The Middle East peace process was the only path to security and peace for Israel, the Palestinians and the neighbouring States, the representative of Ireland, speaking for the European Union and associated States, told the General Assembly this morning as it considered the question of Palestine.
To ensure further progress, the European Union urged implementation of agreements already reached, notably redeployment of Israeli troops from Hebron and the release of Palestinian prisoners. Positive steps were needed to relieve the economic plight of the Palestinians. Israel's internal security must be ensured and measures which prejudiced the outcome of the permanent status negotiations must be avoided.
The representative of Israel said peace would be achieved only through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians; negotiations without preconditions and free from external pressures. Regarding current negotiations, the Israeli representative, exercising his right of reply, said "I trust that an agreement on Hebron will be reached soon, and I call again upon Chairman Arafat not to delay its signature any further". Issues relating to the permanent status should be negotiations between the parties, and the United Nations should not predetermine their outcome.
The Permanent Observer for Palestine said the Palestinians were seriously negotiating on Hebron and other elements of past agreements. Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, he said that while Palestinians insisted on implementation of past agreements, without amendment, Israel was insisting on reaching new agreements. Calling upon Israel to abide by its contractual commitments, he said that if the Israelis wished to reach peace, the road was known to them.
The Permanent Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference said the peace process was today virtually at a stalemate and ministers of the organization had called upon the international community to compel Israel to cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan. In addition, the ministers had urged the United Nations to pressure Israel to release detainees and return deportees; to halt mass punishment and land confiscation; and to end its action which threatened life and the environment in the occupied territories.
During this morning's discussion, statements were also made by the representatives of Yemen, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Japan, Bahrain, Algeria, Qatar, Iran, Viet Nam and Egypt.
The Assembly meets again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to review the situation in the Middle East.
Assembly Work Programme
The General Assembly met this morning to continue its consideration of the question of Palestine. It had before it a report of the Secretary-General on the matter and the annual report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, as well as four draft resolutions. (For background on the reports, see Press Release GA/9179 of 29 November.)
By a draft resolution on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (document A/51/L.36), the Assembly would reaffirm the necessity of achieving a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It would also express support for the ongoing peace process, stressing the need to scrupulously implement agreements reached between the parties and to begin negotiations on a final settlement.
Calling upon the concerned parties, the co-sponsors of the peace process and the entire international community to exert all the necessary efforts to ensure the success of the peace process, the Assembly would urge Member States to expedite the provision of economic and technical assistance to the Palestinian people. It would stress the need for the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people; the importance of the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967; and the need for resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees.
By the terms of the draft resolution on the Department of Public Information (DPI) (document A/51/L.35), the Assembly would note that several defined provisions of the special information programme on the question of Palestine of the DPI are yet to be implemented, and it would stress the importance of implementing all provisions. The Assembly would request that DPI, in full cooperation and coordination with the Committee, continue its special information programme for the biennium 1996-1997, with the necessary flexibility.
In particular, the DPI would be asked to disseminate information on all the activities of the United Nations system relating to the question of Palestine; to continue publications on the question of Palestine; and to expand its audio-visual material on the question of Palestine. In addition, the DPI would be asked to organize and promote fact-finding news missions for journalists to the area, and to organize international, regional and national encounters for journalists.
Under a draft resolution on the Palestinian Rights Committee (document A/51/L.33), the Assembly would endorse the recommendations of the Committee contained in its report and authorize the Committee to continue to promote the rights of the Palestinian people, giving special emphasis to mobilizing support and assistance for the Palestinians. It would also request that the Committee continue its cooperation with non-governmental organizations in efforts to heighten international awareness of the facts relating to the question of Palestine.
By the draft resolution on the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat (document A/51/L.34), the Assembly would request that the Secretary-General continue to provide the Division with the necessary resources, including those needed to further develop the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine. The Secretary-General would also be asked to ensure the continued cooperation of the DPI and other units to enable the Division to perform its tasks.
The four draft resolutions on the question of Palestine are sponsored by: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malta, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
ABDULSALAM KASSIM AL-AWADHI (Yemen) said the Middle East peace process was stumbling. The new Israeli Government was attempting to stand back from its earlier agreement to withdraw from all occupied territory, as well as from other agreements. Israeli forces must withdraw from occupied Palestinian lands, the problem of refugees must be solved, and Israeli settlements built after 1967 must be dismantled. The United Nations and the international community must continue providing assistance to the Palestinian Authority as it strove to develop an economic infrastructure. Pressure must be placed on Israel to stop establishing settlements and to stop seizing Palestinian land by force.
He said Yemen welcomed the recent call by the European Union for respect of the Palestinians' right to self-determination. The Union had also expressed its commitment to support negotiations on final status, as well as its concern about the serious consequences resulting from continued closure of the territories. The "Group of 77" developing countries and the Russian Federation had called for the lifting of the Israeli siege, which had heightened the economic suffering of the Palestinian people. The United States must support the resumption of negotiations based on the principles upon which the peace process was originally built. The human rights of the Palestinians must be respected, the Israeli Government must end its attacks on and harassment of Palestinian cities, and the Israeli Government must end the attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers.
HERMAN LEONARD DE SILVA (Sri Lanka) said it had been suggested that the work of the Palestinian Rights Committee was supercilious and should not be continued. However, it did not appear that the international community was taking actions which would lead to a lasting solution to the question of Palestine. The continued closure of the territories had led to a serious impoverishment of the Palestinians. The use of torture as an aid to investigation had been given a stamp of approval by the Israeli judicial system. The situation in East Jerusalem was volatile and could lead to events which might unravel the entire peace process.
For a just and lasting peace to be reached in the Middle East, the question of Palestine must be resolved, he said. The rights of the Palestinians must be respected, including their right to independent statehood. The United Nations had been useful in addressing the needs of the Palestinian people, particularly in the delivery of humanitarian assistance. However, it also had a duty to establish peace and stability in Palestine. The Organization could not abdicate its responsibility for achievement of a final settlement.
HABIB KAABACHI (Tunisia) said the question of Palestine was at the heart of the Middle East conflict. The Organization had reaffirmed the legitimacy of the Palestinian people's aspirations to exercise the right to self- determination and construct an independent State. His country had participated in the peace negotiations from the outset. Those negotiations had been based on international law and the principle of land for peace.
Economic advancement in the region should be an international priority, but that would be possible only in conditions of peace. The Israeli Government had reneged on agreements reached with the Palestinian Authority. Its actions had amounted to a slap in the face for the international community.
He said the increased suffering of the Palestinian people would only heighten tensions in the region. Israel's refusal to implement the provisions of the peace accords seriously threatened the peace process. Israel must resume negotiations and withdraw unconditionally from Golan and southern Lebanon. He expressed grave concern at the halt in the partial Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as well as the Israeli-Syrian negotiations. The disruption of the negotiations had been the result of Israel's arrogance.
JOHN H.F. CAMPBELL (Ireland), speaking for the European Union and for Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and the Slovak Republic, said the peace process was the only path to security and peace for the region. The Union's aim was that Israel and its neighbours might live within secure borders and that the legitimate rights of the Palestinians should be protected. The Union was ready to participate in the achievement of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It was further committed to contributing financially towards the social and economic development of the Palestinian people, as well as assisting the Palestinian Authority in its administrative functions. The Union as a whole was the major donor of funds to the Palestinians. It had already pledged 500 million in European Currency Units in related aid for the 1994-1999 period.
He called for the timely implementation of the agreements already reached, particularly Israel's redeployment from Hebron and the release of Palestinian prisoners. Positive steps were needed to relieve the economic plight of the Palestinians. The two sides must cooperate to ensure internal security both in Israel and the areas under Palestinian authority. Israel should avoid measures which prejudiced the outcome of the permanent status negotiations, including annexation of land, demolition of houses, and the expansion and construction of settlements. The peace process must be revitalized.
HISASHI OWADA (Japan) said notable progress towards peace had been made through the patient efforts of all parties involved. However, the situation in the region had worsened in recent months. The frustration felt by the Palestinian people at the lack of progress towards peace had led to outbreaks of violence. The Israeli Government's closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip had resulted in severe economic hardship for the Palestinian people. While Israel's security concerns were legitimate, they must be addressed in a manner that did not deprive the Palestinian people of their right to live in peace.
Both sides must take concrete steps to implement the commitments they had already made, he continued. His country was determined to intensify its efforts in the interest of peace. Assistance to the Palestinian people was essential for the construction of peace. For that reason, Japan had contributed generously to the Palestinian people. He appealed to the parties concerned to make concerted efforts towards peace, and stressed his Government's continuing support.
JASSIM MOHAMMED BUALLAY (Bahrain) said the question of Palestine had remained a perpetual item on the Organization's agenda. The only solution to the problem rested in implementation of the relevant United Nations resolutions. Without that, there could be no peace and security in the region. The Palestinian issue was at the heart of the larger Arab-Israeli conflict; it was inconceivable that there could be any peace or stability until the rights of the Palestinian people were restored to them. He called for a continuation of the peace process, based on the principle of land for peace, United Nations resolutions and mutual respect.
ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria) said despite all the attention the United Nations had devoted to the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, no solution had yet been achieved. The election of Israel's Likud Party had changed all recent hopes that there would indeed be a solution in the foreseeable future. Full blame for that rested solely with Israel. The new Israeli Government had clearly indicated that it was not ready for peace. To resolve the issue, Israel must fulfil the resolutions of the United Nations, the principles of land for peace, and those of the Madrid process.
The deterioration of the situation in the Middle East worried his country, which had continued to support the cause of a just and lasting peace, he said. Algeria had based its participation in the peace process on the principles of respect for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Justice demanded that those rights must be restored to the people. He called on the international community to maintain its support until those goals were achieved.
AHMED SAIF AL-MIDHADI (Qatar) said historic accords had almost led to peace between the Palestinians and the former Israeli Government. The process had, however, been disrupted by the new Israeli Government. The current policy of Israel could lead to the destruction of the peace process. The Government was trying to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and to continue Israeli control over the occupied territories. Since the occupation of East Jerusalem, Israel had been attempting to change its character. The issue of Jerusalem was not only a Palestinian matter, but was one for the Islamic community, and thus a problem which must be addressed by the international community. Peaceful coexistence and cooperation must lead to the sharing of Jerusalem by the three religions. No peaceful solution could be achieved without resolving the question of Al-Quds.
He said donor countries had been slow in extending assistance to rebuild the deteriorated Palestinian economy. The international community must extend a helping hand to the Palestinian people. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which had been active in the Palestinian territories, must explore new activities to promote economic development. Qatar was concerned by the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian cities and the continued expansion of Israeli settlements. There would be no final solution to the Palestinian question without the establishment of a Palestinian state.
KAMAL KHARRAZI (Iran) affirmed his country's support for the Palestinian people's inalienable rights. The reports before the Assembly clearly described the catastrophic effects of the prolonged closure of the occupied territories on Palestinian lives. The occupying Power employed inhumane practices in its treatment of Palestinians. Further, the Israeli authorities had continued to alter the demographic and geographical status of the occupied territories.
He called on the international community to condemn the aggressive policies implemented by the occupying Power against the Islamic sacred places, as well as the occupation of the city of Al-Quds. The Zionist regime was untrustworthy; it was following an expansionist agenda. The international community had witnessed Israel's aggression against Lebanon last April. Israel had not put its nuclear facilities under the safeguards regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); its nuclear-weapon facilities threatened international peace and security. Those practices, and the persistent denial of the Palestinian peoples' rights, had caused the present bleak situation in the Middle East.
He called for a comprehensive and just solution to the question of Palestine based on the restoration of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Iran reaffirmed its readiness to participate in the realization of peace.
NABIL A. ELARABY (Egypt) said his Government had been attempting to mobilize international support for the rights of the Palestinian people since the matter was first placed on the United Nations agenda. The signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords and other agreements concerning the transfer of power had generated hope that peace would be achieved. The peace process had been moving forward, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. All had begun to believe that the Palestinians were on their way to establishing their own State on their own land. However, that hope was now dimming and even threatened with extinction.
International community was based on international commitments; any violation of such agreements could threaten the whole system, he said. The current Israeli Government sought to ignore or even renegotiate past agreements, stating that it did not honour agreements of past governments. It had also declared a policy of building new settlements in the occupied territory and expanding existing settlements, in violation of both the Geneva Convention and the Oslo Accords. The creation of new settlements struck at the core of the principle of land for peace, a tenet which had been freely accepted by all the parties.
He said Egypt had warned of the grave consequences of settlements and land confiscation; it called on the international community to end such actions, which threatened the peace process and presupposed the outcome of negotiations. Israel had been strangling the new-born Palestinian economy through continued closure of the territories. That was sure to create frustration which, in turn, gave the enemies of peace an opportunity to disrupt the peace process. In addition, the Israeli Government had yet to implement the recent Security Council resolution which called upon it to end activities which had led to the recent bloody clashes in Israel.
The United Nations must support the peace process, as well as the activities of United Nations bodies in support of the Palestinian people, he said. Egypt called on all nations which had pledged assistance for Palestinian economic development to keep their commitments. It was hoped the Israeli Government would cease policies which destroyed peace, policies which it implemented on a daily basis. If Israel could not review its own policies, the United Nations would have to take steps to ensure that the situation in that vital part of the world did not continue to deteriorate.
NGO QUANG XUAN (Viet Nam) said there had been some limited achievements in the Middle East peace process, but the process had been challenged by a series of tragic incidents, including the resumption of settlement activities, land confiscation and closures of the Palestinian territory. The settlement of the question of Palestine, he said, could be achieved only through the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, in particular, the right to self-determination. If all concerned parties were truly committed to carrying out the already signed agreements, the peace process would certainly continue. The United Nations had a permanent responsibility with respect to the question of Palestine until a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement was reached, based on relevant resolutions, the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territory, land for peace and the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights, especially the right to self-determination.
AHMET ENGIN ANSAY, Permanent Observer, Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the peace process today was virtually at a stalemate. Another series of violations of elements of peace agreements by Israel and the blatant and renewed acts of aggression by the Israeli authorities against the Palestinian people had led to that all-too-familiar situation. For their part, the Palestinians continued to resist the acts of aggression by the Israeli authorities. The newly established Palestinian National Authority had confidently assumed its functions, and through the Authority the Palestinians had commenced the process of reconstruction and development.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference would like to believe that the current difficulties were a carry-over of the way the Palestinians had been dealt with in the past, rather than the reflection of the present day official Israeli policies, he said.
At the annual OIC meeting of Foreign Ministers held in New York in October, the organization's support for the peace process had been reaffirmed, he said. While calling upon the Israeli authorities to cease activities which threatened the peace process, the OIC had invited the international community to compel Israel to cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan. The OIC Ministers had called upon the United Nations and international institutions to compel Israel to release detainees, return the deportees, halt the methods of mass punishment, cease the confiscation of lands and the demolition of homes, and to cease any action which threatened life and the environment in the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories, including Al-Quds Al-Sharif.
Right of Reply
DAVID PELEG (Israel), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that several previous speakers had referred to resolution 181 of 29 November 1947. However, the meaning and context of that resolution had been misrepresented. Forty-nine years ago, the Assembly adopted a resolution favouring the establishment of two States in British Mandatory Palestine -- the State of Israel and an Arab State. The Jews living under the British mandate accepted that resolution and established the State of Israel on 14 May 1948. The Palestinians, with the support of all Arab countries, rejected the resolution and launched a war against the State of Israel.
He said that fact was clearly recorded in the United Nations Special Report to the Security Council of 16 February 1948, which stated: "Powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein."
Continuing, he said the representative of the Palestine Arab High Committee, addressing the Security Council on 23 April 1948, had stated, "We have never concealed the fact that we began the fighting ... the Arabs did not want to submit to a truce which would have brought shame upon them as they rather preferred to abandon their homes, their belongings and everything they possessed in this world, and leave... ."
When the war ended a year later, some Palestinians became citizens of Israel, others became citizens of Jordan, some became subjects of Egypt, and some became refugees in Arab countries, he said. Israel's position was that any solution to the refugee problem should include their integration into the countries in which they resided, as Israel did with the Jewish refugees from Arab States.
It was one of the ironies of history that 29 November had been selected as "Palestine Day" and the date for the traditional opening of debate on the question of Palestine, he said. It was the Palestinians who had rejected the resolution passed on 29 November 1947 and initiated, with the help of Arab States, hostilities against the State of Israel. By doing so, they brought tragedy upon themselves and the region, imposing a great obstacle to the peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The Palestinians misrepresented the conflict by suggesting it began only in 1967 when Israel came into possession of the West Bank and Gaza following a war of self-defence, he said. The Palestinians, with the assistance of the Arab States, had begun an open war with Israel 19 years earlier, in violation of United Nations resolutions. It was hoped that the words of the Palestinian representative before the Assembly did not reflect the position of the Palestinian leadership which signed the Declaration of Principles and the Interim Agreement, or that of the Palestinian people, who had demonstrated their support for the peace process during the recent elections to the Palestinian Council.
"I trust that an agrement on Hebron will be reached soon, and I call again upon Chairman Arafat not to delay its signature any further", he said. "Peace will only come through direct negotiations without preconditions, free from external pressures." Issues relating to permanent status should be negotiated between the parties; the United Nations should not predetermine their outcome. Israel concurred with the position expressed for the European Union, that measures to prejudge the outcome of the permanent status negotiations must be avoided.
M. NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said it was regrettable that the Israeli representative again insisted on destroying whatever remained of the positive environment which remained in the Middle East peace process. Perhaps, the Israeli representative had forgotten that Assembly resolution 181 had called for the establishment of both a Jewish State and an Arab State, and called for the establishment of Jerusalem as an international entity. It seemed that the representative had also forgotten that in under two years of that resolution being adopted, Israel began violating the conditions on which the United Nations had accepted Israeli membership, by establishing Jerusalem as its capital.
The plight of the Palestinian refugees represented one of the gravest and oldest refugee situation in the world, he said. That tragic situation had been created by Israeli terrorism, when the defenceless people had been forced to flee their homes and properties in the face of military oppression by armed gangs. Those refugees had the same rights as all refugees, including the right of return, with compensation for those who did not wish to return. The Palestinians were now seriously negotiating on matters such as Hebron and other elements of past agreements. However, the Palestinians insisted on the immediate beginning of implementation of past agreements without amendment.
At the same time, Israel was insisting on reaching a new agreement. Once again, the time had come for Israel to abide by its contractual commitments. If the Israelis truly wished to reach peace, the road was known to them.
Mr. PELEG (Israel) said his Government would continue, with the Palestinians, on the march to full and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The Palestinian interest in peace did not begin in 1947, but instead many years later. He called on all parties to work together towards that peace.
GERARDO MARTINEZ BLANCO (Honduras), Acting Assembly President, announced that the Assembly would take action on the four draft resolutions on the question of Palestine on Wednesday, 4 December.