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

22 November 2000


The Palestinian delegation was satisfied by this morning’s vote in the Economic and Social Council on establishment of a human rights inquiry commission for Palestine, Nasser al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer for Palestine, told correspondents this afternoon at a Headquarters press conference.

[The Economic and Social Council this morning endorsed, by recorded vote, the decision of the Commission on Human Rights to establish, on an urgent basis, a "human rights inquiry commission" to gather and compile information on violations of human rights and acts constituting grave breaches of international humanitarian law by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories].

He said that the Economic and Social Council vote should have been on the operational aspects of the resolutions, which had been adopted in Geneva by the Commission on Human Rights. He did not believe that today’s was just another vote on the substance of the resolution. The Observer Mission had been ready to consider the possibility of a shorter decision, which would have dealt with the financial implications of the Geneva resolution. That had not worked, and they had to proceed to ensure that the necessary resources were made available for implementation of the resolution.

Mr. Al-Kidwa said it was unfortunate that, in spite of his delegation's efforts, the United States chose to make it a big political fight. It was unusual to see so many members of the United States delegation engaged in pressure tactics with several delegations during the meeting. His delegation had not felt comfortable with that, but luckily, the majority of the members of the Economic and Social Council chose to support the decision adopted today.

On another point, he indicated that his delegation was supporting the Arab request for an open meeting of the Security Council. The request had been made yesterday and was the result of the dangerous escalation by the Israeli side of its aggression against the Palestinian people.

He hoped that the Council would respond appropriately in accordance with the rules of procedure, and that the meeting would take place very soon. He understood that there was a holiday tomorrow, but he proposed that the meeting should begin either Wednesday afternoon or Friday morning. If that happened, then the meeting could resume, if necessary, on Monday, 27 November. The bottom line was that the request was there and it should be considered.

Mr. Al-Kidwa said that his delegation did not believe that those events had any negative impact on the efforts of the Secretary-General concerning the necessary consultations of the parties and the establishment of a United Nations observer force. The Palestine Observer Mission had agreed with the Non-Aligned Movement caucus in the Council that there needed to be more time to finalize the text. He hoped that they would be able to table a resolution by early next week.

Did the effort by the United States delegation to blunt the vote in the Economic and Social Council make them an unsuitable mediator between Israel and the Palestinians? a correspondent asked.

Mr. Al-Kidwa said it had been difficult to watch members of the United States delegation apply pressure on some of the Member States. It was really embarrassing, given the nature of the decision and given what was happening in the region. He was not sure how much of it was the result of direct instructions and how much was personal initiative.

The Observer Mission had never considered the United States an honest broker, he said. The United States was aligned with Israel and was much closer, to say the least, to the Israeli side. However, he had accepted the United States as the broker for many reasons, including the fact that it was the only broker in town. All sides had tried to make progress together.

With what was happening now on a daily basis, even the status of the broker was being diminished, he said. That was one of the reasons the Palestinian side was seeking to broaden the circle of participation in the peace efforts. At Sharm el-Sheik, the United Nations, the European Union, Jordan and Egypt were participating on an equal footing for the first time. The Palestinians had also hoped for the participation of the Russian Federation.

While his delegation was calling for an enlargement of the circle, it also understood that the United States would maintain the leading role within the process of trying to reach peace in the Middle East. That was an objective fact, due to the United States being the strongest player on the international scene. That fact should not inhibit the creation of a more balanced situation internationally.

Why had Mr. Al-Kidwa allowed such a close vote to take place in the Economic and Social Council without negotiating? a correspondent asked?

Mr. Al-Kidwa replied that the aim of the United States delegation was to defeat the decision. Luckily, that had failed. The kind of close vote that had occurred was not the norm here at the United Nations. The reason it was close had to do with the substance, and his delegation was not in a position to look into the substance again, as that had already occurred in Geneva. The decision dealt only with the financial implications.

His side could not help but resent the serious efforts by the United States to defeat the decision, in spite of the nature of the decision and in spite of what was happening on the ground. It was out of context and should not have happened. Luckily, the majority chose to resist that pressure.

Could Mr. Al-Kidwa comment on the current situation on the ground in the Middle East? a correspondent asked.

He replied that he did not have the details but he understood there was a bombing that took place inside Israel proper. There had been no claims of responsibility as of yet. In any case, the Palestinian Authority had repeatedly said that they were against action that was aimed at innocent civilians.

The continuous Israeli bloody campaign against the Palestinian people could not but lead to violence, he said. The Palestinian people were being killed daily. So far, more than 225 Palestinian civilians had been killed and 10,000 had been injured, one-third of whom were children under the age of 18. This was a campaign of willful killing done by the soldiers of the occupying power. It should be condemned.

Did Mr. Al-Kidwa think that what was going on politically here in the United States was blunting the ability of the United States to lead in the Middle East? a correspondent asked.

Mr. Al-Kidwa said that not only was there a lame-duck administration in the United States, but there was also no transition team in place. That kind of vacuum was not helpful, but his delegation had not given up on the present administration. The conflict in the Middle East was too dangerous to be left on its own. He believed that the leaders of both political parties would not want to see a vacuum.

Responding to a question on the United Nations observer force, he said his delegation would have to push for a vote soon. Last Friday, the Security Council had given the Secretary-General a mandate to consult with the parties. That had been accomplished. His delegation was ready to continue with the consultations as long as they were useful, but time was limited. The situation was getting worse by the day. At some point, there would have to be a vote.

Asked what the Ambassador's expectations were for the fact-finding Committee headed by former United States Senator George Mitchell, Mr. Al-Kidwa replied that he had hoped for a broader Committee. He had hoped that some important leaders of the developing world would have been included, such as Nelson Mandela. Nevertheless, he felt that the Committee could represent a very important step forward.

Continuing, he said that the Israelis had reiterated their opposition to the commencement of the work of the Committee. According to the New York Times, the Foreign Minister of Israel had sent a letter to the United States administration suggesting that the Committee could not start given the situation on the ground. He did not understand this, as the Committee had been formed precisely because the situation was bad.

He understood from the Secretary-General that the members of the Committee would meet next Sunday to consider their next steps. The fact that it took that long to have this happen made it obvious that the Israeli side was creating obstacles.

His delegation did not see any linkage between the Committee on the one hand and attempts to establish a United Nations observer force on the other hand. The two were separate and distinct exercises. There still could be cooperation between the two, as long as legal and political distinctions were maintained. The United Nations observer force ought to be established through a decision of the Security Council.

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