He was addressing the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People as it met to consider developments in the Middle East peace process and the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem.
Today marked a very sad occasion, he told the Committee -- the fiftieth anniversary of "the catastrophe". Yesterday, solemnly commemorating the dispossession and uprooting of the Palestinian people from their lands and homes, a million-person march was organized through all Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps. As if the bitterness of that occasion was not enough, the occupying Israeli army opened fire indiscriminately, killing eight people, two of whom were eight-year-old children, and injuring 400 others. Several of those injured remained in critical condition, he said.
He again called on the Security Council, which was responsible for maintaining international peace and security, to ensure there would be no repeat of such incidents. Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit to the United Nations today was ill-timed, because he had no business in the house of international legitimacy and peace when he persistently violated the first and destroyed the second.
It would appear that in his visit to United Nations Headquarters, Prime Minister Netanyahu was defending Israel's right to put an end to the peace process and to kill other Arabs and Palestinians, the representative of Syria said. The people who were meeting with him at Headquarters should stipulate that Israel must go along with resolutions adopted at the United Nations and with the rule of international law.
At the outset of today's meeting, the Chairman welcomed the new Permanent Representative of Turkey to the Committee. The representative was among those who expressed regret for the tragic loss of life in Gaza yesterday, stating that it demonstrated the scope of the challenges facing the Committee. The Permanent Observer for Palestine thanked him for his words. The Committee later decided to send a telegramme of condolences and support to Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority.
In other business, the Committee also approved the provisional agenda of a North American Non-governmental Organizations (NGO) Symposium on the Question of Palestine, to be held at Headquarters from 15 to 17 June. The Symposium will meet on the theme, "Fifty years of dispossession of the Palestinian people".
The Committee also heard reports from its Chairman on an International NGO Meeting on the Question of Palestine and a Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, both held in Cairo in the last week of April. He also reported on his attendance at the Participants' Conference for Bethlehem 2000, held in Brussels on 11 and 12 May. Bethlehem 2000 is being organized to mark the millennial anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Statements were also made by the representatives of Afghanistan, Cuba, Cyprus and Malaysia.
The Palestinian Rights Committee will meet again at a date to be announced in the Journal.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning to consider developments in the Middle East peace process and the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem. It was also to hear reports by its Chairman on an International Non-governmental Organizations (NGO) Meeting on the Question of Palestine, held from 25 to 26 April, and a Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, held from 27 to 28 April, both in Cairo.
The Committee was also to hear a report by its Chairman on his attendance at the Participants' Conference for Bethlehem 2000, which is being organized to mark the millennial anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The Conference was held at Brussels on 11 and 12 May. The Committee also had before it a working paper outlining a North American NGO Symposium on the Question of Palestine, to be held at Untied Nations Headquarters from 15 to 17 June. The Seminar and NGO meetings are sponsored by the Palestinian Rights Committee.
Meetings, Seminars, Observances
IBRAHIM DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Committee Chairman, reporting on the NGO Meeting in Cairo, said that most of the interventions had focused on the dismal state of the peace process, the serious economic situation in the Palestinian territories, and frustration that the international community, including the United Nations, had not been able to bring about a just settlement. A number of speakers stressed the need for the Palestinian leadership to proceed with declaring an independent Palestinian state and for NGOs to develop activities in support of such a move.
He said that many NGOs had expressed the wish that the Committee should organize future NGO meetings in the region. The need to strengthen the role of the Israeli peace forces was also stressed, as was the possibility of establishing an NGO centre in Cairo to promote NGO cooperation within the Middle East.
Turning to the Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, he said it was attended by representatives of 61 governments, three intergovernmental organizations, 10 United Nations organizations and agencies, and 27 NGOs. Several prominent representatives of the Palestinian Authority also attended. The theme of the Seminar was, "Facing the challenges of the year 2000: promoting Palestinian development", and it was the sixth in a series of annual seminars on economic and social issues held under the Committee's auspices.
He said the Seminar gave particular attention to the Palestinian Authority's Development Plan for 1998/1999 and the recently concluded population census. In its first round table, panelists focused on the goals, strategies and priorities of Palestinian national development and discussed major economic indicators and social conditions. The role of donor countries and the use of external resources in drawing up and implementing the development plan were also discussed.
In a second round table, on "gathering information for future planning", panellists discussed the structure, trend and historical perspective of the Palestinian people, based on the results of the census, he said. They also discussed aspects of the Palestinian labour force, including characteristics, skills, trends and potential. Round table three focused on obstacles facing the Palestinian economy and development, and the role of the international community in helping to overcome them. Participants discussed the challenges facing future development planning, the efforts made by the Palestinian Authority to overcome the negative effect of Israel's closure policies on the Palestinian economy and development plans, and the role of Governments and intergovernmental organizations in minimizing those effects.
Reporting on his attendance at the Bethlehem 2000 Participants' Conference, the Chairman said that Bethlehem Project, initiated by the Palestinian Authority two years ago, would give an opportunity for Christians, Muslims and all mankind to become part of the force for redemption launched by the birth of Jesus Christ. The different sectors involved in the project included rehabilitation, tourism and cultural heritage, and it included the creation of a "Centre for Hope" cultural site. The total cost would be $336 million, of which $51 million would be financed through the provision of services and $3 million by the Palestinian Authority.
RAVAN A.G. FARHADI (Afghanistan) said that Bethlehem 2000 was of major importance for all mankind, as the message of Jesus Christ was important for all humanity. The message of Christianity was one of peace and tolerance. It was a clear right of the Palestinian people to host the observance, as Bethlehem 2000 would honour the birth of Christ in that land. It was not just a right, but also a duty.
The convening of the conference would bring up financial questions and pose practical problems, with so many people attending, he said. Welcoming the proposal to begin the observance in December 1999 and run it through spring 2001, he said that would satisfy both Christian and Muslim calendars. It would be an event of major universal importance, even for those who were neither Muslim or Christian. He looked forward to the participation of people from different religions around the world, and welcomed the letter of the Secretary-General asking for the issue to be included on the agenda of the next session of the General Assembly.
M. NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said Bethlehem 2000 was an important universal occasion, an opportunity to achieve greater peace and prosperity for all. He expressed the hope that the General Assembly would include the item on the agenda for its fifty-third session, and looked forward to the United Nations playing a useful role in talks on the matter and in tangibly contributing to the success of the observance.
Developments in Middle East
Mr. AL-KIDWA, the Permanent Observer for Palestine, said that today marked a very sad occasion, the fiftieth anniversary of "the catastrophe". Yesterday, solemnly commemorating the dispossession and uprooting of the Palestinian people from their lands and homes, a million-person march was organized through all Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps. As if the bitterness and pain of that occasion was not enough, the occupying Israeli army opened fire indiscriminately on the participants, killing eight people, two of whom were eight-year-old children, and injuring 400 others. Several of those injured remained in critical condition.
He said he had met yesterday with the President of the Security Council and presented a letter which was copied to the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly. In it, the Palestinian delegation called once again upon the Security Council, which was responsible for maintaining international peace and security, to ensure there would be no repeat of such incidents.
Statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials, as well as others made on Capitol Hill in reaction to yesterday's killings, not only did not express regret over the deaths but blamed the victims for being killed by the Israeli forces, he said. That represented a racist attitude towards the Palestinian people and should be condemned.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had rejected a United States invitation to attend a trilateral summit in Washington, D.C. on 11 May to launch permanent status talks, he said. The Prime Minister had refused to attend the summit because the invitation was conditional on acceptance of proposals by the United States to revive the stalled peace process. Mr. Netanyahu's position served as additional proof that the Government of Israel did not intend to implement the terms of the peace agreement, including the further redeployment from 13.1 per cent of occupied lands and the cessation of settlement activity.
Israeli arguments which cited security interests in rejecting the agreements were totally false, he said. The existing agreements had been reached on the basis of Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and were aimed at implementing those texts. Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories in compliance with them. How then could it argue that redeployment threatened its security? The settlements were illegal and would remain so. The occupied territory was Palestinian land; claiming any part of it on the basis of security reflected a colonial mentality which would never be accepted but only ensure destruction of the current peace process.
The meetings in Washington, D.C. had been aimed at persuading the Israeli side to accept the proposals of the United States, he said. The Palestinian side would not accept any changes to the package it had accepted. While it was hoped that agreement would be reached, Israel should be held responsible for any consequences of its failure to fulfil its obligations. The Palestinian people would continue to rely on the support and solidarity of the Committee, the United Nations at large, and the international community. The Palestinian side had proved once again its willingness to be reasonable, based on international legitimacy, and to be keen on finding a just and lasting solution.
Today's visit to the United Nations by Prime Minister Netanyahu was ill- timed, he said. The Palestinian delegation did not see what business he could do in the house of international legitimacy and peace when he persistently violated the first and destroyed the second.
FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said today's meeting was being held against a background of bitter circumstances for the Palestinian people, as a result of their unjust persecution by Israel over the past 50 years. Israel was not content with the territory it had illegally usurped, nor with the massacres of people there. The most fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people had been violated. Still, Israel was not content. It continued to violate the rights of the Syrian people through its occupation of the Golan Heights, and the rights of the Lebanese people through its occupation of southern Lebanon.
Yet still it continued, yesterday killing 10 Palestinians, he said. That was in addition to the thousands of crimes already committed against those people, who were just defending their rights. Yet what would be heard from the media about it, or from the people who spoke of international law? That situation would have been different if the incident had occurred on the other side.
There had been silence on the part of some who often talked about the peace process and the need to be flexible, he said. At the same time, Israel was imprisoning and detaining children, who were also beaten up on the streets of Palestinian cities. Where were the values of peace and justice and the rule of international law? Those values were disregarded when the rights of the Palestinian and Arab peoples were concerned. What was the logic? In the name of what logic were the Palestinian people forced to continue to give up their rights?
It would appear that in his visit to United Nations Headquarters, Prime Minister Netanyahu was defending Israel's right to put an end to the peace process and to kill other Arabs and Palestinians, he said. The people who were meeting with him at Headquarters should stipulate that Israel must go along with resolutions adopted at the United Nations and with the rule of international law. His country sympathized with the plight of its brothers in Palestine. In the catastrophe that took place yesterday, Palestinians had renewed their commitment to strive for their rights. Syria would continue to support them until a permanent and lasting solution could be found.
BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba) expressed condolences to the Palestinian people on yesterday's tragic deaths and stressed the Cuban people's total solidarity with their cause. He said Cuba was concerned over the situation in the occupied territory, which showed that the peace process was at an impasse, and emphasized the responsibility of the United Nations and the international community to prevent such situations from recurring. His country was firmly committed to the Palestinian and Arab cause and had traditionally opposed all forms of racism.
He said the seriousness of the present circumstance compelled the Cuban people to wonder what the Security Council, the General Assembly, and the machinery for protecting human rights would do to discharge their responsibilities. What would the information machinery of the United Nations and the mass media do? How long would there be two yardsticks in United Nations bodies? Faced with the grave violations of Palestinian rights, the international community must see to it that those rights were restored and that the dream of their own state with Jerusalem as its capital was realized.
SOTERIOS ZACKHEOS (Cyprus) expressed condolences for yesterday's deaths. He said all existing agreements should be honoured and implemented and the peace process must be revived. Otherwise, it would not be possible to solve the problems which were at the core of the situation in the Middle East.
RASTAM MOHD ISA (Malaysia) expressed his delegation's deep sympathy and sincere condolences. He reiterated Malaysia's solidarity with the Palestinian people and its full support for the measures taken by Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority. His country wanted to see the peace process back on track and looked forward to action by the Security Council.
Mr. KA (Senegal), Committee Chairman, proposed that a telegramme of condolences and support be sent to President Arafat, and the Committee decided to do so.