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


GA/PAL/910
26 March 2003


Committee on the Inalienable Rights
of the Palestinian People
270th Meeting (AM)

AFRICAN UNION ADMITTED AS OBSERVER TO COMMITTEE ON PALESTINIAN RIGHTS

Observer for Palestine Expresses Concern That War
In Iraq Might Be Used to Escalate Israel’s Attacks on Palestinians


It was significant that the African Union had expressed its desire to participate in the work of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People at this trying time for the Palestinian people, the Committee was told as it admitted that organization as an observer this morning.

Welcoming that decision, the Committee’s Chairman, Papa Louis Fall (Senegal), said that the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and now the African Union had been always supportive of the Committee’s mandate, objectives and activities.  Countries of Africa had been in the forefront of international efforts aimed at achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine.  Over the years, many of them had hosted meetings organized under the auspices of the Committee.

The Permanent Observer for the African Union, Amadou Kebe, stressed the importance of the Union’s participation in the Committee’s work, as the Union attached great importance to Palestinian rights.  The Committee’s objectives coincided with the goals of the African Union, and it was noteworthy that Yassir Arafat was the only non-African head of State who was invited to address the summits of the OAU and the African Union.  As an observer, the Union would continue to cooperate with the Committee in a much more sustained way.

In his regular report to the Committee on the latest developments in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, the Permanent Observer for Palestine, Nasser Al-Kidwa, said that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council, which had held an important meeting on 18 March, had accepted President Arafat’s proposal to undertake the necessary steps to change the law creating the post of Prime Minister.  Since then, President Arafat had appointed Mahmoud Abbas as Prime Minister.  The new Prime Minister, who had three weeks to present his new government to the Legislative Council for a vote of confidence, would have full autonomy to fulfil his duties.

He said he did not, however, have high hopes that the new government would be enabled by the occupying Power to achieve the necessary changes in the current circumstances.  The real problem was not achieving a peaceful settlement, but in changing Israel’s political position, which was aimed at expanding its borders and preventing the establishment of a meaningful, sovereign Palestinian State.  Without a more serious position by the international community, Israel seemed comfortable to continue “as is” for a while.

On the issue of the “road map” for peace presented by the so-called Quartet consisting of the European Union, United Nations, United States and the Russian Federation, he said that while it was no secret that the Palestinian “had no love lost” for the proposed text, it had indicated its readiness to accept and implement it.  The Israeli side had not done the same.  Yesterday, he had heard that Israel’s Minister for Defence had been preparing an alternative initiative. 

The continuous postponement of the road map’s publication was unjustifiable, he continued.  President Bush had recently announced his personal commitment to the road map, including its publication after the confirmation of the Palestinian Prime Minister.  Worrisome additions to the road map could open the door for unlimited change that would ensure its uselessness.  Legal authority would provide a solid foundation for the Middle East peace process.  The only legal authority was that of the Security Council.  If the Council accepted the necessary steps for a solution, it would be an altogether different ball game.

He added that in his briefing to the Security Council last Wednesday, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen, had presented an important document describing the situation on the ground, which included some “scary figures” about the humanitarian catastrophe awaiting the Palestinian people.  He had also called for the immediate implementation of the road map without amendment.  Certain aspects of the briefing were cause for concern, however, including the use of certain terminology and the absence of a clear reference to the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Mr. Roed-Larsen had been doing a good job under a difficult situation and a hostile Israeli position, however.

The war in Iraq -- a tragic and unnecessary development in the region -- was taking place without the Council’s authority, he said.  The Palestinians were seriously concerned not only because of the suffering of the Iraqi people, but also because of the possible ramifications of the war for the Palestinian people themselves.  There was concern that Mr. Sharon might use the war to escalate Israel’s attacks on the Palestinian people.  He believed that there would be intensified attempts to change the situation on the ground, including more settlements.  He also thought there could be dramatic changes in the aftermath of the war as the Israeli Government tried to harness the political results of the war.

The situation on the ground was not calm, he said.  Only yesterday, the Israeli occupying forces had killed five people, including children.  Bethlehem was witnessing severe measures aimed at suffocating the city, the birthplace of Jesus Christ.  Those measures included an attempt to block the entrance to the city through the Israeli wall.  That wall had eaten huge chunks of Palestinian land.  The confiscation of land, killings and assassinations also continued.

Turning to the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Kuala Lumpur, he said the Summit had adopted two statements, including one on Palestine, which reflected an important position of the Movement.  The Summit’s clear position was that Israeli settler colonialism was the main obstacle to the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and a peaceful settlement of the conflict.  Israeli settler colonialism must be reversed in order to achieve peace in the Middle East.  There had also been a call for the revitalization of the Non-Aligned Movement Committee on Palestine.  The results of the Summit had provided a rich basis for the Committee’s work.

In a discussion that followed Mr. Al-Kidwa’s report, the representative of Cyprus informed the Committee that in response to the dire economic situation of the Palestinian people, his Government had increased its contribution to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) by 80 per cent.  In addition to that, its contribution in response to the emergency appeal, it would send another check, which would increase Cyprus’ annual contribution this year by almost 300 per cent.

Indonesia put forward a proposal that the Committee should consider sending a delegation to visit President Arafat in Ramallah, for that would boost the morale and send a strong signal to the Palestinian Authority and the people of Palestine that the Committee continued to support them.

The Permanent Observer for the Arab League emphasized the dire consequences of the war against Iraq for the region and expressed hope that it would not divert international attention from Palestine.  He also hoped the Committee would intensify its efforts to avoid the manoeuvres to dilute its work.

Also this morning, the Committee approved the provisional programme of the United Nations International Meeting and the Public Forum in Support of Middle East Peace, which are scheduled to take place in Kiev, Ukraine, from 13 to 15 May.

At the meeting’s conclusion, the Chairman reported to the Committee members on his attendance at the thirteenth Conference of Heads of State or Government of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur on 20-25 February.  The Conference’s outcome included declarations on the situation in Iraq and Palestine, he said.  The latter reaffirmed the Movement’s concern over the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority by Israeli occupying forces since 28 September 2000 and condemned systematic violations of the human rights in Palestine.  The document demanded immediate Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian lands occupied during that time, as well as implementation of Council resolutions in that regard.  It insisted on the implementation of the road map for peace and supported the idea of international presence on the ground in order to protect Palestinian civilians and assist in the implementation of the agreements.

The Chairman also informed the Committee that on 20 February he had addressed a letter to the Secretary-General, expressing grave concern over a plan of the Israeli military authorities to evict Palestinian residents and seize land in Bethlehem in implementation of the so-called “seam line area plan” – a unilateral scheme challenging the Green Line.  The Committee would continue to monitor that dangerous activity of the occupying Power and would be bringing any new developments to the attention of the Secretary-General.

Short statements were also made this morning by representatives of Ukraine, Malta and Malaysia.

The Committee will meet next at a time to be announced in the Journal.


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For information media - not an official record