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        General Assembly

10 October 2003

Original: English

General Assembly
Fifty-eighth session
Agenda items 37 and 38
The situation in the Middle East
Question of Palestine
Security Council
Fifty-eighth year

Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine

Report of the Secretary-General *

The present report is submitted in accordance with General Assembly resolution 57/110 of 3 December 2002. It contains replies received from the President of the Security Council and the concerned parties to the notes verbales sent by the Secretary-General pursuant to the request contained in paragraph 10 of the resolution. The report also contains the observations of the Secretary-General on the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on international efforts to revive the peace process with a view to achieving a peaceful solution.
* The present report was submitted after the established deadline in order to include as much updated information as possible.

I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 57/110 of 3 December 2002.

2. On 17 June 2003, pursuant to the request contained in paragraph 10 of the above-mentioned resolution, I addressed the following letter to the President of the Security Council:

3. On 31 July 2003 the following reply was received from the Security Council:
4. In notes verbales dated 16 and 19 June 2003 to the parties concerned, I sought the positions of the Governments of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization, regarding any steps taken by them to implement the relevant provisions of the resolution. As at 17 September 2003, the following replies had been received:

Note verbale dated 25 July 2003 from the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General

Note verbale dated 4 August 2003 from the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General
[Original: Arabic]

Note verbale dated 3 July 2003 from the Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General
[Original: Arabic]

Note verbale dated 4 August 2003 from the Permanent Representative of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General
II. Observations

5. The past year witnessed the emergence of some hope of a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the first time since September 2000, both parties, with the active assistance of the international community, in particular the Quartet (the Russian Federation, the United States of America, the European Union and the United Nations), committed themselves to serious and meaningful negotiations to halt the violence and reach a peaceful settlement. However, renewed violence in the latter half of August 2003 signalled the breakdown of the ceasefire and a reversal in progress. In the renewed cycle of violence and counter-violence, suicide bombings by Palestinian militant groups and targeted assassinations of members of those groups by Israel have regrettably resumed. Consequently, the implementation of the road map has been frozen, and some steps have actually been reversed.

6. Amid the escalation of the conflict in 2002, members of the Quartet jointly elaborated a “road map” to realize the vision of a two-State solution. After consultations with the parties and neighbouring Arab States, agreement was reached on the text of the road map at the meeting of the Quartet principals in Washington, D.C., on 20 December 2002. The performance-based and goal-driven road map presented clear phases, time lines, target dates and benchmarks aimed at the progression by the two parties through reciprocal steps in the political, security, economic, humanitarian and institution-building fields under the auspices of the Quartet. The goal of the road map is to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and end the occupation that began in 1967 on the basis of the 1991 Madrid peace conference, the principle of land for peace, Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 1397 (2002), agreements reached previously by the parties and the Arab Peace Initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, which was endorsed by the Council of the League of Arab States at its summit meeting held in Beirut on 27 and 28 March 2002 (see A/56/1026-S/2002/932, annex II). A settlement would lead to the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours.

7. With the help of the international community, notable progress has been achieved in reforming the Palestinian Authority. The United Kingdom hosted the Task Force on Palestinian Reform in London on 20 February 2003, which welcomed the Government of Israel’s decision to resume monthly transfers of Palestinian tax revenues and the considerable progress made by the Palestinian Authority in its reform efforts, especially in the fiscal sector.

8. On 18 March 2003, President Yasser Arafat approved a bill of amendments to the Palestinian Authority Basic Law to create the post and define the powers of Prime Minister. On 29 April 2003, the Palestinian Legislative Council confirmed Mahmoud Abbas and his new cabinet in office. This was an important step for which Prime Minister Abbas, President Arafat and the Palestinian Legislative Council deserved to be commended. However, early September saw the resignation of Prime Minister Abbas and the nomination of Ahmed Qurei, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, as his successor.

9. Throughout this period, Israel persisted in its efforts to confine the elected President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Arafat, to his headquarters in the West Bank. On 11 September 2003, the Israeli security cabinet agreed in principle on the removal of Mr. Arafat from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I have strongly urged the Israeli security cabinet to reconsider this decision as I believe that the forcible transfer of Mr. Arafat would be dangerous and counterproductive given the instability in the region.

10. On 30 April 2003, the road map was officially submitted to the parties (see S/2003/529, annex). At the beginning of June 2003, at the Aqaba Summit, organized by President Bush and hosted by Jordan, Prime Ministers Sharon and Abbas made a firm commitment to begin implementation of the road map. In this context, I was encouraged by the resumption of direct contacts and talks between Prime Ministers Sharon and Abbas.

11. The Quartet principals met again in Amman on 22 June 2003 and reviewed the steps needed to begin implementation of the road map. They called upon the Palestinian Authority to make all possible efforts to halt the activities of groups and individuals planning and conducting terror attacks against Israelis. While recognizing Israel’s right to self-defence, the Quartet called upon the Government of Israel to respect international humanitarian law and to exert maximum efforts to avoid civilian casualties among the Palestinians. It also pointed out that steps must be taken to improve the humanitarian situation and to normalize the daily lives of the Palestinian people.

12. The first steps taken by the parties to start implementation of the road map included the withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem and the declaration of a ceasefire by various Palestinian groups, which was arranged with the active involvement of the Egyptian Government. President Bush deployed Ambassador John Wolf to lead the informal monitoring structure of phase I commitments on the ground, in full cooperation with other Quartet members.

13. Over the past year, the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, remained the subject of extensive consultations and debates in the Security Council. The Secretariat continued to provide regular informal briefings to the Council on the latest developments in the Middle East.

14. I strongly believe that the principle of parallelism on which the road map is based must be maintained. Previous peace attempts have failed because of their reliance on sequentialism; a crucial role for the international community is to assist the parties to address security, economic, humanitarian and political issues at the same time.

15. The number of casualties in the past three years speaks eloquently to the need to persevere in order to achieve a lasting resolution to the conflict. Since September 2000, more than 2,800 Palestinians and more than 800 Israelis have been killed. Moreover, thousands have been injured. Behind each and every one of these numbers are stories of human loss and suffering. The overwhelming majority of casualties in Israel resulted from terrorist attacks against Israelis by various Palestinian militant groups. Bombs have been set off in cafés and restaurants and attacks have been carried out against public transport, including school buses, creating a climate of fear and constant watchfulness. A large number of Palestinian civilian casualties have resulted from Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operations, including incursions, pre-emptive strikes and the practice of targeted assassinations of suspected militants in Palestinian areas. The use of heavy weaponry in densely populated Palestinian areas has been of particular concern. Since the ceasefire and redeployment at the end of June, there has been a marked decline in violence.

16. I remain deeply concerned that most of these deaths resulted from actions that violated basic tenets of international humanitarian law, especially the obligation to protect civilians. I have repeatedly and consistently condemned all terrorist attacks on Israel as morally wrong and counterproductive for the Palestinian cause and have stressed the obligation of the Palestinian Authority to assume full security responsibility in areas still under its control. In addition, I have urged the Government of Israel to refrain from the excessive and disproportionate use of deadly force in civilian areas and, consistent with international humanitarian law, to take steps to ensure the protection of Palestinian civilians.

17. Three United Nations staff members were among the many civilians killed at the start of the period covered in the present report. Iain Hook, a British citizen, was employed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) when he was shot and killed by IDF while in the Jenin camp on 23 November 2002. Two Palestinian employees of UNRWA died in Gaza on 6 December 2002 during Israeli military incursions.

18. Israel continued its policy of demolishing houses as a reaction to security incidents. From 1 January to 21 August 2003, 158 homes of Palestinians who had carried out attacks against Israel or who were suspected of involvement or of planning future attacks were destroyed. Residential apartment blocks have also been demolished following armed clashes between IDF and Palestinian militants.

19. In addition, IDF has demolished hundreds of houses, workshops and agricultural buildings and damaged thousands more, particularly along the Gaza/Egyptian border and in areas bordering Israeli settlements and settler roads in order to create “buffer zones”. Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, has been one of the worst-affected areas. In the first quarter of 2003, 161 houses were demolished there, the greatest number of house demolitions in the occupied Palestinian territory since September 2000. Homes and businesses have also been demolished in preparation for the construction of the separation barrier.

20. The confiscation of land and the levelling of agricultural land have continued unabated, particularly in border areas, around settlements and settler roads and in connection with the construction of the separation wall. Thousands of trees have been uprooted and crops destroyed. The most serious destruction has occurred in the northern Gaza Strip in the Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya areas. During the IDF incursion into the Beit Hanoun area in May/June, over 1,000 dunums of land were levelled, and homes and infrastructure were damaged or destroyed.

21. Continued Israeli settlement construction activity and the building of a separation wall are two key challenges to the fulfilment of the road map’s goal of the two-State solution. The construction of the separation wall is a unilateral act not in keeping with the road map. Its building has involved the separation of Palestinians from their lands and from each other. Israel’s continued expansion of settlements and construction of bypass roads have, over time, made the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian State more difficult. Despite the obligation in phase I of the road map to dismantle settlement outposts and to freeze all settlement expansion, the Government of Israel has not taken decisive action in that direction.

22. It has been of great concern that, despite political developments, the humanitarian and economic situation of the Palestinian people continued to deteriorate during the past year. This deterioration was a direct result of the policy of systematic closures and curfews and its impact on Palestinian social and economic life. The World Bank has found that two thirds of the population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip live on less than $2 per day; in fact, the number of the poor has tripled, from 637,000 in September 2000 to nearly 2 million in March 2003. Gross national income per capita has fallen to nearly half of what it was two years before. More than half of the workforce is unemployed, and, more shockingly, more than half of Palestinians are receiving some form of donor-financed food assistance. The limited steps taken so far by Israel to lift closures, curfews and other restrictions have not yet been sufficient to significantly ease the economic deterioration in the occupied Palestinian territory and the humanitarian suffering of the Palestinian people. I remain very concerned that the damage done to Palestinian social and economic spheres may prove difficult to reverse unless meaningful and urgent steps are taken to lift closures and curfews and to allow normal life to resume.

23. The humanitarian situation was worsened this year by unprecedented movement restrictions imposed on United Nations and non-governmental organization personnel, especially limiting their access into and out of the Gaza Strip. For most of May, a significant number of United Nations staff were stuck on either side of the Erez boundary and were unable to carry out their humanitarian tasks. Those policies violated the privileges and immunities of United Nations personnel and ran counter to Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law as the occupying Power to provide for the well-being of the people of Gaza.

24. The inter-agency United Nations humanitarian action plan, released in November 2002, includes activities to reinforce existing relief programmes and to provide temporary assistance to the affected population in priority sectors such as food security, health, education, employment generation and agricultural production to help mitigate the devastating impact of repeated military incursions, closures, curfews and economic decline. Up to mid-September, a total of $106,467,347 had been provided by donor Governments, or 37.4 per cent of the amount needed to cover all activities outlined in the humanitarian action plan.

25. The humanitarian action plan also includes a recommendation that humanitarian indicators be tracked and reported, in particular the commitments made by the Government of Israel to my Personal Humanitarian Envoy, Catherine Bertini. A monthly humanitarian monitoring report, issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, tracks the humanitarian indicators and commitments. During the reporting period the Office documented an overall decline in the humanitarian situation in all but one area, namely curfews.

26. As the General Assembly has underscored on many occasions, achieving a final and peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, the core issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict, is imperative for the attainment of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Therefore I hope that, as called for in the road map, there will also be movement on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks so that peace, security and stability will be achieved for all in the region on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).

27. For its part, the United Nations will continue to support the peace process and will remain at the forefront of efforts to alleviate the severe social and economic hardships of the Palestinian people. To that end, I will continue to press for the implementation of the road map, which I still believe provides the best opportunity to move forward. I will continue to maintain close and regular contact with other members of the Quartet, as well as with the parties, regional leaders and the wider international community, to encourage progress in these difficult and critical times. The active engagement of the international community continues to be needed at this critical juncture.

28. I call upon the international community to provide the resources necessary to support United Nations programmes in addressing the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people, and especially to provide adequate funding to UNRWA so that it can continue to deliver the necessary services to the Palestinian refugees. Donor assistance is especially vital at a time when the humanitarian situation is so critical.

29. I should like to pay special tribute to Terje Roed-Larsen, United Nations Special Coordinator and my Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, to the staff of the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories and to Commissioner-General Peter Hansen of UNRWA, the staff of the Agency and all other United Nations agencies, which continue to provide their sterling services while working under most demanding and difficult circumstances.


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