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


GA/9540
18 December 1998


ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT SEES SPIRIT OF COMPROMISE PREVAILING OVER
TYRANNY OF BUDGETARY CONSTRAINTS IN FIFTY-THIRD SESSION


Nuclear Disarmament, Financial Crisis, Human Rights Defenders, Terrorism,
Wye River Memorandum Impact, 2000-2001 Budget Outline among Session Highlights

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During the deliberations of the Assembly's Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), much attention was paid to the 23 October signing of the Wye River Memorandum between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, by which Israel would withdraw from another 13 per cent of the West Bank. However, besides the noted progress, the Assembly continued to view the Israeli settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace. ...

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Plenary

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The Assembly again this year held broad debates on the situation in the Middle East and the question of Palestine, during which many speakers expressed support for the Wye River Memorandum signed by Israel and Palestine in October. The parties were urged to sustain political commitment so that the Memorandum could be fully implemented. The need to curtail violence by extremist factions from both sides was also underscored.

In a series of actions, the Assembly stressed the need for commitment to the principle of land for peace, and the need for the immediate and scrupulous implementation of the agreements reached between the parties. Calling on all involved to work to bring the peace process back on track, the Assembly stressed the need for the Palestinian people to realize their right to self-determination and for the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. Also, the Assembly deplored the transfer by some States of their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem. By a resolution on the situation in the Middle East and the Syrian Golan, it called on Israel to resume the talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks and to respect the commitments and undertakings reached during previous talks.

Further, the Assembly urged the United Nations to intensify assistance to the Palestinian people, in accordance with priorities established by the Palestinian Authority. It also called on the international donor community to expedite the delivery of pledged assistance to the Palestinian people. In other action, the Assembly called on the international community to increase assistance to ensure the success of the Bethlehem 2000 Project, a commemoration of the new millennium to be held in Bethlehem from Christmas 1999 to Easter 2001. The Secretary-General was asked to mobilize support for the event launched by the Palestinian Authority. Some 2 million visitors are expected at the historic site, which is being promoted as a symbol of peace among all people. During the debate on the matter, Israel said it stood ready to cooperate with the Christian and Arab communities on the project.

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Second Committee

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In the only contested action of the Committee's session, a draft resolution on the permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory was adopted by the Assembly by a recorded vote of 114 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 12 abstentions. The Assembly called on Israel not to exploit natural resources in occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan. During the Committee's deliberations, representatives of the United States and Israel expressed concern that the resolution may predetermine the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to settle outstanding issues.

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Fourth Committee

Based on recommendations of its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), the General Assembly again demanded this year that Israel cease its construction of a new settlement at Jabal Abu Ghneim, along with all its settlement activities in the occupied Arab lands, including Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan.

Acting on issues presented by the Fourth Committee, the Assembly adopted 23 draft resolutions and decisions concerning Israeli practices in the occupied territories, Palestinian refugee relief, decolonization, information questions, peacekeeping, the peaceful uses of outer space, and the effects of atomic radiation.

During the session, much attention was paid to the 23 October signing of the Wye River Memorandum between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Implementation of the accord -- by which Israel would withdraw from another 13 per cent of the West Bank -- ended almost a two-year deadlock in peace talks, and was supposed to be followed immediately by intensive negotiations on a final settlement that would resolve the thorny questions of Palestinian statehood and the future status of Jerusalem. However, besides the noted progress, the Assembly continued to view the Israeli settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace. It also called on Israel to guarantee the safety and protection of Palestinian civilians in the occupied territory.

Also posing a serious threat to the peace progress was the structural deficit problem confronting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The Agency's financial straits portended an almost certain decline in the living conditions of the Palestine refugees, with possible consequences for the peace process. The Assembly, therefore, called upon all governments, as a matter of urgency, to make the most generous efforts possible to meet the anticipated needs of the Agency. Stressing the 1993 Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, the Assembly also expressed hope for an accelerated return of displaced people through the mechanism agreed upon by the parties. It reaffirmed that the Palestine refugees were entitled to their property and to the income derived from their losses.

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