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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS

HR/CN/776
31 March 1997

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY HIGHER EDUCATION MINISTER TELLS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION PEACE PROCESS IS IN JEOPARDY

Commission Continues Discussions On Migrant Workers, Minorities and Religious Discrimination

(Reproduced as received; delayed in transmission.)

GENEVA, 24 March (UN Information Service) -- The Palestinian Authority's Minister for Higher Education, Hanan Ashrawi, told the Commission on Human Rights this morning that Israel was exploiting the peace process to confiscate more Palestinian land and to build and expand settlements.

According to Ms. Ahrawi, the extremism of the Israeli Government was feeding extremist elements among Palestinians. While Israel sought to extract Jerusalem from the heart of Palestine, it was simultaneously attempting to dismember the land with settlements and by-pass roads, she said, adding that Israel was unilaterally preempting the outcome of permanent status issues and flagrantly reneging on the Interim Phase agreements by continuing to hold hostage more than 3,000 Palestinian prisoners.

The statement by the Palestinian Minister came after a long delay in the morning session during which the Commission's Bureau discussed whether she would be allowed to speak from the podium, which she eventually did.

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Statement by Minister for Higher Education of Palestinian Authority

HANAN ASHRAWI, Minister of Higher Education of the Palestinian Authority, said the deprived and abused looked to the Commission for succour and justice, while those who perpetrated violations and abuses viewed it with suspicion and hostility. The world was faced with the challenges represented by the drastic deterioration in human rights as it struggled to cope with "ethnic-tribal-cultural" intra-State conflicts and as it struggled with emerging petty dictatorships of self-interest and power politics. Obsolete power forms also persisted in enslaving whole nations through the most pervasive form of violation -- military occupation and the denial of a people's right to self-determination. Israel's occupation of Palestine was such a case.

Ms. ASHRAWI said the principles of representation, accountability and the rule of law were taken very seriously by the Palestinians. As a people long victimized by persistent and comprehensive violations of its rights and fundamental freedom, Palestinians were particularly sensitive, "lest we do to unto others or unto each other what has been done unto us". Accountability began at home, and intimidation, reticence, self-censorship and passive internalization and acquiescence were the worst symptoms of "soul-death". That was why Palestinians chose to be self-critical and monitor violations and violators. One of the steps the Palestinian Authority had taken to play its role was the introduction of a new course requirement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in all institutions of higher education.

The Palestinian-Israeli peace process was in serious jeopardy, she said. Israel was exploiting the peace process to confiscate more Palestinian land and to build and expand settlements. The extremism of the Israeli Government was feeding extremist elements among Palestinians. While Israel sought to extract Jerusalem from the heart of Palestine, it was simultaneously attempting to dismember the land with settlements and by-pass roads. It unilaterally preempted the outcome of permanent status issues, and flagrantly reneged on the Interim Phase agreements by continuing to hold hostage more than 3,000 Palestinian prisoners; by not implementing the agreed safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank, and by tightening its stranglehold on the Palestinian crossing, turning the Palestinian territories into a collective prison.

Israel had also sanctioned the use of violence against Palestinians under interrogation, she went on. Palestinian detainees were the victims of "a horrific aberration in the discriminatory value of human life and rights". Yet Palestinians were being held responsible for the security of every Israeli; the peace process had become an instrument for blackmailing the Palestinian Authority to safeguard the security of the Israelis at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people. Peace had never been built on victimization. Only a just peace could release both peoples and harness energies and potential for mass construction rather than mass destruction.

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