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

Fifty-eighth General Assembly
66th & 67th Meetings (AM & PM)
2 December 2003

The General Assembly today kicked off its debate of the situation in the troubled Middle East, focusing on a host of challenging issues, from the importance of restoring calm in Iraq, to quelling tensions in the Syrian Golan and bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – which many believed was the key to ensuring peace throughout the entire region.

It was now more important than ever, stated Australia’s representative, for the international community and the United Nations to work together to overcome the destructive forces in the Middle East and build a better future for its people.  Addressing Saddam Hussein’s legacy of oppression and abuse in Iraq was a major challenge but her country and its coalition partners were determined to stay the course in that country.  Steady progress was being made towards rehabilitation, and Iraqis were taking increasing responsibility for their own security, she added.

She also welcomed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) recent adoption of a resolution on Iran’s nuclear programme, which acknowledged Iran’s promises of full cooperation with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, suspension of uranium enrichment and reprocessing and immediate adherence to a safeguards-strengthening Additional Protocol.  On the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, she strongly supported the “Road Map” peace plan, which calls on both sides to take a series of reciprocal steps leading to the establishment of two States -- Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peace and security.

The Observer for Palestine said the Middle East conflict and its core issue -- the question of Palestine -- meant that at least part of the region had been unable to fulfil the goals of self-determination.  And while the Arab region was in urgent need of socio-economic development and democratization, ignoring the historical backdrop, namely, the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, was not the way forward.  In all cases, and despite the necessity of moving the situation in the right direction, the Arab-Israeli conflict would remain the centre of gravity in the region until it was resolved.

Conversely, Israel’s representative said that one could pretend that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the cause of all that was wrong in the Middle East -- that illiteracy, lack of development and the deficit in freedom and democracy from Yemen to Syria were all products of Israel’s policy of countering terrorism that targeted its citizens.  However, to understand and improve the situation in the Middle East, one must examine the lack of democratic values and institutions in the region and analyse the phenomena of extremism, fundamentalism, intolerance, incitement and anti-Semitism, among other factors.

Switzerland’s representative said the spiral of violence over the past few months had made it urgent to give fresh impetus to a process of negotiation, and to send a clear signal of hope to all the peoples concerned.  The Palestinian Authority must restore the security and credibility that it needed if it were to remain an indispensable partner for peace.  The reform of its institutions and the organization of free elections would renew the foundation of its legitimacy.  He called on the Palestinians to do everything within their power to stop the attacks on civilians and urged them to find a leadership that was determined to fight terrorism.

At the same time, he said that while Israel undoubtedly had the right to fight terrorism, the disproportionate use of armed force only worsened the vicious circle of violence.  Also, the construction of the separation wall gravely jeopardized the “two-State vision”.  It had been constructed beyond the “Green Line”, encroached on the territories occupied in 1967 and paved the way for illegal confiscations.  That obstacle to the peace process had to be removed.

Also today, the Assembly concluded its consideration of “the question of Palestine”.  Covering some of the same important issues, delegations highlighted the importance of both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to follow the commitments each side had taken under the Road Map.  The representative of Indonesia said that although it appeared the plan had hit a “road block”, it was vital for the international community to establish a credible monitoring mechanism to get the initiative back on track and ensure its successful implementation -- a view echoed by many speakers.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Zambia, Madagascar, United States, Cuba, Sudan, Norway, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Italy (on behalf of the European Union), Russian Federation, Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan, Japan, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, India, Ukraine and Malaysia.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Israel and Iran, as well as the Observer for Palestine. 

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 3 December, when it is expected to take action on draft resolutions on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East.  It is also expected to take action on a number of other outstanding draft texts.


The General Assembly met today to continue its consideration of the question of Palestine and to begin its consideration of the situation in the Middle East.

For a summary of the background information on the question of Palestine, please see Press Release GA/10211 issued on 1 December.

On the situation in the Middle East, the Assembly had before it the report of the Secretary-General (document A/58/278), which contains replies received from Member States in response to his note verbale of 19 June 2003 pertaining to the implementation of the relevant provisions of Assembly resolutions 57/111, entitled “Jerusalem”, and 57/112, entitled “The Syrian Golan”, both of 3 December 2002.  Replies were received from Israel, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, Syria and Trinidad and Tobago.

Also before the Assembly was a draft resolution on Jerusalem (document A/58/L.27), by the terms of which the Assembly would deplore the transfer by some States of their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem in violation of Security Council resolution 478 (1980), and would call once more on those States to abide by the provisions of the relevant United Nations resolutions, in conformity with the world body’s Charter.

The Assembly would also reiterate its determination that any actions taken by Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on Jerusalem are illegal and therefore null and void and have no validity whatsoever.  It would also stress that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Jerusalem should take into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and Israeli sides and should include internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to the holy places by all the people of all religions and nationalities.

By the terms of a draft resolution on the Syrian Golan (document A/58/L.28), the Assembly would demand once more that Israel withdraw from all the occupied Syrian Golan to the line of 4 June 1967 in implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions.  It would determine once more that the continued occupation of the Syrian Golan and its de facto annexation constitute a stumbling block in the way of achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region. 

The Assembly would also call on Israel to resume the talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks and to respect the commitments and undertakings reached during the previous talks.  Further, it would call on all the parties concerned, the co-sponsors of the peace process and the international community to exert all the necessary efforts to ensure the resumption of the peace process and its success by implementing Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).


FAWZI BIN ABDUL MAJEED SHOBOKSHI (Saudi Arabia) said that every time the Palestinians had offered Israel a truce, the Government of Israel had found new means to provoke them into renewed, bloody action.  Israel’s policy was killing any possible calm or chance for peace; that country had rejected regional and international initiatives, and instead had created one crisis after another, in blatant violation of all international resolutions.  Moreover, the Government of Israel was of the mistaken belief that military force could silence Arab demands.  Thus, as Israel’s policy reflected the intention to sabotage any serious progress towards peace, the international community must recognize that it had a political responsibility and a moral commitment to make Israel abide by international resolutions.

Israel, he continued, claimed that in building the racist wall, it sought to protect itself.  However, ulterior motives could be seen, such as the desire to seize water resources.  The racist wall created an even more difficult situation on the ground than settlements, as Israel sought to build a new reality through dismembering that which remained of the West Bank territories.  With the wall, Israel sought to transform the projected Palestinian State into isolated cantons –- enclaves whose exits were under Israeli control.

The international community, he concluded, must not stand by and wait for a miracle to establish peace and security, but instead must seek and find a real solution to the conflict.  Thus, he called on the international community, especially the members of the Quartet, to ensure that Israel implemented the Road Map.  Exiting the cycle of violence had become a collective responsibility, which required implementing internationally legitimate resolutions, returning to the negotiating table, and withdrawing Israeli forces from all occupied territories, as well as recognizing the Palestinians’ rights.

ABDULLAH M. ALSAIDI (Yemen) said the Assembly was once again dealing with the “intractable” situation of Palestine -- attempting to speak to issues that countless meetings, conferences and resolutions had failed to address.  The plight of the Palestinian people was a vivid example of the gulf between the opinion of the world’s peace-loving people and that of the major powers, who seemed to only address the issue when it served their interests.  In the wake of the continued use of “naked force” against the Palestinian people, the situation in the region had devolved to such a degree that Palestinians were “burning in the fires of oppression, occupation and indifference”, while the major powers watched.  While all continued to call for United Nations reform, it was clear that such reform should sincerely address the need to ensure that Security Council resolution and decisions on the occupied Palestinian territories were adhered to by both sides.

After all the concessions made by the Arab side, he continued, and after the international community had united behind the implementation of the Road Map, Israel continued to put forward untenable reservations that could only lead to the failure of that promising peace plan.  Indeed, Israel had continued to seek ways to expand its possession of Palestinian territories.  And despite Prime Minister Sharon’s recent claims that his Government was willing to make some concessions, Israel was still defying a recent United Nations resolution by feverishly working to complete a security fence that would allow it to further annex Palestinian lands.  Who could accept such twisted logic?  How could the Palestinian people be asked to accept such twisted logic?

The essence of the question was the occupation of the territories of others by force, which was contrary to the principles of the United Nations, he said.  With that in mind, Yemen would call on the world body to continue to shoulder its responsibility to ensure that its resolutions were respected and that all efforts were undertaken to ensure peace in the region.  It would also call for the speedy establishment of a monitoring mechanism on the ground in the region to follow-up and ensure the implementation of the Road Map.

REZLAN ISHAR JENIE (Indonesia) said that following the handing over of the Road Map to the parties in April 2003, it had been hoped that its structured implementation and meaningful negotiations would lead to peace.  However, the situation on the ground had steadily deteriorated, and the implementation of the Road Map had hit a major roadblock.  The Road Map should not be allowed to go the way of previous plans, he urged.  Because of its performance-based and goal-driven structure, the Road Map had been supported from the beginning and it had been heartening to witness the Security Council’s recent, unanimous endorsement of the plan.  Both Israelis and Palestinians must recognize that they stood a better chance of achieving sustainable peace by working through the Road Map, rather than without it.

For the success of the plan, it was vital for the international community to establish a credible monitoring mechanism, he concluded.  Moreover, the United Nations must maintain its permanent responsibility for the question of Palestine until the situation had been resolved satisfactorily.  Thus, the international community should be engaged in realizing the vision of two States –- Israel and Palestine –- living side by side, within internationally recognized borders, within the time frame envisaged in the Road Map.  Israel must recognize that the solution to the issue would be found in working through the Road Map, not through military action.  Finally, that State must also realize that its illegal actions in the occupied territories did nothing to forward the chances of peace; Israel should not expect them to go unchallenged.

DAN GILLERMAN (Israel) recalled the recent statements of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has said that the Government and people of Israel welcomed the opportunity to renew direct negotiations according to the steps laid out in the Road Map peace plan, and to achieve the vision of United States President George Bush of two States –- Israel and Palestine –- living side by side in peace.  But today, the current Palestinian leadership continued to find ways to miss opportunities to realize that vision by repeatedly failing to comply with signed obligations, and fomenting waves of violence and terrorism.

It now seemed that the “Question of Palestine” was not a question about Israel’s acceptance of Palestinian self-determination, or even a Palestinian State, but rather a question of the Palestinian acceptance of the right of Israel to exist as a State, where the Jewish people could continue to realize their own self-determination side by side with their Palestinian and Arab neighbours.  Over the recent decades, in which Israel had proven its willingness to advance a solution to the conflict taking the interests of both sides into account, the Palestinian leadership had failed, miserably, to demonstrate its acceptance of the inherent legitimacy of the State of Israel, or the right of its citizens to live in peace and security.

Today, he continued, the Assembly, in an annual ritual of “supreme irony,” celebrated that Palestinian rejectionism, as was its custom on the anniversary of the adoption of its earliest resolution on the issue in 1947.  Throughout history, from the Camp David Summit of 1978 to the Camp David Summit of 2000 and beyond, Israel had demonstrated its willingness to compromise and make tremendous sacrifices for the sake of peace.  But the Palestinian leadership had failed to demonstrate such willingness.  Nor had it shown that peace and self-determination were the aim of its political agenda.  The olive branch offered by Israel at the talks had been met with a hail of bullets and a barrage of suicide bombs.

“We cannot pretend that the vision now proclaimed to be the solution was not within easy reach, and rejected out of hand, not by Israel, but by the Palestinian side –- proving once again that its leadership never misses the opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  Terrorism, he continued, was not the tool of peacemakers and nation-builders.  It sought to destroy, not to create.  By creating alliances with brutal terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian leadership had sent every Israeli and every citizen of the world a chilling message.  It spread the epidemic of terror worldwide, and made “terrorism the single most successful Palestinian export product”.

Israeli society saw peace as the noblest of goals and the highest of aspirations, he said.  The greatest dream of every mother and father envisaged Israel living in harmony and cooperation with its Arab neighbours.  Israel stood ready to fulfil its commitments under the Road Map, to make painful compromises and to facilitate a Palestinian leadership committed to peace and to fulfilling its own obligations.

MWELWA MUSAMBACHIME (Zambia) lamented that during the review period no serious headway had been made in the political process that would have consolidated the Road Map.  Construction of the separation wall in the occupied West Bank and areas close to East Jerusalem had continued.  The wall merely served to undermine international efforts aimed at resolving the conflict and creating two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as outlined in the Road Map.

The Road Map offered a viable solution to the Middle East question, he continued, stressing the importance of the United Nations providing adequate resources for mechanisms that would facilitate the Road Map.  He also stressed the vital role of the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat, saying it should be allowed to continue operating in support of the objectives and programmes of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  Moreover, he lauded the media and public information outreach of the Department of Public Information’s special information programme on the question of Palestine and requested that the Secretary-General continue the programme as deemed necessary. 

ZINA ANDRIANARIVELO-RAZAFY (Madagascar) said the question of Palestine remained one of the most serious concerns of the era.  In a global context and an uncertain world, the international community had a duty to consider all aspects of that question until a satisfactory resolution was found.  Recent developments in the occupied Palestinian territories continued to be of great concern.  In spite of international condemnation, Israel had continued its policy of expansion and occupation and continued to construct the separation wall.  Moreover, military activities had increased the cost in lives, while extrajudicial executions and other acts violated the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

Each people of the region had the legitimate right to live within safe and internationally recognized borders, he continued.  The mutual recognition that had taken place between the two sides had marked a point of significant progress.  However, unilateral and punitive measures undertaken by Israel and suicide attacks by Palestinians handicapped efforts to bring the parties even closer together.  The impasse in negotiations constituted a destabilizing threat on the entire region, as it created a situation that served as the breeding ground for extremism and terrorism.

The Road Map, he concluded, provided real opportunities for peace to all the parties.  Furthermore, other large-scale initiatives, like that undertaken in Geneva between members of Israeli and Palestinian civil society, should also be taken into account.  It was now up to both sides to demonstrate the will to take advantage of the historic opportunity to live in peace and security.

BENJAMIN GILMAN (United States) reaffirmed his country’s support for the creation of a viable, democratic Palestinian State, with secure and recognized borders, living in peace and security next to the State of Israel.  Particularly in light of Security Council resolution 1515, that endorsed the Quartet’s performance-based Road Map as the way forward in the Middle East peace process, he felt the General Assembly resolutions that dealt with the Middle East question should be consistent with the principles of the Road Map and the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference.

He viewed with great concern the continuation of resolutions before the Assembly on the question of Palestine, he said.  In his view, two United Nations bodies –- the Division for Palestinian Rights and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People –- perpetuated the notion that one party to the Middle East conflict had rights but not responsibilities.  Those two bodies, along with the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, cost close to $3 million a year.  The United States, he said, would continue to withhold its share of the budget for them, and would continue to seek their abolition.  Additionally, continuance of those bodies was inconsistent with United Nations support for the Quartet’s efforts to achieve a just and durable two-State solution to the region’s conflict, on the basis of the Road Map that demanded actions by all parties.

BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba) said the crises in the occupied Palestinian territories continued to deteriorate, even as the numbers of victims continued to grow –- most of them civilians and, sadly, children.  The actions of the Israeli armed forces –- destruction of homes and infrastructure and massive violations of human rights –- must be condemned.  Arbitrary arrests and detention were practically an everyday occurrence.  Cuba also continued to oppose the sequestration of Palestinian Authority Leader Yasser Arafat to his Ramallah headquarters.  Still, while Cuba stood resolutely behind the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, it also condemned any and all terrorist actions targeted at Israeli civilians and infrastructure.  At the same time, Cuba could not abide by the manipulation of such terrorist acts as an excuse for Israel to continue its oppressive military campaign to suppress the right of all Palestinian people to live in peace and security in their own State.

He went on to say that Israel’s continued building of a security fence, which effectively separated the Palestinian people from their farmlands and waterways, amounted to a de facto annexation of Palestinian lands.  The security fence also literally changed the configuration of those lands, therefore, undercutting any attempt to unify the territories in a way that could lead to a peaceful solution.  It appeared that it was up to the Assembly to lead the way on that issue, due to the apparent inability of the Security Council to advance a political solution.  The repeated use by the United States of its veto power on resolutions on the matter continued to hamper any real progress.

The United States, he said, must cease its provision of military equipment and technologies to Israel.  That country’s policy of complicity with the Israeli occupation had just been explicitly highlighted in the statement of the representative of that country. Cuba called on all States to vote in favor of the drafts before the Assembly.

ELFATIH MOHAMED AHMED ERWA (Sudan) said that while the question of Palestine was being considered, it must be recognized that the lack of a fair and equitable solution to that question would lead to a further deterioration of the security situation in the entire region.  Israel had paid no attention to any Palestinian effort to extend a truce.  Moreover, the policy of Israel made it clear that it was determined to destroy all the advances of Oslo, as well as to destroy the elected Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat.  Furthermore, the construction of the separation wall, Palestinian land, would negatively impact the Palestinian economy.  That construction must be immediately stopped.

Israel’s flouting of international resolutions meant that the international community must bring pressure to bear upon that State to implement those resolutions, he added.  The arrogance of Israel when dismissing those resolutions –- and the fact that Israel had gotten away with its actions thus far –- encouraged that State to commit further acts of barbarism against the Palestinians.  Israel must realize that the road to its own security and safety would only be found through the complete withdrawal from all the occupied territories and through recognizing the rights of the Palestinian people.  The international community was called on to move immediately to secure the Palestinian cause and to achieve a lasting solution to the question.

Rights of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the Observer of Palestine said the Assembly had just heard a statement by the representative of Israel, which had reflected the same line of thought used by all occupiers and colonialists throughout history.  The statement had also been fraught with lies, including that the Palestinian side had not complied with Assembly resolution 181 (1947).  That statement had also misrepresented the tenor of the negotiations at the Camp David talks, and, most troublingly, Israel’s representative had said his Government was willing to negotiate.  If that were true, why did its colonialist settler activities continue?  Why was the expansionist wall still being built?

He challenged the Israeli representative to address the establishment of two States along borders established in 1967; if the Israeli Government would make that move, peace would follow almost immediately.  “We are afraid he would be unable to do that,” the Observer said.  For those who would ask the Palestinian side to make more compromises, he said:  “We are a deprived people, we have no State and no rights.”  The Palestinian people had been living under colonialism for decades and had been subjected to more than 55 years of oppression.  For those who would ask for more balance, he would ask:  Balance with and for what?  Balance between the refugee and the person occupying his home?  When Israel was prepared to negotiate, the Palestinian people would be more than willing to recognize their efforts and meet them in kind to achieve much longed for peace.

The representative of Israel said that while the Palestinian Observer had said Israel had lied, the Israeli delegation had indeed told the truth.  At any rate, what was more important than words was action on the ground.  He said Israeli people were currently the victims of the most barbaric onslaught of terrorism in modern history.  Its people had been subjected to wholesale slaughter for years, including machine gun ambushes and suicide bombings of restaurants and other public places.  That terrorism did not spontaneously arise in a vacuum, he continued.  It had been the result of a systematic and orchestrated effort by the present Palestinian leadership to motivate, incite and even blackmail the weakest and most vulnerable elements of Palestinian society to forfeit their own lives in order to murder Israelis.

He said there was a wealth of hard evidence, which documented the Palestinian Authority’s incitement of Palestinian children to “violence and death for Allah.”  Jews and Judaism were presented as inherently evil, and fighting Jews and Judaism were presented as justified and heroic.  Children’s programmes and sporting events were even named after terrorist bombers, he said, adding that those were not local initiatives, but decisions made at the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority.  He stressed that the Palestinian leadership was using international funding to promote the metamorphosis of Palestinian children into killers.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had even funded some of those events and initiatives, he added.  All that amounted not to a culture of peace, but to a culture of death.

Situation in the Middle East

JOHAN LØVALD (Norway) said that there was now reason for cautious optimism for peace after a long period of lack of progress in the Middle East.  The Palestinians had a new Government in place.  In his inaugural address, Prime Minister Qurei expressed a clear determination to fight terrorism, in accordance with the Road Map.  It was his expectation that the Palestinians would spare no efforts in making an all-out fight against terrorism.  In that regard, a new Palestinian ceasefire, or “hudna”, would be a positive first step.  Further, he hoped the Palestinians would succeed, in cooperation with Egypt, in establishing a “hudna” as soon as possible.

Another source of worry, he said, was the separation barrier that was being built mainly on Palestinian land.  While Norway fully recognized Israel’s legitimate right to protect its citizens from terror, the fact that the barrier was currently being built on Palestinian land, however, constituted a de facto annexation of land.  He urged both parties to agree to swiftly resume implementation of the Road Map.  Similarly, he urged strong international involvement, which he stressed was crucial to the success of the process.  The recent unanimous Security Council decision to endorse the Road Map showed that the peace plan, which called for an end to the occupation and a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, had broad international backing.

He added that another lesson learned from the implementation of the Road Map so far was that there had to be a clear and unambiguous plan with benchmarks and a timeline for implementation.  Further, a performance-based peace plan needed a mechanism for monitoring progress.  The Road Map called for the establishment of such a monitoring mechanism.  Norway saw such a mechanism as crucial to the success of the Road Map, and would encourage the Quartet to continue their efforts to further develop that mechanism.

TAWFEEQ AHMED ALMANSOOR (Bahrain) noted that the practice of occupation had been ended in virtually all areas of the world except in the Middle East, where Israel continued to occupy Palestinian and Syrian land.  The situation in the Palestinian territories had deteriorated, and the fundamental cause of that deterioration was to be found in the Israeli occupation.  Israel had used unprecedented methods to maintain its occupation, including barbaric force and the use of a huge arsenal against defenseless people.  There was no other conflict in the world that had spawned such feelings of violence.

Recalling that it was in 1948 that Israel had first occupied a considerable part of Palestinian territory and expelled legitimate inhabitants, he added that, later, Israel had also occupied Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.  With its actions, Israel had flouted all international resolutions, demonstrating its contempt for them.  Moreover, Israel had also annexed Arab territories –- not just Palestinian ones –- including the Syrian Golan and Lebanon.  And in order to strengthen its position in those territories, Israel had created settlements, populating them with settlers from all over the world, who were in turn provided with weapons to defend themselves.  Israel had undertaken to transform the geographic nature of those Arab territories and to exploit their natural resources, in contravention of United Nations instruments.

That the world was committed to creating a Palestinian State as part of the final solution to the question of Palestine had been demonstrated by resolutions adopted in the Security Council, he continued.  Without the establishment of the Palestinian State, as defined in international resolutions, there would be no settlement of the conflict.

AMR ABOUL ATTA (Egypt), introducing the two draft resolutions before the Assembly on the situation in the Middle East, said his country had worked with other peace-loving nations to make available and support the basic elements for a peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict.  However, despite the international community’s efforts over the past years, one had witnessed the Israeli Government’s deliberate misunderstanding or outright rejection of international resolutions.

In order for the situation in the Middle East to be resolved, a series of steps must be realized, including, among others, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all Arab and Palestinian territories; recognition of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and to an independent State; the provision of security for all inhabitants of the region; and the declaration of the Middle East as a zone free of nuclear weapons –- in which context, Israel must abandon its weapons.

He also said that he was honoured to present the draft resolutions on the Syrian Golan and Jerusalem.  Those texts represented the views of the co-sponsors on the settlement of the situations with regard to those two areas. 

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said that Israel had been repeatedly called on to end its racist, expansionist and colonialist policies, as well as its flagrant violations of human rights to no avail.  It continued to flout international law and oppress Arab people.  Its actions in defiance of United Nations resolutions continued to lead to indiscriminate death and destruction of Arabs and Arab lands.  The forces occupying the Syrian Golan continued to forcefully expel the Arab populations there.

Israel was actually changing the history of that territory, burning or razing traditional structures, enacting laws that perpetuated occupation, and continuing to build settlements, he said.  The inhabitants of the Golan were living with the same suffering which the Palestinian people had been facing for so many years.  Syrians stood in solidarity with those oppressed people.

He said that Israel continued to use weapons of mass destruction with almost unprecedented barbarity against Syrian, Palestinian and other Arab peoples.  Indeed, fighter jets continue to violate the “Blue Line” in Southern Lebanon on a regular basis.  Syria had exercised restraint and resorted to international legitimacy in all attempts to maintain the self-determination of its people and the sovereignty of its lands.  Despite its protests, the root of Israel’s strategy was defending expansionism and policies of aggression.  The time had come for Israel to realize that its attempts to mislead the peoples of the world had indeed failed.  The tide of public opinion was indeed turning, as recent polls had shown that more and more people were recognizing that the occupation was the main cause of the tensions throughout the Middle East region.  It was time to ensure that Israel abandoned its policies and abided by its international commitments.

JENÖ STAEHELIN (Switzerland), noting that the situation in the Middle East remained a source of serious concern, said the spiral of violence over the past months had made it urgent to give fresh impetus to a process of negotiation, and to send a clear signal of hope to the peoples concerned.  It was the duty of the Palestinian Authority to restore the security and credibility that it needed if it were to remain an indispensable partner for peace.  In that respect, the reform of its institutions and the organization of free elections would renew the foundation of its legitimacy.

He called on the Palestinians to do everything within their power to stop the attacks on civilians and urged them to find a leadership that was determined to fight terrorism.  The new Palestinian Prime Minister should be empowered with the necessary authority to combat terror and violence, and to restore public order.  He added that no political cause could justify such attacks, which in addition to their illegal and intolerable nature ruined the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.  Turning to Israel, he said that country’s actions which violated international law, including extra-judicial executions, the building of a wall of separation, the demolition of houses and the expansion of settlements, only increased the distress of the Palestinians, who were already faced with a disastrous economic situation.  While Israel undoubtedly had the right to fight terrorism, the disproportionate use of armed force, however, only worsened the vicious circle of violence.

Continuing, he observed that the construction of the wall gravely jeopardized the vision of two States living side by side in peace.  That wall, which had been constructed beyond the Green Line, encroached considerably on the territories occupied in 1967 and paved the way for confiscations that were contrary to international humanitarian law, notably the Fourth Geneva Convention, and to the agreements signed between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  That obstacle to the peace process, which was contrary to the Road Map, had to be removed.

Similarly, the building of new settlements in the occupied territories, despite the undertakings contained in the Road Map, violated international law and was also an obstacle to peace.  At the same time, he was encouraged that, despite the prevailing pessimism, private initiatives by eminent Israelis and Palestinians –- such as the “Geneva Initiative” or the “Nusseibeh-Ayalon Initiative” –- were opening up ways of breaking out of the present deadlock and settling final status issues, including Jerusalem, the settlements and refugees.

DAN GILLERMAN (Israel) said that while fear and worry had replaced hope for peace in the Middle East, the situation need not continue.  There was an alternative path –- one of dialogue and reconciliation, based on respect for the rights of all States and an unshakable commitment to non-violence and mutual recognition.  Such a commitment had enabled Israel to conclude peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and paved the way for improved relations with other States, including Syria.  It had also promoted the signing of the Israel-Palestinian interim agreements, which had been intended to inaugurate an historic course of reconciliation, and which had demonstrated that only a negotiated settlement –- not endless General Assembly resolutions –- could bring peace and prosperity to the region.

The hope generated by the Middle East peace process, he noted, had been founded upon a simple, yet profound, notion –- mutual recognition.  Israel had proved –- and today reiterated –- its respect for the legitimate rights of all peoples in the Middle East, including for those of the Palestinian people.  His country stood ready to implement the Road Map –- as envisaged by United States President Bush in June 2002 –- and to engage in genuine negotiations for a just and lasting settlement.  However, the message that had been received in return     –- from the barrage of terrorist attacks against innocent civilians to the funding, support and glorification of murder as martyrdom –- was crystal clear. That policy of rejectionism and terrorism had taught Israelis how to defend themselves, and hardened their resolve and dedication to protecting their welfare and legitimate rights.

One could, he said, pretend that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the cause of all that was wrong in the Middle East –- that illiteracy, lack of development and the deficit in freedom and democracy from Yemen to Syria were all products of Israel’s policy of countering terrorism that targeted its citizens. However, to understand and improve the situation in the Middle East, one must examine the lack of democratic values and institutions in the region and analyze the phenomena of extremism, fundamentalism, intolerance, incitement and anti-Semitism, among other factors.  Furthermore, the international community had not adequately addressed the issue of the legitimate rights of former Jewish refugees displaced from Arab countries

Determined to focus on hope rather than danger, he said that his country chose to believe that one day a leadership, guaranteeing prosperity, freedom, dignity and peace for all, would develop and emerge in the Middle East region.  The peoples of the Middle East were no less entitled to democratic, transparent and enlightened rule that the rest of the world’s citizens.

NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said that during the past year, the Middle East region had endured even more negative developments and further deterioration.  Israeli colonialist policies and war crimes in Palestine continued, while suicide bombings in Israel continued as well.  Polarization and religious extremism increased, he said, adding that extremist organizations resumed their work, including committing terrorist acts within their countries. The region had also witnessed a new war and a foreign military presence, which continued.

The Middle East conflict and its core, the question of Palestine, meant that at least part of the region had not yet fulfilled the goals of national liberation, in all its complexities and with all its attendant impacts on social, economic and political development.  The Arabs perceived Israel as a foreign presence, representing foreign interests hostile to Arabs and their countries and determined to forestall their development.  “And what they had witnessed in the unprecedented injustice imposed on the innocent Palestinian people created a situation of enmity, which had become entrenched over the years because of Israel’s refusal of the Arab leadership’s attempts to reach a political settlement based on the two-State solution”, he said.

Presently, while the Arab region was in urgent need of socio-economic development and democratization, evaluating the situation there, while ignoring the historical backdrop, was not the way forward.  In all cases, and despite the necessity of moving the situation in the region in the right direction, the Arab-Israeli conflict would remain the centre of gravity there until it was resolved. He added that all must keep in mind the need to end foreign military presence in other areas, particularly Iraq.  In that case, the transfer of authority to the Iraqi people and their representatives would be a positive development.  But in order for Iraq to truly move towards a peaceful and stable situation, it was important for more parties from the international community to be involved, and for the Iraqi people to be convinced that the end of foreign occupation was imminent.

He went on to stress that all States must confront religious extremism, like the international war on terrorism, together.  The war on terrorism must focus on terrorist groups and the breeding grounds for terrorist activity.  In that regard, the international agenda must not be hijacked in favour of the narrow interests of that party at the centre of the conflict in the Middle East –- Israel.  Israel’s attempts to portray its conflict with the Palestinian side, or even with Palestinian extremist groups as part of the international war on terrorism, was deceitful, and legally and politically wrong, he said.  It also seriously undermined the war on terror.

Israel, he added, was an occupying Power engaged in a colonial project.  The acts carried out by some Palestinian organizations against Israeli civilians were condemnable.  But it should be clear that such acts were not only confined to Israel.  More importantly, they were the product of occupation, colonization, oppression, and Israeli war crimes, not the cause of them.  Ending the cause of those acts would definitely put an end to the phenomenon, he said.

SAMI KRONFOL (Lebanon) said that Palestine remained the sole exception to the end of colonialism.  Thousands of Jews, battered by war, had arrived in the region, determined to erect a State upon Arab land.  In doing so, they expelled many Palestinians from their own land.  On the oppression of Jews by Arabs, raised by the Ambassador of Israel, he said that the Arabs had throughout history given shelter to the Jews.  No one had attacked those Jews that had decided to live in the Arab world before the creation of the Jewish State.  However, the tolerance of those living in Palestine had allowed the Jews to make use of the British mandate and arm themselves in preparation for carrying out massacres of Palestinians. After that, the Jews no longer encountered hospitality in Arab States.

One must wonder, given today’s situation, he added, why Israel worked to bring Jews from the world over to live in that State, when they had safety and security in their home States.  Israel had initiated war with the Arab States and had occupied those countries it had invaded.  Israel had entered Lebanon in 1978 for no reason other than to pursue Palestinian refugees, and it had not vacated the country until the Lebanese resistance became too much to bear.

During the past half-century, the Middle East had witnessed much conflict, he said.  The cold war had played an insidious role in fomenting those conflicts, given the super-Powers’ focus on accessing oil reserves.  And while after the end of the cold war experts had tried to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel had rejected such initiatives, because it did not feel it could accomplish its true objectives in a situation of peace.  It had, in fact, rejected the Oslo Agreements, dumping responsibility for the setback onto the Arabs and Palestinians.  And, having set 14 conditions on the implementation of the Road Map, Israel had also, in effect, rejected that plan.

The intransigence of Israel’s Government had obstructed all efforts to find a solution to the Middle East conflict, he concluded.  The whole world knew Israel was the obstacle on the road to a comprehensive and just peace, as a result of its refusal to recognize the rights of the Palestine people, as well as its refusals to withdraw from the occupied Syrian Golan and certain areas of southern Lebanon  -– the Shabaa farms.  The Middle East region had been battered and bloody for more than 50 years.  The battlefield had expanded to include Iraq.  However, none had the right to seek security through bringing harm to others.

MARCELLO SPATAFORA (Italy), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Assembly had devoted continued and focused attention to the situation in the Middle East for more than half a century, and throughout that time, the region had remained in serious crisis, with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the epicentre of the abiding instability.  While he had earlier outlined the European Union’s position on the tragic events that continued to unfold in the occupied Palestinian territories, he would stress today that only through a process of negotiation could a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Middle East be achieved.

The Union was deeply concerned by the situation in the region and had noted that, despite the support given by the international community to the quest for a just and lasting solution, he said, insufficient efforts had been made by the concerned parties to seize the opportunity for peace set out in particular in the performance-based Road Map peace plan.  He called on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to live up to their 2003 commitments under that initiative, backed by the European Union, Russian Federation, United States and the United Nations.  He also called on all parties in the region to immediately implement policies conducive to dialogue and negotiations.

He went on to say that the Union condemned suicide attacks and other acts of violence that had occurred over the last few months, and called on all sides to refrain from any provocative action, which could further escalate tensions.  He reiterated that it was the duty of all countries, including those in the region, to stop harbouring and supporting, financially or otherwise, any groups or individuals that used terror and violence to advance their causes.  He added that terrorist attacks against Israel had no justification whatsoever, and called on the Palestinian leadership to concretely demonstrate its determination in the fight against extremist violence.

While recognizing Israel’s right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, he urged the Israeli Government, in exercising that right, to fully respect international law and to exert maximum effort to avoid civilian casualties and take no action that aggravated the humanitarian and economic plight of the Palestinian people.  He was also concerned by the planned route of the so-called security fence being constructed in Gaza, and called on Israel to stop and reverse its settlement policy and dismantle settlements built after March 2001.  A final peace settlement in the Middle East would not be comprehensive unless it also addressed the ongoing tensions between Israel and Syria, as well as with Lebanon.

SUE KNOWLES (Australia) said her country and its coalition partners were determined to stay the course in Iraq.  Addressing Saddam’s legacy of oppression and abuse was a major challenge, but steady progress was being made on rehabilitation and Iraqis were increasingly taking responsibility for their security.

She said Australia welcomed the adoption by consensus on 26 November by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of a resolution on Iran’s nuclear programme, which acknowledged Iran’s promises of full cooperation with the IAEA, suspension of uranium enrichment and reprocessing and immediate adherence to a safeguards-strengthening Additional Protocol.

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, she said Australia was a strong supporter of the Road Map for Middle East peace and welcomed Security Council Resolution 1515.  There could be no military solution to the conflict, just as there was no alternative to a negotiated settlement.  Australia was committed to Israel’s right to live in peace and security within internationally recognized boundaries.  Australia had also consistently supported the emergence of a Palestinian State living at peace with Israel.  However, she added, for the Palestinian people to realize the legitimate aspiration to statehood, the Palestinian Authority must take firm action to end the violence.  It was now more important than ever for the international community and the United Nations to work together to overcome the destructive forces in the Middle East and build a better future for its people.

SERGEY V. LAVROV (Russian Federation) said the situation in the Middle East had been the focus of close attention for more than half a century.  However, the international community had not yet reached a just and lasting solution to it.  Thus, faced with a situation in which the return to negotiations was becoming increasingly difficult and the threat of spillover of the conflict to other States was raised, he called on both sides to resume their negotiations.  It was anticipated that in establishing a high-level dialogue, relations between the two parties could be improved and placed on a non-confrontational plane.

The Road Map, he said, addressed both the need for the Palestinian administration to take action against those killing innocent civilians and for Israel to ease the restrictions it had placed on the occupied territories and to ameliorate the suffering of the Palestinian people.  Among the requirements of the process was the establishment of a mutual trust, which would open the door to solving the conflict on the basis of Security Council resolutions and other international arrangements and agreements.  The Road Map also called for a stepping up of multilateral and United Nations efforts to assist the parties.  For its part, the Russian Federation would continue to work with its Quartet partners and the Arab countries to broker a settlement resulting in two States living side by side within safe and internationally recognized borders.

MANSOUR AYYAD AL-OTAIBI (Kuwait) said the situation in the Middle East was organically linked to international peace and security.  For decades, the Middle East had failed to achieve socio-economic development on par with other regions because of ongoing conflict and spiralling violence.  One of the main hindrances to peace, security and development had been the persistence of the Israeli Government to occupy Arab lands and to oppress the Palestinian people.  The Israeli Government must realize that violence bred violence.

As the Israeli Government continued its aggressive polices against Syria, as well as areas of southern Lebanon, and its expansionist actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, the situation in the Middle East continued to deteriorate.  It was unreasonable for the international community to address the reasons for the conflict fabricated time and again by Israel, when the crux of the issue was Israeli occupation of Arab lands.  Israel continued to obstinately implement its expansionist and oppressive policies in defiance of international laws.  Indeed, that country continued to build its so-called separation wall and erect settlements throughout the territories.

He strongly condemned all acts of violence and the barbarous practices of the Israeli Government against the Palestinian people.  Israel’s violations in the Syrian Golan and continuing threats against Lebanon were all violations of international law and the Geneva Conventions.  The United Nations must continue its central role to find a settlement to all aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict and to ensure that the various resolutions that had been adopted were adhered to.  He welcomed the Quartet-backed Road Map and called on Israel to abide by its commitments under that peace plan.  He also called on Israel to withdraw from the Syrian Golan, resume negotiations based on previous agreements and cease all threats to Lebanon.  The Israeli Government must realize that security was a right of all the people of the region, not an exclusive right of Israel alone. 

UMİT PAMİR (Turkey) said he strongly and unequivocally condemned all acts of terrorism and violence perpetrated against the Israelis and reminded the Palestinian Authority of its responsibility to take all necessary steps to halt the violence.  On the other hand, he also called on the Israeli Government to reconsider its methods for fighting terrorism.  While noting that Turkey fully understood Israel’s security concerns, he had serious misgivings about the ongoing construction of the separation wall or security fence, which had already deteriorated the exasperated living conditions of the Palestinians.  Establishing security was paramount, but it was not the single most important objective, he said.  For instance, there was no doubt that every tangible improvement in the daily lives of the Palestinians would reflect positively on the security situation on the ground.

He called on both sides to pool their energies and determination to commit themselves to genuine dialogue, saying it was time for both parties to break that repetitious and vicious cycle.  The new Palestinian Authority Government provided an opportunity in finding the much-needed impetus to the peace process.  In that framework, the Quartet Road Map remained the most important document that could break the current impasse between the parties.  Delaying the settlement of the conflict widened despair and desolation, which, in turn, strengthened radicalism in the region and expanded on a global scale the breeding ground from which terrorists were recruited.  He also urged the Assembly not to overlook the significance of the other tracks in the stalled peace process.  The revival of talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks was indispensable for a comprehensive settlement.

ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL-HUSSEIN (Jordan) noted that the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories had continued to deteriorate as a result of Israeli actions for the third consecutive year.  Having worked diligently at all levels for a just and comprehensive solution that would bring peace to the entire region, on the basis of United Nations resolutions and international agreements, he wished to reiterate the importance of taking large and serious steps to implement the Road Map and bring the peace process back on track.  That effort should envisage the creation of two States, living side by side in peace and stability, within safe and internationally recognized borders.

He recalled his country’s position with regard to illegal Israeli actions in the occupied territories and Palestinian refugees, already set forth in the Special Political and Decolonization Committee.  He also welcomed anew the adoption of Security Council resolution 1515, which called on all parties to implement the Road Map agreement.  Now that the parties and the international community had endorsed it, the implementation of that plan required genuine political will.

The world, he continued, had recently witnessed a political move on the civil society front that provided a model of what a final solution might look like.  Moreover, the appointment of a new Palestinian Prime Minister gave hope to the political process.  However, that process continued to require the support of the international community, as well as the implementation by Israel and Palestinian authorities of their commitments under the Road Map.  Furthermore, the effective monitoring of the Road Map would be essential.

Israel’s continued construction of the separation wall, he concluded, represented a violation of the principles of international law, threatened the peace process and prevented the establishment of a viable Palestinian State according to the pre-1967 borders.  Calling for the ending of extremist actions on both sides, he condemned all actions in which innocent civilians were killed or harmed.  Such actions only harmed Palestinian interests and undermined the peace process.

ORLANDO REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba) said the ongoing deadly cycle of violence and reprisals had exacerbated political tensions in the Middle East and caused an unprecedented number of dead and wounded in recent months.  Yet, violence, destruction and the use of military force would not lead to a definitive solution of the conflict.  And while the Assembly had, 56 years ago, recognized the creation of two independent States –- one Arab and one Jewish –- the current scenario did not correspond to that vision.

Instead, he noted, Israel continued to occupy Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territories, in flagrant violation of the resolutions of the Assembly and the Security Council.  The inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the creation of their independent and sovereign State had yet to be respected.  Israel continued to expand its settlements in the occupied Arab territories and there had been no definitive solution to the deplorable situation of the approximately 4 million Palestinian refugees, both inside and outside the occupied territories.  Moreover, the Israeli aggression perpetrated against the territory of Syria several weeks ago reminded all that the latent threat of a military escalation in the region could not be disregarded.

The United Nations continued to face a most difficult task, he added.  Moreover, it was embarrassing that the Security Council continued to be hostage to the dictates of a power using its veto or the threat of it to prevent the implementation of the Council’s own resolutions.  It would be necessary, he said, to address the issues with relation to Palestine, as well as Syria and Lebanon, in order to bring a broad, just and lasting peace to the Middle East.  Israel must end its occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territories and all relevant Security Council resolutions must be implemented.  Furthermore, the international community should consider the deployment of an international force under a United Nations mandate to protect the civilian Palestinian population.

KOICHI HARAGUCHI (Japan) said he shared the heightened expectation of the implementation of the Road Map now that a new cabinet had been formed under the new Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.  Nevertheless, he took a cautious view on the progress, given the rapid evaporation of great hopes six months ago.  The situation was now such that enormous efforts on both sides would be required in order for the outlook to brighten again.

He welcomed expressions by Prime Minister Qurei and Prime Minister Sharon of their readiness to meet directly to resume implementation of the Road Map.  He also commended the continued involvement of the United States in efforts to achieve peace and supported the efforts of the Egyptian Government in serving as an intermediary to effect a ceasefire among the Palestinian factions.  He also welcomed the adoption of Security Council resolution 1515 and hoped it would add momentum to the search for peace.  The Geneva Initiative announced yesterday provided additional hope for peace.

However, he continued, as long as the Palestinian Authority’s actions against the extremists failed to yield results and the Israeli Government continued its settlement activities and construction of a wall that crossed the Green Line, it would be difficult for mere words expressing commitment to achieving peace through the Road Map to be accepted.  Peace would never be achieved as long as both sides continued to insist on the other side acting first.  Action by both parties was indispensable.  He urged all parties to the Middle East conflict to uphold their determination to pursue peace.

NDEKHEDEHE E. NDEKHEDEHE (Nigeria) said the situation in the Middle East, one of the most intractable problems on the United Nations’ agenda, continued to deteriorate.  Condemning the spate of violence between the two parties, he expressed his country’s commitment to a peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict.  And as no progress was likely to be achieved until the core issues of the crisis were addressed, he called on the Assembly to address the security concerns of Israel, as well as those of the Palestinian people.

He reaffirmed his support for the relevant United Nations resolutions on the Syrian Golan and Lebanon, and called on the Secretary-General to establish a third-party mechanism to end violence and foster progress in the Middle East.  The holding of an international conference on the issue, as proposed by the Secretary-General last year, was also endorsed.

Further commending the efforts of United States President Bush to bring the parties together to implement the Road Map, he also welcomed the “Geneva Accord” signed yesterday by prominent Israelis and Palestinians.  That private initiative, while not a substitute for diplomatic negotiations, should be commended and encouraged.

LIAQUAT ALI JATOI (Pakistan) said Israel’s continued settlement activity in the occupied territories, including the building of a separation wall, negated all agreed principles.  The illegality of the acquisition of territory by force was a fundamental principle of international law flowing from the United Nations Charter.  The Quartet’s peace plan was based on Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories in exchange for durable peace. 

Besides the illegality of continued settlement activity, all those activities entailed enormous humanitarian suffering for the affected Palestinians, and that seriously undermined the prospects for a just and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute, he said.  Further, it was difficult to agree with the contention by the occupying forces that their actions were necessary to fight terrorism and enhance security because security could not be enhanced by intensifying repression and coercion.  Instead, genuine security would only come from acceptance of the rights of the occupied people to uphold their separate identity and exercise their inalienable rights, including their right to self-determination.

He said each Member State had a stake in peace in the Holy Land based on Assembly and Security Council resolutions and Crown Prince Abdullah’s peace plan.  One viable means to achieving peace was the full and faithful implementation of the Road Map, which promoted the vision of two States –- Palestine and Israel, living side by side in peace and security within recognized borders.  He hoped the international community would remain engaged with the concerned parties for an expeditious realization of that vision.

WANG GUANGYA (China) said the question of Palestine lay at the core of the Middle East situation.  Whether the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people would be recognized constituted the key to the comprehensive and reasonable settlement of that question.  The history of the region showed that the only way to realize a lasting peace would be to achieve that settlement politically.  Countering violence with violence would only serve to deepen mutual hatred – it neither helped the Palestinian objective of founding an independent State, nor helped to ensure Israel’s security.

He said the endorsement of the Road Map by the Palestinian authorities and the Security Council, as well as the “Geneva Accord” adopted yesterday, reflected the strong desire for peace felt by both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, and represented favourable developments for breaking the deadlock in the peace talks.  Both parties were urged to seize that opportunity, to resume peace talks as soon as possible and to restart the implementation of the Road Map.  The international community should also make greater efforts to promote the peace process.

Achieving peace in the Middle East, he continued, also required finding proper solutions to the disputes between Syria and Israel and Lebanon and Israel.  It was to be hoped that meaningful talks would be held to seek mutually acceptable solutions based on the principles of the Madrid Conference.

VIJAY NAMBIAR (India) said the volatile situation in the Middle East had exacerbated tensions in the region and contributed to a general sense of insecurity worldwide.  India had advocated, along with the rest of the international community, the need for both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to eschew violence and work towards a negotiated political settlement to the conflict.  The absence of any political dialogue or initiative towards a political process had been a matter of considerable concern.

India supported the Road Map as the only viable process that could promote a peaceful solution to the conflict and called on the parties to fulfil their obligations under that peace plan.  The Palestinian Authority was required to give concrete content to its declared intent of establishing law and order and combating terrorism.  Israel, for its part, should take immediate steps to build confidence by easing closures, removing settlement outposts, freezing settlement activity and halting construction of the wall.

While he fully understood the legitimate right of all States to exercise self-defence, Israel’s decision to construct such a wall in the occupied territories could not be justified.  The construction of the wall must not become an attempt to pre-determine the outcome of any final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  He also strongly condemned all acts of terrorism and violence.  Terrorist attacks directed against unarmed civilians became all the more reprehensible and detracted altogether from the cause they purported to serve.  He added that a comprehensive solution to the Middle East must include the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.  Reports of the situation along the “Blue Line” were not encouraging, as each side continued their violations.  A lasting solution could only be the result of a political process.

MARKIYAN KULYK (Ukraine) said it was tragic that the initial encouraging progress in the renewed peace process was damaged by the events on the ground.  The leadership of both sides could have done more to seize that opportunity for peace in the Middle East.  With the new Government of the Palestinian Authority now in place, he was hopeful of seeing the reverse of the current tragic situation.  He was further encouraged by the emergence lately of civil society peace initiatives aimed at complementing the Road Map with possible outlines of agreement on the final issues that would be dealt with during bilateral negotiations.  That promoted confidence between peoples and testified to the growth of the camps within Israeli and Palestinian societies willing to support both Governments on their search for lasting peace.

He said Ukraine still believed the only way forward was through negotiation and the implementation, swiftly and in good faith, by both sides of their obligations under the Road Map.  The upcoming meeting between Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ahmed Qurei would be important in terms of establishing the dialogue and agreeing on the areas of primary actions directed at bringing positive results to the peace process.  Future progress required the taking of bold steps, by both sides, intended to address simultaneously the major concerns of the other.  At such a critical point in Middle East history, it was necessary to ensure that the new opportunities for progress in the peace process were not missed, he stressed.

He recognized Israel’s right to defend its citizens.  However, extrajudicial killings had to stop, as they only fueled the violence and provoked more terrorism.  He called on Israel to implement without delay its obligations in the area of settlements, thus removing one of the major obstacles to peace.  A comprehensive Middle East settlement would be impossible without peace agreements on the Israeli-Lebanese and Israeli-Syrian tracks, aimed at ending the occupation of the Arab territories and normalization of relations with Israel.

Mr. TABOUL (Sudan) said he attached the utmost importance to developments in the Middle East and their effects on international peace and security.  The tragic developments in that region due to the actions of the Israeli army and the intransigence of Israeli policy did not augur well for the future.  Israel had taken Palestinian land and used tactics of terror and torture, among others, against the Palestinian people.  The final and peaceful resolution of the question of Palestine –- the crux of the Middle East situation –- was essential and should be accomplished on the basis of international resolutions.  Moreover, resolving the situation with regard to the occupied Arab territories of Syria and Lebanon was also important.

RASTAM MOHD ISA (Malaysia) said the continued illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, remained at the core of the region’s tensions.  The extent of the inhuman treatment of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation had been well documented in the reports of the United Nations and other concerned independent parties.  Despite being democratically elected by Palestinians, President Yasser Arafat continued to be demonized, harassed and humiliated at every turn, accused of being ineffective and ineffectual with every facet of his authority systematically undermined and, in his own person, being subjected to all forms of humiliation.

The Road Map currently constituted a workable platform for achieving comprehensive and durable peace, on the basis of the two-State solution as envisaged in Security Council resolution 1397 of 2002.  However, with the unqualified preconditions imposed by Israel, as well as the ongoing construction of the illegal separation wall by that country, Malaysia was deeply concerned with the prospect of the Road Map being rendered ineffective.  Therefore, he urged the implementation the relevant Security Council resolutions, including resolution 1515 of this year, saying the current deplorable situation and oppression of Palestinians could not be allowed to continue indefinitely.  He was equally concerned with the situation of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan and deplored the fact that the Arabs of the Syrian Golan continued to suffer under Israeli occupation, experiencing many deprivations.

He welcome what he termed “some significant progress” in the implementation of Security Council resolution 425, following the departure of Israeli forces from the United Nations-identified withdrawal line in southern Lebanon.  Also, he was particularly concerned about the situation in Iraq, which continued to have serious international and regional implications.  Given the unsettled and dangerous situation in the Middle East, Malaysia remained committed to encouraging peaceful solutions to the region’s many and complex problems.

Rights of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Iran said that today the plenary had heard a number of fabricated and baseless allegations made by the representative of Israel against his country.  However, it was an open secret in the international community that Israel had continuously violated various norms of international law, especially in the humanitarian field.  There was hardly any other regime as repressive as Israel.

Without responding to Israel’s baseless remarks, he wished to say that the Israeli regime had never been a party to the internationally negotiated instruments on weapons of mass destruction.  Moreover, the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone had been obstructed by Israel, with its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities.  For its part, Iran was party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), among other agreements.  His country had also demonstrated that it would not seek any weapons of mass destruction.  As to the other groundless allegations, Iranian support for the Palestinian people had always been of a moral nature.

The representative of Israel said the representative of Iran had accused his country of human rights violations and of aggression.  Yet, last week, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) had adopted a resolution by which the Assembly would express serious concern over continued human rights violations in Iran, including over the deteriorating situation regarding freedom of speech; cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment; forcible dissolution of political parties; and the absence of due process, among others.

Regarding aggression, one should recall that Iran was the most significant supporter of Hezbollah, he said.  It had supplied that organization with funding, weapons and training.  It had also provided funding and training to Islamic Jihad and Hamas.  Moreover, with the Shahab-3 missile, Iran was perfecting its ability to strike at Israel, as well as far into Europe and Asia.  In light of its hostile intentions and known association with terrorist elements, the Iranian regime’s active pursuit of weapons of mass destruction continued to be a source of concern for the international community.

It was particularly distressing, he added, that Iran’s support for anti-Israeli terrorism, and terrorism in general, had continued even as the world had united to combat that phenomenon.  The world had united to combat that scourge wherever it breathed; it breathed in Iran.  Finally, he noted that the representative of Iran’s unrestrained attacks assured him that his country was one that respected peace, justice and dignity.

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For information media - not an official record