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

4 November 1998


Observer Regrets Israeli Prime Minister's Delay in Submitting Text
to Government; Unease at Increased Settlement Activity Also Expressed

There were high hopes that the Wye River Memorandum would be a new beginning that could lead to a final settlement on the question of Palestine, the Observer for Palestine, Nasser Al-Kidwa, told the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this morning.

The Wye River Memorandum was signed in Washington. D.C., on 23 October by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Al-Kidwa said it was to be hoped the Memorandum would be fully implemented. Unfortunately, there had been some signals to the contrary, including repeated delays by the Israeli Prime Minister in presenting it to his Government for approval. There were also signs of increased Jewish settlement activity.

Also this morning, the Committee adopted its annual report to the General Assembly covering the period from 5 November 1997 to the end of October. The report was introduced by the Rapporteur of the Committee, George Saliba (Malta), who read out several amendments, which took into account the Wye River Memorandum.

The Chairman of the Committee, Ibra Deguene Ka (Senegal), appealed to all Committee members to co-sponsor the draft resolution entitled "Bethlehem 2000" which he hoped the Assembly would adopt by consensus. The draft concerns the convening of the millennial celebration at Bethlehem in the context of a global vision of peace and reconciliation. The aim is to mobilize wide international support for the event.

The representative of Ukraine read out a letter from his Foreign Minister describing the signing of the Wye River Memorandum as evidence that even the most protracted conflicts could be settled through negotiations.

The Committee is scheduled to meet again on Thursday 12 November at 10:30 a.m.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning to adopt its report to the General Assembly covering the period from 5 November 1997 through the end of October 1998. It was also expected to hear a briefing by the Permanent Observer of Palestine on the most recent developments in the Middle East peace process and the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem.

The Committee's draft annual report (document A/AC.183/1998/CRP.2) states that the Committee followed with increasing concern the efforts to restart the peace process. The reluctance of the Government of Israel to abide by the existing agreements precluded a constructive dialogue and the continuation of the peace process in accordance with the agreed timetable. A principle stumbling block has been the growth of settlements throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, in pursuance of the stated policy of the Israeli Government. Of particular concern are settlement activities in and around Jerusalem where Palestinian residency rights are also under increasing threat.

The report states that a plan for strengthening Israel's control over Jerusalem was announced in June with the creation of a "greater Jerusalem umbrella municipality" with administrative powers over an enlarged area encompassing nearby towns in Israel and a number of settlements in the West Bank. The stated purpose is to link them, and strengthen the Jewish majority in the area.

The situation is further aggravated by the pace of demolition of Palestinian houses by the Israeli authorities, according to the report. Since the beginning of 1998, some 112 Palestinian homes have been demolished in the West Bank and 14 in East Jerusalem, resulting in the displacement of over 440 Palestinians. As at August, some 1,800 Palestinian homes were reportedly targeted for demolition and were being destroyed at the rate of about one a day.

The presence of settlements further exacerbates an already tense situation because of the provocative actions of extremist and armed settler groups, the report continues. The Temporary International Presence in Hebron, the international observer force set up in 1994, had expressed concern at the aggressive behaviour of settlers in the city and their increased verbal and physical attacks against Palestinians and their property. On 11 June, the Israeli army authorized the creation of civil defence militias operating alongside Israeli police and security forces inside settlements in the West Bank.

Another issue of great concern to the Committee is the continued imprisonment of a large number of Palestinians in Israel (a total of 3,228 as at August, to whom must be added Palestinians held under administrative detention or jailed in facilities run by the Israel Defence Forces). Information reviewed by human rights treaty bodies indicates that Israeli authorities have continued to use psychological and physical torture against Palestinian detainees.

The Committee expressed concern that during the year the Palestinian economy continued to suffer, in particular owing to the prolonged closures of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The resulting fragmentation of the territory under the Palestinian Authority had restricted the movement of workers and goods, caused growing hardship and led to a decline in output, exports investment and income. Economic conditions in the Gaza Strip were particularly precarious. Overall there had been a steady deterioration of the Palestinian economy since the signing of the 1993 agreement, with gross national product (GNP) declining by at least 20 per cent in real terms.

The Committee also expressed concern at the reports of water shortages in the occupied Palestinian territory, which were seriously harming Palestinian agriculture and causing severe difficulties. It was encouraged, however, that despite the growing difficulties faced by the Palestinian economy, the international donor community had continued to make sustained and determined efforts to meet emergency needs and to promote the economic and social development of the Palestinian people.

In its recommendations, the Committee states that it is incumbent upon the co-sponsors of the peace process, the Security Council and the international community to do everything in their power to achieve peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. The international community must intensify its efforts to ensure protection for the Palestinian people pending the achievement of a final settlement.

The Committee recommends the inclusion of an item in the agenda of the fifty-third session of the Assembly in order to mobilize wide international support for the convening of a millennial celebration at Bethlehem. The Committee is also planning to convene a "Bethlehem 2000" international forum in Rome, in early 1999.

The Committee reaffirms that the United Nations has a permanent responsibility with respect to the question of Palestine until a satisfactory settlement based on international legitimacy is reached. The Committee reiterates that the involvement of the United Nations in the peace process, both as the guardian of international legitimacy and in the mobilization and provision of international assistance for development, is essential for the successful outcome of peace efforts. The Committee pledges to continue to mobilize the international community at the governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental levels in support of a comprehensive, just and lasting solution of this question in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.


NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said there had been some important developments since the Committee's last meeting, the most important being the signing of the Wye River Memorandum. The Memorandum was about steps to facilitate implementation of previous agreements. Steps outlined in the Memorandum are to be carried out in a parallel phased approach with an attached time line. They did not supersede previous agreements. The Memorandum dealt with several important issues, namely further redeployment of Israeli forces, security, interim committees and economic issues, permanent status negotiations and unilateral actions.

With regard to further redeployment, Israeli forces were to redeploy from a further 13 per cent of the area now under total Israeli occupation. Furthermore, the Israeli forces would redeploy 14.2 per cent from the area now under joint control for the area to come under total Palestinian control.

On security matters, there were several important elements which indicated a Palestinian plan that was an internal affair. However, the plan would be shared with the United States administration.

The Memorandum was extremely important for a number of reasons. First, it clearly indicated the full association of Israel with the Oslo Agreement. Secondly, it marked the unprecedented full United States involvement at the highest level in negotiations and implementation. Since the signing of the Memorandum, extremists from both sides had started all kinds of opposition to that important step, including violent demonstrations and an attempt on the Palestinian side to bomb an Israeli bus. The Palestinian authorities had immediately taken appropriate action in keeping with their agreement.

He said he hoped that the Memorandum would be fully implemented in accordance with the time line. Unfortunately, there had been some signals to the contrary, including a repeated delay by the Israeli Prime Minister to present the Memorandum for Government approval before presenting it to the Israeli Parliament. Furthermore, most Committee members had seen the letter dated 30 October from the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel to the Secretary-General. It was unfortunate that the Israeli side chose to present a flawed interpretation of the Memorandum rather than choosing to present jointly with the Palestinian side the text of the Memorandum for the information of Member States, as had been the case with previous agreements.

It was disturbing that the Israeli Foreign Minister considered Israeli undertakings "conditional" upon compliance by the Palestinian side. That interpretation obviously went beyond the famous Israeli concept of "reciprocity" and departed from the appropriate joint commitment for mutual compliance by both sides with the terms of the agreement.

He said it was shocking that the Israeli Foreign Minister in the letter used phrases like "Judea and Samaria" to describe the West Bank in flagrant violation of the Memorandum and other existing agreements. The use of the term indicated an expansionist ideology and policies. The letter contained inaccurate information and was a distorted presentation of the Memorandum -- a very dangerous sign. An example of that was the fact that the Memorandum spoke of "the nullification of the Palestinian National Charter provisions that are inconsistent with the letters exchanged between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Government of Israel on 9/10 September 1993". However, the Israeli Foreign Minister's letter spoke about "bringing to fruition a process by which the Palestinian National Covenant is to be annulled".

He said the letter repeated Israel's prejudice to international legitimacy and called for a dropping of relevant United Nations resolutions. Existing agreements should not negate international law or United Nations resolutions, which the Organization had a right and duty to reaffirm. The inalienable rights of Palestinian people, including their right to a State, did not stem from existing agreements; they were natural rights in line with the United Nations Charter.

He said Jewish settlers had resumed activity, including work on a planned settlement in Ras a Amud, Occupied East Jerusalem, in the heart of the Arab sector. Israel had also announced the building of 200 houses on the edge of a Jewish settlement called "Kiryat Arba" in Al-Khalil (Hebron). There had been news about a 50 per cent increase in allocations in the 1999 Israeli budget for illegal settlements. All of that was an inauspicious and dangerous beginning. Hopefully, both sides would proceed with the Wye River Memorandum and reach a fruitful final settlement agreement before the end of 4 May 1999.

The Wye River Memorandum was extremely important and there were high hopes that it would be a new beginning, if implemented, and another threshold that would help conclude a final settlement. The United States had to remain engaged and exercise pressure with regard to any violations. The international community had to maintain its position with regard to Palestinian matters and observe very closely any developments.

VOLODYMYR YEL'CHENKO (Ukraine) read a letter from the Ukrainian Foreign Minister welcoming the recent negotiations and the signing of the Wye River Memorandum between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat. The Memorandum was an important phase in the process of implementing the agreements signed five years ago in Oslo. That step by both sides and the positive agreements led to expectations that their political will would be supported by their peoples and the entire international community. The intermediary role of the United States Government and President Clinton were highly appreciated. The event was evidence that even the most protracted conflicts could be settled through negotiations.

GEORGE SALIBA (Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee, introduced the draft report. He said that since the drafting of the text, Israel and the PLO had signed the Wye River Memorandum. The draft before the Committee had been updated to reflect the new developments.

He said the first sentence of the letter of transmittal from the Chairman of the Committee had been replaced by a new sentence: "After more than half a century of dispossession of the Palestinian people and at the threshold of a new Millennium, it is more important than ever to promote rapid further progress in the peace process".

In Chapter I, he said, paragraph 4 had been amended to read "The stalemate in the peace process, which continued during most of the year, in spite of the efforts by the co-sponsors and other interested parties to re-inject momentum into the negotiations, has caused extreme concern. In that regard, the Committee welcomed the signing, on 23 October 1998, of the Wye River Memorandum and expressed the hope that it would clear the way for further progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The Committee, however,...has joined ..." The rest of the paragraph remained the same.

Among other changes to the draft report, paragraph 16 in Chapter IV was amended to include the following: "The Committee welcomed the signing at Wye River, Maryland, on 23 October 1998, of the Wye River Memorandum and accompanying documents, providing, inter alia, for further Israeli deployment from 13 per cent of the West Bank; steps to be taken by the parties in the area of security; renewal of negotiations on safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; establishment of the International Airport in the Gaza Strip; agreement to address without delay the issue of the Port of Gaza; and the commitment to resume permanent status negotiations. The Committee viewed the conclusion of this agreement as an important breakthrough in the efforts to restart the peace process. The Committee also hoped that the Memorandum would be implemented in full and would restore the atmosphere of trust and confidence between the parties enabling them to move without delay to the permanent status negotiation".

Under Conclusions and Recommendations, the last sentence of paragraph 87 was changed to read: "In this context, the Committee hoped that the Wye River Memorandum, signed on 23 October 1998, would be fully implemented, provide the much-needed impetus to the Oslo process and help the parties move forward to the negotiations on permanent status issues".

The Committee then adopted the draft report as amended.

The Chairman of the Committee, IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal) said the Government of Italy had agreed to the Committee's request to hold the International Forum Bethlehem 2000 in Rome in late February or mid-March 1999. Similarly, the Government of Namibia responded positively to the Committee's request to hold an African meeting at Windhoek, in late April 1999. The Bureau was now in the process of drawing up the provisional programmes for the meetings.

As part of the Committee's 1998 training programme for staff of the Palestinian Authority, the Chairman said, two staff of the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation of the Palestinian Authority had been staying with the Division of Palestinian Rights since the start of the current session of the General Assembly, familiarizing themselves with the work of the Untied Nations and the Secretariat. This was the third year of the programme and he hoped that the training would be beneficial for young Palestinian professionals and would allow them to understand better the goals and activities of the Organization and the workings of the Secretariat and other organs.

He said the Committee would consider the draft resolutions on the question of Palestine and "Bethlehem 2000" for submission to the General Assembly. "Bethlehem 2000" would be considered by the Assembly on the morning of Wednesday, 18 November. Observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People would take place on Monday, 30 November, in the Trusteeship Council chamber. He urged all members and observers of the Committee to be represented at the meeting. The Assembly's consideration of the agenda item "Question of Palestine" would begin in the afternoon of the same day.

Mr. AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said there would be no basic changes on the drafts to be brought before the General Assembly. With regard to the traditional resolution on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, the phrase "without excluding the option of a State" would be added. The new draft resolution was important because of the theoretical concept of self-determination in which the idea of a State was being presented and because of the expected overwhelming support by the Member States for that draft resolution. He hoped the members of the Committee would be able to join as co-sponsors.

He said the resolution on assistance to the Palestinian people would be amended to include the phrase "occupied Palestinian territory including Jerusalem". He would ask that the Secretary-General use that term in his reports and in other documents because of the practical difficulties caused by the old language.

The resolution on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) would extend the mandate for three years, he said. In addition to the traditional package of resolutions there would be an additional draft resolution on "Bethlehem 2000" which he hoped would be adopted by consensus.

Referring to the meeting in Geneva at the level of experts on the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in the time of war, he said he was not able to reach a clear evaluation of the results of that meeting. He hoped that the report of the Chairman of the Committee would be positive and useful, but he would not be satisfied until he saw it.

The CHAIRMAN appealed to all Committee members to co-sponsor the draft resolution entitled "Bethlehem 2000".

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