The Secretary-General, one of eleven speakers at today's commemoration, said the annual Day provided an opportunity to remind the world that the question of Palestine, which was at the centre of the Arab-Israeli conflict, remained unresolved despite the many efforts and undeniable achievements of the peace process that began in Madrid in 1991.
The President of the General Assembly, Razali Ismail, said that this year's observance should be an occasion to denounce the forces threatening to derail the long awaited peace accord in the Middle East. The prospect of peace there was now seriously at risk because of a wafer-thin majority that sought to build a "secure" future on foundations of military superiority and past antagonisms.
The President of the Security Council, Nugroho Wisnumurti (Indonesia), said that the Council "will spare no effort to see to it that a comprehensive, just and lasting peace is brought to the region of the Middle East for the benefit of all parties concerned, including the Palestinian people".
A message from the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat, was read out on his behalf by the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, M. Nasser Al-Kidwa. Mr. Arafat said that the whole world must strive to induce the Israeli Government to comply, without delay or procrastination, with the agreement it had already signed, so that the Palestinian people might complete the process of ending the Israeli occupation of its holy territory and exercise its inalienable national rights.
Mr. Al-Kidwa also spoke on behalf of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices. He said that recent Israeli politics and the unprecedented escalation of violence in the occupied territories over the past weeks had "all but dashed the hopes of both Palestinians and the international community regarding the continuation of the peace process". The human rights situation in the occupied territories had deteriorated, due largely to the virtually hermetic closure of the territories, which amounted to collective punishment of the population.
Statements were also made by: the Committee Chairman; Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement; Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; Secretary-General of the League of Arab States; the representative of the International Coordinating Committee for Non-Governmental Organizations; and the Head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Statement by Committee Chairman
IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee, opened the meeting with a minute of silence in memory of all those who had given their lives for the cause of the Palestinian people and the return of peace in the region.
He said that the year had begun with hopes that the historic reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis had taken hold. Unfortunately, only a few months later, the world had to express the greatest concern over the very future of the peace process in the Middle East, in light of renewed violence in the area and actions by the Israeli Government that had engendered new suffering and created a climate of distrust. Against the background of actions like the closure of the West Bank and Gaza and resumption of the policy of land confiscation and settlement, the Israeli Government's decision to open a new entrance to the archaeological tunnel near the Western Wall of Al-Haram Al-Sharif in occupied East Jerusalem had created the spark which resulted in violent confrontations, and the death and injury of many Palestinians, as well as Israeli soldiers.
If not promptly contained, he said, such developments could lead to even greater tension on the ground, seriously endangering the peace process. The efforts to solve the situation and renew negotiations between the parties, called for by the Security Council, had been welcomed. The international community had clearly stated that the Israeli-Palestinian agreements should be implemented in full and on time, beginning with the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Hebron and lifting of the closure of the Palestinian territory. Most importantly, there was a need to restore a sense of partnership, on a basis of equality and mutual confidence.
But peace and stability could hardly take hold where widespread poverty and dispossession persisted, he said. For many years, the Committee had called on the international community to support and assist the Palestinian people suffering under the hardships of occupation. Today, the Palestinian Authority was making great efforts, assisted by the donor community and the United Nations, to establish an effective administration and improve the quality of life. The Committee was grateful to the Secretary-General for his efforts at improving the living conditions of the Palestinian people and helping them rehabilitate their national economy. It was of the highest importance that the work of the United Nations and the international community be continued and intensified to provide a solid foundation for peace.
Statement by Assembly President
RAZALI ISMAIL (Malaysia), President of the General Assembly, said that the observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People had traditionally provided an opportunity for the international community to renew its pledge of support for the aspirations and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. This year, the observance of 29 November should be an occasion to denounce the forces threatening to derail the long awaited peace accord in the Middle East.
The prospect of a just and durable peace for the peoples of the Middle East was now seriously at risk because of a wafer-thin majority that sought to build a "secure" future on foundations of military superiority and the antagonisms of the past, he said. The United Nations should be a vocal critic of those who wanted to derail the peace accord. The Palestinians were arguably the final group of people whose struggle for a homeland continued to be denied. The United Nations should ensure that radicalism in power did not lead to the re-emergence of the politics of desperation. Seeking recourse in extremism -- from any side -- would put an end to all hopes for a common future.
Palestinians had accepted the peace accord, despite residual concerns in the hope that peace would usher in such a development, he continued. They had believed that the accord would help mitigate and eventually overcome the adverse impact of almost five decades of fighting which had destroyed much of the infrastructure in Palestine and the occupied territories.
The viability of a Palestinian homeland was now being progressively diminished by policies of continued closure, repression and restricted movement that denied the rights of the Palestinian people, he said. That, in turn, affected the much expected inflow of financial and other resources. Although $2.4 billion had been pledged over a period of five years following the Oslo peace accord, those commitments were at risk so long as the Palestinian territories remained virtually under siege. There were huge gaps between the pledges made and the actual amount received.
Meanwhile, the human rights situation in the occupied territories continued to deteriorate, he said. Palestinians were being intimidated and physically abused. The expansion of illegal settlements, the delay in the redeployment of troops from the West Bank city of Hebron, and the decision to open an entrance to a tunnel in the vicinity of East Jerusalem had led to an escalation of violence. Given one-sided power backing, such flagrant abuse of international agreements had elicited little outrage, much less punitive response.
Without doubt, the question of Jerusalem remained the crux of efforts for lasting peace, he continued. Given its critical importance, any attempt to change its status could not be condoned by the international community.
The status of Jerusalem, the holy city to some of the major religions of the world, could only be resolved in the final process of peace shared by all in the region and not by unilateral actions. The United Nations had a permanent responsibility with respect to the question of Palestine, until the question was resolved in fairness and honour for all, and in accordance with the principles of the Charter and the relevant United Nations resolutions.
Peace must be given a chance to take root and to flourish, but peace could only be meaningful and durable if the Palestinians were part of that peace, he said. The international community must stand ready to help by substantive action to ensure that peace, justice and stability prevailed. The Committee on Palestine could do much more to contribute to the Palestinian cause by bolstering efforts to promote the decisions of the United Nations regarding the question of Palestine.
Statement by Secretary-General
Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said that the annual commemorative event provided an opportunity to remind the international community that the question of Palestine, which was at the centre of the Arab-Israeli conflict, remained unresolved despite the many efforts and undeniable achievements of the peace process which began in Madrid in 1991. The issue was "very close to my heart", he said. He would therefore continue to devote his best efforts towards achieving a comprehensive and just peace in the region.
He said that the leaders of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had earned his tribute for their resolve and dedication in proceeding towards historic reconciliation and in reaching agreements of pivotal importance for their future peaceful coexistence. The establishment of an elected Palestinian administration over Gaza and parts of the West Bank earlier in the year was a significant advance along that road. It was now of the utmost importance to build on those achievements for future peace.
Continuing, the Secretary-General said that the resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations had been an encouraging development. It was essential that the parties abide by agreements and progress towards a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement. The United Nations continued to attach the utmost importance to the promotion of Palestinian social and economic development, essential to creating solid foundations for lasting peace.
In that regard, the move of the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) from Vienna to Gaza last July, should provide a new momentum towards meeting the United Nations development objectives in support of the Palestinian economy, he said. Enormous challenges remained however, and some efforts had suffered set-backs in the last year in light of the deteriorating conditions on the ground. The international community could and should go further in that context. The serious financial situation faced by UNRWA required intensified efforts by all concerned to ensure that the quality and level of services for Palestine refugees be maintained as an essential contribution to stability in the region.
NUGROHO WISNUMURTI (Indonesia), President of the Security Council, said that it gave him much pleasure to join in the annual event in which the international community showed its solidarity with the Palestinian people, as well as its enduring commitment to the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in accordance with United Nations resolutions.
The observance had always been an important symbolic act of solidarity with a people striving to attain its legitimate rights, he said. It was also a manifestation of the importance attached to the need to bring about the long-awaited resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which had been on the United Nations agenda since 1947. On a number of occasions, the Council was called upon to consider various aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, most recently on 27 September 1996, in a formal meeting with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of several countries. Despite numerous setbacks in the peace process, the Council emphasized the urgent need to implement the agreements reached so far, and therefore attached great importance to continued negotiations. The Council, aware of the problems at hand, called upon the parties to move forward along the road to peace. The difficulties on the ground and in the negotiations notwithstanding, the parties remained fully committed to overcoming the existing roadblocks and achieving progress in an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence. He said that the Palestinian people needed much assistance during a difficult transition period. In that regard, the Council welcomed and further encouraged the multifaceted assistance extended the Palestinians by the international donor community and other members of the United Nations family. In conclusion, he said that "the Council will spare no effort to see to it that a comprehensive, just and lasting peace is brought to the region of the Middle East for the benefit of all parties concerned, including the Palestinian people".
In a message read out to the Committee by the Permanent Observer of Palestine, NASSER Al-KIDWA, , the President of the Palestinian National Authority, YASSER ARAFAT, conveyed the gratitude of the Palestinian people to all present and to all States and peoples that believed in freedom, peace and the justice of its cause. Commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity came at a time of major challenges and enormous problems for the Palestinian people, as it proceeded with the building and reconstruction of its homeland and the promotion of a national economy devastated by the continued Israeli occupation of its territory.
He said the Israeli Government was continuing to impose a policy of fait accompli in Jerusalem, where a wide-ranging campaign of systematic judaization and settlement was under way, and to maintain the closures and an economic embargo on flimsy security-related grounds. That policy had resulted in enormous losses to the Palestinian national economy and had disrupted ongoing development plans. The Israeli Government had also resumed its encouragement of large-scale settlement activity throughout the Palestinian territory, in flagrant violation of international law, United Nations resolutions and agreements already concluded. The continued pursuit of that settlement policy was likely to wreck the peace process and the hopes to which it had given rise.
The Palestinian people's commitment to peace, he went on, sprang from the genuine conviction that peace in the region would ensure security, stability and prosperity. The whole world was urged to strive to induce the Israeli Government to comply, without delay or procrastination, with the agreements it had already signed, so that the Palestinian people might complete the process of ending the Israeli occupation of its holy territory and its holy places and exercise its inalienable national rights -- including the right to return, to exercise self-determination, and to establish an independent State with its capital at Jerusalem.
M. NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, spoke on behalf of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. The signing on 28 September 1995 of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip -- the so-called "Oslo II" agreement -- and the Palestinian elections on 21 January 1996, were historic events, which were followed by the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the West bank cities of Jenin, Tulkarm, Nablus, Kalkiliya, Bethlehem and Ramallah, with the exception of Hebron. The signing of the Oslo II accord engendered great expectations for the people of the Middle East.
Unfortunately, the recent policies implemented by the recently elected Israeli Government and the developments leading to an unprecedented escalation of violence in the occupied territories over the past weeks had "all but dashed the hopes of both Palestinians and the international community regarding the continuation of the peace process", he said. The Special Committee, in spite of the lack of cooperation by the Israeli Government, had nevertheless tried to accurately depict the situation of human rights in the occupied territories, and assess any positive effects of the "Oslo II" agreement on Palestinian and Arab human rights. It had concluded that the situation of human rights in the occupied territories had not improved, and had even deteriorated further, remaining a matter of very serious concern.
Among the principal causes of that deterioration was the virtually hermetic closure of occupied territories imposed in the wake of suicide bomb attacks in Israel, which amounted to collective punishment of the population, he said. The closure had disastrous consequences on the economy of those territories and had led to a significant decline in economic and social conditions.
Continuing, he said that the total internal closure of the West Bank had particularly disastrous consequences on the health of the inhabitants of the occupied territories. Ten people had died as a result of not having access to well-equipped health institutions. Freedom of education and worship had been seriously impaired. Some 3,500 Palestinian prisoners remained in detention facilities in Israel, in violation of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, with no new prisoner releases since January 1996. The Special Committee was also deeply concerned by the recent decision of the Israeli High Court of Justice to allow use increased physical pressure during the interrogations of detainees. The increased number of house demolitions in East Jerusalem, as well as new restrictions regarding eligibility for residency in Jerusalem, made the situation of its Arab population even more precarious.
The most disquieting new policy of the recently elected Israeli Government was the decision to lift the freeze on the construction of settlements, he said. The Israeli budget allocation for such settlements would double in 1997. Their expansion and the construction of tunnels and bypass roads had increased tensions, resulting in the killing of Palestinian children. Israeli law enforcement continued to be lenient. The unprecedented escalation of violence between the parties since the start of the peace process had resulted in the deaths of 60 Palestinians and 15 Israelis, and remained a source of utmost concern and anxiety to the members of the Special Committee.
Maintaining dialogue between the parties was vital, he said. Deteriorating living conditions and the peace process stalemate could contribute to further unrest. Both parties should, therefore, respect the spirit and letter of the Oslo accords and show renewed commitment to the peace process by an immediate resumption of the peace talks.
ANDELFO GARCIA (Colombia), speaking on behalf of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, read out a message from the President of Colombia, ERNESTO SAMPER PIZANO, Chairman of the Eleventh Meeting of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Nations held at Cartagena this year. International Solidarity Day held special importance for the Non-Aligned Movement, he said. The nations of that movement were watching the dialogue between the Israeli Government and the Palestinians with hope and concern. The progress towards Palestinian independence was now at a critical stage. The Non-Aligned Movement hoped to see concrete acts emerge regarding implementation of the agreements between the parties, in particular withdrawal by the Government of Israel from Hebron as an urgently needed first step towards a definitive peace agreement, which would include the status of Jerusalem, legal settlements and refugees.
He said the heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned nations gathered at Cartagena had demonstrated their unqualified support for the valiant Palestinian people in its legitimate struggle to guarantee respect for its inalienable right to independent self-determination, and had reiterated their demand for an Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab and Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem. United Nations responsibility in the area must also continue, he added.
The Cartagena meeting had further deplored Israel's decision to confiscate Palestinian lands and property in Jerusalem, and its efforts to modify the religious and historic character of the holy city, he said. In that connection, participants at the meeting had ratified all Security Council and General Assembly resolutions on Jerusalem, and had judged null and void all Israeli actions that ran counter to those resolutions.
He said that the provisions relative to establishment of an autonomous Palestinian provisional Government must be quickly broadened, so that the 1993 Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements could apply quickly to all the occupied territories and the Palestinian people might realize their inalienable right to self-determination and to the establishment of a Palestinian State. In that context, the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement welcomed the signing of the agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip concluded at Taba, Egypt and initialled in Washington by President Arafat and the Prime Minister of Israel. He reiterated the unequivocal and traditional support of the Non-Aligned Movement for the Palestinians, and its hopes for the prompt coming to fruition of their just aspirations.
MAHAWA BANGOURA CAMARA (Guinea) read out a message from her country's President, LANSANA CONTE, in which he said that the matter of Palestinian rights was at the heart of the Israeli-Arab conflict. He said he welcomed positive events in the Middle East and reaffirmed support for all efforts aimed at a positive settlement in the region. As a member of the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People since its founding, he was committed to those noble objectives of peace and would help ensure its implementation.
Message from League of Arab States
SAID KAMAL, Under-Secretary-General for Palestine Affairs in the League of Arab States, read out a message from AHMED ESMAT ABDEL MEGUID, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. He recalled the long-standing support of the League, which had always accorded the highest priority to the question of Palestine, for the work of the Committee. That support would endure until a lasting peace was established in the Middle East. The League of Arab States, in its concern at the grave injustices inflicted upon the struggling and steadfast people of Palestine, felt the greatest appreciation for the role played by the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, ever since that body's establishment in 1975. The defense of Palestinian rights, including the right of self-determination, was at the forefront of United Nations concerns, he continued. Commemoration of the Day of Solidarity assumed special importance at the present time, when the peace process, launched five years ago, was facing grave setbacks as the result of Israeli's reneging on commitments, pledges and accords. The clearest evidence of that policy was the stalling on negotiations for Israeli withdrawal from Hebron, which was supposed to have been implemented last March. Israel was changing the provisions of the accords under the pretext of safeguarding its security, and was thereby taking the negotiations back to their starting point, back to an era of tension and violence.
The Israeli embargo against the occupied territories, he said, was stifling and had resulted in grave suffering for the Palestinian population. The situation was now on the brink of explosion. The brutality and mistrust generated by Israeli policies could be seen at its most vivid in the situation triggered by the Government's decision to open a new tunnel under the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The League of Arab States considered all Israeli actions aimed at changing the nature of Jerusalem invalid, as was Israel's decision to revoke its settlement-freeze policy in flagrant violation of international law.
He said the conditions of the Palestinian people had now reached a degree of gravity that called for the international community to seek to put the peace process back on track. The international community must induce the Israeli Government to cease putting impediments in the way of peace, to cease thrusting the region back into the cycle of violence and tension. Even before the launching of the Oslo accords, the League of Arab States had been in the forefront of the move to promote land for peace, the right of Palestinians to return, the establishment of Jerusalem as capital of an independent Palestinian State, withdrawal from Lebanon, and a return to the 1967 frontiers, as called for in the Madrid agreements. The peace process must be protected from extremist Israeli actions.
Fortunately, he added, Israeli practices in the Middle East were facing strong opposition not only from the international community, but also from a large section of the Israeli population. He hoped that his message would reach the Israeli Government and turn it away from its obsession with security-for-peace and towards a commitment to the principle of land for peace.
DAVID GRAYBEAL, representative of the International Coordinating Committee for Non-Governmental Organizations on the Question of Palestine, said he spoke for the many hundreds of non-governmental organizations around the world which supported the cause of the people of Palestine. Only a common commitment to that cause could explain the shared position of so many diverse groupings. Non-governmental organizations generally focused on human needs, on the need to alleviate oppression and protect the environment. They sought to bind people in trust and understanding. Several non-governmental organizations had delivered fax machines to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, both to enable them to keep in touch with the outside world and to supplement the kind of information purveyed by the Cable News Network (CNN) or by the intelligence arms of governments. Governments depended on power and authority to achieve their ends, whereas non-governmental organizations sought to implement their commitments through words and action.
His own particular organization, the United Methodist Church of North America, was asking all its members to write a cheque for $7 to the Palestinian cause, care of the United Nations. Although the accumulated sum would be relatively small, it would also represent a partial payment on the United States debt to the United Nations. It might also raise some concern and some irritation in the corridors of the United States Congress. He added that as a minister of the United Methodist Church, he had participated in every national symposium on Palestine and, while he had met many Palestinian leaders and many United States supporters of the Palestinian cause at those meetings, all too often the seat reserved for the official representative of the United States Government had remained empty.
The latest meeting of his church had decided that it could not remain silent about Palestine, he said. It had issued a resolution expressing ongoing concern at the: confiscation of Palestinian property; continued growth of Israeli settlements linked by pervasive highway networks; demolition of Palestinian homes; detention of Palestinians without trial; and continuing imprisonment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. The resolution also insisted that the United States refuse to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The resolution had been delivered to the White House, where a delegation of eight, including three bishops, had a forceful exchange of views with National Security adviser Anthony Lake.
Mr. Ka (Senegal), the Chairman of the Committee, said that the innumerable messages received to mark the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People would be published. Pending publication, however, he read out a list of senders of congratulatory messages.
Messages had also been received from the heads of State of the following countries: Cambodia, Egypt, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Mexico, Senegal, Viet Nam, Qatar, Mauritania, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe, Ukraine, Jordan, Algeria, Russian Federation, Guinea, Yemen, Cuba, Tunisia, Iran, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Gambia.
Messages had been received from the heads of Government of the following countries: Pakistan, Thailand, China, Malta, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Mauritius. Messages had been received from the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Lebanon, Oman, Syria, Singapore, Republic of Korea, Brazil, Japan, and from the Governments of Argentina, Uruguay, and South Africa, as well as from the Governor-General of Papua New Guinea.
Messages had also been received from Ireland, as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the European Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, as well as from the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and non-governmental organizations around the world.
FAROUK KADDOUMI, of the PLO, said he appreciated the morning's expressions of solidarity, as proof of the constant involvement of the United Nations in the just cause of peace in the region of the Middle East.
Such peace could only be achieved with the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from all occupied territories, including Jerusalem, he said. The rights of the Palestinian people must be safeguarded. As such, the United Nations would remain the appropriate forum for dealing with the Palestinian question. The observance was proof of the world's solidarity with the cause of the Palestinian people -- for their inalienable rights and the creation of an independent State for them.