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


GA/PAL/767
5 November 1997


Committee on Inalienable Rights
of the Palestinian People
232nd Meeting (AM)


ASSEMBLY TO BE ASKED TO GRANT NON-VOTING MEMBERSHIP TO PALESTINE

Observer Tells Rights Committee Work of Mission Would Be Enhanced


A draft resolution to give Palestine the same rights and privileges of participation as those conferred upon Member States, in the sessions and work of the General Assembly and United Nations conferences, with the exception of voting and candidature, would be introduced in the Assembly, the Observer for Palestine said this morning.

The Observer, M. Nasser Al-Kidwa, told the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People that the draft resolution was being discussed in the Arab Group and would shortly be circulated among members of the Committee. The aim was not to seek full membership in the United Nations or even achieve official United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state, he said, but it would enhance greatly the work of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine and make it more efficient.

Mr. Al-Kidwa also announced that his delegation intended to present a draft amendment to the General Assembly resolution on the report of the Credentials Committee, indicating that the credentials of Israel did not cover the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, or the Syrian Arab Golan. He said the proposed amendment did not represent a
rejection of Israel's credentials. It was motivated by the ongoing increase in Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land, the increase in settlement activities and continuing illegal Israeli claims to the occupied territory.

Also this morning, the Committee adopted its draft report to the General Assembly covering the period 15 November 1996 to the present, which was introduced by its rapporteur, George Saliba (Malta). It also heard a report by its Chairman, Ibra Deguène Ka, on the International NGO Meeting and European NGO Symposium on the Question of Palestine, which took place in Geneva from 25 to 28 August this year.

On other matters, the Chairman announced that a "Conference in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People" would be held in Brussels, tentatively in late February 1998. It was being organized jointly with the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States. He also announced that the Government of Chile had agreed to host the 1998 Latin American and Caribbean Seminar and NGO Symposium on the
Question of Palestine, at Santiago in late May 1998.


The Committee also approved a request by South Africa, currently an observer in the Committee, to become a full member. The Committee's recommendation would be forwarded to the President of the General Assembly for action by the Assembly.


Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning to adopt its report to the General Assembly covering the period from 15 November 1996 to the present. It was also expected to hear a report by its Chairman on the International NGO Meeting and European NGO Symposium on the Question of Palestine, held at Geneva from 25 to 28 August, and to consider a request by South Africa to become a member of the Committee.

The Committee's draft annual report (document A/AC.183/1997/CRP.2) states that during the course of the year, the Committee followed closely the developments in the region. It notes that some progress was made early in the year on the Protocol concerning the redeployment in Hebron and the "Note for the Record" setting out a mutual understanding by the parties in implementation of the Protocol. It also welcomed the release of 356 Palestinian detainees and Palestinian women prisoners.

Nevertheless, the Committee was increasingly concerned at the ongoing deterioration of the situation and the intensification of violence and tension on the ground, the report states. It expresses its great concern that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations faced serious setbacks owing to the position of the Government of Israel on the various aspects of the peace process. In particular, the Committee is alarmed by the position of that Government on the question of Jerusalem, especially with regard to the establishment of a new settlement in Jabal Abu Ghneim, the growing threat to Palestinian residency rights in Jerusalem, and the continued expansion of settlements in general. It is also concerned about the confiscation of Arab land, the demolition of Palestinian houses, and the prolonged closure of the Palestinian territory.

As the organ of the General Assembly dealing with the question of Palestine, the Committee continued to make all efforts to promote a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine, in accordance with international legitimacy, the report states. It had also participated actively in meetings of the Security Council, the General Assembly and other international forums convened for that purpose.

The report states that the Palestinian economy faced many of the same problems as it has over the past year. Despite the wide-scale international assistance effort, the economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remained a matter of great concern. The Palestinian economy continued to suffer from high unemployment, especially in the rural areas and among young Palestinians. The report says that Israel continued arbitrarily to impose closures in response to its alleged security needs. Citing a report prepared by the United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, the Committee states that the Palestinian economy lost $6 billion between 1992 and 1996, mostly owing to Israeli closures of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which prevented Palestinian workers from reaching jobs in Israel. The result of the closures had been a 36 per cent drop in per capita gross national product (GNP), from $2,700 in 1992 to $1,700 in 1996.

In its recommendations, the Committee says it is essential that the international community continued to intensify its efforts in support of the historic process of reconciliation between the two sides, for the effective implementation of the agreements reached, and for the resumption of all aspects of the negotiations on the agreed basis.

The Committee calls for the reinjection of momentum into the stalled Middle East process and for the implementation of the agreements reached between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). It reaffirms that the United Nations has a permanent responsibility with respect to the question of Palestine until a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement is reached. It reiterates that the involvement of the United Nations in the peace process, both as the guardian of international legitimacy and in the mobilization and provision of international assistance, is essential for the successful outcome of the peace efforts. It believes that its role continues to be useful and necessary during the transitional period and until a satisfactory final
settlement is achieved.


The Committee reaffirms that such a settlement should be based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973); the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and other Arab territories occupied since 1967; the principle of the exchange of land for peace; and the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights, particularly the right to self-determination. The Committee also insists that, during the interim period, Israel should recognize and respect its obligations as the occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Committee states that it will continue -- especially during the transitional period and until a fair satisfactory solution is achieved -- to strive to achieve maximum effectiveness in the implementation of its mandate. It will adjust its work programme in the light of developments, in order to continue to contribute to the realization of the common United Nations objective of achieving a just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine.

South Africa's Application for Membership

Acting without a vote, the Committee approved the request by South Africa for full membership in the Committee. That decision would be forwarded to the General Assembly for action.

BEULAH NAIDOO (South Africa) said the struggles and sacrifices of her country's people against apartheid had inspired her delegation to support the fight of the Palestinian people for self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian State. The question of Palestine was at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the liberation of Palestine would pave the way for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East.

South Africa was committed to the peace process and attached great importance to the implementation of the agreement reached in Oslo, she said. There needed to be a fundamental change in the mind-set of the Israeli Government, whose intransigence made the road to peace elusive.

RAVAN A.G. FARHADI (Afghanistan) said his delegation supported the inclusion of South Africa as a full member of the Committee. Its contribution had been very positive as an observer; its inclusion as a full member would allow the Committee to take advantage of that country's great wealth of experience in supporting the rights of peoples. At the current stage in the Committee's existence, it was important to have more contributions from different regions of the world. It was time that countries which had not been members, because of the cold war or other reasons, joined the Committee and contributed to its work.

M. NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said his delegation welcomed South Africa as a full member of the Committee. Its membership represented a qualitative addition to the Committee's work in support of the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights. The Palestinian people had always been proud of the struggle of the South African people to end the apartheid regime and create a non-discriminatory South Africa. They were also proud that South Africa was upholding the rights of the Palestinian people and their struggle to establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. South Africa would contribute not only to the interests of the Palestinian people, but in the service of people in the Middle East, to achieve a just and lasting peace.

MANKEUR NDIAYE (Senegal) said his delegation supported the inclusion of South Africa's membership in the Committee. It was delighted to see the desire of South Africa to work with countries in support of the struggle of the Palestinian people. South Africa's contribution would be very valuable.

International NGO Meeting/European NGO

IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee, reported on the International NGO Meeting/European NGO Symposium on the Question of Palestine held at Geneva in August. Its deliberations had demonstrated the clear commitment of all participants to work towards a comprehensive, just and lasting solution of the question of Palestine. Non-governmental participants took advantage of the meeting's workshops to discuss their own actions, with the intent of focusing their activities in the near future on the most crucial issues, in order to salvage the peace process. They also adopted a plan of action containing proposals made during their deliberations. In that plan, the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) expressed serious concern over the current stalemate in the negotiations resulting from Israeli policies and practices, which could lead the Middle East region into a new period of extreme tensions and possible conflict.

The NGOs felt strongly the need for a coordinated international campaign in support of the rights of the Palestinian people, he said. They concluded that NGO campaigns should focus primarily on ending the Israeli policy of establishing and expanding settlements; supporting the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, in their own state with Jerusalem as its capital; ensuring the release of all Palestinian prisoners held without trial in Israeli prisons; stopping all forms of torture; supporting the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return and/or compensation; promoting family reunification; and intensifying efforts to assist the Palestinian people in the economic and social fields.


He said the NGOs had welcomed the results of the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly. They agreed to undertake concerted efforts addressed towards their respective governments, to implement the provisions of the resolutions of that session, particularly with respect to the convening of a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The plan of action made very specific proposals which reflected the diversity of the NGO community, he said. The participants were able to commit themselves to a number of campaigns dealing with the most pressing issues in the conflict. The Committee should encourage the NGO network to implement their plan of action. It should also remain engaged in the process of consultations with NGO representatives in the coming months, with a view to improving the effectiveness and usefulness of the Committee's programme, broadening participation in events organized by the Committee, and promoting strengthened assistance activities by NGOs in support of the Palestinian people.

He said the Geneva meeting was attended by 18 panellists, as well as the representatives of 107 NGOs, 15 of whom were observers. It was also attended by 31 governments, five intergovernmental organizations, 12 United Nations bodies and agencies, five NGO coordinating committees, and a delegation for Palestine. The central theme of the combined meeting was "Ending 30 years of occupation -- the role of NGOs". It consisted of two plenary sessions and six workshops.

Introduction of Committee's Draft Report

GEORGE SALIBA (Malta), Committee Rapporteur, introduced the draft report of the Palestinian Rights Committee to the General Assembly.

The Committee then considered the draft report chapter by chapter and section by section. With respect to the chapter on action taken by the Department of Public Information (DPI), Mr. KA (Senegal), Committee Chairman, said the bureau of the Committee met with Assistant Secretary-General for Public Information Samir Sanbar on 23 October to discuss implementation of the Assembly's resolution on the special information programme on the question of Palestine. He expressed the bureau's satisfaction for the spirit of cooperation that existed between the Committee and DPI during the course of the year.

Other Matters

Mr. KA (Senegal), Committee Chairman, said that on 24 July the Committee's bureau met with representatives of the European Union and exchanged views on the question of Palestine. The bureau proposed that contacts should be maintained in the future through such periodic meetings, in order to keep the Union informed of the Committee's initiatives and activities. The representatives of the Union had welcomed that proposal.

The bureau had also held extensive consultations with the Secretaries-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States regarding a proposal to work together on convening a high-level event on the question of Palestine, he went on to say. The event, to be organized by the Committee in cooperation with those two organizations, would be entitled "Conference in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People", and would be held in Brussels -- tentatively in late February 1998.

On behalf of the Committee, he expressed gratitude to the Government of Belgium for its willingness to provide the venue for that event and to offer certain facilities free of charge. The purpose of the Conference was to sensitize the international community to the need to support the Palestinian people at a time of great challenge to the Middle East peace process. A planning mission from the Secretariat would visit Brussels in the first week of November. Upon its return, the bureau would work out further details and inform the Committee accordingly.

The Government of Chile had responded favourably to the Committee's request to hold the 1998 Latin American and Caribbean Seminar and NGO Symposium on the Question of Palestine at Santiago, the Chairman said. The dates of that meeting, scheduled tentatively for late May 1998, would be determined in consultation with the Chilean Government. He expressed gratitude for the Chilean Government's readiness to provide the venue for that meeting.

Statement by Observer for Palestine

Mr. AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said there had been no positive developments in the meetings currently taking place between Israeli, Palestinian and United States officials. There had been a stalemate in the talks so far, and there had even been attempts to change the agreed-upon agenda of the meeting. Attempts had been made to divert the talks to secondary subjects -- such as an airport and seaport -- instead of concentrating on such topics as the building of settlements in Israeli occupied territory. It appeared that the Israeli Government would not depart from its established policies aimed at getting rid of the Oslo agreements, while trying to assume the minimum amount of responsibility for its obligations to those agreements and international law. It was hoped that the United States would exercise pressure on Israel to bring the peace process back on track.

He said his delegation had prepared two initiatives for submission to the current General Assembly session. One aimed at conferring upon Palestine the same rights and privileges of participation as were conferred upon United Nations Member States, with the exception of voting and candidature. That initiative, which would be in the form of a draft resolution, did not entail seeking full membership at the United Nations or even official recognition of the Palestinian State. However, it would enhance greatly the work of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine and make it more efficient. There were no legal barriers to such an action, and there were very few United Nations regulations regarding the status of observer missions. The proposal would not represent a departure from exiting rules.

The status of Palestinian membership was mainly a political question, he said. Thus, it was influenced by the situation of the ground, as well as the developments on the Palestinian scene, including the general democratic election and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority.

The other initiative related to the participation of Israel in the work of the current session of the General Assembly, he said. His delegation planned to propose a draft amendment to the Assembly resolution on the report of the Credentials Committee. It would indicate that the credentials of Israel did not cover the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, or the Syrian Arab Golan. The initiative was motivated by the ongoing increase in Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land, the increase in settlement activities, and the continuing illegal Israeli claims to the occupied territory.

The Israeli Government and other States might claim that the proposed amendment would set a precedent for other situations where there were territorial disputes, he said. The Israeli case, however, was totally different than other disputes or conflicts between States, because Israeli occupied territory had been defined by the Security Council in 25 resolutions. Israel was also the only Member State named as an occupying Power by the Security Council. The membership of the United Nations should take a positive position on that matter, consistent with the relevant resolutions.


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For information media - not an official record