The report was introduced by Special Committee Chairman, Herman Leonard de Silva (Sri Lanka), who said the peace process had been made more vulnerable by the tragic assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It was hoped that the peace process would not lose momentum. Despite the sad and deplorable event, it was encouraging that the Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank town of Jenin had proceeded as planned.
The observer for Palestine said that as long as Israel occupied large areas of the West Bank, there was a threat to the human rights of people living there. Israeli violations presented a constant and dangerous threat to the progress and stability of the peace process. The international community should condemn the worsening Israeli practice of closing Jerusalem and making it off limits to the Palestinian people. It represented an Israeli attempt to confer legitimacy on the illegal annexation of Jerusalem.
The representative of Israel expressed the hope that by the end of the year, no Palestinian would remain under its control in the West Bank. The peace process, led by practical Israeli and Palestinian leaders, had enabled Palestinian dreams to come true, he said. The Palestinian cause had never benefitted from the Special Committee's "useless orbiting of the Middle East to collect newspaper clippings for its useless annual report".
The United Nations could contribute more to peace by bringing its resolutions in line with the new reality in the Middle East, he said. The budget of the Special Committee should be redirected to meet specific urgent needs of the Palestinian people.
The representative of Syria said the Israeli Government had encouraged armed extremist groups, which had become accustomed to killing Arab citizens without fear of reprisal. Arab citizens languishing under Israeli occupation continued to suffer under practices which ran counter to international law. Some 80 per cent of the surface area of the Syrian Arab Golan had been taken. "The life of the people of the Golan was becoming harsher and more miserable every day because of all kinds of oppression they face at the hands of the Israeli authority", he said.
Representatives of Spain (on behalf of the European Union, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia), Japan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia also spoke.
The Committee will meet again at a time to be announced to continue its consideration of Israeli practices in the occupied territories.
Committee Work Programme
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to begin consideration of reports of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. It also had before it four reports of the Secretary-General on the implementation of relevant General Assembly resolutions, and five letters.
In its resolution 49-36A of 9 December 1994, the General Assembly requested the Special Committee, pending complete termination of the Israeli occupation, to continue to investigate Israeli policies and practices, to submit periodic reports on the current situation, and to continue to investigate the treatment of prisoners.
Before the Assembly are three reports of the Special Committee (documents A/50/170, A/50/282 and A/50/463) covering the period from 26 August 1994 to 18 August 1995, and providing information gathered from Israeli and Arab press reports, information received from governments, organizations and individuals, and oral testimony of persons having firsthand experience of the situation in the occupied territories. The last report also includes a series of specific recommendations for improving the human rights situation in the territories.
In its reports, the Special Committee surveys the general situation in the occupied territories and incidents resulting from the occupation, and lists Palestinians killed by troops or Israeli civilians, those killed as a result of the occupation, as well as other incidents. The reports also review the administration of justice, including the right to a fair trial, and contain information on the treatment of civilians and detainees, annexation and settlement, and on the occupied Syrian Arab Golan.
On the treatment of civilians, the reports deal with incidents of harassment, physical ill-treatment and expulsions, and reported incidents of collective punishment, including houses or rooms demolished or sealed, the imposition of curfews and the sealing-off or closing-off of areas. The Special Committee reviews the economic and social situation in the territories, settlers' activities affecting the civilian population, and measures affecting the fundamental freedoms of movement, education, religion and expression.
In its recommendations, contained in its latest report (document A/50/463), the Special Committee appeals to Israel to consider taking a number of specific actions that would safeguard the basic human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs in the occupied territories. Those measures would include the full application by Israel of the relevant provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, full compliance with all resolutions adopted by the United Nations system on the question of the occupied territories, and full cooperation of the Israeli authorities with United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, and the United Nations Centre for Human Rights.
The Special Committee also appeals to Israel to "act in conformity with the spirit animating the peace process" by giving serious consideration to a series of concrete measures. Those measures would include the establishment of rules of engagement for its security forces that fully respect human rights standards, the exercise of restraint in responding to outbreaks of violence, and putting an immediate end to the activities of undercover units -- in particular to extrajudicial executions perpetrated by them. The Special Committee also appeals to Israel to exercise strict control over any abuses perpetrated by settlers, to prevent their acts of violence and carry out full and impartial investigations, bringing justice to those responsible.
Other measures include halting the expansion of settlements and putting an end to the ongoing policy of land confiscation, the thorough and impartial administration of justice, ending interrogation practices amounting to torture and ill-treatment, and reviewing and publishing in full the guidelines concerning interrogation procedures. The Special Committee also appeals to Israel to review the situation of all Palestinian and other Arab prisoners and expedite their release, to refrain from detaining residents of the occupied territories in Israel and improve conditions of detention, and to allow all persons who were deported or expelled from the territories to return and, where applicable, have their properties restituted.
Other recommended measures would have Israel put an end to all practices that negatively affect the economic and social situation of the population of the territories and hinder the enjoyment of a number of fundamental rights and freedoms. It would also refrain from the imposition of curfews and closures and the destruction of property.
In his letter of transmittal, Special Committee Chairman Herman Leonard de Silva points out that the Government of Israel has continued to withhold its cooperation from the Special Committee.
He notes that the period under review follows the signing at Cairo on 4 May 1994 of the Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area and the subsequent establishment of the Palestinian National Authority. He says it was expected that those agreements would usher in a new era, with the establishment of peace, justice, understanding and respect for human rights in the region. However, the general situation of human rights in the territories still remained "very serious and a matter of grave concern".
A major factor contributing to the lack of improvement, he states, was the repeated closures and consequent restrictions on the freedom of movement imposed by Israeli authorities following serious security incidents caused by groups opposed to the peace process.
Other contributing factors, he states, were the expropriations of Arab- owned land, the violent behaviour of settlers, the large number of Palestinian prisoners who remain in Israeli detention and the deterioration in their conditions, the increasingly harsh methods amounting to torture used by Israeli interrogators, as well as other human rights violations committed under the pretext of security considerations.
The Chairman notes that, while the overall level of violence and number of deaths in the occupied territories had declined during the period under review, the nature of the violence perpetrated by the Israeli Defence Forces was "of an aggravated kind". In addition, the activities of undercover units were said to be unchecked.
In conclusion, he says that despite the signing of the Declaration of Principles and the Cairo Agreement, unless progress was made to ensure respect for human rights in the occupied territories, support for the peace process would "erode further and give way to despair". The progress in the peace process must go hand-in-hand with full compliance with all relevant United Nations resolutions and all universally accepted standards of human rights.
The four reports of the Secretary-General (A/50/657-660) are issued pursuant to requests made in resolution 49/36, parts A through D. Part A concerns support for the Special Committee's work and dissemination of information on its activities. Part B asserts the applicability to the occupied territories of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in wartime. It demands that Israel accept the applicability of the Convention in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, and comply with its provisions. It calls on States parties to the Convention to ensure respect for its provisions by Israel. Part C demands that Israel desist from taking any measures in violation of the Convention. It calls on Israel, as the occupying Power, to accelerate the release of all remaining Palestinians arbitrarily detained or imprisoned, and to respect the Palestinians' fundamental freedoms, pending the extension of self-government to the rest of the West Bank.
Part D of resolution 49/36 calls on Israel to comply with relevant resolutions on the occupied Syrian Golan and to desist from changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan and in particular to desist from the establishment of settlements. It determines that all related legal and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel are null and void. It further calls on Israel to desist from imposing Israeli citizenship on the Syrian citizens there, and to desist from its repressive measures against that population, and calls upon Member States not to recognize any of those administrative measures and actions.
With regard to support for the Special Committee's work (document A/50/657), the Secretary-General states that all necessary facilities were provided for it to meet in March, May and August 1994, to carry out a field mission to Egypt, Jordan and Syria in April-May 1994, and to issue its periodic reports. The Department of Public Information (DPI) had continued to provide press coverage of its meetings and to distribute related information materials to non-governmental organizations and the public at large.
Both at Headquarters and through its information centres and services, DPI had publicized the Committee's 1995 mission to the Middle East, the Secretary-General states. A volume for the new "Blue Book" series, The United Nations and Human Rights 1994-95 referred to the work of the Committee. In addition, the Secretary-General, on 15 May 1995, issued a note verbale to all States drawing their attention to resolution 49/36 A-D.
On matters relating to Israel as the occupying Power (A/50/658), the application of the Geneva Convention (A/50/659), and the occupied Syrian Golan, (A/50/660), the Secretary-General states that he issued a note verbale to the Foreign Minister of Israel on 15 May, asking to be informed of any steps his Government had taken or would be taking concerning implementation of the relevant provisions of the resolution. As of 20 October 1995, no reply had been received.
The Committee also had before it five letters to the Secretary- General -- four from the Permanent Observer of Palestine, and one from the Ambassador of Morocco.
The letter from Morocco, dated 15 February 1995 (document A/50/82), contains the final communiqué of the fifteenth session of the Al-Quds Committee, which was held in Morocco on 16 and 17 January 1995.
The Committee deliberated on the conditions facing Al-Quds al-Sharif and considered means to recover the city and to assist and support the Palestinian citizens and institutions in the Holy City. The Committee called on the Security Council to take necessary measures to compel Israel to desist from carrying out any settlement and Judaization of Al-Quds and any geographic or demographic changes therein.
The Committee also asked States to abide by Security Council resolution 478 (1980), which calls for refraining from transferring their diplomatic missions to the city of Al-Quds al-Sharif. In addition, it strongly denounced the decision of the Israeli Knesset on 26 December 1994, which banned any activities of the Palestinian institutions in Al-Quds al-Sharif. The Committee requested the King of Morocco to pursue contacts to gain support to recover the city, and called on the Secretary-General to carry out the necessary contacts to consider ways to preserve the civilizational, cultural and religious heritage of the Holy City, and sustain the resistance of its inhabitants.
In a letter dated 18 April 1995, (document A/50/159), the Head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including the city of Jerusalem, continued to deteriorate due to Israeli failure to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention, international humanitarian law and Security Council resolutions. Given the "bloody events and clashes which have taken place", he called on the United Nations to intervene quickly to put an end to Israeli practices and to make Israel implement Council resolutions.
In another letter dated 28 April 1995, (document A/50/168), the Permanent Observer of Palestine said that the Israeli Government had just declared confiscation orders of 53 hectares of Palestinian land within the area of illegally annexed East Jerusalem. The Government also declared that the land would be appropriated to build further illegal Israeli settlements. Since the action violated international law and endangered the peace process, he called on the Security Council to take urgent measures to bring an end to the violations and rescind the declared confiscation orders.
A further letter dated 9 May 1995 (document A/50/176) contains a copy of a resolution entitled "The issue of Jerusalem", which was adopted by the Council of the League of Arab States on 6 May. By its resolution, the Council condemned the Israeli Government's decision to expropriate more Palestinian land within and around Jerusalem and decided not to recognize any alterations made by Israel to the legal status, demographic composition or geographical form of the city of Jerusalem. It called on all countries of the world to affirm their refusal to recognize such changes. The Council of the League of Arab States also denied Israel's claim that Jerusalem was its eternal capital. The resolution also asked for a meeting of the Security Council on the matter.
In another letter dated 25 May 1995, (document A/50/191), the Permanent Observer of Palestine noted that on 22 May, the Israeli Cabinet had decided to suspend the expropriation of 53 hectares of land in Jerusalem, and that on 15 May, it had also stated that it had no intention to carry out additional expropriation of land in Jerusalem for housing purposes. The Observer called on the Security Council to closely follow these developments and remain seized of the matter.
HERMAN LEONARD DE SILVA (Sri Lanka), Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, introduced its report. He said that since the report was issued, the Oslo II Agreement -- another historic step in the Middle East peace process -- had been signed on 28 September. However, the peace process had been made more vulnerable by the tragic assassination of one of its chief architects, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on 4 November. It was hoped that the peace process would not lose the momentum generated by the Oslo and Cairo Agreements and that its smooth continuation would be ensured. It was encouraging that, despite the sad and deplorable event, the Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank town of Jenin had proceeded as planned.
FEDA ABDEHHADY, Observer for Palestine, said the ongoing Middle East peace process had produced many positive developments, and the recent momentum generated by the signing of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip on 28 September was a harbinger of further positive and important achievements. The populated areas of the West Bank would soon be under the responsibility of the Palestinian National Authority. However, the Israeli army would remain in large parts of the West Bank, including areas around the illegal Israeli settlements. As long as that situation of occupation still existed there was a threat to the human rights of the people under occupation.
She said the Special Committee's reports clearly described the continuing difficulties and human rights violations endured by the Palestinian people as a result of the restrictive and punitive Israeli policies and measures. The violations were serious, and a constant and dangerous threat to the progress and stability of the peace process. They included the closure and sealing of the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem; land confiscation; the sealing and demolition of Palestinian homes; settlement activities and their consequences; the detention of Palestinians in Israeli prisons; and the killing of Palestinians by the Israeli military or undercover security forces. Many of those measures were a form of collective punishment and violated the Fourth Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 and various other humanitarian laws.
The repeated sealing off or closing of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem hindered daily life and in many cases prevented the Palestinian people from reaching their work places and schools and from selling their products, she said. The repeated closure of Gaza was in clear violation of the agreements between the two sides and caused an almost complete strangulation of the economy and increased hardship for the local population. Over the last year the Israeli practice of closing Jerusalem and making it off limits to the Palestinian people had worsened and the international community should condemn such a practice, which represented an Israeli attempt to confer legitimacy on the illegal annexation of Jerusalem.
JAVIER PEREZ-GRIFFO (Spain), speaking on behalf of the European Union, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, said the criminal act that ended the life of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was aimed at destroying the Middle East peace process. The international community "must not allow this loathsome attack or other terrorist acts to slow or hinder the peace process in the region", he said. The signing of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on 28 September constituted a milestone on the path to peace. The process must continue and the international community must ensure that it culminates in success for all the parties and that its results translate into an improvement of the living conditions of the inhabitants of the occupied territories.
He said the European Union welcomed the withdrawal of Israeli security forces from Jenin, and hoped that, in accordance with the Interim Agreement, Tulkarem, Nablus, Kalkilia, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron would follow the same path, thus contributing to lessening the tension and putting an end to violence, which, regrettably, was still part of daily life. He noted with satisfaction the latest releases of Palestinian prisoners and encouraged the Israeli Government to continue in that direction. The effective implementation of the Interim Agreement would render unnecessary the continuing existence of the Committee on Israeli Practices. It was of utmost importance to underpin and enhance the political process through continued economic and social support to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the European Union was determined to live up to its commitments and to continue to support the peace process and a lasting settlement to the Palestinian question based on Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 425.
MAKOTO NAKAMURA (Japan) expressed condolences over the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. His Government hoped that the people of Israel would not allow the tragedy to discourage them from remaining committed to the peace process. Progress had been made in the past year, and Japan hoped the interim self-government of the Palestinian Authority would prove effective, and that progress would be made in negotiations between Israel and Syria and between Israel and Lebanon so that comprehensive peace would be realized in the region.
With the expansion of Palestinian interim self-government, he continued, the next urgent task was to improve infrastructure, public health, and educational and housing facilities, especially in Gaza and the West Bank. Japan would continue to extend assistance, since economic independence and employment creation for Palestinians was vital to social stability. His Government welcomed the fact that the agreement reached between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) included provisions not only on the transfer of civilian administration to the Palestinians but also on the gradual release of political prisoners. It was imperative that the threat of violence and terrorism on both sides be removed to ensure the agreement's prompt implementation. Deliberations this year should reflect the positive developments of the peace process. Japan supported those resolutions that endorsed and encouraged progress.
FAROUK AL-ATTAR (Syria) said the reports of the Special Committee unmasked the truth of Israeli practices, which was at odds with Israeli claims of new possibilities of peace in the region. The report referred to continued expropriation of land, demolition of homes, curfews, abuse and torture during detention, as well as deteriorating economic, social and educational conditions. The Israeli Government had encouraged armed extremist groups, which had become accustomed to killing Arab citizens without fear of reprisal. The reports before the Committee proved that peace had not yet come to the region despite the signing of some agreements. Israeli occupation continued and Israeli oppressive practices continued every day.
He said Israel had occupied the Syrian Arab Golan since 1967, and the occupation tried to erase the land of its people, and to plant settlements at the expense of depriving the Arab population their freedoms and human rights. The chain of annexation, Judaization, expropriation, settlement, and oppression had not stopped. Arab citizens languishing under Israeli occupation continued to suffer under practices which ran counter to international law. Houses of worship and schools had been demolished and water was diverted. Altogether, some 80 per cent of the surface area of the Syrian Arab Golan had been taken. "The life of the people of the Golan was becoming harsher and more miserable every day because of all kinds of oppression they face at the hands of the Israeli authority," he said.
Resistance to foreign occupation was an international right, he continued. Oppression would stop only after a complete Israeli withdrawal. He called for urgent measures to ensure effective protection of rights and freedoms. Occupation per se was a violation of human rights. He expressed concern over the fate of the peace process. Israel wanted a peace that served its purposes, he said. The actions of Israel, through its settlement policies, called for more vigilance and action by the international community.
SALEH ALGHAMDI (Saudi Arabia) said Israel's continued campaign of arrest, confiscation of lands, and the repeated closures of border areas and the Gaza Strip had a negative impact on the lives of the Palestinian people of the occupied territories as well as on the entire peace process. His country had always tried to have a positive impact on the peace process in the region and it had taken care of its financial responsibilities to help the Palestinian people, whose sacrifices and good will were needed to achieve true peace in the region. His Government was gravely concerned over the Israeli practices in the occupied territories, particularly in Hebron and Jerusalem. It was also concerned about attempts to give legitimacy to practices which were in clear violation of the peace agreements, particularly in Jerusalem, the first holy city for all Muslims. The continuing Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights and southern Lebanon and its pressures on the people in those areas created further negative effects on all peace efforts in the region.
NABIL ELARABY (Egypt) said tangible progress had been achieved on the Jordanian and Palestinian tracks of the Middle East peace process. Those developments constituted a radical change in the Arab-Israeli situation. However, despite the progress, there were still threats to peace. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reminded the world that those that opposed peace were willing to use all means to stop the peace process. Egypt hoped the Israeli Government would implement its commitments. The most important accomplishment so far in the peace process was Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho and the beginning of the pull-out from other towns.
He said the report of the Special Committee referred to many positive developments, such as a general lessening of violence and death. However, it still referred to continued Israeli practices that ran counter to obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international law. Settlements were a source of tension and instability in the occupied territories. Violent and hostile behaviour by settlers were a source of tension and they were not punished for their activities. The nature of the current phase required further confidence-building measures. Egypt called on Israel to desist from all practices which negatively affected the future of the peace process, and on donor states to meet their obligations and help Palestinians improve their living conditions.
FUAD A. BATAINEH (Jordan) said considerable concrete steps in the peace process had led to positive changes, which were reflected in the lives of the Palestinian people and had led to a lowering of tensions. However, the Special Committee's report showed that the situation in the occupied territories was still critical and that Israeli practices still violated the Geneva Conventions and other humanitarian laws. According to the Special Committee, the situation in the occupied territories was still a cause of grave concern. Practices such as the sealing off of the occupied territories following security violations within Israel by extremists there who opposed the peace process, did not encourage peace. As a result of such practices, Palestinians in the occupied territories suffered great economic hardship and were prevented from exercising their right to freedom of worship when denied access to Jerusalem. All inhabitants of the occupied territories were punished collectively and they were the ones to suffer rather than those who were truly responsible for security violations.
He said Israeli appropriation of land to build security corridors linking illegal settlements was often undertaken with faked dates which were more than ten years old. If the settlements were to continue, Palestinian territory would be reduced to a few isolated villages, which would become islands. The Israeli Government must change its attitude to settlements and settlers in keeping with international law. There had been an increase in hostile acts by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, including the elderly, and even children. The settlers acted with impunity largely because Israeli soldiers did not act to protect the Palestinian people. While there had been improvements in the protection of Palestinian people by the Israelis it was still not sufficient. Israel still engaged in acts which did not lay down the groundwork for the necessary confidence. There must be a radical change in Israeli attitudes concerning Palestinian freedom and human rights. Israel was still hostile to Palestinian institutions, particularly in Jerusalem. There must be a clear commitment by all parties to the peace process, which could place the region on the threshold of a new area of stability and security.
EL WALID DOUDECH (Tunisia) said that last year, there was the hope that this year's report of the Special Committee would not mention any violations, but that was not the case. What was even more disturbing was the closing-off of areas, which exacerbated social and economic deprivation. Settlements were still being established, eastern Jerusalem was being emptied of its inhabitants, and Palestinians continued to suffer under detention. Israeli settlers continued practices of instigation with impunity. The Israeli practices were contrary to the spirit of the peace process and must end.
He said Israel continued to implement the peace agreements in good faith, and as long as that happened, the road of fanatics, who tried to make the whole process collapse, would be blocked. Israel must respect the Fourth Geneva Convention and human rights to build trust between the parties. He hoped that the Palestinian elections would be held as scheduled. It was essential for the Special Committee to continue its work as long as there were occupied territories and the problem of settlements remained unresolved. The parties to the peace process should be able to overcome all obstacles facing them so the Middle East region could enjoy peace and prosperity.
He said the second stage of the peace agreements, including the signing of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza on 28 September in Washington, gave further hope for the peace process. He hoped all States in the region would make an effort to devote resources to development. He urged Israel to end its intransigent practices in the occupied areas and on the Syrian and Lebanese fronts. The return of all Palestinian refugees to their homes and the total withdrawal of Israeli forces from all occupied Arab territories were the only basis for true peace. With a just and lasting peace, the Middle East could become once again a cultural centre and an oasis of stability and prosperity.
ELI SHAKED (Israel) said if economic development was fostered in the Middle East, the chances of success for the entire peace process would be greatly enhanced. It was important to remember that Israel had already begun to fulfill its obligation to create a new reality in the West Bank. It hoped that by the end of the year, no Palestinian would remain under its control in the West Bank. The economic and political developments of the last two years had led Israel to believe the Middle East was finally riding the wave of peace.
He said it was now more evident than ever that practices of the Special Committee, besides wasting the limited resources of the United Nations, had not benefitted the Palestinian people. It was the peace process led by the practical Israeli and Palestinian leaders and by their desire for reconciliation which had enabled Palestinian dreams to come true. "The Palestinian cause has never benefitted from the Special Committee's useless orbiting of the Middle East to collect newspaper clippings for its useless annual report", he said.
The United Nations could contribute to Middle East peace by completing the process -- started in two previous General Assembly sessions -- to bring its resolutions into accord with the new reality in the Middle East, he said. It could avoid the renewal of the mandate of the fossilized, antiquated Special Committee whose budget could instead be directed to the specific urgent needs of the Palestinian people. The United Nations could also coordinate and strengthen its assistance to the Palestinian people, and create a more supportive atmosphere by recognizing that there was no place for one- sided criticisms and polemics in times of fruitful dialogue and significant steps towards peace in the Middle East.