked to organize and promote fact-finding news missions for journalists to the area, and to organize international, regional and national encounters for journalists.

By the terms of a draft resolution on the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (document A/51/L.33), the Assembly would endorse the recommendations of the Committee contained in its report and authorize the Committee to continue to promote the rights of the Palestinian people, giving special emphasis to mobilizing support and assistance for the Palestinians. It would also request that the Committee continue its cooperation with non-governmental organizations in efforts to heighten international awareness of the facts relating to the question of Palestine.

By the draft resolution on the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat (document A/51/L.34), the Assembly would request that the Secretary-General continue to provide the Division with the necessary resources, including those needed to further develop the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine. The Secretary-General would also be asked to ensure the continued cooperation of DPI and other units to enable the Division to perform its tasks.

The four draft resolutions on the question of Palestine are sponsored by: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malta, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The General Committee, in its third report to the Assembly (document A/51/250/Add.2), recommends that two new agenda items be included on the Assembly's current agenda, as follows: Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration (IOM); and Proclamation of 7 December as International Civil Aviation Day. The Committee also recommends that the items be considered directly in plenary.

Recommendations of the General Committee

Acting in accordance with the recommendations of its General Committee, the General Assembly decided to include the following new agenda items on its current agenda: "Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration"; and "Proclamation of 7 December as International Civil Aviation Day". The Assembly also decided that those items would be considered directly in plenary.

Question of Palestine

IBRA KA (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that next April would mark the fiftieth anniversary of the item on the agenda of the Assembly. In that period, he noted, the map of the world had changed considerably.

Reviewing developments in the Middle East up until the summit meeting in Washington last October, he expressed gratitude to the United States for its efforts in convening that meeting and thus "giving peace another chance". The Washington summit, he noted, was instrumental in establishing a new beginning. His Committee had always held that the road to peace lay through the implementation of various United Nations resolutions, which were widely known to all.

He said the Committee had continued to mobilize all forms of assistance on behalf of the Palestinian people. In 1996, it held a series of future- oriented seminars and conferences, a number of them involving non-governmental organizations, donor-countries and organizations of the United Nations system. It hoped that the community of donors would also continue to fulfil its role and its pledges, in the cause of peace and a new economic environment in the region as a whole.

He stressed how much the Palestinian people appreciated the fact that the United Nations continued to pay attention to the question of Palestine. The Organization, he added, must continue to shoulder the responsibility until the objectives were attained. His Committee would continue to monitor the situation closely and adapt its work programme as required in meeting the challenge.

JOSEPH CASSAR (Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, introduced the Committee's report.

FAROUK KADDOUMI, Head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the policy of the new Israeli Government under Prime Minister Netanyahu was responsible for the faltering of the Middle East peace process. The coming to power of the coalition built of the right- wing Likud party and other extreme forces led to the application of the programme to increase Jewish immigration, so as to expand and increase the number of settlements. The programme included imposing land seizures and forceful expropriation, while ignoring the principle of "land for peace", which was the cornerstone of the peace process.

He said the present Israeli Government had expressed opposition to the establishment of an independent Palestinian State and the right to self- determination of the Palestinian people. It had reiterated its stand on the need to maintain its occupation of areas of Hebron and Nablus and vital water resources. It had refused to discuss the question of the Holy City of Jerusalem -- viewing that issue as non-negotiable. Mr. Netanyahu had declared his intention to keep the Syrian Golan Heights under Israeli jurisdiction and the water resources under the pretence that the area constituted a vital part of Israel's territorial security. The Israeli Prime Minister had adopted the slogan of "peace for peace" and refused to return to the pre-1967 borders.

The Israeli Government, he went on, had persisted in the imposition of a severe siege on the occupied Palestinian territory since February. That included the isolation of the city of Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian territory. It had resumed settlement activities as well as the expansion of existing settlements, with the confiscation of land. The Israeli Government had refused to allow the return of displaced persons who had been forced to leave the Palestinian territory following the 1967 war. The number of Palestinian refugees had reached nearly 3.5 million.

The Arab side had expressed genuine support for the peace process, he said. Some had even normalized their relations with Israel and had received visits from Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. However, the present Israeli Government had closed doors with regard to such international regional efforts, thus giving way to a growing scepticism among Arab countries. Some Arab nations had resorted to the interruption of the process of normalization, and some were now questioning all that had been achieved in terms of confidence-building measures with Israel.

The most dangerous of Israeli policies were those related to the resumption of settlements, repression of the Palestinian people, forbidding Palestinian trade with surrounding Arab countries and the erection of obstacles to the disbursement of foreign aid. The Israeli Government had threatened both Syria and Lebanon, while refusing to resume negotiations with them on the basis of what had been achieved.

At the time of the Madrid Peace Conference, a mood of optimism had pervaded the international community, he said. The Palestinians had hoped that their suffering would end and that their lives might return to normal. As a declaration of good intentions, the PLO leadership had complied with all the required confidence-building measures with a view to creating conditions for peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. Unfortunately, the new Israeli Government had not reciprocated but instead lagged behind and wavered in the execution of its commitments. The Palestinian people had had high hopes that the United States would increase its efforts in order to invigorate the peace process by using its influence on the Israeli Government. It seemed, however, that it was engaged in other issues. The role of the Russian Federation must be revitalized and the European Union must actively participate. The continued role of the United Nations, including the Security Council, was central.

Genuine comprehensive peace could not be achieved without an end to the Israeli occupation of Arab land and the return of the Palestinian refugees; the exercise by the Palestinian people of their inalienable rights to self- determination and the establishment of an independent State with the Holy City of Jerusalem as its capital. The role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) should be maintained until a permanent solution was reached. The Palestinian problem could not be

solved simply through the redeployment of Israeli forces, but only through the complete withdrawal from all territory occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem; and the dismantling of the settlements. He said the refusal of Israel to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was further proof of its aggressive intentions. A balance of forces and interests was necessary if a just, comprehensive peace was to be achieved. The United States acknowledgement of the need for such a balance, achieved through equal dealing with all parties and the application of one standard, was the path to political stability.

WANG XUEXIAN (China) said the parties to the Middle East peace process should cherish progress made in the peace process since the Madrid Conference, and continue their talks in a flexible and pragmatic manner. Over the past half-century, the Middle East peace process had made clear that countries in the region would enjoy true security only when there was a comprehensive and fair peace. The parties should settle their disputes through political negotiations on the basis of United Nations resolutions and the principle of "land for peace".

The Middle East region had the lowest levels of foreign investment in the world, he said. The recently-concluded Third Middle East and North Africa Economic Conference had made clear that a comprehensive, fair and lasting peace was the primary condition for economic development in the region, which would in turn help consolidate and promote peace and stability. Developed countries should fulfil their commitments to assisting Palestine. At the same time, the closure of the self-rule areas should be ended at once.

MIKAIL WEHBE (Syria) said that on this day every year the international community expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people who continued to suffer a multitude of persecutions. The Israeli Government had resumed building and expanding settlements in the occupied territories. Those practices were reflected in the report of the Secretary-General, and in the report to investigate Israeli practices.

Israel, he said, was unrepentant, and a number of its officials had been publicly making statements indicating that they had no intention of changing their ways. It would build 800 houses in the Golan, as part of its dream of building about 2,500 houses in the area before the year 2000.

He said Israel had continued to commit a great deal of atrocities against the Arab populations. The Prime Minister refused to withdraw from Hebron and had tried to reduce the issue to one of withdrawal or non- withdrawal. The Government opened the tunnel, an act that was condemned by the international community, but had refused to comply with the resolution calling on it to return to the situation before the tunnel was opened. It was talking about building new settlements and expanding existing ones. This was a big blow to the quest for peace.

Those circumstances, he continued, indicated that Israel did not want a just and lasting peace. It was attacking the peace process, "driving more thorns into it". Israel was not honouring its commitments; the Palestinian people could not accept anything less than their inalienable rights. Israel must be made to give up its obstinate policy and go back to the peace process as outlined in Madrid in 1991, as well as in various United Nations resolutions so that peace and stability might prevail in the region.

GAAFAR M. ALLAGANY (Saudi Arabia) said Israel had failed to show the same seriousness and commitment towards the subject of peace as did its Arab neighbours. The Government of Benjamin Netanyahu had adopted an attitude that could not serve peace in any positive way. It was regrettable, he stated, that the Israeli authorities continued to take actions on a daily basis that would hurt Palestinian interests. One of the most serious issues was the existence of Israeli settlements in such places as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with Israel threatening to build even more. New measures included confiscation of land and the building of roads to link those settlements.

He said Palestinians were now experiencing serious shortages of wheat flour, because Israel suddenly stopped its importation. That scenario applied to many others, and the question now was: where was the Israeli commitment to peace, even as it denied Palestinians flour for their bread? He called on parties interested in the peace process, especially the United States, the Russian Federation and the countries of the European Union, to do what they must do: adhere to United Nations resolutions in order that peace might come to the region.

ABDULLAH AHMAD (Malaysia) said this year had seen encouraging steps with the first Palestinian elections, the start of negotiations on the permanent status of the Palestinian territory and the decision of the Palestine National Council to repeal articles of their charter which were inconsistent with agreements signed between the PLO and Israel. But the new Israeli Government had raised concerns over its policies concerning the principle of "land for peace" and over issues related to the final settlement -- Jerusalem, settlements, the return of refugees and Palestinian sovereignty.

The recent unilateral actions by the Israeli Government to delay the redeployment of Israeli troops from Hebron, to close areas under Palestinian jurisdiction, to build new highways through the West Bank connecting Jewish settlements and to open the entrance to a tunnel in the vicinity of Al-Haram Al-Sharif in occupied East Jerusalem had heightened tensions.

ANATOLI M. ZLENKO (Ukraine) said that progress in the Middle East peace process should be achieved on the basis of agreements reached at the Madrid Peace Conference and in accordance with Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). The course of events on the Israeli-Palestinian track over the past year had been a "roller-coaster". There was no alternative to Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations based on the principles of mutual respect, confidence, understanding of respective interests and readiness to compromise.

Economic development in the Palestinian territories and assistance in building and strengthening the Palestinian economy were acquiring ever-greater importance, he said. The United Nations should give priority to the everyday needs of Palestinians, and to mobilizing additional financial resources for programmes and projects adopted at the Paris and Brussels conferences. Israel's integration into the economy of the Middle East region as a whole would contribute to regional economic stabilization.

MOHAMMAD J. SAMHAN (United Arab Emirates) said what was most worrisome in the situation concerning the Palestinian people was not only the Israeli Government's equivocation, procrastination and insensitivity in implementing the legal obligations undertaken by its predecessor, but its predisposition to backsliding. Its decision, among others, to build new settlements had contributed in recent times to taking the hope out of many people. Many Israeli policies had thrown the Palestinian economy into difficulty, and that was apart from the brutal intimidation, torture, arbitrary arrests and other acts of naked power often employed against Palestinians.

He said the security sought by Israel would not be found in such measures, but only through complete Israeli withdrawal from illegally-occupied territories. What was required of the international community was full pressure to compel Israel to comply with United Nations resolutions. He called on international donors to fulfil their pledges to enable the Palestinian people to rebuild their economy. Peace would never be attained, he concluded, unless and until Israel obeyed the various United Nations resolutions which it knew only too well.

MAKARIM WIBISONO (Indonesia) said the current peace process was in jeopardy because of the Israeli Government policies. The resumption of untenable settlement activities, confiscations of Arab land and closures of Palestinian territory, as well as the position taken on the issue of Jerusalem, threatened to undermine the peace process. The prohibition of movement of persons and goods within areas under Palestinian jurisdiction, and also between them and Israel and the neighbouring territories, had confined the population to small enclaves isolated from the outside world, including access to East Jerusalem. Unemployment had spiralled and economic activities had come to a virtual standstill. Restrictions on medical supplies had caused deterioration in health facilities and, reminiscent of Israel's past practices, educational institutions had been summarily closed. What was being witnessed, he said, was nothing less than a collective punishment of some 2.5 million Palestinians living in the occupied territory in blatant contravention of the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

While the representatives of Palestine had adopted a balanced and reasonable approach, and demonstrated their sincerity to move the negotiations forward, the actions of the Israeli Government reflected a manifest lack of commitment to the peace process. He called upon Israel to implement without delay and in full the provisions of the various agreements already reached, including the redeployment of Israeli forces from Hebron, and the commencement of negotiations for the final status of the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, and questions relating to settlements. Until the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were squarely met and a final settlement reached in all its aspects, the United Nations would continue to have a permanent responsibility towards the Palestinian people. It was imperative that the international community continued to extend assistance to the Palestinian people, he added.

JAIRO MONTOYA (Colombia) said the establishment of a Palestinian State, in the context of regional coexistence, deserved the continued support of the international community. The Non-Aligned Movement had recently reiterated its support for the Palestinians' inalienable right to self-determination and called upon Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories. The Movement had also endorsed all United Nations resolutions relating to the question of Palestine. The United Nations had a heavy responsibility in regard to the question of Palestine, a role which must be continued until the Palestinians were able to exercise their rights and until the refugee issue was settled.

International assistance and cooperation were vital to the success of the process, he continued. The Non-Aligned Movement had also recently expressed concern regarding the Israeli unwillingness to implement all aspects of agreements, and had reaffirmed its long-standing support for the Palestinian people, in the hope of seeing its aspirations come to fruition.

DAVID PELEG (Israel) said the commitment of the Israeli Government and people to peace was strong. Too many Israelis and Palestinians had died in too many wars to risk another. He called upon his Arab colleagues to rededicate themselves, along with Israel, to the peace process, to avoid more violence and future wars.

He said the signing of the 1993 Declaration of Principles, the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement and the 1995 Interim Agreement had served as the basis for the new relationship between Israel and the Palestinians; an interim relationship during the period leading to a permanent status. The agreements had led to positive changes, yet the fruits of the peace process had not been reaped without cost. Suicide bombings which left more than 60 Israeli citizens dead had necessitated the closure of the territories. Aware of the economic implications, Israel had taken measures to ease the closure.

The Government of Israel was committed to the peace process with the Palestinians, he continued. The Government was also committed to the agreements signed, and to their implementation by both sides. For two months, Israel and the Palestinians had been conducting negotiations on the redeployment of the Israeli Defence Force in Hebron, as part of its commitment to fulfil its obligations under the Interim Agreement. Following the implementation of the Interim Agreement, direct negotiations would begin on the permanent status. Those negotiations would be directly between Israel and the Palestinians, and all issues relating to the permanent status would be discussed, including settlements.

He said the General Assembly should refrain from adopting resolutions on those issues, which tended to predetermine the results of the negotiations before they were concluded. It was regrettable that the Assembly was again being used for political purposes. The resolutions now before it, and similar resolutions of past years, might have satisfied their sponsors, but they definitely had not benefited the Palestinian people. For the sake of the Palestinians and the Israelis alike, he called upon the international community to redouble its efforts in support of direct negotiations between the parties.

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