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

24 May 2000


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

ATHENS, 24 May -- At the morning session of the second and final day of the United Nations International Meeting in Support of a Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine and the Establishment of Peace in the Middle East, participants discussed the roles of the United States and the Russian Federation, the co-sponsors of the peace process. They also addressed the role of the United Nations in the peace process, the issue of European involvement in the promotion of peace in the Middle East, the role of the international donor community and the involvement of intergovernmental and regional organizations.

Markus Kaim, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany, described the various roles played by the United States in post-Oslo peacemaking. According to Mr. Kaim, the role most preferred by the United States Administration was that of facilitator, which was possible when the regional parties had agreed to negotiate on the basis of the "land for peace" formula and were able and willing to reach bilateral understandings. The role of broker was assumed when one of the parties proved intransigent or no longer accepted the basic formula of the Madrid process, in which case the United States role included urging the parties to compromise by a policy of "sticks and carrots". When the peace process seemed to be on the edge, the United States assumed the role of stabilizer, becoming broadly involved in Middle East security-building. And the fourth United States role that Mr. Kaim described was that of security guard, reflected, for example, in the American policy to secure the qualitative edge of Israel's military capabilities and the "dual containment" policy towards Iraq and Iran Based on this analysis, Mr. Kaim outlined three steps which, in his opinion, should be followed by the United States in the Middle East to best serve the success of the Madrid peace process and the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict:

-- The United States should only support Israeli Governments that are ready to make the necessary concessions in the peace process. Nevertheless, a continuous United States pledge for the territorial security of Israel would be necessary to rally domestic support for the peace process in Israel.

-- The Clinton Administration's support for Yassir Arafat would be crucial for the mid-term stability of the peace process and the accords reached. That is not to say the United States should remain silent concerning human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

-- The United States should continue its economic support of Palestinian self-administration and encourage other parties to do so. Without a sufficient rise in the living standard, support for the peace process would erode and radical groups could undermine the authority of the elected government.

The achievement of a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, including a just solution of the Palestinian problem, has for long been one of the priorities of Russian foreign policy, said Alexandre Zassypkin, Chief of the Middle East Peace Process Desk at the Middle East and North Africa Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Russian Federation. As a co-sponsor of the Madrid Peace Conference, Russia believed in active mediation to draw the parties nearer to one another in their search for mutually acceptable solutions. According to Mr. Zassypkin, the co-sponsor role should be objective and unbiased, creating an atmosphere of confidence between the negotiators.

Nevertheless, objectivity implied taking clear stands towards the legitimate demands of the various parties, Mr. Zassypkin said. That meant that the Palestinian problem must be resolved so that the Palestinian people could exercise their legitimate national rights, including the right to self-determination and the establishment of a state of their own. Another essential element was the restoration of Syrian sovereignty over the entire Golan Heights and the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from those parts. And yet another important element, according to Mr. Zassypkin, was the drawing up of adequate security arrangements covering all aspects that might potentially threaten regional stability and relations between Israel and the Arab States.

Mr. Zassypkin expressed his hope that the scheduled plans on the Palestinian track, including completion of the third phase of the redeployment and the conclusion of the framework of the agreement, could be carried out. He mentioned the importance of resuming bilateral negotiations on the Syrian-Israeli track, and emphasized the importance of ensuring the proper implementation of Security Council resolution 425 regarding the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon.
Jannis Sakellariou, Member of the European Parliament, gave participants an overview of European involvement in the promotion of peace in the Middle East, which began in the early 1970s with an attempt to form a united European position on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1980, Mr. Sakellariou said, the European Community issued the Venice Declaration, emphasizing the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and declaring Europe's obligation to play a special role towards the achievement of Middle East peace. Nevertheless, he added, that special role was never realized, due to United States pressure to avoid a European position that contradicted the Camp David Accords, and due to Israel's resistance -- which continues up to this day -- to an independent European role in the Middle East.

More recent European efforts to play a role in Middle East peacemaking have included the Barcelona Process and the appointment, in 1996, of a European Union Special Envoy to the Middle East peace process, Mr. Sakellariou said. He explained that the Barcelona Process, which was complementary to the Middle East peace process but separate from it, was the European Union's most important effort to contribute to peace and development in the region. He noted, however, that the problems that have plagued the peace process have also inevitably contaminated the Barcelona Process.

The appointment of a European Union Special Envoy to the Middle East peace process has resulted in improved coordination of the policies of European Union Member States in terms of the preparation of common positions and the development of European initiatives aiming to promote progress in the peace negotiations, Mr. Sakellariou said. He stressed, however, that the "real situation" gave the Special Envoy a marginal position in the negotiations, because neither the United States nor Israel accepted a larger European Union role. In conclusion, Mr. Sakellariou said that task-sharing in the Middle East meant that the United States made the policy and the European Union was permitted to pay for the results.

Abdulaziz Abougosh, Assistant Secretary General and Director of Coordination with Palestine at the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said that the OIC's eagerness to find a solution to the question of Palestine and Jerusalem stemmed from its awareness of the importance of Palestine and the Holy Land to all the faithful worldwide. The OIC, he added, had welcomed the Middle East peace process in accordance with the formula of the Madrid Peace Conference, but its hopes for a satisfactory outcome had now faded away.

With the 13 September deadline to reach a solution for all the outstanding issues looming, signs were that no easy solution was within sight, Mr. Abougosh said. The third redeployment phase was but one example of the issues in the transfer phase that had still not been implemented by Israel, such as the opening of the northern safe passage, outstanding financial and economic issues, the return of the displaced Palestinians of 1967 and the release of Palestinian prisoners and detainees. Moreover, Israel has persisted with illegal settlement activities, and a large number of items in the Sharm Al-Sheikh memorandum remained unimplemented.
In addition, Israel's proclaimed positions on the final status issues were unacceptable and irresponsible, Mr. Abougosh said. Among those, he mentioned the maintenance of settlements, the annexation of part of the Palestinian territories to Israel, Israeli control over the Jordanian and Egyptian borders and extremist Israeli positions on Jerusalem and on Palestinian refugees.

Mr. Abougosh said that the Palestinian people had demonstrated their passion for peace and justice, accepting all relevant United Nations resolutions and agreeing to establish a Palestinian State on only 22 per cent of historical Palestine, thereby relinquishing their internationally recognized historical and legal rights to the rest of Palestine. He stressed that any further dismemberment of the Palestinian territory would not guarantee the minimum national prospects for the Palestinians, and would ultimately threaten the durability, sustainability and security of peace in the area.

Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, expressed the congratulations of the Palestinian people to the Lebanese people for the withdrawal of Israel from occupied South Lebanon, adding that he hoped the step would lead to other Israeli withdrawals from occupied Palestinian and Arab territories, and describing such withdrawals as the sine qua non for the establishment of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
Speaking about the role of the United Nations in the peace process, Mr. Al-Kidwa reaffirmed the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards Palestine, adding that, after all, it was this international body that had partitioned Palestine, thus giving it a clear legal, political and moral responsibility to remain focused on the question of Palestine until all aspects of the issue were resolved.

Concentrating mostly on the United Nations role since the beginning of the current peace process of Madrid and Oslo, Mr. Al-Kidwa said that since the beginning of that process, there had been a strong Israeli campaign aimed at neutralizing the United Nations. Israel's argument was that peace had been achieved, negotiations were taking place and accordingly the United Nations should not get involved. That position, which received strong United States support, was opposed by the Palestinian and Arab side, as well as by other important groupings such as the Non-Aligned Movement and the OIC, all of which maintained that peace had not yet been established, and that the peace process and the partial agreements that had been reached were no substitute for international law and compliance with the relevant United Nations resolutions. Such resolutions, Mr. Al-Kidwa added, even when not implemented on the ground, represented the ultimate protection network for the Palestinian people.

In reaction to the policies of the Government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the international community decided to take certain further steps, Mr. Al-Kidwa said. Their convening of the tenth Emergency Special Session of the United Nations under the formula "Uniting for Peace" was an exceptionally important step, because it was the first time in 15 years that the General Assembly had invoked such a complex procedure, one which had been originally invented by the United States to circumvent Soviet influence in the Security Council.

Among other recent important steps taken by the United Nations was the decision of the fifty-second session of the General Assembly to accord Palestine certain rights and privileges, which until then had been the exclusive rights and privileges of Member States, Mr. Al-Kidwa said. The international community would never have done this had it not been convinced that Palestine was either a State or at least a State in formation, he added.

Mr. Al-Kidwa said that potential steps in the future were directly linked to the deadline agreed upon by the parties with regard to the conclusion of the final settlement. Emphasizing that the September deadline was a firm one, he expressed his hope that the negotiation process would by that point have resulted in a final settlement, so that the Palestinian side could take certain steps such as acquiring membership at the United Nations. Nevertheless, he added, should the parties fail to reach such an agreement, the Palestinian side would still intend to request full membership in the United Nations.

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