Addressing a solemn meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People to commemorate the International Day, the Secretary-General said that despite setbacks, the Middle East peace Process had continued to progress. He stressed the need to eradicate the economic instability and poor living conditions, especially in Gaza, and said the United Nations would continue to provide expertise and assistance in the field of economic and social development.
The President of the General Assembly, Diogo Freitas do Amaral (Portugal) said the United Nations should continue to play a role in mobilizing assistance in order to establish solid foundations for peace and to promote the dialogue and confidence-building measures necessary to dissipate the hostility and mistrust which alienated the peoples of the region. He emphasized that the work of the Palestine Rights Committee was far from finished.
The Chairman of the Palestine Rights Committee, Kebba Birane Cisse (Senegal), said the Committee had given priority to promoting international assistance to the Palestinian people. It would continue to monitor developments to alert the international community to human rights violations and the need to resolve issues such as Jerusalem, settlements and refugees.
In a statement read out on his behalf by the Observer for Palestine, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), condemned recourse in the Middle East to violence or acts of terrorism, such as the recent assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, former Prime Minister of Israel. Mr. Arafat also condemned attempts to subvert the Middle East peace process, citing the recent decision by the United States Congress to transfer the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Such a move, said Mr. Arafat, not only ran counter to the position of the current United States Administration but to United Nations resolutions recognizing that Jerusalem was part and parcel of the occupied territories.
The President of the Security Council, Salim bin Mohammed Al-Khussaiby (Oman) said today's event was also a reflection of the Organization's determination to bring the long-awaited peace to the region. Both Israel and the PLO had demonstrated resilience, political courage, wisdom and dedication to the letter and the spirit of the Declaration of Principles, as well as understanding of the urgent need to propel the agreements reached so far.
Also addressing the solemn meeting were the representative of Sri Lanka as Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories; the representative of Colombia, on behalf of the Movement of Non-Aligned countries; and the representative of Morocco, reading out a message from Abdellatif Filali, Foreign Minister of Morocco in his capacity as Chairman of the Twenty-Second Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers.
Statements were also made by the observer for the League of Arab States, who read out a message from Ahmed Esmat Abdel Meguid, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States; and David Weaver, on behalf of the International Coordinating Committee for Non-Governmental Organizations on the Question of Palestine and Director, Middle East office of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States.
Farouk Kaddoumi, Head of the Political Department of the PLO, made a closing statement of appreciation.
Also this morning, the Chairman announced that messages on the occasion of the International Day had been received from the Heads of State of Egypt, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Senegal, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Qatar, Cyprus, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Viet Nam, Algeria, Afghanistan, Russian Federation, Mali, Ukraine, Tunisia, and Mauritania.
Messages had also been received from the Heads of Government of Malaysia, Turkey, Grenada, People's Republic of China, Thailand, Pakistan, Spain, India, France, Guyana, and South Africa, as well as from the Foreign Ministers of Argentina, Greece, Republic of Korea and Oman.
In addition, messages had been received from the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and seven non- governmental organizations.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The International Day is observed annually in accordance with General Assembly resolution 32/40 B, adopted in 1977.
Statement by Committee Chairman
KEBBA BIRANE CISSE (Senegal), Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee, said that, after long and arduous negotiations, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had signed on 28 September the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip providing for an extension of responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority to parts of the West Bank, and for elections in the near future. Despite acts of violence by forces opposed to peace, including the tragic assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the parties had demonstrated their dedication to pursuing new areas of agreement, mutual reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.
He said that, in order for peace to be credible, it must lead to an improvement in the everyday life of the Palestinian people. While the Palestinian Authority was making efforts, assisted by the donor community and the United Nations, to establish an effective administration and to better the quality of life, the legacy of 28 years of occupation and destruction of much of the infrastructure required a large-scale and long-term effort by the international community to tackle that problem.
The United Nations, he said, had continued to be a principal contributor to the programmes of rehabilitation and socio-economic development of the Palestinian society. In the past year, the United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories had formulated an integrated approach to specific areas of assistance. The Secretary-General had devoted much time and effort to the task of improving the living conditions of the Palestinian people, helping them to rehabilitate and develop their national economy and integrate it into a wider regional economic context. Meanwhile, the Palestine Rights Committee had given priority to promoting international assistance to the Palestinian people.
The General Assembly had reaffirmed the permanent responsibility of the United Nations with respect to the question of Palestine until it was satisfactorily resolved, he said. The Committee would continue to undertake all efforts to promote the effective implementation of the agreements that had been reached between the parties. It would continue to monitor developments on the ground and to alert the international community to human rights violations by the occupying forces, as well as the need to resolve outstanding issues such as Jerusalem, settlements and refugees in accordance with established international principles and United Nations resolutions.
Statement by Assembly President
DIOGO FREITAS DO AMARAL (Portugal), President of the General Assembly, said the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People reaffirmed the Assembly's conviction that the attainment of political, economic and social justice by the Palestinian people was essential to the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. He recalled the progress that had been made in the peace process despite delays and acts of violence, and underlined in particular the signing of the Interim Agreement.
He commended both parties for making courageous progress towards a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and the establishment of peaceful relations between their peoples and urged them to continue to display political will and good faith to bring the peace process to full fruition. The United Nations, he said, should continue to play a role in mobilizing the needed assistance in order to establish solid foundations for peace and in promoting dialogue and confidence-building measures necessary to dissipate the hostility and mistrust which continued to alienate the peoples of the region. It should also continue to promote the peace process between all parties to the conflict.
He said the task of the Committee was far from finished. A number of issues basic to the conflict and of great concern to many Member States remained to be negotiated, and the Palestinian people needed the support and solidarity of the international community to enable them to establish an effective administration.
Statement by Secretary-General
CHINMAYA RAJANINATH GHAREKHAN, Special Political Adviser to the Secretary-General and Representative to the Multilateral Peace Talks on the Middle East, reading out a statement on behalf of Secretary-General BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI, said the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People symbolized the ongoing responsibility of the United Nations towards the Palestinian people and its commitment to the promotion of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
He said that despite setbacks, Israel and the PLO had agreed that the immediate and long-term political differences between them should be resolved through negotiations. He was encouraged that the leaders of the parties had maintained their commitment despite the tragic assassination of one of its main architects, Yitzhak Rabin. He hoped that the signing of the Interim Agreement would encourage progress in the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks of the Middle East peace process.
The security situation remained a cause of concern, he said. Extremists on both sides must be stopped; the most effective way to curb their influence was to ensure that the negotiations continued and that tangible benefits deriving from the agreements thus far reached were apparent to all.
Of fundamental importance, he said, was the need to eradicate economic instability and poor living conditions, especially in the Gaza Strip. The United Nations was contributing to economic and social development, a prerequisite for an effective transition towards Palestinian self-rule, which could help build the foundations for a lasting peace.
He said the United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories had guided the activities of the Organization's programmes and agencies, including facilitating the development of public works projects to create immediate employment opportunities and bring visible changes to the Gaza Strip; establishing a coordination mechanism on the ground to ensure effective disbursement of donor funds; and coordinating training and other assistance for the Palestinian police. The efforts of the international community were gradually beginning to bear fruit and a number of improvements in the situation had taken place, in particular with regard to institution- building and the development of the infrastructure.
He renewed the firm commitment of the United Nations in support of the peace process. The involvement of the Organization had so far been mainly in the field of economics and social development, he said, and the programmes and agencies of the United Nations system would continue to provide all possible expertise and assistance in those areas.
Statement by President of Security Council
SALIM BIN MOHAMMED AL-KUSSAIBY (Oman), President of the Security Council, said the international community was committed to work hard towards the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace and stability in the Middle East. Today's event was also a reflection of the determination of the Organization to bring about the long-awaited peace to the region.
He said that the current year would be remembered as the year of major breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. He was encouraged that in spite of numerous bilateral problems, the peace process had advanced considerably and culminated in signing at of the Interim Agreement.
Regrettably, he said, the road to peace had been hard and often tragic. Most recently, Israel's Prime Minister had become another victim for trying to achieve peace with his neighbours. Despite tragic setbacks, both Israel and the PLO had demonstrated resilience, political courage, wisdom and dedication to the letter and the spirit for the Declaration of Principles, as well as understanding of the urgent need to propel the agreements reached so far. He commended the Palestinians and the Israelis for their efforts and determination.
Message from PLO Chairman
H. NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, read out a message from YASSER ARAFAT, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), extending thanks to the United Nations and to the Committee for their efforts on behalf of the Palestinian people.
That solidarity, Mr. Arafat's message continued, had been crowned by a series of achievements that had begun with the signing of the historic Declaration of Principles and had foreshadowed the establishment of an independent Palestinian State with its capital at Al-Qods Acharif. Ahead lay final negotiations on questions such as the status of Jerusalem. The peace process would ultimately hold implications for the whole region, encompassing Syria and Lebanon as well as the Palestinian and Arab populations of Palestine. Mr. Arafat called for respect for all relevant resolutions of the United Nations with the ultimate aim of creating a new, prosperous and stable Middle East as a pillar of international peace and security.
The Palestinians themselves, Mr. Arafat's message went on, would continue with determination to build their nation on a modern framework after years of long and bitter occupation. But at the present crucial stage in their affairs, whether in the endeavour of peace-building or of nation- building, they trusted that that solidarity would continue. Palestine was now waging a war of development, grappling for the first time with the challenge of laying the ground for democracy and organizing elections. Continued international solidarity was vital if peace was to be fostered and the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinians converted into reality.
In his message to the Committee, Mr. Arafat further condemned all acts of violence and terrorism in the region, such as the recent assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He also condemned attempts to subvert the peace process, referring to the decision by the American Congress to approve the transfer of the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Such a decision, he said, ran counter to the position of the current United States Administration -- to which he expressed thanks -- as well as to the Declaration of Principles and to the international-legality resolutions which reiterated that Jerusalem was part and parcel of the occupied territories. In its continuing struggle, the Palestinian people profoundly cherished the solidarity embodied in today's meeting of the Committee. He wished it continued success.
HERMAN LEONARD DE SILVA (Sri Lanka), Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, said that despite positive developments in the implementation of the peace agreements, the Government of Israel had continued to withhold its cooperation from the Special Committee. It continued to deny the Special Committee access to the occupied territories. He hoped there would be a change of attitude in that regard.
The violations of human rights in the territories remained a matter of grave concern, he said. A principal factor was the repeated closures that were imposed on the occupied territories after serious incidents that affected security. Those closures amounted to collective punishment -- an economic blockade that caused significant deterioration of the economic and social situation in the occupied territories, especially in the Gaza Strip. They also had adverse consequences in the fields of health and education and the freedom of worship.
An important source of tension, he said, was the relentless expropriation of Arab-owned land for the expansion of settlements and the building of bypass roads, and the appropriation of areas as quarries and natural reserves. The expansion of settlements was particularly serious in East Jerusalem and said to be part of a policy aimed at altering the city's demographic composition. Another source of tension had been the persistently violent behaviour of settlers, especially in the city of Hebron.
He said the number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention centres remained high. Their release had fallen behind schedule and jeopardized the smooth running of the peace process. A source of particular concern were the "special dispensations" -- which amounted to aggravated forms of torture -- accorded to the General Security Service regarding the interrogation of persons suspected of having committed security offenses.
He hoped that tangible progress would be made in the negotiations concerning the occupied Syrian Arab Golan. Unless the momentum of the peace process was maintained, he said, there was the constant danger that not giving attention to the justified aspiration of the population of the occupied territories would bring with it the erosion of support for the peace process. The Special Committee hoped that its findings would be taken into account when determining the concrete measures which needed to be taken to implement all relevant United Nations resolutions and the universally accepted standards of human rights.
JULIO LONDONO PAREDES (Colombia), speaking as representative of the President of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, recalled that at their October meeting at Cartagena de Indias, the Heads of State and Government of the Movement had focused special attention to the question of Palestine in light of their traditional position on the subject. The final document of the Cartagena conference had expressed the Movement's unrestricted support for the Palestinian people in its struggle to win respect for its inalienable right to self-determination and independence, reiterating the demand that Israel withdraw from all occupied Palestinian and Arab territories, including Jerusalem.
The Heads of State and Government had pointed out that United Nations efforts must continue until all problems in the area were resolved, he said. In addition, they had insisted that, on the occasion of its fiftieth session, the General Assembly should ratify its position on the principle elements of a definitive peace settlement, including the status of Jerusalem, settlements, and the refugee question. They had regretted Israel's decision to confiscate Palestinian land and property in Jerusalem and its efforts to transform the religious and historical character of the Holy City. In that context, they had called for full and detailed implementation of all relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, and declared null and void all Israeli actions that ran counter to those resolutions. They had stressed the importance of the preservation in Jerusalem of Palestinian institutions and of Islamic and Christian sites in the Holy City, in conformity with relevant Council resolutions.
Participants at the conference had declared that the Declaration of Principles of 13 September 1993 and the Provisional Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza of 20 September 1995, as well as the establishment of an independent Palestinian government, represented a new step forward in the efforts of Palestinians and Israelis. They considered that provisions relative to the establishment of a Palestinian provisional authority should be rapidly implemented. They concurred with the Secretary-General in the belief that promotion of the economic and social development of the occupied Palestinian territories was vital for implementation both of the Declaration of Principles and the Provisional Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza. In that regard, they called on participants in the Support Conference for Peace in the Middle East, which took place in Washington on 1 October 1993, to make good on their pledges of assistance.
AHMED SNOUSSI (Morocco) read out a message from ABDELLATIF FILALI, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Morocco and President of the Twenty-Second Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Mr. Filali appealed to the international community to maintain needed support for the Palestinian National Authority in its efforts to overcome the obstacles it faced in laying the foundations of the Palestinian independent State with its capital at Al-Qods Acharif -- a State which would be established on modern foundations, and would be born within the framework of new relationships stemming from the end of the Arab- Israeli conflict and regional peace negotiations.
It should be no surprise, he said, that the Islamic nation was committed to the defence of the holy places of Jerusalem, or that the Palestinian question occupied a priority place in the concerns of the OIC, founded 25 years ago following the criminal act of arson committed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Today, with the Palestinian question finally on the road towards a just and lasting settlement, it was vital that the members of the international community throw their weight behind resolution of all disputed points, in particular the problem of the city of Al-Qods Acharif, respect for the time-table for the transfer of powers to the Palestinian National Authority, and progress in the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, most particularly the Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese negotiations.
Although the road towards peace represented an irreversible choice, it was beset with the dangers flowing from extremism, violence and terrorism, he said. Furthermore, it called for the availability of financial resources for the building of the Palestinian economy and all economies of the Arab region. The establishment of peace was a basic requirement for extinguishing the fires of tension that had concerned the whole world for nearly half a century.
In his message to the Committee, Mr. Filali stated that the Seventh Islamic Summit Conference, of 13, 14 and 15 December 1994, had expressed its support for the Middle East peace process. It was more than ever necessary, he concluded, for the Committee to continue to be faithful to the lofty objectives for which it was created.
SAID KAMAL, Under-Secretary-General for Palestine Affairs in the League of Arab States, read a message on behalf of AHMED ESMAT ABDEL MEGUID, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, in which he stated that the struggle on behalf of the Palestinian people had been just, and that despite the injustices committed against them, the Palestinian people had triumphed, but it was not a full-fledged partner in the peace process.
He said the peace process represented a rectification of the aims of the international community. The question had long been discussed as one of refugees. The League of Arab States had welcomed the Declaration of Principles and subsequent steps taken on the path to peace to ensure security, stability and development in the entire region. He hoped that Israel would facilitate that process so that all the people in the area could work towards stability. The Arab people were committed to peace in the area and would be more inclined to work for peace if they did not feel slighted. How could they work for peace when Iraq and Libya were suffering from an embargo? he asked. He hoped that would soon end so that all efforts could be concentrated on peace.
Pursuing the peace process required the support and efforts of the Committee, he said. The Palestinian Authority was having to cope with harsh and complex economic reality. The peace process depended on the success of Palestinian autonomy. He hoped that the international community would increase its support for the Palestinian people. He called on the Committee to continue to support the efforts of the agency dealing with Palestinian refugees and that it would urge Israel to stop its settler policy. He urged the United States to stop the settlement activities and the activities of the settlers. The United States had a special responsibility, he said, and it could use loan guarantees to force Israel to renounce that policy.
He said Israeli activities in Jerusalem were in conflict with the spirit of the peace process and at variance with United States and Israeli assurances that the status of Jerusalem or Palestinian institutions would not be changed. He was gratified that the United States Administration had taken the stand that it had on the decision of Congress to move its Embassy to Jerusalem.
DAVID WEAVER, Director, Middle East Office of the National Council of Churches, speaking on behalf of the International Coordination Committee for Non-Governmental Organizations on the Question of Palestine, said that the non-governmental organizations movement had been part of the long painful history of the Palestinian people every step of the way. As ad hoc groups of concerned individuals and as well-established charities, as churches and religious bodies and organizations, non-governmental organizations had responded to Palestinians in the early years with an outpouring of emergency assistance. Later, longer-term social and economic development projects appeared.
He said there had emerged a genuine solidarity with the Palestinian people and a recognition of their right to self-determination. That solidarity had been given explicit institutional form in the network of NGOs who had turned their chartered relationship with the United Nations into a partnership to uphold the rights of the Palestinians.
He said the NGOs had been a mixture of principle and pragmatism in their support of the Palestinians. Many also cared about the Israelis, having foreseen that the fate of the two peoples was inseparably bound and that the only hope for survival was mutual recognition, mutual respect and eventual reconciliation on the basis of a just peace. The NGO movement was divided on the present process of agreements. There was cautious, tacit acceptance as well as vocal opposition. The asymmetry of power was clear as was the continuing vulnerability of the Palestinians to domination and manipulation. That fact presented an enormous challenge to the Palestinian people and their leadership, to the United Nations and the international community and to the NGOs that were in solidarity with the Palestinians, to ensure that the process did not stop until the Palestinians fully attained their national rights. The outcome depended on will and effort. The United Nations had a unique role as the guarantor of the national rights of the Palestinians within the international community. The NGOs supported the fulfilment of those rights.
FAROUK KHADDOUMI, Head of the Political Department of the PLO, said the gesture of solidarity being offered today reaffirmed the United Nations commitment to a just solution of the question of Palestine. The Palestinian people had worked to attain that goal and had made many sacrifices and concessions for the cause of peace. In the future, they would not hesitate to defend the peace process; it was on the right track in keeping with the Declaration of Principles and the Madrid Conference.
He said the longing of the Palestinian people for a just peace was a fervent wish. They sorely needed peace and they continued to need the support of the United Nations.