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

Fifty-third General Assembly
Fourth Committee
23rd Meeting (AM)
19 November 1998



Negative Impressions Unjustified, Israel Tells Fourth Committee;
Others Say Land Confiscation, New Settlements Still Impede Progress

The ongoing political process between Israel and the Palestinians, and peace-building between the two peoples, should put into proper perspective the negative impressions in the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, the representative of Israel told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this morning. The Fourth Committee was concluding its consideration of that report.

The Israeli representative said the Special Committee report, and related draft resolutions, told a tale of conflict, but did not say a word about the effort to heal the wounds of that conflict. The report revealed itself to be yet another regrettable and one- sided propaganda exercise held at the expense of the United Nations, as well as the cost of the cause for peace. The representative of the United States said the Special Committee's existence was now inconsistent with the joint efforts that Israel and the Palestinians were making to resolve their differences. This was not the time for resolutions which would detract from the peace process, in which the recent Wye River Memorandum represented a major step forward.

The representative of the Observer Mission for Palestine said the Wye River Memorandum was a source of hope that the situation would soon become better, but the Israeli Government had not chosen that path. With Government permission, Jewish settlers had resumed work at a planned settlement in the heart of the Arab sector of Jerusalem. There had been further confiscation of Palestinian land. The violent behaviour of the settlers had persisted. The peace process would continue to suffer as long as Israel continued to violate international law, international humanitarian law and the relevant United Nations resolutions, which must be respected.

The representative of Syria said it was crystal clear that Israel did not want genuine peace but only a peace which would enable it to serve its own interests and to continue occupying Arab lands. The current Israeli Government had shown no interest in implementing agreements between its predecessor and the Palestinian side. He asked what would happen if all governments reneged on commitments entered into by preceding governments.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Senegal, Cuba, Ghana, Qatar, Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon.

The Fourth Committee will meet this afternoon at 3 p.m. to take action on a total of 12 draft resolutions relating to the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and to the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices.

Committee Work Programme

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to continue its general debate on the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. (For more details see Press Release GA/SPD/152 of 18 November.)


IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal) said hope was reborn by the recent signing of the Wye River Memorandum. Despite the breakthrough, there was still much to be done, especially in upgrading the living conditions of the Palestinian people. He said legal changes in recent months had been implemented to change facts on the ground, and to make the Arab majority a minority, because of expulsion from their homes and the influx of settlers. When those measures were added to the confiscation of property, frequent human rights violations, difficult prison conditions, and the closures of Palestinian territories, it was not easy to be optimistic about the prospects for peace.

After Wye, he said, Israel should do what it could to take confidence-building measures. The Palestinian people had hoped the peace agreements would improve their situation and affect their human rights. The concerned parties, with the help of the international community, must urgently continue their dialogue. The rights of the Palestinian people and population in the occupied territories must be respected. The Special Committee to investigate Israeli practices still had the delicate mission of accompanying the peace process.

FEDA ABDELHADY, Observer, Mission for Palestine, said the current Israeli Government had maintained its stranglehold on the Palestinian economy, including the imposition of closures and restrictions on the freedom of movement of persons and goods. It had obstructed the path for genuine economic development, causing severe deterioration in the living conditions of the Palestinian people. Such collective measures not only violated fundamental freedom of movement, they also violated freedom of worship and education, and resulted in the suffocation of the Palestinian people and dismemberment of Palestinian territorial integrity. Moreover, the Israeli Government had continued its campaign to Judaize occupied East Jerusalem, making changes to its legal status, character and demographic composition. It abrogated the rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites to live in their city through the illegal confiscation of their identity cards.

She said several forms of collective punishment, aside from the closures, had continued during the period under review, including the demolition of homes, the imposition of curfews and administrative detentions. Harassment and physical ill-treatment also persisted, as did killings and assassinations by Israeli authorities. Palestinian political prisoners who remained in Israeli jails were still subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment and human rights violations. All those Israeli practices were in blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in wartime, which was applicable to all of the occupied territories, including Jerusalem. The Security Council had adopted 25 resolutions in which it had affirmed the applicability of the Convention to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem. Only Israel rejected that.

She said the deadlock in the peace process had continued throughout the review period. The Wye River Memorandum of 23 October had become a source of hope that the situation would soon become better, but the Israeli Government had not chosen to genuinely proceed down that path. With government permission, Jewish settlers had resumed work at a planned settlement in the heart of the Arab sector of Jerusalem at Ras al-Amud. In addition, Israeli officials had announced the building of 200 housing units on the edge of a Jewish settlement in Al-Khalil (Hebron).

The confiscation of more Palestinian land, the exploitation and theft of natural resources, the transfer of more settlers into the occupied territory, and the building of bypass roads for use by the illegal settlers, as well as the violent behaviour of the settlers, had persisted.

She said it was still Palestine's strongest hope that the prevailing situation would soon change, but the peace process would continue to suffer as long as Israel continued to violate international law, international humanitarian law and the relevant United Nations resolutions, which must be respected. In addition, the Israeli side must comply with the its contractual obligations under the agreements reached. Those were the requirements for progress in the peace process and for a genuine improvement in the living conditions and the situation of the human rights of the Palestinian people. Palestine regretted the refusal of Israel to cooperate with the Special Committee. The United Nations had a permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine and the Committee's work would continue to be of importance to the international community until the Israeli occupation was brought to an end.

DAVID ZOHAR (Israel) said the Special Committee's report, was yet another regrettable and one-sided propaganda exercise, held annually at the expense of the United Nations and of the cause for peace. The only redeeming feature of that report was a brief preambular reference to the Declaration of Principles signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993, and to subsequent bilateral agreements.

He said the key to peace, as shown again by the recent Wye Memorandum, relied on patient negotiations, not in a litany of sterile vilification. What was remarkable was that the peace process should have come so far, with all its difficulties, despite the rhetoric to which Israel had been subjected by that Committee.

Israel did not need that barrage of words and paper to propel it towards peace. Israel expressed its concern at the pointlessness of that ritualized exercise, and regretted the waste of time and money it represented. It requested all peace-loving Member States to encourage the Palestinian side to move forward towards the attainment of a true, just and lasting peace.

The people of the Middle East all shared a cultural legacy that embraced a desire for peace, he said. Such wisdom was not to be found in the draft resolutions before the Fourth Committee. However, those resolutions would not continue to guide the concerned parties when the debates and documents of the Committee were long forgotten.

In the ongoing political process, Israel had transferred actual authority and responsibility for more than 98 per cent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority. The transferred powers included legislative, judicial and executive powers over virtually all civil spheres of government. The Palestinian Authority therefore, had the duty, together with the ability and responsibility, to discharge its powers in a manner consistent with internationally accepted norms.

He spoke of the recently concluded Wye River Memorandum, noting agreement on additional percentages of territory which, in the coming weeks, would be transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction and actual control. Israel had made tangible concessions, while in exchange receiving intangible and reversible concessions in return. Nonetheless, Israel was determined to go forward with the process for the sake of peace and security of future generations. He said his country was keenly aware of the dangers in transferring actual powers and responsibilities, without adding some proviso as to the need to ensure human rights guarantees to all individuals in the territories being transferred.

The documents before the Committee told a tale of conflict, he said. Not a word was said about the effort to heal the wounds of that conflict. Israel hoped that by next year, the annual report on Israeli practices would be more a balanced, comprehensive and fair portrayal of the facts. Meanwhile, Israel and the Palestinians would continue with practical and meaningful components of peace-building between the two peoples, despite all attempts to obstruct the course of peace by hostile and biased propaganda.

RAFAEL DAUSA (Cuba) said solidarity with the Palestinian people was a matter of principle. Cuba had the same moral obligation towards the other Arab peoples who were suffering because their territory was under occupation. The Special Committee had presented a broad but dismaying vision of the human rights of the Palestinian people and those of the other Arab people of occupied territories being trampled underfoot. A settlement of the Middle East conflict required final settlement of the Palestinian problem, which was the cornerstone of that conflict. There could not be a just and lasting peace when the lands of those people remained under occupation.

On the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilians in wartime, he said the Security Council had, in 25 resolutions adopted over the years, reaffirmed its applicability to the occupied territory, but Israel had not accepted that. Last year the Israeli Government had begun building a settlement in East Jerusalem. In the absence of a Security Council statement on that matter, the General Assembly had met in emergency session and called for the convening of a conference of the High Contracting Parties to consider measures to strengthen the application of the Geneva Conventions to situations such as that in the Middle East.

He said the signing of the Madrid peace agreement had revived the international community's hope that there would be significant progress in the peace process, but so far the world had only witnessed obstacles being placed in the way of peace. Only full compliance with the Wye River Memorandum would give the Middle East peace efforts real content. There must be a final settlement of the problem; until then, the Special Committee must continue to implement its mandate.

YAW OSEI (Ghana) said the Special Committee's report detailed policies and practices by the Israeli Government which clearly infringed upon the basic tenets of international humanitarian law, in particular the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, and the international standards of human rights, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Human Rights.

He asked how the international community could justify a deliberate policy of land expropriation; restrictions with regard to land, housing and water; environmental damage through improper waste disposal from settlements; burial of atomic waste on occupied lands; harassment of women, children and students; removal of persons from their homes and demolition of the latter; separation of families and even spouses; unfair arrests; detention, torture and trial and imprisonment without due legal representation, or respect for the basic principle of justice; and restrictions on movement within, from and re-entry into occupied lands.

He said the reasons of containing threats to Israel's overall security could hardly justify such abuses, since the prevailing environment of security in the Middle East was a direct consequence of those policies and practices. It was against that background that Ghana welcomed the Wye River Memorandum as a positive step in the peace process. The endorsement of the land-for-peace plan should dictate a full commitment to the implementation by all sides of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 425 (1978), which formed the basis of the Middle East peace process, and the immediate and scrupulous implementation of all agreements reached between the parties, including the redeployment of Israeli forces from the West Bank.

He said Ghana welcomed the announcement of the start this morning of final status negotiations. Ghana believed that the process of implementation should be devoid of public utterances by both sides that could discourage, rather than encourage, goodwill and trust, which were essential for the attainment of durable peace. The cooperation of the Israeli Government with the Special Committee in its future work would go a long way to enhance the peace process, and Ghana looked forward to such a development.

DOUGLAS KEENE (United States) said the draft resolutions before the Committee under Agenda Item 84 -- the Special Committee to Investigate Israel Practices -- did not reflect current reality nor did they contribute to the peace process. The Wye Memorandum, signed 23 October, represented a major step forward in the peace process. With the ratification of the Memorandum by the Israeli Knesset on 17 November, work on implementation of all the Memorandum's provisions should soon be on course. At the end of that implementation period, the parties would enter into permanent status talks. It was the international community's responsibility to assist in building momentum for that renewal of confidence, not to lessen it.

He said the United States called upon Member States to delete the standard request for the Special Committee to continue its work and report next year. Everyone should recognize that the Special Committee's existence was now inconsistent with the joint efforts that Israel and the Palestinians were making to resolve their differences. The Special Committee's work stood to damage prospects for the intense diplomatic efforts now going on to inject momentum into the peace process.

The United States reaffirmed its support for the Fourth Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 as it applied to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. However, it opposed the specific reference to Jerusalem in the draft resolutions. He said it was not the time for resolutions which would detract from the peace process. Rather, Governments which supported the peace process should look for opportunities to create an environment for reconciliation between the two parties and help to attain the goal of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region.

HAMAD AL-THANI (Qatar) said the report of the Special Committee showed the serious human rights violations Israel had perpetrated against the Palestinian people. The illegal expansion of settlements was aimed at changing demographic reality on Arab lands, particularly with the settlements around Jerusalem whose recent construction was a serious blow to the peace process.

He said blocking and closures of the occupied territories, and the destruction of homes, were all crimes against international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. No negotiations were possible unless Israel halted such policies. Those disastrous measures had hampered confidence-building measures in the occupied territories. Such behaviour only proved that the Israeli goal was to occupy more Arab territory.

Qatar called for international pressure to make Israel comply with United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, and the principles of the land-for-peace formula set in the Madrid Conference in 1991. Moreover, he said, additional financial contributions, apart from United Nations funding, were needed to continue the work towards a just peace for the Palestinian people.

THAMER ABDALLA ADWAN (Jordan) said that Israeli practices detailed in the Special Committee's report prejudiced the daily living conditions of the Palestinian people and those of other Arab people in occupied lands. Those practices went further to damage the freedom of movement, worship and education. They also ran counter to internationally acceptable human rights standards, and to the orientation towards the creation of an appropriate atmosphere that was conducive to the Middle East peace process. It was important to build confidence among the population after decades of turmoil.

He said the greatest source of tension in the occupied territories was the construction of settlements and the annexation of Jerusalem and other Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967. The confiscation of land and the construction of settlements on it meant that Israel did not comply with agreements reached with the Palestinian side. Jordan was committed to peace and would not go back on that commitment as it was the only strategic option.

Jordan hoped the Wye River Memorandum would enhance peace negotiations on the Palestinian track as well as on the other tracks. Israel was called upon to deal with the Palestinians as partners and not as an occupied people. It was necessary to find just and lasting peace so they could achieve self-determination with their own homeland.

MOHAMED SALAH TEKAYA (Tunisia) said the report of the Special Committee was filled with facts showing that Israel had continued to violate the human rights of Palestinian people in the occupied territories, actions which were against the recent agreements signed with the Palestinians. It also showed the scope of Israeli colonization. The confiscation of agricultural land to expand its economy, and to build roads only for settlers, had deprived the rightful owners of the land from their rightful income. Restrictions of Palestinian housing had once again revealed an Israeli attempt to change the demographic make-up of Jerusalem.

Recent information showed that the Israeli Government had asked the courts for permission to build new settlements in Arab lands. That behaviour went against resolutions at last year's emergency session of the General Assembly. He said the Special Committee played an important watchdog role in informing the international community of abuses by Israel in the occupied territories. It was therefore important for the Special Committee to continue its activities as long as Israeli practices persisted. The international community must accelerate efforts to allow people to regain their rights.

ADNAN MANSOUR (Lebanon) said his country had suffered greatly from Israel's hostile acts and expansionist aims. Thousands of Lebanese refugees had left the country or had to flee from Israeli practices. Arbitrary measures taken by Israel violated human rights, particularly in Lebanon. He said the Israeli authorities were trying to wipe away the Syrian identity of the 20,000 Syrian Arabs living in the Golan Heights, he said. Israel had also abducted Lebanese civilians and taken them to camps within Israeli territory, which constituted illegal arrests without indictments. The defendants did not have the means to defend themselves.

He said the "blind shelling" of unarmed villages had killed many civilians and caused others to flee their homes into exile. Moreover, Israel had established zones to deprive the Arab inhabitants of a source of income by, for example, stealing soil that was then delivered to Israeli territory to enrich the land there. Israel must cease such activities and begin to implement international treaties. Only the international community could pressure Israel to accept international law.

MIKHAIL WEHBE (Syria) said it was 31 years since the Israeli aggression of 1967, which had resulted in the occupation of the Syrian Golan, Jerusalem/Al Quds, southern Lebanon and the western Bekaa. Israel did not want to return the land. The ferocity of the occupation was increasing, and for all those years Israel had undertaken policies that blatantly breached international law, United Nations resolutions, international humanitarian law and the International Convention on Economic and Social Rights, among others.

He said any attempt to detract from the work of the Special Committee or to silence it would only provide Israel with cover to continue and increase its illegal policies in the occupied territories. The Special Committee must be provided with the necessary resources and professional staff to enable it to continue its work like other committees.

In that regard, he added, Syria expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the late submission of the Special Committee's report to the Fourth Committee, in breach of the rule stating that reports should be submitted six weeks in advance of consideration. That error must not be repeated in the future.

He said the situation in the Syrian Golan had deteriorated as a result of Israel's terrorist acts. For years, Israel had deliberately defied international conventions in its attempts to annex the Golan and seize its resources. The occupation forces had expelled the Golan's Arab population who had once numbered 130,000. Those forces were now planting colonies of settlers from all over the world who had no relation to the area.

He said Israel was levying heavy taxes that the local inhabitants could not afford. The occupation forces had committed a number of measures that damaged the environment, including the dumping of nuclear substances and industrial waste. Scores of Syrian citizens were in Israeli prisons and detention centres. Oppression was increasing in severity, including torture and killings. It was crystal clear that Israel did not want genuine peace but only a peace which would enable it to serve its own interests and to continue occupying Arab lands.

The current Israeli Government had shown clearly that it was not interested in implementing the agreements reached between the previous government and the Palestinian side. What would happen if all governments reneged on the commitments and agreements entered into by preceding governments? The world would be in a real mess. Genuine peace could not go hand-in-hand with the occupation of the lands of others and the suppression of peoples' rights.

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For information media - not an official record