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


GA/9520
1 December 1998

ISRAEL STATES DETERMINATION TO MOVE FORWARD IN PEACE
PROCESS AND ACHIEVE PEACE WITH PALESTINIANS,
AS ASSEMBLY CLOSES DEBATE ON QUESTION OF PALESTINE

Egypt Says 1979 Treaty with Israel, Restoring all Egyptian Land,
Should be Precedent for Settlement Between Israel and All Arab Sides

Israel was determined to achieve peace with its Palestinian neighbours, the representative of Israel told the General Assembly this morning at the close of its debate on the question of Palestine.

Exercising his right of reply, the Israeli delegate said that while Israel was determined to move forward in the peace process, the head of the Palestinian Observer delegation steadfastly denied Israeli's legitimacy and diminished the progress in the peace process.

The observer for Palestine, exercising his right of reply to a statement yesterday by Israel, said the Palestinian Authority had repeatedly expressed its determination to declare a Palestinian State on 4 May 1999. However, the statement by Israel, in addition to denying that there were a Palestinian land and a people, had ignored the fact that that historic step would mark the end of the five-year interim period, agreed to by both Israel and the Palestinian side. Although he hoped agreement would be reached on the final settlement by that time, he said that seemed difficult due to the Israeli position.

The representative of Egypt, participating in the debate, said that while the Jewish State had been established with the strength of General Assembly resolutions, the Arab State still had not seen the light of day. He said the statement by Israel yesterday contravened the requirements of peace and brought back ancient history and falsified facts, especially concerning Jerusalem. Intending to clarify matters, he said the West Bank and Gaza were not disputed territories, but terrorities occupied by Israel, from which they must withdraw.

The Gaza Strip had never been under Egyptian occupation and there was no comparison between Egypt's administration of the Gaza Strip and Israel's occupation of it, the Egyptian representative continued. The peace treaty Egypt had signed in 1979 with Israel, restoring all its land in full, should be the precedent for the settlement between Israel and all Arab sides.

The representative of South Africa said that land-for-peace had been a constant theme in negotiations from Madrid through Oslo to Wye River. Attempts to replace that policy with one of "security-for-peace" would invariably lead to increased tension and instability in the region and beyond.

Several speakers stated that the Israeli Government's expansion of Jerusalem's boundaries had created an "umbrella municipality", which could weaken the peace process and violated relevant United Nations resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention. Speakers also reiterated that regional peace and security would not be possible without the Israeli Government resolving, not only the Palestinian question, but equally its policies in Southern Lebanon and the Syrian Golan.

Acting-President of the Assembly, Gian Nicola Filippi Balestra (San Marino), announced that action on the four draft texts related to the debate on the question of Palestine -- on the work of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat; the relevant project of the Department of Public Information; as well as on the peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question -- would be taken tomorrow morning.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Viet Nam, Algeria, Ghana, Yemen, Ukraine, Togo, Guyana, Pakistan, Tunisia, Iran, Namibia and Qatar.

The Assembly will meet again at 3 p.m. to consider the situation in the Middle East.


Assembly Work Programme

The General Assembly meets this morning to continue its debate on the question of Palestine, by reviewing the report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the report of the Secretary-General on the question of Palestine. It was also expected to take up draft resolutions on the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people; the Division for the Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat; special information programme on the question of Palestine of the Department of Public Information (DPI); and the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine.

By the terms of the draft resolution of the Committee (document A/53/L.48), the Assembly would request the Committee to continue to keep under review the situation relating to the question of Palestine and to report and make suggestions to the Assembly or the Security Council, as appropriate. The Assembly would also authorize the Committee to continue all efforts to promote the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, to make such adjustments in its approved programme of work as it may consider appropriate and necessary, and to give special emphasis to the need to mobilize support and assistance for the Palestinian people.

The Assembly would request the Committee to continue to extend its cooperation and support to the Palestinian and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in order to mobilize international solidarity with and support for the achievement by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights and for a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, and to involve additional NGOs in its work. The Assembly would request the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, and other of the Organization's bodies associated with the question of Palestine to continue to cooperate fully with the Committee and to make available to it, the relevant information and documentation which they have at their disposal.

The Assembly would also request the Secretary-General to circulate the report of the Committee to all the competent bodies of the United Nations, and urges them to take the necessary action as appropriate.

The co-sponsors of the draft are: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Viet Nam, Yemen and Palestine.

By the terms of the draft on the Division for Palestinian Rights (document A/53/L.49), the Assembly would note with appreciation, the action by the Secretary-General in compliance with its resolution 52/50 on the Division activities and consider that the Division continued to make a useful and constructive contribution. It would also request the Secretary-General to provide the Division with necessary resources and to ensure that it continued to carry out its programme of work in consultation with the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and under its guidance.

Also by the terms of the draft, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to ensure the continued cooperation of the DPI and other units of the Secretariat in enabling the Division to perform its tasks and in covering adequately the question of Palestine. It would also invite all governments and organizations to lend their cooperation to the Committee and the Division, and note with appreciation, the action taken by Member States to observe annually the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and request the Committee and the Division to continue to organize an annual exhibit on Palestinian rights in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Palestine.

The co-sponsors of the draft are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Viet Nam, Yemen and Palestine.

By the terms of the draft on the DPI programme (document A/53/L.50), the Assembly would note with appreciation, the action taken by the DPI in compliance with resolution 52/51 on the programme and consider that the special information programme on the question of Palestine was very useful in raising the awareness of the international community.

It would further request the DPI, in cooperation with the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, to continue, with the necessary flexibility, its special information programme for the biennium 1998 to 1999, and in particular, to disseminate information on all the activities of the United Nations system relating to the question of Palestine; to issue updated publications on the question; to expand its collection of audio-visual materials and continue production of such materials; to organize seminars or encounters for journalists; and to provide assistance to the Palestinian people in the field of media development, in particular, to strengthen the training programme for Palestinian broadcasters and journalists.

The co-sponsors of the draft are: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Viet Nam, Yemen and Palestine.

By the terms of the draft on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (document A/53/L.51), the Assembly would stress the necessity for commitment to the principle of land for peace and the implementation of Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), and the need for the immediate and scrupulous implementation of the agreements reached between the parties, including the redeployment of the Israeli forces from the West Bank and the commencement of the negotiations on the final settlement. The Assembly would call upon the concerned parties, the co-sponsors of the peace process and other interested parties, as well as the international community to exert all the necessary efforts and initiatives to bring the peace process back on track and to ensure its continuity and success.

The Assembly would stress the need for: the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian peoples -- primarily the right to self-determination; and the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. In addition, it would stress the need for resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees in conformity with its resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948. It would urge Member States to expedite the provision of economic and technical assistance to the Palestinian people during this critical period. The Assembly would emphasize as well, the importance for the United Nations to play a more active and expanded role in the current peace process and in the implementation of the Declaration of Principles.

The co-sponsors of the draft are: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Viet Nam, Yemen and Palestine. (For details on reports, see Press Release GA/9518, issued 30 November.)

Statements

PHAM QUANG VINH (Viet Nam) said that the commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People should remind the international community of their plight and suffering. This year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the dispossession of the Palestinians from their homeland. Strengthened solidarity and support for the Palestinians was called for.

While progress had been made since the signing, in 1993, of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements and, notably, the acceptance of the Wye River Memorandum in October, he said it was imperative that agreements already reached between the parties be implemented in good faith. In the context of the continuing peace process, such efforts would build confidence and create an environment conducive to further progress. Noting the Assembly had called for convening a Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention on measures to enforce the Convention in the occupied Palestinian territories, he said a solution must ensure the restoration of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to statehood.

He called on the United Nations to continue mobilizing international support and assistance for the Palestinian people. The role of the Department of Public Information (DPI) and the Division for Palestinian Rights should be further strengthened.

ABDELKADER MESDOUA (Algeria) said the suffering of the Palestinians started when the British imposed their mandate on them. Their hardship was further compounded when the General Assembly, in 1948, recognized and endorsed the establishment of the State of Israel on usurped Palestinian land.

With the launching of the peace process in Madrid in 1991, new optimism had been generated about reaching a just settlement, he said. Although the peace process had positive progress, the environment of violence had re-emerged when Israeli extremists took power. The situation worsened after Israel decided to continue their settlement policy.

A few weeks ago, the world had again hoped for the revival of the peace process, after Israel went back to the negotiating table and signed the Wye River Memorandum. However, those hopes were shattered because Israel had tried to strip the peace process of its essence, by manipulating and procrastinating about implementing its obligations. They had also violated the latest agreement by declaring the policy of building new settlements would be continued.

The resolutions passed by the Assembly every year and anticipated for this year would remain dead letters, he said. The evolving situation in occupied Palestine would not have reached the current stage if the international community had demonstrated the will to put an end to Israel's policy of defiance. The responsibility of the United Nations would be valid until the question of Palestine reached resolution, including the right of the Palestinians to establish an independent State, with Al-Quds as its capital. The solution of that question fell within a comprehensive solution of the situation in the Middle East. A just solution for the region must include an end of Israeli occupation from all occupied territories, including Southern Lebanon and the Syrian Golan. Algeria believed that only a serious solution that ensured that Israel return Arab territory to its legitimate owners and diffuse war in the region would lead to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.

JOHN DE SARAM (SRI LANKA) said that one of the principal responsibilities of the United Nations was to keep the political, economic and social circumstances of the Palestinians in the public eye. The conditions in the occupied territories disrupted the lives of the Palestinians. Deploring the violence caused by the conflict, he said the overall objective had to be reconciliation in peace.

The Palestinian people in the occupied territories must be cared for pending a final settlement, he continued. The vision and skill behind the Wye River peace talks generated significant potential, if cooperation replaced antagonism, and friendship, hostility. In that regard, he supported the Secretary-General's observation that the Wye River Memorandum offered essential economic opportunities for the Palestinian people. Assistance from the United Nations system, as well as generosity from donor governments, would continue supporting progress in the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

YAW O. OSEI (Ghana) said the Wye River Memorandum had so far received only a cautious response from most governments in the Middle East and particularly from the Palestinians. Arab pessimism stemmed from the long history and heritage of prolonged stalemates, reversals and prevarication that had inhibited the implementation of previous agreements. A major threat to the current accord was the violent activities of extremist elements in both Israel and Palestine, whose primary objective was to scuttle the peace process. Ghana condemned the recent botched attack on Israeli schoolchildren, which had led to the death of an Israeli soldier. Coming just after the signing of the Wye River Memorandum, the attack had been designed to subvert the peace process.

Ghana welcomed the prompt reaction of the Palestinian Authority to rein in the activities of suspected groups, an unequivocal demonstration of their commitment to the implementation of the Wye River Memorandum and the entire peace process. Similarly, it noted with appreciation the Israeli Government's approval of the agreement and the first of an envisioned three-phase withdrawal of Israeli troops. The release of 250 Palestinian prisoners was welcome; also worth noting was the opening of a new Palestinian airport in Gaza.

While the Wye River Memorandum had guaranteed a new momentum in the peace process, he said, other thorny issues remained unresolved. Ghana reiterated its unwavering support for the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to the establishment of an independent sovereign homeland with Jerusalem as its capital. It regretted the decision of the Government of Israel on 21 June to institute further measures to expand the jurisdiction and planned boundaries of Jerusalem. The decision was inconsistent with the spirit and letter of the Oslo and Madrid peace accords.

He said the Government of Ghana reaffirmed its opposition to Israel's illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and establishment of other settlements on Palestinian lands. The continued deteriorating socio-economic conditions within the Palestinian population were also a matter of grave concern. The plight of the Palestinians was aggravated by the frequent imposition of curfews and closures of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli authorities. The economic desperation of the Palestinians was reflected in their lukewarm response to the Wye River accord. To attain a durable peace, there must be economic development and an improvement in the quality of life of the Palestinian people.

ABDULLA A. AL-SHAMMAM (Yemen) said that yesterday's celebration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People reaffirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people; their right to self-determination; and the right to establish an independent State. The Assembly had dealt with the question of Palestine over the last few decades and had adopted several resolutions which, regrettably, had not been implemented. During the current session, however, certain positive steps had been achieved, including the conclusion of the Wye agreement and the implementation of the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied territories.

The co-sponsors of the present drafts and the international community must support the implementation of the agreements reached by the two parties and immediately and urgently implement the agreed withdrawal, in particular, from the territory occupied since 1967, he said. A resolution concerning Palestinian refugees and the creation of viable settlements should also be drafted. Meanwhile, all States should respect the Security Council resolutions on the issue, and the world community should assist the Palestinian Authority in addressing poverty and unemployment.

The United Nations should play a more active role in the peace process and in implementing the Declaration of Principles, he said. The Organization had a specific role to play until the Palestinian problem was resolved in a lasting and just manner.

VOLODYMYR YEL'CHENKO (Ukraine) said a spirit of compromise and political wisdom on the part of the parties, as well as their mutual compliance with previous commitments, would bring closer a comprehensive solution of the whole issue. However, Ukraine was deeply alarmed that the abhorrent terrorist activities in the region had not ceased, continuing to undermine the fragile peace process by victimizing the innocent civilian population. Ukraine believed that full implementation by the parties of all security provisions in the Wye River Memorandum, especially in outlawing and combating terrorist organizations, were vitally important.

Ukraine joined others in calling on Israel not to proceed with settlement construction activities, he said. Moreover, there was an urgent need for social and economic development in the Palestinian territory. His country believed that priority attention should be given to the joint Palestinian-Israeli economic projects aimed at facilitating economic growth and stability in those lands. Ukraine commended the efforts of the international donor community and United Nations agencies in providing assistance to the Palestinian people. It also noted with satisfaction yesterday's donor conference in Washington, D.C., which had garnered $3 billion to fund programmes to support the Palestinian people and subsequently the peace process.

ROLAND YAO KPOTSRA (Togo) said that the question of Palestine had kept the entire world holding its breath for half a century. The peace process, long-stalled, had seen no substantive progress since the most recently reached agreements. The living and economic conditions of the Palestinian people were deteriorating. The intensification by Israel of its settlement practices ran contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention, relevant Council resolutions and the agreements it made in Madrid.

This month's Assembly adoption of the resolution supporting the Bethlehem 2000 initiative represented another example of international support for peace and reconciliation, he continued. Peace in the Middle East must rest on a solid underpinning of justice, human rights and relations based on equality between neighbours. For that to happen, unilateral measures must stop. He rejected strategies of one-upmanship and extremist moves. Noting the new impetus generated during peace talks at Wye River, he called on the international community to maintain and intensify efforts towards peace. It must steadfastly support the ultimate goal of all Middle Eastern States, including Israel, to live in peace, in secured, internationally recognized borders, with a legitimate, independent Palestinian State.

From the same perspective of peace and security, regional peace would not be possible without the Israeli Government resolving, not only the Palestinian question, but equally its policies in Southern Lebanon and the Syrian Golan, he said. Reconciliation, peace, real security and regional development awaited the region.

SAMUEL R. INSANALLY (Guyana) said that unlike past consideration of the Palestinian question, there was now a prevailing sense of cautious optimism about its eventual resolution. The Wye River Memorandum had infused the peace process with a new momentum. It was hoped that it would soon be possible to convene a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the fourth Geneva Convention. Israel, happily, had withdrawn more of its troops from the West Bank, and the Palestinian airport in Gaza had finally opened, providing the Palestinians with a further degree of self-determination and autonomy. The impending final status talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was another sign of the new momentum.

He said that the Wye agreement had renewed hope in the Middle East. It proved the opportunity to resolve the matter that had bedeviled the people of the region for some 50 years. He urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to fully implement all agreements. Time had already been lost and much was at stake. Any further attempts to halt their implementation must be strongly condemned by the by international community. For its part, the United Nations must vigilantly ensure that the parties work together to fulfil their joint obligations. It was also imperative that machinery be put in place to deal with the problem. Both parties should nurture their working relationship and preserve the goodwill resulting from the Wye meeting.

The question of Palestine must be resolved through a just, comprehensive and definitive Middle East peace, he said. Disputes between Israel and Syria and Israel with Lebanon must be resolved. The basis of the peace process, namely land-for-peace, could not be abandoned. The Secretary-General's report and various United Nations resolutions served as reminders of the tragic plight of the Palestinians. Despite such reminders, occupation of persisted; land was constantly confiscated; and homes were demolished daily. Thousands of Palestinians remained imprisoned in Israel and that Government's expansion of Jerusalem's boundaries had created an "umbrella municipality" which could weaken the peace process. Also distressing was the negative impact on the Palestinian economy resulting from the closures of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

KHIPHUSIZI J. JELE (South Africa) said the settlement of the question of Palestine and the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East were interdependent processes. Durable peace would require nothing less than the full restoration and recognition of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and the complete restoration of all Arab territories occupied since 1967. Despite the many provocations and violent actions on the part of those opposed to peace, the constant theme in negotiations from Madrid, through Oslo to Wye River had been land-for-peace. Therefore, attempts to replace that policy with one of "security-for-peace" would invariably lead to increased tension and instability in the region and beyond.

He said South Africa welcomed the signing of the Wye River Memorandum, which again demonstrated that only through sustained dialogue would the path towards a comprehensive, just and equitable resolution of the question of Palestine and the Middle East conflict be made feasible. But, as post-Wye River events showed, such positive steps did not in and of themselves constitute a measure of sustained progress. That required of the parties to the agreement the practical and honest implementation of decisions agreed upon. In that connection, South Africa commended the Palestinian side's reaffirmation of its commitment to implement the provisions of the Wye River agreement and of all earlier agreements. However, the conditional acceptance by the Israeli Government of the Wye River agreement, and the apparent lack of political and moral commitment on its part to implement all its obligations, remained a disturbing trend.

South Africa called on the Israeli Government to desist from provocative acts and violations of the spirit and letter of the accords, and to cease the continued policies and practices relating to new Israeli settlements, in order to alter the demographic reality, he said. It was also a matter of grave concern that Palestinians continued to be subjected to repressive and restrictive measures affecting their free movement and economic activity. South Africa strongly condemned the perpetration of violent incidents designed to disrupt the positive impetus created after the Wye River agreement and reiterated its recent calls to all parties concerned not to allow acts of that nature -- perpetrated by extremists -- to derail the peace process.

NABIL A. ELARABY (Egypt) said this year the world commemorated the fiftieth year of Israel's conspiracy and the diaspora of millions of Palestinians. While the Jewish State had been set up with the strength of General Assembly resolutions, the Arab State still had not seen the light of day. The Organization had a historical responsibility to address the question until a just, comprehensive and lasting solution was found. Five decades after the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the international community had recognized that the Palestinian question was the core of the situation in the Middle East. A temporary solution could not provide long-term peace.

After 19 months of procrastination on the part of the Israeli administration, the Palestinians and Israelis signed the Wye River Memorandum to implement a number of agreements, he said. Egypt welcomed the implementation of those agreements as long as they were implemented scrupulously and within a time-frame. Also, the third phase of Israeli withdrawal and the safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank needed to be addressed. Unfortunately, the Israeli Government had undertaken a number of unilateral actions to strengthen the position of their illegal settlers. The peace treaty Egypt signed in 1979 with Israel, restoring all its land in full, should be the precedent for the settlement between Israel and all Arab sides. A settlement should include the following: the application of the land-for-peace principle and withdrawal from all occupied territories; the removal of all illegal Israeli settlements; and reciprocal security arrangements.

Egypt expressed concern over the statement made by the representative of Israel yesterday to the Assembly, which contravened the requirements of peace, he said. The statement brought back ancient history and falsified facts, especially concerning Jerusalem. Egypt wanted to clear up the matter. First, the leadership of Arab Palestine had asked for the help of other Arab countries in 1948 for defense purposes, when it found itself unable to confront the Israeli campaigns. Secondly, the West Bank and Gaza were not disputed territories, but territories occupied by Israel, from which it must withdraw.

Thirdly, the Gaza Strip had never been under Egyptian occupation, he continued. There was no comparison between Egypt's administration of the Gaza Strip and Israel's occupation of it. Fourthly, history showed that Israel was in collusion with European countries when it attacked Egypt in 1967. That attack was preconceived and had been planned for years. Fifthly, concerning resolution 242 (1967) defining principles for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, what had been said so far was enough as a response. A just settlement of the Palestinian question was the key to peace in the Middle East. Without it the region would remain on the brink of instability.

MIAN ABDUL WAHEED (Pakistan) said it was his country's firm belief that no durable peace in the Middle East was possible without achieving a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine. The realization of the Palestinian people's inalienable rights and the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territories were essential for any meaningful progress. Pakistan was heartened by the progress made towards the resumption of the Middle East peace process and the conclusion of the Wye River Memorandum. The agreement must be implemented in full, with a view to restoring the atmosphere of confidence which would enable both sides to move ahead with the permanent status negotiations as envisaged in the Oslo agreements.

The holy city of Al-Quds Al-Sharif, occupied by Israel since 1967, remained central to any comprehensive settlement, he said. No lasting peace in the region was possible without the return of that city and all occupied territories to the Palestinian people. The Palestinian National Authorities were in need of substantial economic assistance to rebuild their devastated economy. It was imperative that the international community, particularly the United Nations, continue to support the peace process and provide the necessary assistance to the Palestinian leadership.

ALI HACHANI (Tunisia) said that the fact the Assembly was again considering the question of Palestine during its annual meeting reflected the seriousness of the problem. The expectation of a just and lasting regional peace needed to be crystallized. He warned of the dangers of an explosion in the region should Israel continue its policies vis-à-vis the settlements, Southern Lebanon and the Golan.

Israel, however, continued to shirk its responsibility, he said. Instead it should reaffirm the provisions of past agreements, thus putting an end to its policy of procrastination. It must begin to build relations, in good faith, with the Palestinians; withdraw from the occupied territories; renounce all unilateral action, including halting the illegal settlements aimed to change the demographic, Arabic nature of such territories; renounce policies of collective punishment against Palestinians, including the economic blockade; and come to the negotiation table with Syria and Lebanon, so they could regain their territories.

The United Nations had a lasting responsibility to the Palestinians, he said. As the guarantor of address of the question of Palestine, the United Nations must play a political role in raising awareness of the need to provide assistance to the region and to coordinate such assistance.

MEHDI DANESH-YAZDI (Iran) said that the Palestinian tragedy, resulting from Israeli occupation and oppression, should be accorded the highest priority by the international community, in particular, by the General Assembly. Despite certain positive developments, international outrage against Israel had not changed the pattern of inhumane behaviour towards the Palestinians or Israeli illegal policies in the occupied territories. Indeed, the present report of the Palestinian Rights Committee presents a harrowing picture of the current situation in the occupied territories.

He said that the obstinate Israeli policy to alter the Islamic character of Jerusalem through its persistent process of judaization had prompted indignation and anguish among nations worldwide. Acts such as the opening of the tunnel in the vicinity of Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1996, the construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, and the creation of an "umbrella municipality" were flagrant infringements on United Nations resolutions. Israeli policies and practices, including the enhancement of its nuclear weapons capability, had seriously destabilized an already volatile region. As long as that policy of aggression, state terrorism, occupation, violation of human rights and expansionism continued, so would the present bleak situation.

GERHARD THERON (Namibia) urged the co-sponsors of the peace process, the Security Council and the international community to double their efforts to push forward the peace process. Namibia stressed the urgent need for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, which was essential for international peace and security. It also shared the concern regarding the humanitarian situation in the areas of conflict.

Namibia remained committed to a speedy resolution to the Palestinian question, he said. That was why it had accepted the responsibility of hosting the African regional meeting in Windhoek in April 1999. The meeting would focus on support of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and would contribute to informing international public opinion and promoting action in support of a comprehensive, just and lasting solution of the question, in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions. Finally, Namibia would continue to support the Secretary-General in his endeavours to ensure that the United Nations system contributed its utmost in the fields of economic and social development of the Palestinian people.

NASSER ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar) said the United Nations had an ethical responsibility towards the Palestinian people. Palestinians were still struggling for independence, while Israel had established its State. The Madrid conference was based on the principle of land-for-peace and on that basis, the Arab States had opted for peace, despite all the obstacles. However, after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a new administration came into being and its actions had led to a cessation of the peace process on all levels. The peace process suffered a setback due to the denial by the Israeli Government of its responsibilities under previous agreements. The situation continued for 18 months, until the Wye River meeting was concluded. Qatar hoped that Memorandum would be fully implemented.

One of the important issues that had to be addressed was the situation of the Palestinian refugees, he said. Israel must allow them to return. However, Israel's intransigence had impeded their return. The demolition of Palestinian homes and the closing of roads and areas all contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention and relevant Security Council resolutions.

Concerning the Lebanese and Syrian tracks, negotiations had to continue from the stage last reached, he said. They must not return to square one. Qatar wished that all efforts would lead to Palestinians exercising their inalienable right to establish their State with Jerusalem as its capital. Qatar wished to usher in the new century with the Middle East as an oasis of peace and security; with the establishment of the Palestinian State, and with Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon and the Syrian Golan.

Rights of Reply

NASSER AL-KIDWA, observer for Palestine, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said an inappropriate statement had been made yesterday, which sought to falsify facts and torpedo the basis for mutual recognition between the Palestinian and Israeli sides, as well as the basis for Middle East peace. The Ambassador of Israel, yesterday, had denied that there was a Palestinian land and that there was a Palestinian people. He had denied the existence of occupation, and had tried to legitimize the "settler-occupying" force of Israel on Palestinian land.

He said that position was not only extremist and incongruous with the peace process, but one which very seriously reflected the ideological mythology and ran counter to the spirit of the era, as well as to the principles and objectives of the Charter. It also undermined Middle East peace and security in the region. That position must be rejected and condemned, not only by the Palestinian side, but also by the international community.

In view of that, he said he would not address the details of that statement, except the matter of the confirmation of the independence and establishment of a State of Palestine next year and the Israeli allegation that such a step was unilateral and violated existing agreements. The Palestinian Authority had repeatedly expressed its determination to declare a Palestinian State and to take that historic step on 4 May 1999. It had called for the international community's support. The position put forth yesterday was not only threatening and defiant, but it ignored the clear fact that the five-year interim period, agreed by both Palestinian and Israeli sides, would end on that date. Hopefully, both sides would reach agreement on the final settlement by that time.

Unfortunately, however, that seemed to be rather difficult as a result of the Israeli position, he went on. Unless a final settlement was reached by the end of the interim period, it would not be possible for the Palestinian side to shoulder its responsibilities in accordance with the natural inalienable rights of the Palestinian people without prejudice to the mutual recognition and other obligations and commitments of both parties. At the United Nations, it would strive to translate current developments on the ground into a real, legal situation. The Organization would hopefully support those forthcoming steps.

AARON JACOB (Israel), also speaking in the exercise of the right of reply, said that Israel's position -- the desire to move forward in the peace process, and its determination to achieve peace with its Palestinian neighbours -- was clearly stated yesterday by its Permanent Representative. Also clearly stated was the position of the head of the Palestinian Observer delegation, who steadfastly denied Israel's legitimacy and diminished the progress in the peace process. That position had just been confirmed by the Palestinian observer, and no further commentary by Israel was necessary.

Mr. AL-KIDWA, observer for Palestine, speaking again in exercise of the right of reply, said that the Israeli representative, even now, had been unable to use the right name of the Palestinian delegation, and the right terminology used by the United Nations for his delegation. One could thus imagine the reality of the Israeli position.

He said his delegation, in yesterday's statement and in all future interventions, was committed to mutual recognition and all the legal responsibilities and ramifications. It did not deny Israel's legitimacy, nor should Israel deny the legitimacy of his side. That was unacceptable, as was the Israeli Ambassador's claim that the occupied territories of 1967 were disputed territories, while calling for compromise and legal solutions. The Israeli side could not have it both ways. The evaluation of the different positions was best left to the Member States.


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