Addressing the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Secretary-General said he was encouraged by the recent meetings in Washington with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, aided by the personal involvement of the President of the United States, and by the agreement to continue those talks in the near future.
"It is essential that political and economic conditions be created that will support a lasting peace", the Secretary-General said. "To that end, we must strive to promote social and economic development and cooperative relationships throughout the Middle East region." He expressed the hope that the parties would make progress on outstanding issues, and that talks might also resume on the other tracks of the Middle East peace process.
Also this morning, the Committee approved its work programme for 1998 and re-elected Ibra Deguène Ka (Senegal) as its Chairman. Also re-elected were Bruno Rodriguez Parilla (Cuba) and Ravan Farhadi (Afghanistan), Vice-Chairmen; and George Saliba (Malta), Rapporteur.
Under terms of its 1998 work programme, the Committee, together with the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States, will hold a high-level Conference in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in Brussels from 24 to 25 February. It will also host seminars and non-governmental organization meetings in Brussels, Cairo, Santiago and New York.
Statements at today's meeting were also made by the Committee Chairman, the representative of Namibia and the Observer for Palestine.
The Palestinian Rights Committee will meet again on a date to be announced.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning at the ambassadorial level to elect its officers, hear a statement by the Secretary-General, and consider its 1998 draft programme of work (document A/AC.183/1998/CRP.1).
According to draft work programme, the Committee is to continue to keep the situation relating to the question of Palestine under review and to participate in relevant meetings of the Security Council and the General Assembly. It is also to participate in meetings of intergovernmental bodies relating to the question of Palestine, as necessary, and continue consultations with interested countries.
In cooperation with the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the League of Arab States, the Committee would hold a high-level Conference in Brussels later this month in support of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. The Committee's calendar of seminars and non-governmental organization (NGO) meetings would be as follows:
-- A European NGO Symposium, to be held at Brussels on 26 February, immediately following the proposed Conference in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People;
-- An International NGO Meeting, to be held at Cairo from 25 to 26 April;
-- A Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, to be held at Cairo from 27 to 29 April;
-- A Latin American and Caribbean Seminar/NGO Symposium, to be held at Santiago from 26 to 29 May;
-- A North American NGO Symposium, to be held at Headquarters in New York from 15 to 17 June.
The draft work programme also proposes that the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People be observed on 30 November at United Nations Headquarters, its offices at Geneva and Vienna, and elsewhere. The Committee would mark the occasion with a solemn meeting and other activities, including the presentation of a cultural exhibit at Headquarters during the week beginning 30 November.
The document states that the Division for Palestinian Rights has initiated an Internet home page on the question of Palestine (http://www.un.org/Peace), as part of the United Nations home page. The Division's publications programme will include a monthly bulletin on relevant activities of the United Nations system, intergovernmental organizations and others, a periodic bulletin entitled Developments related to the Middle East peace process, and a monthly chronological summary of events relating to the question of Palestine, based on news reports and other sources.
The Committee expresses appreciation for the Division's study on The status of Jerusalem, and asks that it complete is work on its study on Israeli settlements, according to the draft work programme. It also asks that the Division continue to prepare its informal periodic summary of information on significant activities of NGOs relevant to the question of Palestine.
Statement by Secretary-General
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that, overall, the General Assembly had reaffirmed the importance that the great majority of Member States attached to the role of the United Nations in the Middle East, and especially to questions related to Palestine. It had expressed its conviction that the mandates should continue during the transitional period of the agreements signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and until a final settlement was achieved.
The convening last year of the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly, he said, was testimony to the world's deepening concern about the prolonged stalemate in the peace process. The international community remained determined to make a concrete contribution to the peaceful resolution of a conflict that had preoccupied the United Nations for over half a century.
Encouragingly, the past years had witnessed historic developments in the Middle East, following the mutual recognition of Israel and the PLO in 1993, the Secretary-General stated. Notwithstanding difficulties and delays, the parties have accepted negotiation as the most hopeful means to resolve their differences.
Regrettably, he continued, the developments of the last year had sparked concern that the fragile edifice of the agreements reached since 1993 was in danger of collapse. The horrifying acts of violence against innocent civilians were the work of the enemies of peace. The parties should not let themselves be discouraged or distracted by the actions of a radical few who sought to destroy the undeniable achievements of the peace process thus far.
The situation in the occupied territories had been aggravated by worsening economic conditions as a result of security restrictions, and there had been a deepening anxiety among Palestinians over the construction of settlements and its potential consequences for the final status talks, he said. As a result, tensions were high and the situation could become fragile. The parties should take measures, in a spirit of partnership, to restore mutual confidence and resume negotiations in earnest.
The Secretary-General said he was encouraged by the recent meetings in Washington with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, aided by the personal involvement of the President of the United States, and by the agreement to continue those talks in the near future. It was hoped that the parties, in accordance with the agreements already signed, would be able to make progress on their outstanding issues.
The aim, the Secretary-General declared, must be a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). He also expressed the hope that it would become possible to resume talks on the other tracks of the Middle East peace process.
"It is essential that political and economic conditions be created that will support a lasting peace", the Secretary-General told the Committee. "To that end, we must strive to promote social and economic development and cooperative relationships throughout the Middle East region."
He said the United Nations had long played a crucial role in that effort through its agencies present on the ground, especially the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). That role had been strengthened in recent years with the Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the establishment of the Office of the Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories.
Great challenges remained, however, particularly as deteriorating conditions on the ground had set back some of the Organization's endeavours, the Secretary-General said. The continuing serious financial situation faced by UNRWA and the hardships caused to refugees by austerity measures must be addressed urgently in order to contribute to stability in the area.
The Secretary-General said he would soon visit Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. Besides meeting with the respective leaders to discuss issues relevant to the activities and objectives of the United Nations, he would visit United Nations peacekeeping missions in the area, as well as the headquarters of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip. He would listen to the hopes and concerns of the countries and peoples of the Middle East, to learn what more the United Nations might do to support their peace efforts.
The Secretary-General concluded by expressing appreciation for the work of the Palestinian Rights Committee, and reiterated his continuing commitment to support its endeavours. (The text of the Secretary-General's statement is contained in Press Release SG/SM/6453-GA/PAL/773.)
Statement by Committee Chairman
IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal) said the officers of the Committee would do their utmost to justify their re-election and would continue to support the Palestinian cause in the region. He attested to the personal commitment of members of the Committee and to the work before them, and noted that the presence of the Secretary-General today also testified to the Secretary-General's commitment to the Committee and to the interests of the Palestinian people.
In setting up the Committee, he recalled, the General Assembly had expressed its concern at the lack of progress in the resolution of the Middle East crisis. It was generally accepted now that the peace process was in serious danger, and the proliferation of obstacles to the execution of agreements continued to contribute to the tension. However, 1998 was the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal of Declaration of Human Rights, and, therefore, an appropriate time for measures and efforts to revive the peace process.
He stressed the need for the United Nations to continue to play a dynamic role, pointing out that last year the General Assembly had adopted important resolutions on the question of Palestine. The Committee would continue to work to raise the awareness of the international community. In a few weeks, the Conference in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People would be held in Brussels, and he hoped that governments would support that process.
Statement by Observer for Palestine
M. NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said that the Palestinian leaders and people looked forward to welcoming the Secretary-General to Palestine. This reflected their conviction that the United Nations remained the ultimate refuge for the recovery of the Palestinian people's inalienable rights.
He said the major role played by the Committee, aimed at ensuring the rights of the Palestinian people, including the building of an independent state with Al-Quds as its capital, was appreciated. He stressed the need for continued support for a settlement of the Palestinian problem and for the establishment of peace in the region.
Welcoming South Africa and Namibia as members of the Committee, he said that the struggle of those peoples had always been an inspiration to the Palestinian people in their search for victory in the near future in their quest to attain their inalienable rights.
MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia) said the international community had a duty and a responsibility towards the Palestinian people and could not afford to abandon them. Too much blood had been shed, but what was needed now was to return to the negotiating table. In addition, the unconditional compliance with the agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinian people was a necessary ingredient towards peace. None of this was easy, as it required patience, tolerance and understanding by both parties. Through the employment of this approach, however, Namibia now lived in peace with its former enemies. Namibia was happy to be a member of the Committee and would offer all the necessary support to the work at hand.
Mr. AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, drew attention to a memorandum which had been sent to all Member States concerning the proposed draft resolution on the full participation of Palestine in the United Nations. The memorandum had also included a discussion of legal aspects of the observer status of Palestine. That had been done in the context of presenting the topic once more to the General Assembly in the near future. Until that happened, further efforts would be undertaken to expand acceptance of the proposal.
The Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine had submitted some new ideas designed to change the draft resolution before the Assembly in a manner which might facilitate its acceptance, he said. That would be discussed with States in the near future, and the Mission intended and hoped to achieve success. It was hoped that the Palestinian Rights Committee would support those efforts.
He turned to the findings of the Assembly's tenth emergency special session, which included a recommendation that the Swiss Government hold a meeting of the High-Level Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention. It was hoped that there would be a follow-up on that recommendation, to address the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem. There was also a possibility of returning to the Security Council on that matter.