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


GA/9223
12 March 1997

Fifty-first General Assembly
Plenary
91st Meeting (AM)

GENERAL ASSEMBLY MEETS TO CONSIDER ISRAELI DECISION
TO BUILD NEW SETTLEMENT IN EAST JERUSALEM

Palestine's Observer Calls for Assembly to Guarantee Israel's
Compliance with Agreements; Israel Says UN Not Appropriate Forum for Issue


As the General Assembly met this morning in an urgent session convened on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East, the Observer for Palestine called on the Assembly to guarantee Israel's compliance with agreements reached, while Israel's representative stressed unequivocally that the United Nations was not the appropriate forum for discussing issues of contention between the two parties.

Today's meeting was requested by the Group of Arab States and the Non-Aligned Movement, following the failure of the Security Council on 7 March to adopt a draft resolution that would have expressed deep concern about Israel's decision to build Har Homa, a 6,500 unit housing complex in the Jabal Abu Ghneim area of East Jerusalem, and would have called on Israel to refrain from any settlement activity that would "alter the facts on the ground", preempting negotiation on the final status of Jerusalem. It was not adopted due to a negative vote by a permanent member of the Council, the United States.

The Observer for Palestine this morning said the acceptance by Israel in previous agreements that the status of Jerusalem was an issue to be negotiated and Israel's classification of Jerusalem as an electoral district among the general Palestinian districts, as well as its commitment to preserve Palestinian institutions, clearly proved that all of the Israeli measures were illegal. The Palestinians would not accept the annulment of Palestinian and Arab rights in Jerusalem, and the international community should affirm its rejection of the illegal Israeli positions, he added

The representative of Israel, however, said the multitude of United Nations resolutions relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict had failed to advance the peace process even one inch. Direct negotiations had proven the only way to advance the cause of peace in the region. He called upon the Palestinians to agree to continue direct negotiations, which were free from outside interference.

Other speakers this morning stressed the need for Assembly action, in light of the Security Council's failure. Many called for Israel to rescind its decision and refrain from any unilateral action that would prejudge the final status negotiations for the occupied territories, particularly Jerusalem. Some participants said Israel had exhibited bad faith with its settlement policies and had chosen, instead of statesmanship, to intimidate and provoke the Palestinian people at a critical moment in the peace process.


Statements on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East were made by the representatives of Senegal (as Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People), Qatar, Indonesia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Colombia (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Iran and China.

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The Assembly will continue the debate on the Middle East at 3 p.m. today.


Assembly Work Programme

The General Assembly met this morning to consider the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East. Letters of 8 March from the Permanent Representative of Qatar (document A/51/822), in his capacity as Chairman of the Group of Arab States, and of 10 March from the Permanent Representative of Colombia (document A/51/823) requested an urgent meeting of the Assembly on those two items.


Statements

NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said he had come to the Assembly following the failure of the Security Council to carry out its duties, due to the decision of one of its permanent members, the United States, to use its veto power on 7 March with regard to a draft resolution concerning East Jerusalem and the settlements. He hoped that the Assembly would call on Israel to refrain from its illegal policies and measures, including the building of settlements, particularly in East Jerusalem.

He affirmed the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine until a comprehensive solution of the question in all its aspects was attained. The existence of the peace process and agreements between the parties did not diminish that responsibility. Rather, it consolidated it to include provision of support for the process and prevention of damage to it. Israel's violation of its contractual obligations caused great damage to the peace process, which was particularly evident when international humanitarian law and relevant United Nations resolutions were violated.

The responsibility of the United Nations became imperative as Israel took unilateral measures to impose new facts on the ground, thus causing the breakdown of the forthcoming negotiations, he said. The international community must reaffirm its firm position with regard to the consequences of such illegal Israeli policies and measures. It must reaffirm that all administrative and legislative measures taken by Israel that aimed at changing the legal status of Jerusalem and its demographic composition were null and void.

The Government of Israel, he stated, had decided on 26 February to build a new colonial settlement in the area of Jabal Abu Ghneim -- an area situated within the territory that Israel had annexed and considered as part of the extended boundaries of the city of Jerusalem. The Israeli decision, in blatant violation of international law, provided for the building of 6,500 housing units in the area, which was confiscated during 1991 and 1992, and would bring approximately 25,000 new Israeli settlers. The colonial settlement would isolate Arab East Jerusalem from the southern part of the West Bank and isolate Jerusalem from the city of Bethlehem.

He said the Israeli authorities continued their attempts to deprive Palestinians of Jerusalem from their natural and inherited right to live in their city. Israel considered them "foreigners" and had pursued various illegal manouevres to deprive them of what it called "resident's rights". Such Israeli measures violated agreements already reached and the entire logic of the peace process. The two parties had agreed to postpone negotiations with regard to such issues as Jerusalem and the settlements.

He said the acceptance by Israel that the status of Jerusalem was an issue to be negotiated and its acceptance to classify Jerusalem as an electoral district among the general Palestinian districts, as well as the commitment to preserve Palestinian institutions, clearly proved that all of the Israeli measures were illegal. The Palestinians would not accept the annulment of Palestinian and Arab rights in Jerusalem. The international community should affirm its rejection of the illegal Israeli positions. There would be no peace in the Middle East without the restoration of Palestinian rights in Jerusalem.

The practices and behaviour of the Israeli Government, including its recent unilateral redeployment decision, seemed to aim at the retention of a large portion of the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, he said. It also aimed at the prevention of the achievement of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. The draft resolution in the Assembly should focus on that problem. The solution was to guarantee the real compliance of the Israeli Government with the agreements reached. Furthermore, the Israeli Government should refrain from any measures or actions which violated international humanitarian law and relevant Council resolutions.

DAVID PELEG (Israel) said that on 13 September 1993 Israel and the Palestinians had embarked on their historic reconciliation. One year later, Israel signed a treaty of peace with Jordan. And it was hoped that the negotiations with Syria and Lebanon would be scheduled to resume in the near future. Time and again, that method of direct negotiation had been vindicated and had brought tangible benefits to the whole region.

Disagreements and disappointments had been faced by the parties, he continued, but agreements were reached because both Israel and the Palestinians remained committed to talking through issues and negotiating in good faith. The agreements, such as the Hebron Protocol, had codified appropriate mechanisms to discuss outstanding issues and to settle disagreements and disputes, without the threat of violence and without the interference of outside parties.

Last week, he said, the Government of Israel approved the plan for further redeployment in the West Bank and released all female Palestinian prisoners. Further steps were also undertaken to address the economic situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Hebron Protocol had provided for redeployment of Israeli troops and created timetables for the further redeployment and for the imminent resumption of the permanent status negotiations.

Despite the progress, he said, the Palestinians "have regrettably fallen into a dysfunctional behavioural pattern". Instead of seeking redress over contentious issues, the Palestinians had run to third parties and bodies not involved in the peace process, with the hope of imposing their positions on Israel. The issue of Jerusalem was one of the permanent status issues to be negotiated by the two sides and the negotiations were scheduled to resume this month. Israel was committed to the unity and well-being of Jerusalem, to coexistence and cooperation between Jews, Christians and Muslims and to the development of the city for the benefit of all of its residents.

He stressed unequivocally that his Government did not regard the United Nations as the appropriate forum for discussing issues of contention between Israel and the Palestinians -- neither the Assembly nor the Security Council. Were the Palestinians seeking from the United Nations a way to turn the clock back to the dark days preceding the peace process? he asked. The multitude of United Nations resolutions relating to the Arab- Israeli conflict had failed to advance the peace process even one inch. Direct negotiations had proven the only way to advance the cause of peace in the region.

He went on to point out that Israel had not brought its grievances against the Palestinians, concerning their violations of the peace agreements, to the forum of the United Nations. He called upon the Palestinians to agree to continue direct negotiations, which were free from outside interference. Both parties should agree that: violence and armed struggle were an invalid means of solving grievances; all agreements would be carried out on the basis of reciprocity; and the parties would desist from incitement and establish norms for public discourse. Such a code of conduct could serve as the blueprint for the continued dialogue between the parties. The international community should continue to support the peace process, but it should not adopt one-sided positions that aimed to prejudge and predetermine the outcome of the negotiations.

IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said it was deplorable that the Security Council had not adopted its draft resolution on the current situation, owing to the veto by a permanent member. Nevertheless, the overwhelming support for that text sent a clear message of the views of the international community. The impact of Israel's unlawful decision on the peace process was a grave source of concern. It cast serious doubt on the political will of the occupying Power to carry out the provisions of existing accords.

The status of the international city of Jerusalem was a matter of international concern, he said. Many United Nations resolutions had condemned Israel's settlement policies in occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem. Those policies also violated the Fourth Geneva Convention. All such measures had no legal validity and should be rescinded. The peace process aimed at the implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), which considered the acquisition of territory by force to be inadmissible.

The General Assembly had repeatedly cited the United Nations continuing authority with respect to the question of Palestine until its legal settlement, he said. The peace process would only result in progress if both parties implemented its provisions. It was now essential that the parties spare no effort to do away with the climate of mistrust and suspicion. The peace process must not be compromised by shortsightedness.

NASSER BIN HAMAD AL-KHALIFA (Qatar), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group of States, said the United States' veto of the Security Council draft resolution on Jerusalem -- which received 14 votes in favour -- abetted Israel's efforts to continue its settlements policies. The international community must act to prevent Israel from taking actions that flouted international law. The current meeting of the Assembly would not be necessary if the Council had fulfilled its role. Peace was not the responsibility of the Arabs and Palestinians alone; it was shared by all parties and the entire international community.

An agreement signed by the parties had affirmed that no steps could be taken that would change the status of the West Bank and Gaza prior to an outcome of the negotiations, he said. Israel's recent decision was contrary to that agreement. The Arab Group called on the friends of peace in the General Assembly to send a clear, categorical message rejecting the practices employed by Israel to weaken peace in that dangerous region.

NUGROHO WISNUMURTI (Indonesia) said the international community was now faced with yet another attempt by the Government of Israel to renege on its legal commitments under the Oslo accords and subsequent agreements, and to undermine the Middle East peace process. He condemned Israel's illegal decision of 26 February to build a new settlement in Jabal Abu Ghneim in Jerusalem. The failure of the Security Council on 7 March to discharge its mandate in the matter was profoundly disappointing.

The General Assembly must now articulate the feelings and views of the international community in an unambiguous manner, he said. Israel's decision violated resolutions of the Assembly and the Council, as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law. It was totally contrary to the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements and subsequent agreements, seeking to pre-empt the outcome of permanent status negotiations by changing the area's legal status and demographic composition. By contrast, the Palestinians had demonstrated great restraint and patience, opting for peaceful means to resolve the crisis.

The Israeli action would only lead to further bloodshed, jeopardizing peace and security in the Middle East, he said. Israel must scrupulously implement the provisions of its agreements with the Palestinians. The latest decision followed the decision to build a new settlement in the Ras al-Amud and the opening of the tunnel within the Haram al-Sharif. It, therefore, constituted part of a concerted effort to isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. The latest crisis caused by Israel's decision to hand over only 9 per cent of the West Bank, instead of the 30 per cent agreed upon and expected by Palestinian leaders, was also troubling.

Much more was at stake than written agreements, he said. The very integrity of the peace process was being unilaterally challenged. The United Nations must ensure Israel's unconditional withdrawal from all Palestinian and Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan, and Lebanon.

MASAKI KONISHI (Japan) said efforts to improve the situation in the Middle East should be carried out on a double track. The immediate task for the parties was to bury the chasm of mistrust. They must also intensify a good faith effort to advance the peace process. The decision by Israel to construct housing at Har Homa -- in Arabic, Jabal Abu Ghneim -- in East Jerusalem, was regrettable. It was particularly regrettable that the decision was made in the wake of the agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Hebron, which had represented an advance in the peace process.

The Government of Israel risked jeopardizing the situation relating to the occupied territory and of prejudging the outcome of final status negotiations, he said. Its action had been taken at a time when the Middle East peace process, and particularly the Palestinian track, was at a crucial stage. It was not too late for the Israeli Government to reconsider its decision. His own Government had been actively involved in the Middle East peace process. It had also been implementing projects worth some $250 million to promote Palestinian self-rule in the initial phase after the Oslo accord.

There was a real danger that the Israeli decision could lead to a crisis of confidence, he said. Should that happen, the resulting mistrust and rancour could destroy the very structure for peace in the Middle East. All the parties should exert their best efforts to overcome the present situation, thus offering the people of the region solid grounds for hope towards a more peaceful and secure future.

HERMAN LEONARD DE SILVA (Sri Lanka) expressed grave concern over the illegal Israeli decision to build a new settlement in East Jerusalem. Such actions by Israel, as the occupying Power, were a violation of international law and an attempt to affect the outcome of the final status negotiations. They threatened the hard-won gains of the peace process. Israel must have a change of heart and adopt a more humane attitude towards the Palestinian people. The Government of Israel must resist the regressive settlement policies and other measures that could ignite conflict. He called upon Israel to honour its international obligations and appealed to all parties to pursue negotiations. The international community was under obligation to enforce Israeli implementation of its commitments under the peace process and international law.

HASMY BIN AGAM (Malaysia) said that, instead of honouring its commitments, the Israeli Government, in an act of bad faith, had taken a unilateral decision to approve the construction of a new Jewish settlement in Jabal Abu Ghneim, in defiance of Palestinian sentiments. It was clearly a deliberate and provocative act intended to break the spirit of the Palestinian people and deny them their cherished dream of a state of their own, with Jerusalem as its capital. It was an act intended to humiliate and intimidate. It was not an act of statesmanship, but of brinkmanship.

In addition, he continued, the latest decision of the Government -- to withdraw from only 9 per cent of the occupied territories in the West Bank -- was yet another manifestation of bad faith, which could undermine the already delicate situation further. He called upon the Israeli Government to rescind its settlement decision and desist from further actions which could undermine the peace process. The Assembly must pronounce itself on that important issue and convey to the Israeli Government the strong disapproval of the international community.

HUSEYIN E. CELEM (Turkey) said the Israelis and the Palestinians were partners in peace, and progress thus far in the peace process had not come easily. It was disconcerting to encounter unilateral actions endangering the peace process. Unfortunately, everyone was aware that the Israeli Government viewed the Jabal Abu Ghneim project as a method to pre-empt the outcome of the negotiations on the final status, particularly on the future of the holy city -- equally holy for all three monotheistic religions.

Any decision which could affect the outcome of the final status talks should not even be considered until the successful conclusion of the negotiations, he continued. Recent tragic events surrounding the opening of the tunnel under the Al-Aqsa Mosque should have been an important lesson for all the parties. It was a time when not only the future of Al-Quds Al-Sharif, but also the future of the entire Middle East peace process, was hanging in the balance. The Government of Israel should reverse its settlement policies in Jabal Abu Ghneim and other occupied areas.

ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said recent weeks had seen an ominous turn of events. Israel's decision to build new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem had caused serious concern. The last blow came from Israel's partial withdrawal of troops from the occupied West Bank, without prior consultations with the Palestinian Authority. One was led to believe that the purpose of those decisions, taken on the eve of the commencement of the final status negotiations, were aimed at changing the legal, physical and demographic character of Jerusalem. It was further believed that Israel intended to isolate the Palestinian population of Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, so they might never fulfil their aspiration of making the city the capital of their independent State.

He said 49 delegations had spoken during last week's debate in the Security Council. Nearly all had called on Israel to revoke its settlement decision. Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming rejection of Israel's action, the Council had proven unable to adopt a resolution urging Israel to rescind that decision. The Council's inability to adopt the resolution represented a serious failure to respond effectively to the crucial issue of peace and security in a volatile region.

Partnership in peace could be promoted by unilateral actions, he said. Israel must understand that any meaningful progress on the Palestine-Israel track must involve full and meaningful participation by the Palestinians at all levels and at each step. Further, there could be no lasting peace in the Middle East without Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. The complete withdrawal of all Israeli troops from all occupied Palestinian and Arab territories was an essential precondition for restoring a climate of trust and peace among the States of the region.

JULIO LONDONO-PAREDES (Colombia), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said Israel's decision to pursue its settlement policy in the occupied Arab territories, and specifically in Jerusalem, was a serious distortion of the spirit of the Oslo accords. The recent Security Council veto had made it possible for a single State to prevent the Council from meeting its obligations. The Assembly must, therefore, restate its commitment to the search for peace.

The heads of State and government of the Non-Aligned Movement, meeting at Cartagena in 1995, had called on Israel to refrain from building any settlements or making any geographical or legal changes in Jerusalem, he said. It also urged the preservation of Palestinian institutions, as well as both Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. Direct talks were the best way to ensure independence for the Palestinian people, as well as peace in the region. The current position of one of the parties should not be allowed to undermine the trust needed for further successful negotiations.

KAMAL KHARRAZI (Iran) said the Security Council had failed to adopt a resolution calling on Israel to refrain from East Jerusalem settlement activity. It had done so not because there was not general agreement disapproving of the Israeli decision, but because a permanent member placed itself above and beyond the wishes of the international community. More disturbing then the veto by the United States, however, was the premise that the United Nations was not an appropriate forum to address the issue at hand.

The United Nations was relevant because it was founded for the very purpose of maintaining international peace and security, he continued. The general membership had delegated that task to the Council in a fiduciary sense. That fiduciary trust had been misused with the veto of the resolution. He expressed confidence that the Assembly would reflect the gravity of the issue and convey to the Council that it must muster the necessary courage and shoulder its Charter responsibility. The Assembly must send a clear message that the recent Israeli decision to build new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem must be rescinded.

ANG XUEXIAN (China) said the question of Jerusalem should be settled by the parties concerned through negotiations on the basis of the relevant United Nations resolutions. He urged Israel to call off its plan to build Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. With final-status negotiations soon to start, the parties concerned should avoid any unilateral move contrary to the negotiation process. His Government had always supported the Middle East peace process and stood for a political settlement on the basis of the relevant resolutions and the principle of land for peace. The results of negotiations have not come easily, thus far, and should be cherished by the parties. The parties should avoid taking any move that might aggravate conflicts and undermine the peace process.


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