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


Committee on the Inalienable Rights
Of the Palestinian People
277th Meeting (AM)
GA/PAL/945
12 March 2004

ONLY CLEAR POLITICAL RESOLVE BY ISRAELI, PALESTINIAN LEADERSHIP WOULD RESTART PEACE PROCESS, SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS PALESTINIAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE

New Committee Chairman Appeals to Quartet
For New Impetus to Achieve Cessation of Hostilities


“The price paid by both Israelis and Palestinians has been far too high. Let us waste no more time”, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today at the opening of this year’s session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, stressing an urgent need for a negotiated settlement to the deadly conflict.

Frustrated by the stalemate in the peace process, civil society had begun exploring possible pathways that could stimulate peacemaking and push the process forward, he continued. Late last year, the Geneva Initiative and the Ayalon-Nusseibeh statement of principles had sent a powerful message that differences could be bridged and that a dialogue was possible. But only clear political resolve on the part of the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships would break the impasse and restart the peace process. Attempts by either side to resolve the drawn-out conflict unilaterally could actually ferment more anger and violence.

Calling on both parties to take immediate and specific steps to implement the Road Map without preconditions, he urged the Palestinian Authority to take resolute action to halt terror attacks by militant groups against Israelis, and the Israeli Government to halt further settlement expansion and the construction of the barrier. For its part, the international community should help the two sides out of the present deadlock, and representatives of the Quartet must try harder to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. The United Nations would continue its work, but it needed the international community to provide generous assistance.

The Committee’s newly-elected Chairman, Paul Badji of Senegal, outlined the main priorities before the Committee, saying that given the unprecedented crisis, it must support efforts to create an effective follow-up mechanism to the “Road Map” and for the protection of Palestinian people. He appealed to the Quartet members for a new impetus to achieving the cessation of hostilities, the resumption of negotiations and the implementation of the Road Map’s objectives, namely the creation of a region, in which two States would coexist with security, mutual respect and shared peace.

While awaiting the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the building of a wall, the Committee would continue to oppose Israel’s annexation of Palestinian lands, promote the just cause of the Palestinian people and demand an end to the incarceration of their elected President, Yasser Arafat. He added that the Committee would also continue to strengthen its cooperation with civil society organizations and present to the Assembly and the Council any proposals likely to contribute to the effective implementation of the rights of the Palestinian people.

Among meetings and international conferences contained in this year’s programme of work, he mentioned a forthcoming African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, which would be hosted by South Africa. The Bureau had also decided to propose that the Committee convene a United Nations international meeting on the construction of the wall, which could be held in mid-April in Geneva.

Presenting the latest developments, the Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, Nasser Al-Kidwa, said that if completed, the wall that was being constructed by Israel, would leave the Palestinian people with only half of the West Bank within isolated, non-contiguous walled enclaves. He hoped that the International Court of Justice would render an advisory opinion versed in international law that would contribute to the resolution of the serious and urgent problem of the wall. The international community’s responsibility, including that of the General Assembly towards the critical issue could not be underestimated.

Referring to “the current dangerous attempts by the Israeli Government to formally depart from the Road Map and the agreed basis of the peace process and to try to impose a unilateral settlement”, he stressed that the way forward remained in the implementation of the Road Map. If, however, the Israeli side decided to withdraw from any part of the occupied Palestinian territory, Palestine would not object. The Palestinian Authority would, moreover, assume its responsibilities but would have no bilateral obligations in such a case. A reasonable possibility was that the Authority would call for an international presence in an area like the Gaza Strip, from which a withdrawal might take place.

Following the election of the Chairman, during an organizational part of the meeting, the Committee also elected Ravan Farhadi of Afghanistan and Orlando Requiejo Gual of Cuba as its Vice-Chairmen, and Victor Camilleri of Malta as its Rapporteur. In other action, it approved its programme of work for 2004 (document A/AC.183/2004/CRP.1). Short statements were made by representatives of Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Guinea and Malaysia, who supported the proposed programme of work of the Committee and commented on its details. South Africa’s representative confirmed that his country would host the African Meeting on the Question of Palestine.

The Committee’s Rapporteur reported to the members of the Committee on the United Nations Meeting for Asia and the Pacific on the Question of Palestine, which took place in Beijing on 16-17 December 2003 and was followed on 18 December by a Public Forum in Support of Middle East Peace.

At the opening of the meeting, the Committee observed a minute of silence for the victims of yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Madrid, Spain.

The Committee will meet next at a date to be announced.


Statements

In his opening statement, Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN noted that the situation on the ground had once again been shaken by a wave of violence. The death toll since September 2000 had now reached over 3,000 Palestinians and 900 Israelis. Most of those killed had been civilians, many of them children. The price already paid by both Israelis and Palestinians had been far too high. “Let us waste no more time. There is an urgent need for a negotiated settlement to this deadly conflict”, he stressed.

The lack of any tangible progress towards a peaceful settlement has raised the level of hopelessness and despair among ordinary Palestinians and Israelis, he continued. Frustrated by the stalemate in the peace process, civil society had begun exploring possible pathways that could stimulate peacemaking and push the process forward. Late last year, the Geneva Initiative and the Ayalon-Nesseibeh statement on principles had sent a powerful message that difference could be bridged and that a dialogue was possible.

But only a clear political resolve on the part of the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships would break the impasse and restart the process. Attempts by either side to resolve the drawn-out conflict unilaterally could actually foment more anger and violence. “There is no substitute for the two parties sitting down and working out with each other the details of an agreement that both peoples can live with”, he stated.

The Road Map launched in 2002 had been accepted by both parties and enjoyed broad support from the international community, he said. Based on Council resolutions 242, 338 and 1397, it remained the most practical way of achieving the aspirations on both sides. In resolution 1515, the Council had further bolstered support for the Road Map. The objective of the resolution was clear – two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

Calling on both parties to take immediate and specific steps to implement the plan without preconditions, he urged the Palestinian Authority to take resolute action to halt terror attacks by militant groups against Israelis and the Israeli Government to halt further settlement expansion and the construction of the barrier. Prime Minister Sharon’s announcement of a plan to evacuate the Gaza Strip settlements was encouraging, and he looked forward to seeing a timetable for that. Such an evacuation could be seen as part of a broader process, an interim step that could revitalize stalled peace efforts, consistent with the Road Map. For its part, the international community should help the two sides out of the present deadlock. Representatives of the Quartet must try harder to bring the parties back to the negotiating table.

The Ad Hoc Liaison Committee had met in Rome last December to secure financial assistance for the Palestinian people, who continued to endure a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis. The Special Coordinator and the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs continued their work, as did other agencies, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – some of them with limited resources and all under extremely difficult conditions. International help was particularly crucial at this time. The United Nations would continue its work, but it needed the international community to give generously. The Palestinian Rights Committee had an important role to play in efforts to reach common goals.

The newly-elected Committee Chairman Mr. BADJI (Senegal) expressed his gratitude for his election and paid tribute to Committee members for their skill in carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to them. He also noted the outstanding work done by the Division for Palestinian Rights. The Secretary-General had always provided valuable support to initiatives to achieve a negotiated, just and lasting settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In view of the growing deterioration of conditions and given the numerous obstacles to peace, he assured the Committee of his determination to work towards the fulfilment of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. The Committee would continue to mobilize public opinion to ensure the reign of an atmosphere conductive to relaunching negotiations, among other things. The Quartet members must play an active role, making use of their influence on Israel to ensure that it respected the obligations it had undertaken, in particular those contained in the 1949 Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in time of war.

Given the unprecedented crisis, the Committee must support efforts to create an effective follow-up mechanism to the Road Map and for the protection of Palestinian people, he said. He appealed to the Quartet members for a new impetus to achieving the cessation of hostilities, the resumption of negotiations and the implementation of the Road Map’s objective, namely the creation of region in which two States would coexist with security, mutual respect and shared peace.

The occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territories was the major cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict, he said. The establishment of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace hinged on the immediate implementation of the Road Map, relevant Security Council resolutions, the principle of the exchange of land for peace, and the initiative adopted by the League of Arab States at Beirut. The Committee would not be remiss in its mission of informing public opinion regarding the living conditions of Palestinians.

While awaiting the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the building of a wall, the Committee would continue to oppose Israel’s annexation of Palestinian lands. He recalled the just cause of the nature of the Palestinian people and demanded an end to the incarceration of their elected President, Yasser Arafat. The Committee would continue to strengthen its cooperation with civil society organizations and it would also present to the Assembly and the Council any proposals likely to contribute to the effective implementation of the rights of the Palestinian people. Despite a difficult geopolitical context, the Committee would fully exercise its prerogatives in the hope of soon seeing the dawn of a new era in which Palestinians and Israelis would opt for peaceful coexistence in a spirit of solidarity.

NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, began by condemning the acts yesterday in Madrid. He also welcomed the new Chairman. Over the years, the Committee had been an integral component of the United Nations’ work, and it continued to have an important role to play towards the ultimate achievement of the rights of the Palestinian people and the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East region as a whole. He also thanked the Secretary-General for his participation and expressed his appreciation to him for his efforts to bring an end to the tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, had not improved, he said. In the past year, Israel had continued to commit war crimes and State terrorism and to systematically violate the human rights of the Palestinian people. While waging its military campaign, the Israeli occupying forces had used all means of heavy weaponry and had continued to use excessive and indiscriminate force against the Palestinian civilian population. Since September 2000, the occupying forces had killed some 2,821 Palestinians, including women and children. Of those killed, many had been killed by extrajudicial execution.

Throughout the recent period, the Israeli occupying forces had also continued to cause destruction to Palestinian property, infrastructure and land, he continued. Since September 2000, thousands of homes had been destroyed or damaged by the Israeli occupying forces, many deliberately. Widespread destruction had been caused to roads and water, sanitation and electricity networks. In addition to the destruction of land, the occupying forces continued to confiscate more Palestinian land for illegal settlement activities, which had persisted unabated.

Israel had also continued to carry out other forms of collective punishment against the Palestinian people and to impose suffocating restrictions on the freedom of movement of persons and goods, he said. The impact on the socio-economic situation of the Palestinian people had been severe, and humanitarian hardships continued to rise.

The wall that was now being constructed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around East Jerusalem had deeply exacerbated the already grave situation, he said. The wall was not about security; it was about the acquisition of territory by force and the de facto annexation of land by the occupying Power. Indeed, the wall was being constructed almost entirely in the occupied Palestinian territory, and there was a direct correlation between the route of the wall and the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory and water resources in the area. There was also a definite correlation between the route of the wall and Israel’s longstanding illegal polices and practices regarding occupied East Jerusalem, including its illegal annexation of the city.

The wall was not just a complex physical structure; it was a whole regime, he said. It had involved the confiscation of Palestinian land and the destruction of property and natural resources. The wall encircled entire Palestinian communities in walled enclaves. Hundreds of Palestinian civilians were being displaced, and thousands of Palestinians were now imprisoned between the wall and the Green Line. If completed, the wall would leave the Palestinian people with only half of the West Bank within isolated, non-contiguous walled enclaves. It completely undermined the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, as it would prevent the emergence of a viable and independent Palestinian State. Israel was constructing the wall in grave violation of international law.

He said the advisory opinion proceedings of the International Court of Justice represented an important and historical juncture in the United Nations efforts to address the different aspects of the question of Palestine. The exercise was important not only for Palestinians but also for the future of the Middle East as a whole. The successful outcome of the proceedings would be important for the integrity of international law and the future of the international system. He hoped that the Court would render an advisory opinion versed in international law that would contribute to the resolution of the serious and urgent problem of the wall. The international community’s responsibility, including the Assembly’s, towards the critical issue could not be underestimated.

He referred to the current dangerous attempts by the Israeli Government to formally depart from the Road Map and the agreed basis of the peace process and to try to impose a unilateral settlement. The way forward remained the implementation of the Road Map and not the taking of unilateral steps. If, however, the Israeli side decided to withdraw from any part of the occupied Palestinian territory, Palestine would not object. The Palestinian Authority would, moreover, assume its responsibilities but would have no bilateral obligations in such a case. A reasonable possibility was that the Authority would call for an international presence in an area like the Gaza Strip, from which a withdrawal might take place.

He expressed hope that strident efforts would be taken by the Quartet to revive the peace process and the Road Map. The alternatives were bleak and perilous. Efforts must be made to compel Israel to bring down the wall, to bring an end to the cycle of violence on the ground, and to bring both parties back to the negotiating table to pursue in good faith the implementation of the Road Map towards its goal of a two-State solution.

Updating the Committee on developments since its last meeting, Committee Chairman, Mr. BADJI (Senegal) recalled the Assembly’s strong support during the fifty-eighth session to the four resolutions on the question of Palestine, indicating the importance attached by the overwhelming majority of States to the need to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine. On 8 December, the resumed tenth emergency session of the Assembly was convened to address the issue of Israel’s construction of the separation barrier in the West Bank. On 3 February, the International Court of Justice had issued a press release stating that written statements had been filed concerning the legal consequences of the wall. The three-day public hearings were held from 23 to 25 February. A date of the public sitting at which the Court would render its advisory opinion was to be announced at a later date.

The situation on the ground had remained volatile and dangerous, he said. The Israeli army had continued raids in various parts of the occupied Palestinian territory resulting in a heavy human toll; extrajudicial killings had not stopped; the work of the separation barrier had continued unabated; and the humanitarian situation was a cause of great concern. Also, suicide bombings continued, killing Israeli civilians. The situation, no matter how deadlocked, had to be addressed by the parties assisted by the Quartet without further delay.

He noted that Prime Minister Sharon had made public statements concerning a possible Israeli withdrawal, including the evacuation of settlements from the Gaza Strip. The international community would welcome such an Israeli withdrawal from parts of the Palestinian land if that were a first step made in the context of the Road Map and implemented in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and the international community. The Committee had welcomed last year’s initiatives by representatives of Israeli and Palestinian civil society aimed at exploring possible alternative solutions to resolving the conflict, he said.

Introducing the draft programme of work for 2004, he said the programme reflected the Committee’s ongoing concerns regarding the present situation and explained how the Committee intended to carry out its mandated activities in the course of the year. While section I was largely procedural, section II outlined priority issues for 2004. They included promoting support for the Road Map and the work of the Quartet in pursuit of a comprehensive, just and lasting solution of the question of Palestine and its strong opposition to Israel’s construction of the illegal wall in the occupied Palestinian territory. The Assembly’s request to the International Court of Justice to determine the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall was an important step towards upholding international law in efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Aware of the dangers posed by continuing Israeli settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, the Committee would continue to emphasize the importance of ceasing all settlement activities and reversing them in order to create conditions conducive to the resumption of the political process. He added that the Committee would maintain its support for efforts at restoring the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, including through the Quartet and the personal engagement of the Secretary-General and the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. It would also focus on issues regarding the state of the Palestinian economy and the urgency of providing international emergency relief and humanitarian assistance.

He noted that section III dealt with the proposed activities of the Committee and the Division for Palestinian Rights. Sub-section B spelled out the year’s programme of meetings and international conferences. In that regard, the Government of South Africa had agreed to host the African Meeting on the Question of Palestine. In view of the construction of the wall, the Bureau had decided to propose that the Committee convene a United Nations international meeting on the construction of the wall, which could be held under the auspices of the Committee in mid-April in Geneva. The Committee would continue to assess the proposed programme in light of new developments and would make adjustments as necessary.

The Committee’s Rapporteur, VICTOR CAMILLERI (Malta), reported to the Committee on the United Nations Meeting for Asia and the Pacific on the Question of Palestine, which had been held in Beijing on 16-17 December 2003 and was followed on 18 December by a Public Forum in Support of Middle East Peace. In the course of the meeting, the participants had reviewed the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. They discussed the Road Map, emphasizing that it remained the principal mechanism for moving towards a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and welcomed the civil society proposals, such as the Geneva and People’s Voice initiatives as important steps in stimulating the debate among Palestinians and Israelis.

The regional Meeting was attended by representatives of 73 governments, Palestine, three non-governmental organizations, seven United Nations bodies and 12 civil society organizations. In addition, special guests of the host country and representatives of the media, universities and institutes had attended the Meeting. The Committee’s representatives had also taken part in the event. At the closing of the Meeting, the participants had adopted a final document, he said, in which they expressed grave concern about the deterioration of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. They welcomed the appointment of a new Palestinian government, as well as the unanimous adoption of resolution 1515 by the Council. Participants agreed that the continuing occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territory remained the core of the conflict, threatening the security and stability of the entire region.

The participants had voiced serious concern about the suffering and dispossession of the Palestinian people caused by the occupation and condemned the separation barrier, planned and implemented by Israel with utter disregard for Palestinian interests and rights, he continued. It was seen as an extension of the illegal annexation by Israel of Palestinian land in violation of its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The participants considered the request by the General Assembly to the International Court of Justice to determine the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall an important step towards upholding international law in the efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Public Forum, which followed the meeting, was characterized by a frank and useful discussion of such issues as public perceptions of the conflict, the impact and responsibility of academic institutions and the role of civil society in raising public awareness.


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For information media - not an official record