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


30 November 1998


Following is the statement by Didier Opertti (Uruguay), President of the fifty-third session of the General Assembly, at the observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People:

At the outset, I would like to say that I am honoured to take part in this commemorative meeting in my capacity as President of the fifty-third session of the General Assembly. In December 1977, the General Assembly, in its resolution 32/40 B, called for the annual observance of 29 November as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Traditionally on this day, the international community renews its pledge to the Palestinian people to continue to support its legitimate aspirations and demands on the basis of the principles of international law, the United Nations Charter and United Nations resolutions.

Since the early days of the United Nations, the question of Palestine has remained a matter of major preoccupation and concern to its members. On 29 November 1947, the General Assembly adopted resolution 181 (II), partitioning Palestine into two States -- one Arab and one Jewish -- with an economic union between them and a special international regime for the city of Jerusalem. Half a century later, this remains the oldest unresolved issue on our Organization's agenda.

Some five years ago, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations came to a dramatic turning point, when leaders of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed a historic document -- the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements -- that ushered in a new stage in their relations. The Interim Arrangements were welcomed by the international community as a sign of hope and an indication of political courage, far-sightedness and genuine desire to achieve peace and stability in the region. Since then, the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have seen many ups and downs, breakthroughs and frustrations.

We were gratified that following a protracted and uneasy stalemate, the parties have at last succeeded in recapturing the momentum of peace and putting the process back on track. The signing of the Wye River Memorandum, its subsequent ratification and gradual implementation, as well as the beginning of the permanent status talks, show that both parties are committed to proceed along the road to peace, in accordance with the existing agreements.

Nevertheless, we are aware of how long and difficult this process will be and how tense the situation on the ground remains. In this respect, it is absolutely essential for the agreements to be scrupulously respected and for the parties to refrain from engaging in unilateral acts in pursuit of advantage on the ground. In particular, the General Assembly at its tenth emergency special session has demonstrated anew its serious concern at ongoing settlement construction, calling for a conference of contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to consider measures to ensure respect for its provisions. We are grateful to the Swiss Government for its efforts in this regard.

The General Assembly has continued to reiterate the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine, until the question is resolved in all its aspects with fairness and justice. It is incumbent on all of us -- Members of this Organization -- to see to it that this objective is brought to fruition. For the peace process to succeed, it should continue to be based on respect for the universally recognized principles of international law, the United Nations Charter, and relevant United Nations resolutions, notably Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 425 (1978), and the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination.

Helping the Palestinian people to establish solid foundations for peace through the mobilization of international assistance for economic and social development is another essential task of the international community. The United Nations family of organizations, in cooperation with donor countries and the international community as a whole, must intensify their efforts in this regard so as to enable the Palestinian people, who have suffered for so long, to begin enjoying the fruits of peace.

I would like to commend the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for its untiring efforts in support of the Palestinian people and in implementation of the important mandate given to it by the General Assembly.

I would also like to recall the important initiative of the Committee to introduce a new item in the agenda of the current session of the General Assembly. The consideration of the item, entitled "Bethlehem 2000", the involvement of the United Nations in this worldwide and truly historic celebration, and the adoption, without a vote, of a resolution marking this millennial event became a manifestation of the international community's conviction that peace, justice and harmony will prevail in this troubled region.

Under your dedicated leadership, Mr. Chairman, the Committee has done much to bring the question of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and, more broadly, the question of Palestine, into sharp international focus. I have been following, with interest, the work of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and I know how keen it is to make a concrete contribution to international endeavours in support of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I would like to wish you every success in your mission.

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