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

24 May 2000


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

ATHENS, 23 May -- The United Nations International Meeting in Support of a Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine and the Establishment of Peace in the Middle East opened today at Holiday Inn Athens. Organized by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the two-day meeting will discuss the status of the peace process and promote intensified action by governments and intergovernmental and civil society organizations in support of the attainment of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and for the success of the peace efforts.

Participating in the meeting are representatives of United Nations Member and Observer States, United Nations agencies, bodies and programmes, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and the media.

George Papandreou, Foreign Minister of Greece, told participants that Greece has consistently supported the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, even at a time when the international community was somewhat reluctant to come forth on the issue. Greece continued along those same lines because it has always believed in coexistence and has always maintained that all countries in the eastern Mediterranean should share a brighter future. He also emphasized Greece’s support and respect for United Nations resolutions and European Union guidelines in all matters related to the peace process, in particular the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian institutions present there.

Mr. Papandreou expressed his Government’s hope that the ongoing talks between the parties would bring about a complete agreement by September, and that this agreement would provide for a viable, independent Palestinian State while giving Israel a sense of peace and security. Most important, he added, was that such an agreement should lay the foundation for partnership between the two States, as a firm guarantee of peace and prosperity for all.

The Greek Foreign Minister also reiterated the importance his Government attached to the Syrian and Lebanese tracks in the peace process, essential for the achievement of a comprehensive solution, and he expressed satisfaction at the Israeli decision to withdraw from Southern Lebanon.

Greece has always made every effort for the promotion of the Middle East peace process, Mr. Papandreou said. One recent example he cited was that of the fourth meeting of the “Athens Dialogue on Peace and Cooperation in the Middle East”, held in Athens last September. That meeting, in which Palestinian and Israeli personalities participated, offered the appropriate atmosphere for a genuine and friendly exchange of views, in a spirit of mutual tolerance and understanding.

In a message delivered on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said that the Middle East peace process had reached a moment of great challenge and expectation. Despite the progress made, he added, the situation on the ground remained worrisome and contained the seed of further trouble. Encouraging the parties to move boldly ahead, and not to be discouraged by the obstacles they face along the way, the Secretary-General said that success in such a task required both sides to show great patience, good faith and readiness to make hard decisions.

Referring to the half-century of humanitarian assistance that UNRWA has provided to Palestinian refugees, the Secretary-General called on donor countries to provide the United Nations agency with the resources required to meet the needs of the refugee community. He also emphasized the key role played by donor countries, in particular members of the European Union, in supporting the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian nation-building in general.

The Secretary-General expressed his hope that the parties would do everything in their power to move the peace process forward towards the attainment of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace, based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

Ibra Deguène Ka, Chairman of the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that the establishment of a durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians could not depend solely on signed accords and eloquent declarations. Just as crucial as those negotiated agreements was that Palestinians and Israelis from all walks of life actually experienced a true peace, including a better sense of security, improved opportunities for a brighter future and the respect and dignity that every human being yearns for. It was only then, Mr. Ka added, that peace would reign, not only in the eyes of governments and institutions, but in the hearts and souls of each and every Israeli and Palestinian man, woman and child.

Mr. Ka expressed the Committee’s great concern over the aggravation of the situation on the ground and urged the parties to do their utmost in order to achieve meaningful progress in the negotiations, on both interim and permanent status issues. Such progress was now more important than ever, in view of the fact that permanent status negotiations have already been adversely affected by the continued lack of headway on interim issues, such as the third Israeli redeployment from the West Bank, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the opening of the northern safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Thanking the Greek Government for hosting the meeting, Mr. Ka said that Athens was a fitting venue in which to promote the Middle East peace process and the rights of the Palestinian people. Greece, after all, was the cradle of Western civilization and had contributed to the foundations of democracy, as well as to the virtues of truth, justice and freedom.

Emil Jarjoui, Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Representative of Palestine, urged the co-sponsors of the Middle East peace process to undertake reinvigorated efforts to give the process the necessary push towards a just, comprehensive and lasting solution. He also
emphasized the need for the European Union to play a more decisive role in the process, especially in the political sphere.

Mr. Jarjoui said that the peace process was moving at a very slow pace, and that in the year since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak took office, there had not been serious progress or any substantive change in the overall situation. The situation on the ground remained tense, he said, citing the recent unrest in the occupied Palestinian territory, which he described as a reflection of the frustration of the people with a process that had promised much but produced little.

Despite the obstacles, the September deadline for achieving a final settlement was still an attainable goal, Mr. Jarjoui said. The Palestinian side remained committed to the existing agreements and would do its utmost to reach a final settlement by that date. What was now required, he said, were serious decisions by the Israeli side on final status issues. At the same time, the international community must uphold long-standing positions with regard to the peace process and the rights of the Palestinian people, in line with international law and relevant United Nations resolutions.

The Representative of South Africa delivered a statement on behalf of President Thabo Mbeki, who was also Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The Movement’s commitment to the full restoration of all the rights of Palestinian people dated back to 1961 and remained constant to this day, he said. He also reiterated the view of the NAM ministers that the September deadline for the attainment of the final settlement be fully respected.

The representative of Indonesia said that the situation on the ground continued to be a major impediment to the peace process, and urged all parties to refrain from acts that would prejudice the outcome of the negotiations. He also said that assistance to the Palestinian people should be sustained and intensified, in order to be able to transform the region from one of conflict and poverty to one of peace and prosperity.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen reminded participants that UNRWA would be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this month. And while fiftieth anniversaries were considered “golden anniversaries ”, there was nothing particularly golden about UNRWA’s condition or the condition of the people it worked for, now numbering 3.7 million, he said.

Explaining that the Agency was $40 million short in pledges towards meeting its budget requirements for this year, Mr. Hansen urged donor countries to provide the resources that would allow UNRWA to remain in existence. If the money was not made available, he said, UNRWA would not be able to survive beyond the middle of October of this year.

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