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


Fifty-eighth General Assembly
Plenary
15th & 16th Meetings (AM & PM)
GA/10162
29 September 2003

EXPRESSING CONCERN AT STALLED MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS, SPEAKERS IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY CALL FOR RESUMPTION OF DIALOGUE, IMPLEMENTATION OF “ROAD MAP”


In wake of the diplomatic Quartet’s high-level meeting at United Nations Headquarters on Friday, 26 September, at which it expressed “great concern” that recent Israeli and Palestinian attacks had stalled the Middle East peace process, several speakers in the General Assembly today stressed the importance of resuming negotiations for the implementation of the “Road Map” peace plan.

As the Assembly entered the second week of its general debate, Israel was urged to show its commitment to a peaceful settlement, including through lifting the closures on Palestinian communities, removing the restrictions imposed on the Palestinian leadership, reversing the decision to remove Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and withdrawing its military forces from cities occupied since September 2000. 

Reiterating the vital importance of implementing the Road Map, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said that the plan, which called for Israel and the Palestinians to take a series of parallel and reciprocal steps culminating in the achievement of two States living side by side in peace by 2005, represented recognition of the fact that managing the conflict through transitional arrangements and interim solutions had failed, and that the focus of negotiations should be redirected onto their final objectives. 

All stakeholders, he continued, especially members of the Quartet –- Russian Federation, United States, European Union and United Nations -- should pursue their efforts for the Road Map’s scrupulous implementation.  Condemning suicide attacks, which had diverted attention from the core question of Israeli occupation, as well as extra-judicial killings, he warned, “the prevailing atmosphere of violence will play only into the hands of extremists on both sides of the divide”.

Holding Israel responsible for jeopardizing the chances for peace within the framework of the Road Map, Egypt’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Maher El Sayed noted that “the Israeli party does not yet fully share the conviction of all” that the settlement of the conflict would be found in the creation of an independent Palestinian State, based upon the 1967 borders.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, said that in opting for repression, persecution and political assassinations, Israel’s current Government had subverted all proposed initiatives aimed at solving the issue, including the Saudi Peace Initiative and the Quartet-backed Road Map.

While the Palestinians had gone as far as they could in creating the appropriate environment to forge ahead with the peace process, he added, Israel had continued its provocative measures.  Moreover, the continued escalation could have been avoided if the Quartet had assumed the responsibility of overseeing implementation of the Road Map from the very beginning by providing an international monitoring force.

Farouk Kaddoumi, Observer of Palestine, said that Israel must make every effort to extinguish the tensions.  The Palestinian Authority had made many concessions prior to and following the introduction of the Road Map, but the world had turned its back, even as the hostilities spiralled, and Israel continued to ignore attempts at negotiation.

As for the Road Map, he added, the United States must cooperate to facilitate its implementation and the diplomatic Quartet must warn Israel from resisting such implementation.  The Quartet could also assist by paving the way for an international observation force on the ground in the region, which would serve as a buffer between the two sides.

Among the other issues raised today was the need for a strengthened role to be assumed by the United Nations in Iraq, the difficulties encountered by States in the transition from internal conflict to economic and political development, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and trafficking in small arms and lights weapons.

Also addressing the Assembly today were the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the President of Mongolia.

The Prime Ministers of Jamaica and Timor-Leste also spoke during today’s meeting. 

Statements were also made by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, as well as the Foreign Ministers of Syria, Myanmar, Liechtenstein, Maldives, Mauritania, Bangladesh, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Cape Verde, Panama, Sudan and Singapore.  The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the Gambia also spoke.

In addition, Nepal’s representative made a statement.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply was the representative of Cuba.

The General Assembly will continue its general debate at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 30 September.

Background

The General Assembly met this morning to continue its general debate.

Statements

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FAROUK AL-SHARA’, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Syria, said the failure to reap the optimal benefits of the remarkable scientific and technological advances of the past two decades, coupled with the failure to ensure that globalization benefited all, had heightened the apprehensions of his people and alienated them.  Further, attempts by some Powers to bend international norms to their narrow interests had added insult to injury.  “Cards were shuffled, and premises were challenged”, he said.  New challenges alien to the Charter -- such as the “pre-emptive war” -– had been invented.  Unilateral and illegitimate use of force had “turned the clock backwards”, even though some claimed that new horizons had been opened.

The Middle East –- cradle of religions and depot for two thirds of the world’s oil reserves –- had been victimized more than any other by that new “unbridled” disregard of international logic, he stated.  It was a region that lived more than any other under external threats that continued to undermine its potential, particularly its material and natural resources.  The scourge of Israeli occupation and continued aggression were the main sources of suffering in the region.  It was a glaring irony that Israel, the first State to acquire its legitimacy through a resolution adopted by the United Nations, had also been the first State to ride roughshod over the very concept.

He said that Israel continued to defy the concept of international legitimacy to such an extent that Arabs and others around the world have begun to feel as if that country might be above the law, as if it simultaneously enjoyed the same veto power the United States had in the Security Council.  It was regrettable that after decades of occupation, bloodshed and contempt for international legitimacy, Israel had yet to realize that the road to peace lay in its implementation of the 37 Council resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the 600 other relevant texts.  Were the Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians unrealistic in their demands that the road to peace be through negotiations and implementing relevant resolutions?  How long could Israel continue to mislead some into believing it was victimized, while forcefully occupying the lands of others?

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CYRIL SVOBODA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, ...

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On the Middle East, he said progress in the peace process based on the Road Map should be at the centre of the international community’s efforts, and extremist and terrorist groups must not be allowed to dominate the agenda, as recent developments had shown.  He supported activities aimed at reviving and continuing the implementation of the peace plan.  Because the problems of the region were complex, he urged the Quartet and the parties, at their talks, to take stock of that plan and to identify obstacles on the road to peace, as well as outstanding tasks to be taken by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

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AHMED MAHER EL SAYED, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, ...

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The Middle East should be declared a nuclear-weapon-free zone, he continued.  Yet, that region continued to suffer from the absence of peace.  Although the Oslo Accords had raised hopes for a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it seemed those efforts had failed because the “Israeli party does not yet fully share the conviction of all” that the settlement of the conflict would be found in the creation of an independent Palestinian State, based upon the 1967 borders.  Instead, the Palestinian people continued to be subjected to the oppression of occupation.  Also in the region, the situation of Iraq was cause for grave concern.  That country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected.  Moreover, the earliest possible withdrawal of the occupying forces and the central involvement of the United Nations in assisting the people of Iraq in the political and economic reconstruction of their country was to be desired.

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Prince SAUD AL-FAISAL, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, said failing to confront the “excessive” trend of resorting to unilateral action, on the basis of self-defense, to deal with terrorism and weapons proliferation, and procrastinating when faced with threats such as those that emanated from Saddam Hussein’s regime, had led, it seemed, to confusion and a departure from the Charter’s requirement of swift collective action to deal with all security and stability issues.  Such confusion had provided arguments for both the advocates of collective action and the defenders of unilateral measures, which each side was now using against the other.

It was not unexpected then, he said, that the run-up to the war in Iraq, and its aftermath, became a debate about theories on the divergence of views rather than a serious attempt to decide on practical measures to address the situation in that country.  Indeed, the situation in Iraq had been the core issue, but the Security Council kept deliberating concepts and theories about the role of the United Nations, conflicting interpretations of the Charter, structural reforms of the Organization, and how to rectify the nature of international relations.  Still, he said, recent events, though complicated and troubling, provided a good opportunity to consolidate the principles of the Charter, renounce the use of force, and raise the pillars of international legitimacy.

That might require a review of certain issues and United Nations procedures, he continued.  If terrorism were selected as a starting point for such a review, he would stress the importance of condemning all its forms, as well as the need to address the root causes of the scourge.  If the issue of terrorism represented a challenge for the international community, in general, and the United Nations, in particular, the Palestinian issue -– a topic on the Assembly’s agenda for over   50 years now -– was of great concern, as well.  By opting for repression, persecution and political assassinations, Israel’s current Government had subverted all proposed initiatives aimed at solving the issue, including the Saudi Peace Initiative and the Quartet-backed Road Map.

While the Palestinians had gone as far as they could in creating the appropriate environment to forge ahead with the peace process, included declaring a six-week truce, Israel had continued its provocative measures, even building a security wall while expanding settlements.  The continued escalation could have been avoided if the Quartet had assumed the responsibility of overseeing implementation of the Road Map from the very beginning by providing an international monitoring force. The situation was further harmed by contradictions in the Security Council that had rendered its decisions nothing more than “ink on paper”.

He suggested that the only way out of that vicious cycle was for permanent Council members to pledge not to use their veto power when dealing with resolutions or measures aimed at implementing the substance of texts previously adopted.  He went on to say that while the Palestinian issue was at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, pending issues in the wider Middle East, including the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, also awaited the resumption of negotiations.  He added that while the people of Iraq had breathed a sigh of relief after the removal of an oppressive regime, those same people were now, more than ever, in need of a clear vision for the future, which an effective role for the United Nations in the country could provide.

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FATHULLA JAMEEL, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Maldives, ...

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Turning to the Middle East, he strongly condemned the Israeli decision to remove President Yasser Arafat and the continued Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.  He called on the Quartet, and particularly the United States, to ensure the implementation of the Road Map.  While the United Nations had an important role to play in the peace process, the United States needed to remain actively engaged in the search for a “just, permanent and lasting peace” in the region.

MOHAMED OULD TOLBA, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mauritania, ...

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Turning to other issues of peace and security, he said that the Quartet’s Road Map offered a fresh opportunity for the establishment of fair and lasting peace in the Middle East region.  ...

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FAROUK KADDOUMI, Observer for Palestine, gave a brief history of what he characterized as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, and its programme of settlement-building, land confiscation and other repressive measures in Palestinian areas from 1967 through the building of the separation wall, during the recent escalation of hostilities that sparked in 2000.  He cited several Middle Eastern news articles condemning the Israeli Government for its policies, particularly its recent decision in principle to remove Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Israel must make every effort to extinguish the tensions, he said, expressing concern that the Palestinian Authority had made many concessions prior to and following the introduction of the Quartet-backed Road Map.  But the world had turned its back, even as the hostilities spiralled, and Israel continued to ignore attempts at negotiation.  Israeli Prime Minister Sharon had even announced 14 reservations to the Road Map and had not attempted to address the issue of settlements.  Following the June ceasefire, Israel had regrettably continued its terrorist practices, assassinating the political leaders of resistant factions, and stepping up its oppressive curfews and checkpoints.

He said it was a fact that the majority of the people in the Palestinian occupied territories were now depending on food rations from the international community.  That much-needed help was the only thing standing in the way of a grave humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories.  But even as the international support had increased, Israel had continued to destroy Palestinian infrastructure.

Fighting terrorism was an arduous task, he continued, but no one was interested in addressing the root cause of the scourge.  No one had been willing to address Israel’s continued defiance of international law.  The international war on terrorism, as well as the introduction and implementation of the Road Map, had been a real chance for the United States to embrace all the people of the world and for everyone to come together in a global effort to address challenging issues.  But that country’s subsequent militarism and misuse of force in other areas had belied its stated intentions.  The current American Administration had not stood by the Road Map.  It was not enough to merely say it supported the peace process while continuing to use double political standards.  The American Government continued to blame Mr. Arafat, while condoning Israel’s efforts to derail the process.

Israel did not heed international law, he reiterated.  It continued to receive all forms of support from major Powers, which allowed it to act outside the context of the United Nations and the Security Council.  It had laid siege to the Palestinian people and paralysed the Palestinian Authority.  The only way peace could be achieved was the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories.  As for the Road Map, the United States must cooperate to facilitate its implementation, and the diplomatic Quartet must warn Israel from resisting such implementation.  The Quartet could also assist by paving the way for an international observer force on the ground in the region, which would serve as a buffer between the two sides.

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MARI ALKATIRI, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, ...

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... Elsewhere in the Middle East, the escalation of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was disappointing.  The Palestinian people had the right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent State, and it was to be hoped that the Road Map would encourage progress towards peace.  ...

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M. MORSHED KHAN, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, ...

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The recent developments in the Middle East were extremely worrying, he said.  The Road Map peace plan that had been accepted with “great courage” by the Palestinian side had not been taken seriously or implemented by the other side.  The Israeli practices, which were well known to the Assembly, continued to be applied in the occupied Palestinian territories.  He continued to support the early establishment of a sovereign, independent State of Palestine, in accordance with relevant resolutions.  He called for the Organization to play a more active role, and for the Security Council to assume its responsibilities towards the Palestinian people.  He also urged the diplomatic Quartet to intensify its efforts to prevent further escalation and address the threats against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

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HARMODIO ARIAS CERJACK, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama, ...

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In conclusion, he urged the Organization to find ways to help those committed to the Road Map, and to secure the cooperation of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to find peace as two sovereign States.

MUSTAFA OSMAN ISMAIL, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sudan, ...

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...  On the Middle East, he remained steadfastly convinced that ongoing Israeli aggression and oppression would only exacerbate the situation.  He called on the international community, particularly those that could influence the situation, to put pressure on Israel to change its policies.

MARWAN MUASHER, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan, said that the Road Map represented a recognition that managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through transitional arrangements and interim solutions had failed and that the focus of negotiations should be redirected onto their final objectives.  It had also recognized that the political, and not just security, aspects of the settlement needed to be addressed.

Thus, although recent developments on the ground –- especially the collapse of the ceasefire -– had created severe tests and high risks to the Road Map trajectory, the international community should stay the course with a view to putting an end to the occupation and tragic killing of civilians on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.  All stakeholders, especially members of the Quartet, should pursue their efforts for the Road Map’s scrupulous implementation, without any modifications and in a way that ensured the establishment of a Palestinian State by the year 2005, with Jerusalem as its capital, as well as the cessation of the Israeli presence in all the Arab territories occupied in 1967.

Further, he urged acceleration in the creation and deployment of an effective political and security monitoring mechanism to be operated by the Quartet, which was essential to ensure strict implementation of respective obligations by both parties, as set forth in the Road Map.  He condemned the suicide attacks anew, and said they had harmed the Palestinian cause and resulted in the erosion of international sympathy.  They had diverted attention from the core question of the Israeli occupation.  The extra-judicial killing of Palestinian citizens was also condemned, as he warned, “the prevailing atmosphere of violence will play only into the hands of extremists on both sides of the divide”.

Israel, he continued, should move to restore confidence by lifting the closures on Palestinian communities, removing the restrictions imposed on the Palestinian leadership and withdrawing its military forces from cities occupied since September 2000.  He also condemned the decision to expel President Yasser Arafat, continued settlement activity and the “separation wall”.  Furthermore, until a solution was agreed to safeguard the right of return and compensation for Palestinian refugees, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) must continue its work.

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BABOUCARR-BLAISE ISMAILA JAGNE, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Gambia, ...

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On the Middle East, he called for an end to suicide bombings against innocent victims and to the occupation of Arab lands.  He also called for the creation of an independent Palestinian State living in peace alongside the State of Israel.  ...

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BHEKH B. THAPA (Nepal) said that in the past 12 months, terrorism had been dented but remained a serious threat to peace, and while some countries had “limped back to normalcy others have descended into chaos”.  All sides had accepted the Middle East Road Map but a new cycle of violence was undermining it.  ...

... On the renewed violence in the Middle East, he observed that it had imperiled the Quartet-endorsed Road Map, which had promised a viable State to the Palestinians and security to the Israelis.  He appealed to both sides to exercise maximum restraint and engage in constructive dialogue to attain a comprehensive settlement to the crisis.  He also appealed to Israel to reconsider its decision to remove Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. 

/...

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