The observer for Palestine said Israel had continued to expand settlements, expropriate land and divert water resources for its needs. The Israeli Government continued to confiscate Palestinian land, thereby violating the rights of the Palestinian people as well as their development efforts. The General Assembly must continue to monitor Israeli policies closely to bring Israeli's conduct in the occupied Palestinian territory in line with international law, he stressed, adding that Israel must cease the strangulation of the Palestinian economy as a pretext for its security concerns.
The representative of Israel said the issue of control over the natural resources of the territories had been covered extensively in the Interim Agreement of 28 September 1995, which provided for negotiations to resolve all final questions including the use of natural resources. The integrity and status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were not affected by the Agreement; they were matters to be discussed in the final negotiations. The existence of such settlements was a continuation of a long-standing Jewish presence in the area dating back to Biblical times, he said, adding that the establishment of settlements in the territories was not intended to displace Palestinian inhabitants and in practice had not done so.
The continued building of settlements in all the occupied Arab territories, including Jerusalem, would hamper the implementation of the final stage of the peace process, the representative of Jordan said. He called on Israel to halt settlements and the confiscation of land in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan.
The representative of Syria said Israel had established its first settlement in the Syrian Golan only one month after its occupation, and it continued to defy Security Council resolutions calling for an end to that occupation. He called for action to bring that state of affairs to an end and reinstate human rights and freedoms. Arabs had supported a just and lasting peace as a strategic choice and wanted the region to enjoy peace and security, as well as economic prosperity.
Statements were also made by Egypt, Malaysia, Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria and Oman. A representative of the League of Arab States also spoke. The Chief of the Regional Commissions New York Office, Sulafa Al-Bassam, also addressed the Committee.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 24 October, to consider training and research.
Committee Work Programme
The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this afternoon to begin consideration of permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources.
The Committee has before it a note by the Secretary-General containing in its annex a report, prepared by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli settlements on the Palestinian people in the Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, occupied since 1967, and on the Arab population of the occupied Syrian Golan (document A/52/172-E/1997/71).
The report, covering the period from March 1996 to May 1997, states that the policy of building settlements accelerated since the beginning of 1990, when the Government offered financial and tax incentives to encourage settlers to make their homes in the occupied territories. Under the Hebron Protocol, which was concluded on 15 January, Jerusalem was divided into two parts: Israel retained full security control over the Jewish-sector settlement enclaves in downtown Hebron, the Kiryat Arab settlement just outside the city, and the surrounding area necessary for the movement of the settlers and the army; and the Palestinian Authority was responsible for security for the rest of Hebron, though that responsibility was limited in comparison with the other Palestinian towns.
Most of the settlers live near the Green Line and Jerusalem, while others live in the outlying areas, the report states. The largest increases occurred in the urban settlements located near the major cities, since most of the settlers work inside the Green Line and commute everyday. By mid-1992 the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip reached 107,000. Following his election as Prime Minister in May 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu initiated a policy of building in areas where settlement construction had been frozen, and settlement activities intensified throughout the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, where the escalation was justified under the pretext that Jerusalem was the eternal capital of Israel. By the end of 1996, the number of settlers had reached 150,000.
According to the report, one example of Prime Minister Netanyahu's new policy is the (Har Homa) Jebel Abu Ghneim project in East Jerusalem. The Israeli Government has declared that it has no intention of halting or suspending the new settlement at Jebel Abu Ghneim even though the project has been opposed in General Assembly resolutions. The settlement is located south of Jerusalem and overlooks the Palestinian towns of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour. It is intended to become one of the largest settlement projects ever initiated; the area of land set aside for it is 1,850 dunums. The master plan covers an area of 2,056 dunums. In the first stage, that settlement is expected to accommodate 30,000 settlers, gradually increasing to 100,000 in the final stage.
The execution of the Jebel Abu Ghneim project is expected to result in the sealing off of the southern entrance to Jerusalem, blocking the city's continuity with its Palestinian surroundings. It will also prevent any future connection of Jerusalem with the rest of the Palestinian land. The population structure of the city will also change in favour of the Israelis.
The report also states that Israeli settlement activities carried out during 1996 created new geographical and demographic realities before the start of the final stage of peace negotiations. The Government of Israel confiscated large amounts of land and carried out a number of other activities: master plans were drawn up; settlements were expanded; quarries, bypass roads and a separation line were established; and certain areas were sealed off for military purposes. Under military orders, a total of 121.13 dunums (a dunum is equal to approximately 1,000 square metres) was confiscated in 1996 or seized for a period of one to five years to be used for different purposes. In 1996, the total amount of land confiscated or seized under military orders to be used for public projects and for the construction of bypass roads was around 1,180 dunums.
Of the number of settlement activities carried out during 1996, some were announced publicly, while others were carried out quietly, with no details released, the report states. There were at present 19 settlements in the Gaza Strip, established on 23,000 dunums of land and surrounded by an additional 23,000 dunums (security zones), bringing the total land area used for settlements to 46,000 dunums. That area constitutes 41.8 per cent of the state land and 12.6 per cent of Gaza Strip land (the total area of the Gaza Strip is 365 square kilometres). There are about 5,000 settlers living in the 19 settlements, most of which are clustered around the Gush Katif settlement.
According to the report, the placement, existence and activities of those settlements create an atmosphere that lead to friction between the Palestinians and the settlers, thereby aggravating the security situation. Security zones have been established around each settlement in the Strip and the roads that serve the settlements are under the control of the Israeli forces. The number of settlers in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank had increased substantially in spite of the peace process. The settlements are distributed according to specific settlement plans, in particular the Sharon Plan, which states that settlements should be distributed in a way that will turn the Arab areas into isolated pockets that could be easily controlled.
The establishment of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip had a negative impact on the economic and social situation of the Palestinians, the report states. Palestinian farmers were prevented from using agricultural land located near the settlements; social and health conditions among the Palestinians have deteriorated; and the prolonged closure practices have made the already serious economic situation of the Palestinians much worse. Since the Israeli authorities control the sea coast and frequently impose curfews and closure policies, fishermen are prevented from performing their jobs and will ultimately experience decreases in their incomes. In addition, thousands of Palestinian labourers are regularly prevented from going to their jobs inside Israel.
There had been an increase in unemployment among Palestinians in the occupied territories, as well as a significant decrease in real wages, the report states. According to a report submitted by the Secretary-General of the Brussels-based Parliament Association for Euro-Arab Cooperation, unemployment in Gaza is currently estimated at 50 to 60 per cent, with the highest unemployment rate in the refugee camps. In the West Bank the rate is 24 per cent. Palestinian incomes have dropped since the Oslo Agreement in 1993, from $1,800 to $950 a year in the West Bank, and from $1,200 to $600 a year in the Gaza Strip.
SULAFA AL-BASSAM, Chief, Regional Commissions New York Office, in an introductory statement, said the information found in the report was based on various sources, primarily recent publications and reports. The report had also been taken up by the Economic and Social Council, which had passed a resolution on the subject.
MARWAN JILANI, observer for Palestine, said the report before the Committee did not provide additional information related to the provisions of the resolution adopted under the item last year, particularly the exploitation by Israel of natural resources, including land and water, in the occupied territories. Israel's violation of the rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to sovereignty over their natural resources, had caused grave economic and social injustices to the Palestinian people and the Syrian Arab population of the Golan. Israel continued to expand illegal colonial settlements, expropriate land and divert water resources for its needs. The Israeli Government persisted in its policies of confiscation of Palestinian land under a number of different pretexts, thereby violating the rights of the Palestinian people and jeopardizing Palestinian efforts for development and the peace process as a whole.
The facts in the report did not only indicate the extent of the grave economic and social impact of the policies of the Israeli Government, he said; they also showed the extent of the Israeli violation of international law, international humanitarian law and the will of the international community, which had always affirmed the illegality of those Israeli policies and measures in occupied Palestinian territory. The international community had also affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to restitution and full compensation due to them following any exploitation, loss and damage to their natural resources.
He went on to say that the General Assembly must continue to monitor such Israeli policies closely and carefully to bring Israel's conduct in the occupied Palestinian territory in line with international law and ensure the protection of the Palestinian economy from arbitrary and unlawful practices and policies. The international community must take the necessary steps to promote an environment conducive to progress in the peace process by preventing their assistance to the Palestinian people from being undermined or obstructed by the Israeli authorities. It could also achieve that goal by calling upon Israel to cease the strangulation of the Palestinian economy as a pretext for its security concerns.
ADEL ABDELLATIF (Egypt) said the report was too general and that it did not examine the negative impact of Israeli settlements on land and water resources in the occupied territories. It did not pay full attention to the rights of the Palestinian people as well as to Palestinian sovereignty.
Noting that the present Israeli Government had intensified its settlement activities, especially in Jerusalem, he said settlements were not helpful to peace. Settlements aggravated the situation; they created friction and conflict not only in the occupied territories but in the region as well. Settlements had negative consequences on the natural resources in the area because the settlers were depleting resources.
Provocative Israeli actions had been condemned by United Nations resolutions, he said. Yet Israel had not ceased its illegal activities in the occupied territories. Egypt appreciated the detailed information provided in the report, but felt that there was a need to focus more closely on the impact of the Israeli settlement on natural resources and the sovereignty of the Palestinian people. Peace in the Middle East should be the responsibility of all parties in the region.
HUSSAM-EDIN A'ALA (Syria) said Israel had followed policies and carried practices for over 30 years that openly flouted the United Nations Charter, international law and international humanitarian law. Israel also defied United Nations resolutions concerning the Middle East. Israel had established its first settlement in the Syrian Golan only one month after its occupation, and it continued to defy passed Security Council resolutions calling for an end to that occupation. Other resolutions had called on Israel to end its exploitation of natural resources and to refrain from causing deterioration, loss or damage to natural resources in the occupied territory. <P> The report before the Committee brought out various examples of the Israeli Government's colonialist polices and practices in contradiction to the resolutions and customs of the international community, he said. His Government respected the report, but it would have liked to have seen more detailed examples of those practices because Israel's actions, confiscations of land and weakening of the sovereignty of the Syrian people must be addressed with very severe sanctions. Israel opposed the movement of populations; health services were being affected; and toxic water in the Golan was increasing. The situation was magnified by the large numbers of refugees arriving in Syria after leaving the Golan. The situation required action to bring that state of affairs to an end and reinstate human rights and freedoms. Arabs had supported a just and lasting peace as a strategic choice and wanted the region to enjoy peace and security, as well as economic prosperity.
DAYO MARZUKI (Malaysia) said his country welcomed the fact that the issue was being treated as a separate item. Israelis must be made to realize that its policies were impoverishing the Palestinian people. Israeli policies remain a major impediment to peace and stability in the region. Noting that a number of United Nations resolutions had condemned Israeli settlements and described them as illegal, he said the current Israeli Government had nevertheless continued to defy the international community by building more settlements in the occupied territories. Such Israeli action undermined the confidence and mutual trust that had been built by all the parties in the peace process.
Settlements would create new geographical and demographic realities on the ground, he said. Settlements had had a negative impact on the Palestinian economy. The unemployment rate continued to rise among the Palestinians, and many of them were underemployed. Israeli policies were forcing the Palestinians to live in slums. The situation in the occupied territories was worsening and Israel should be held fully responsible. The international community must call on Israel to honour all its treaty commitments. It must reconsider its policies in the occupied territories. It must cease exploiting the natural resources of the occupied territories. Israel must be told that it could not flourish at the expense of its neighbours.
ABDERRAZAK AZAIEZ (Tunisia) said the report before the Committee was full of facts that reflected Israel's persistence in expansionist policies and indifference to agreements as well as to Assembly and Security Council resolutions. While international public opinion showed grave concern over Israel's practices, its Government made official declarations affirming and upholding a policy of expansion and unceasing settlement construction. The question of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories had been subject to many resolutions.
He recalled that in Security Council resolution 446 (1979), the Council stated that Israel's practices and policies relating to settlement construction in the territories were illegal and constituted grave obstacles to the peace process in the Middle East. Council resolution 465 (1980) reiterated that statement and stressed the need to take measures to protect public and private property as well as natural resources in the territories.
Last year the Assembly had considered reports of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, he said. It had adopted resolution 51/134 that expressed concern at Israel's continued infringement on the human rights of Palestinians, especially through the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem. Despite all those actions, Israel confiscated hundreds of hectares of land in the Palestinian territories in 1997, which led to deprivation of Palestinian families of their sole means of a livelihood. On most lands, fruit and olive trees were grown. The confiscation of land resulted in residential damage. The Israeli Government's illegal practices resulted in more suffering for the people in the territories, and the social situation of Palestinians was deteriorating.
BASHEER ZOUBI (Jordan) said despite the international concern over the repercussions of the Israeli settlements and the threat that those settlements posed to peace, successive Israeli governments had not ceased building settlements. The number of Israeli settlers increased from 107,000 in 1992 to 150,000 in 1996. Once peace was established in any situation, the parties involved must benefit from it equally in order for them to appreciate peace and work together to sustain it. Israeli settlements had had a negative impact on the economic and social conditions of the Palestinians.
Noting that the Middle East peace process had wisely reserved sensitive issues for the final stage of negotiations, he said if those sensitive issues such as the status of Jerusalem and the Israeli settlements were not carefully handled, the entire peace efforts might be jeopardized. The continued building of settlements in all the occupied Arab territories, including Jerusalem, would hamper the implementation of the final stage of the peace process. Jordan called on Israel to halt settlements and the confiscation of land in occupied territories, including Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan.
ABDULAZIZ KAID (Yemen) said it had become a custom to speak on the subject of Palestinian sovereignty while on the ground, settlements continued to be constructed. The international community had repeatedly expressed its condemnation of those settlements, on which international law spoke quite clearly. Moreover, they were obstacles to peace. The international community should not ignore the Israeli Government's decision to establish new settlements in the West Bank and its trampling of the people of the occupied Palestinian territories.
It had been said that soldiers should build with one hand and fight a war with the other, he said. The Israeli soldier did the same thing but not for good. Was not that the same as terrorism? he said. How can the international community ask people to exercise self-control when settlements were intended to isolate populations and to facilitate Israel's control over those populations. Someone who was expelled was a victim; a person whose home was destroyed was a victim. One could not expect those people to be peaceful in response.
He said his Government was concerned by the increasing shortness of the reports on the subject. The current report was not exhaustive and only contained 11 lines on Israel's occupation of the Syrian Golan. Every year his Government wished Israel would respect resolutions based on international legitimacy, but the country continued to use peace as a slogan while working against it.
ZINEDDINE BIROUK (Algeria) said Israeli settlements had exacerbated the social and economic situation of the Palestinian people. Israeli policies were causing grave harm to the Palestinian economy. The situation, in fact, bordered on economic strangulation.
Noting the various United Nations resolutions in the past which had called for an end to Israeli settlements, he said the international community must continue to voice its indignation over Israeli policies, which were impoverishing the Palestinian people and were aimed at changing the demographic equation in places where settlements had been established. Palestinians were being denied their most basic rights. Settlements would not help the implementation of the peace process. Settlements should be seen as an attempt by the Israeli Government to deepen the sufferings of the Palestinian people.
HUSSEIN HASSOUNA, representative of the League of Arab States, said the next report on the subject should include a comprehensive discussion of the sovereignty of natural resources in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Israeli Government persisted in colonial policies in the occupied Palestine territories by exploiting natural resources. It did so by defying the will of the international community and the principles of the peace process. The construction of settlements caused the divergence of water resources, caused damage to the environment and endangered the lives of people. Israel implemented its plans and policies of confiscating land in order to change the demographics of occupied Palestinian territories, to isolate those territories and to stem their natural demographic continuity.
Despite the fact that the Middle East peace process had been based on the principle of "land for peace", Israel's confiscation of land had accelerated, he said. It was clear that if the situation continued there would be no land left for the Arabs. The Israeli Government's policies were based on the construction of new settlement colonies in the occupied Palestinian territories. The building of such settlements had been previously frozen, but the current Government had recently declared that it did not intend to stop the construction.
Concerning settlement activity in the Syrian Arab Golan, he said Israel was continuing its efforts to expand settlements. The Government was also attempting to attract settlers through financial and taxation incentives and increased work opportunities. The international community realized that Israel's policies and practices had no legal validity and that they constituted the main obstacle to a just, comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The Israeli Government was solely responsible for the recent violence in the region.
SAID NASSER MANSOUR AL-HARTHY (Oman) said the current Israeli Government had hampered the Israeli-Palestinian accord which was supposed to improve the relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbours. The current Israeli Government had tried to shy away from implementing what had been previously agreed upon. Any peace loving person must feel disappointed by the stagnation of the peace process.
Continuing, he said the international community must demand that Israel abide by the Oslo Agreement. All parties must do their best to push forward the peace process, especially the sponsors of the peace process. Israel's coercive practices had had a negative impact on the Palestinian economy. The international community must continue to warn Israel not to exploit the resources in the occupied territories.
ARIEL KEREM (Israel) said the Committee, and similar United Nations bodies, had little that was substantial to contribute to the Middle East peace process. The progress that had been made resulted almost entirely from direct negotiations between the parties. The subject was superfluous to the Committee and constituted a flagrant interference in the diplomatic process. The report before the Committee was a classic example of a Palestinian resort to the external panacea, exploiting the United Nations for narrow partisan purposes, and represented a moral failure to face the reality of negotiations.
The subject of control over the natural resources of the territories was covered extensively in the Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement of 28 September 1995, he said. Any discussion could not ignore the mutual commitments specified in that Agreement. It provided for negotiations to resolve all final questions including those of the use of natural resources. It should also be clearly noted that the Interim Agreement dealt with powers and responsibilities and not with sovereignty. The integrity and status of the West Bank and Gaza were not affected by the Agreement; they were matters to be discussed in the final status negotiations. Both sides had undertaken to avoid and prevent environmental damage to the other party in their actions and had agreed to resolve outstanding issues in direct face-to-face negotiations.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention was intended to deal with the forcible transfer of populations which occurred during the Second World War and had no bearing with regard to the settlements in the territories, he said. The existence of such settlements was a continuation of a long-standing Jewish presence in the area dating back to Biblical times. Israel had faced seven wars, all of which involved actual or threatened invasion of its territory. If those wars had resulted in the permanent loss of territory, Israel would have faced a clear threat to its survival. The establishment of settlements in the territories was not intended to displace Palestinian inhabitants and in practice had not done so.
Mr. JILANI, observer for Palestine, said the statement by the representative of Israel represented the very challenge to everything mentioned before in the meeting. It was also a challenge to the international community. From the Israeli Government's viewpoint, the international community and the United Nations should abstain from raising the issue of Palestine and the Palestinian people. Israel used force on the ground to achieve its goals, but its Government claimed that it carried out agreements that had been reached. Yet, the report before the Committee made it clear that by establishing settlements Israel had repeatedly violated all the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly and Security Council. The international community had declared that Israel was exposing the region to complete uncertainty in the future, he concluded.
* Note that pages 2 to 10 inadvertently referred to this meeting as the 14th Meeting.