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


GA/9371
3 December 1997


GENERAL ASSEMBLY IS TOLD OF INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

TO CONTAIN `EXPLOSIVE SITUATION' IN MIDDLE EAST


Syria Says Extremist Israeli Policies Responsible; United States Calls For
Effort to Reinvigorate UN Role Instead of Resolutions `Fixing Blame'


It was not right for the international community to sit on its hands as the peace process it built fell apart, the representative of Syria told the General Assembly this afternoon, as it considered the situation in the Middle East. He said the United States should stand by the basis of agreements it had put forward and the assurances made to the parties to the peace process.

International concern was dictated by the need to contain the explosive situation created by the extremist path taken by the Netanyahu Government, he said. Israel wanted to bargain with Arabs on something to which it had no rights, and did not own. Syria would not concede any territory or bargain on rights. When Israel withdrew to pre-1967 lines, his Government would be ready to talk.

The representative of the United States said that every year the Assembly passed resolutions which thwarted the peace process by criticizing parties, fixing blame or placing the burden on one party to make concessions. Peace could happen only through direct negotiations between the parties concerned and could not be imposed from New York. A positive resolution which noted progress towards a just and lasting solution would reinvigorate the role of the United Nations in achieving peace.

The representative of Lebanon asked how long the United Nations would turn a blind eye to Israel's failure to comply with its resolutions while punishing other States who failed to comply. In Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon, scenes of violence and death were everyday occurrences.

The representative of Jordan said the international community had a duty to strengthen the role of the United Nations and support the sponsors of the peace process. The 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement could serve as a model for other countries since it was not merely a document, but was based on mutual respect and respect for commitment.

Statements were also made by Pakistan, Russian Federation, Australia, Thailand, Cyprus and Norway.

Iran, Syria, Israel and Lebanon spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Assembly President announced that the introduction of and action on, all draft resolutions on the situation in the Middle East and the question of Palestine had been postponed until Tuesday, 9 December.

The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 4 December, to consider equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council.

Assembly Work Programme

The General Assembly met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the situation in the Middle East, and take action on related draft resolutions. (For further details see Press Release GA/9370 of today's date.)

The Assembly was also expected to take action on the following draft resolutions on the question of Palestine: the programme of work of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (document A/52/L.49); the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat (document A/52/L.50); the special information programme on the question of Palestine (document A/52/L.51); the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (A/52/L.52); and full participation of Palestine in the work of the United Nations (document A/52/L.53). It also had before it a letter from the Permanent Representative of Namibia. (For further information see Press Releases GA/9366 of 1 December and GA/9368 of 2 December.)

Another draft resolution on the question of Palestine (document A/52/L.59), proposes amendments to the text on the full participation of Palestine (document A/52/L.53). By the text, the Assembly would reaffirm Palestine's right to participate as an observer in Assembly sessions and work and in United Nations international conferences.

The Assembly would decide to review whether Palestine's current rights were adequate to ensure its proper participation in the work of the Assembly, the Main Committees, international conferences or other United Nations organs. Further, it would request the Secretary-General to submit a report on the issue as soon as possible, and before the end of the current session.

The text is sponsored by Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Statements on Middle East Situation

KHALIL ABOU-HADID (Syria) said international concern for the situation in the Middle East was dictated by the need to contain the explosive situation created by the extremist path taken by the Netanyahu government. No one could claim the peace process was still alive. A source of hope six years ago, it was stopped by the Netanyahu government. Earlier, peace talks on the Syrian track had reached a point where Israel would withdraw to pre-1967 lines, but the Netanyahu government had denied that commitment, calling for new talks based on no agreed framework, and not wishing to recognize the principle of the return of Arab lands.

The core of the conflict, he said, was the occupation by Israel of Arab lands, Israel's plans for regional expansion, its refusal to recognize international legitimacy, and the acquisition of land by force in violation of the United Nations Charter. The Israeli Government wanted to bargain with Arabs on something to which it had no rights, and did not own.

He said there was no appropriate response to the challenges posed by Netanyahu, and his efforts to undermine those of the United States. It was not right for the international community to sit on its hands as the peace process it built fell apart. There was no middle ground between those who did or did not respect international legitimacy.

He said Syria called on the United States to stand by the bases of agreement it put forward and the assurances made to the parties to the peace process. The Arabs called on the co-sponsors, especially the United States, to stand by those positions. The peace process could not continue unless influence was brought to bear on the party responsible for the difficulties, the current Israeli administration.

No one could blame the Arab party, which cooperated in the peace process. The Arabs were prepared to resume talks at any time at the point where they were halted, he said. It was important to craft a united international stand. All available means of pressure must be brought to bear on the Israeli Government to stop it from threatening the region with more war. The chance of peace might be lost. Syria welcomed international efforts and encouraged all who supported the peace process and a solution that gave everyone their due. Peace was a strategic choice for Syria, but they would not concede any territory or bargain on rights. When Israel withdrew to pre-1967 lines, Syria would be ready to talk.

MUNAWEER SAEED BHATTI (Pakistan) said the Middle East peace process had suffered a serious setback because Israel, the occupying Power, declined to concede the principle of "land-for-peace" as a basis for a comprehensive solution to the problem. Israel also declined to withdraw from the Syrian Golan, which both legally and historically belonged to Syria, in flagrant violation of relevant Security Council and Assembly resolutions. It also continued encouraging construction of new settlements in the occupied territories. That Israeli intransigence led to the overall breakdown of the peace process and dialogue, particularly on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.

Pakistan firmly believed that Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 425 (1978) provided the only viable and just framework for a durable and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Within the occupied territories, Israel must abide by the principles laid down in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the protection of non-combatants in times of war.

He said it would be unfortunate if the Middle East were allowed to relapse into a fresh, vicious cycle of violence and chaos, as it would pose a renewed threat to international peace and security. The international community must exert its influence on Israel to ensure that the peace process in the Middle East remained on track. Israel must take necessary measures forthwith to create a propitious atmosphere for a continued dialogue in the region. Those measures should include withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied Syrian territories to the pre-4 June 1967 position; repeal of all administrative measures aimed at annexing Syrian Golan; revoking all laws and illegal jurisdiction imposed on the occupied Golan as stipulated in Security Council resolution 497 (1981); an immediate halt to construction of new settlements in occupied territories; and respect for the Conventions on the protection of civilian non-combatants. Pakistan was convinced that those measures would make possible furtherance of the peace process in the Middle East.

SERGEI LAVROV (Russian Federation) said the peace process in the Middle East must be brought back on track. The Foreign Affairs Minister of the Russian Federation had visited the area in an effort to that end. The principles of the Madrid Conference, particularly the land for peace principle, formed the basis of the Russian approach.

He said it was important for the parties to refrain from any unilateral actions which would predetermine the outcome of ongoing negotiations. The Russian Federation called on Israel to cease construction of settlements in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories. All parties should implement fully all existing agreements, including the Hebron protocol.

He stressed that there could be no lasting peace in the Middle East without movement on the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks as well. Lastly, the United Nations had a special responsibility to live up to with regard to the Palestinian people.

PENNY WENSLEY (Australia) said her country's Middle East policy was based on a fundamental commitment to Israel's right to exist within secure and recognized boundaries and the right of the Palestinian people to self- determination, acknowledging that the ultimate shape of the Palestinian entity, including the possibility of an independent State, was subject to final status negotiations between the parties directly involved.

She said there was a need for a renewed effort to engage Syria and Lebanon in the negotiating process on the basis of Security Council resolution 425 (1978), of the sovereignty of each of the parties, of guarantees for Israel's security and of an outcome on the Golan Heights that was acceptable to both sides.

Australia condemned acts of terrorism, vehemently and unequivocally, she said. It also condemned publicly, and more often in direct talks, actions that had set back the peace process. It urged both parties to remove any impediments to peace and to refrain from actions which undermined the trust and confidence that were vital to progress in the negotiations. She urged Israel to stop settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories, since it was unhelpful to the achievement of peace. She said Australia was concerned over the ongoing suffering of the Iraqi people, which was directly attributable to the unwillingness of the Iraqi Government to cooperate with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). The completion of UNSCOM's mandate -- without harassment or obstruction by Iraq -- was an indispensable precondition for the lifting of sanctions.

HASAN ABU-NIMAH (Jordan) said the parties to the Middle East conflict must commit themselves to the pursuit of peace. Israel's actions over the past months had endangered the process. It was the international community's duty to strengthen the role of the United Nations and support the sponsors of the peace process. If Security Council resolution 242 (1967), which was the very foundation of the peace process, were implemented, there should be insistence on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and full withdrawal of Israel's forces from territory occupied since 1967.

He said Jordan sought a peaceful settlement to the conflict that was just, lasting and global. Peace was needed by all the countries of the Middle East; it could herald the start of a normal life for the region. In 1994, Jordan signed a peaceful agreement with Israel, which could serve as a model for other countries. It was not merely a document, but was based on mutual respect and respect for commitment.

He said there had been great hope that progress would be made in Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese arrangements but, unfortunately, that was not the case. The parties to the conflict bore equal responsibility for obstructing progress. Frank dialogue was needed with Israel today. The implementation of agreements signed between Israel and Palestine could not be viable in light of Israel's illegal settlements and confiscation of land, peace would not be brought about by demolishing Palestinian houses, or by allowing Israeli security forces to use force, violence and torture against Palestinians.

He said Jordan had always rejected such practices in a framework of human rights. Peace could be brought about only by total eradication of the causes of the conflict. The question of Jerusalem and East Jerusalem was at the heart of the issue of peace, and the international community should reject the annexation of the city by Israel.

ASDA JAYANAMA (Thailand) said Thailand had always supported the Middle East peace process, and hoped that all parties concerned would exercise restraint and flexibility to put the derailed process back on track. All sides must make efforts to remove obstacles and implement all the agreements reached, as soon and as thoroughly as possible. Terrorism and acts of violence in any form or manifestation must cease. Despite the momentum gained with the signing of the Hebron Agreement in January, the General Assembly had met three times to consider the vulnerable situation in the occupied Arab territories, particularly Jerusalem.

According to the Secretary-General's report, the Jabal Abu Ghneim situation was viewed as particularly serious politically, geographically, demographically and economically. Such activities could complicate the already difficult negotiations further, because the final status of Jerusalem was still subject to the outcome of negotiations between the two parties.

He reaffirmed Thailand's full support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and for the Middle East peace process, and its commitment to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 425 (1978).

SOTIRIOS ZACKHEOS (Cyprus) said the history of Cyprus had been heavily influenced by developments in the Middle East region. Recent alarming developments had highlighted the precarious nature of the peace process. Cyprus supported all initiatives and efforts aimed at finding a just and comprehensive solution and reaffirmed its support for Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 425 (1978). It also recognized the right of all States to exist in peace with their neighbours, within safe and internationally recognized borders. It therefore denounced, in the strongest terms, terrorism and violence against innocent civilians.

Stability would be achieved only through faithful implementation of agreements between the parties and through negotiations, reconciliation, trust and cooperation. It was essential to avoid measures which put obstacles in the way of implementation of the peace process. He cited the closures of Palestinian territories and the building of settlements. The economic advancement of the Palestinian people was a determining factor for stability and ultimate rapprochement in the Middle East, he said. Cyprus supported the resumption of negotiations between Israel and Syria, and the opening of talks between Israel and Lebanon. A fundamental element of his country's position on the Middle East was the withdrawal of foreign forces from the occupied territories.

BILL RICHARDSON (United States) said the parties to the Madrid Conference were committed to moving forward, and the General Assembly should endorse that commitment. Each year, the Assembly passed a number of resolutions that thwarted the peace process by criticizing parties, fixing blame for incidents or placing the burden on one party to make concessions. That undermined the United Nations role in achieving peace in the region. Peace could happen only through direct negotiations between the parties concerned. It could not be imposed from New York, although progress could be hindered from there. Negative resolutions contributed to an atmosphere of mistrust.

Israelis and Palestinians were working hard on the search for peace, he said. To reinvigorate the possibility of a helpful United Nations role, there should be a positive resolution to note the progress made towards reaching a just and lasting solution, and to express United Nations support. The United States hoped that Lebanon, Israel and Syria would make progress in negotiations. It was committed to Lebanon's political independence and territorial integrity. Those objectives were stated in Security Council resolution 425 (1978), which the United States supported.

JAKKEN BIORN LIAN (Norway) said exactly one year had passed since the adoption of the "positive resolution" on the Middle East peace process by the General Assembly. With few exceptions, it had not been a good year for that peace process. The work of the General Assembly had reflected increasing frustration on both sides, and among the international community, at the lack of progress in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and at delays in the implementation of the Oslo agreements. There were a number of reasons for that unfortunate development. It was clear that the parties themselves shared the responsibility for both progress and setbacks. The year 1997 had been a successful one for destructive forces in the Middle East. Regrettably, there had also been unilateral actions designed to pre-empt the final status negotiations.

There had also been some progress during the year, he said. The Hebron protocol, signed and implemented in January, proved the ability of the parties to push the peace process forward and honour their own commitments. In recent weeks, there had been a resumption of negotiations on outstanding issues in the Interim Agreement. The United Nations must encourage such progress. The Assembly should reconfirm its constructive approach to the peace process, reconfirm the validity of the Oslo agreements, and first and foremost reconfirm that its supreme aim was to assist the parties in their quest for peace.

SAMIR MOUBARAK (Lebanon) said the Middle East peace process was not in good shape and the situation was getting more complicated. There existed a rare opportunity to reach a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and the Israeli Prime Minister should not be allowed to derail that process. Any attempt by the General Assembly to adopt draft resolutions which did not refer to recent developments and the principles of the Madrid Conference would be a great setback for the hopes of Arab leaders and the Arab people. How long would the United Nations turn a blind eye to Israel's failure to comply with relevant resolutions while punishing other States for such non-compliance? How long would Israel remain above the law? The Security Council had agreed on a resolution asking Israel to reverse its policies, but Israel had not responded. The Assembly's special session was resumed twice and adopted resolutions overwhelmingly, but the Israeli Government rejected those resolutions with intransigence.

Despite the fact that Israel occupied the lands on which they had began constructing settlements by force, some States insisted on referring to them as disputed land, he said. All Member States must support the building of a real and just peace in the Middle East. The current situation constituted a threat to international law and security. Israel should not continue its occupation of Arab lands and bring more immigrants to inhabit them. Palestinian refugees should be allowed to return to their homes. In southern Lebanon, the scenes of violence and death were everyday occurrences, owing to Israel's continuing occupation of southern Lebanon. Israel would like to impose political solutions which had been rejected in the past and which Lebanon continued to reject. Lebanon wanted full implementation of resolution 425 (1978), as well as Israel's full withdrawal from the Syrian Golan.

HENNADIY UDOVENKO (Ukraine), Assembly President, then announced that action on all the draft resolutions on the question of Palestine and on the situation in the Middle East was being postponed to Tuesday, 9 December. The time would be announced in the Journal.

Rights of Reply

MEHDI DANESH-YAZDI (Iran) said the Israeli statement in the Assembly this morning distorted the existing bitter realities in the Middle East. Baseless and unsubstantiated allegations were made against some regional States, including Iran, to divert attention from the illegal policies and inhumane actions of Israel. The failed Israeli attack against southern Lebanon in September and the recent assassination attempt against a certain individual by Israeli agents in Jordan were clear manifestations of Israeli State terrorism.

Iran's support for the Lebanese people was of a humanitarian and moral nature. Those who were fighting foreign occupation in the region were exercising their legitimate rights, recognized by international law; by no means could they be labelled terrorists. The people of southern Lebanon were entitled to struggle to liberate their homeland from Israeli occupation. Iran enjoyed good relations with the Islamic countries and endeavoured to promote brotherly relations with them, and with all its neighbours.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said there had been "fabrications and lies" in the Israeli statement. Delegates were aware of the historic facts on the Middle East. Israel was the first to initiate aggression in Syria from 1947 to 1967, with the objective of expelling Syrian farmers from their lands and preventing them from harvesting their crops. Those actions were documented in United Nations reports. The Israeli representative claimed that Golan was important to Israel's security. That was the language used by Israel to annex the Syrian Golan in 1981 and it was the same language used by the present Israeli Prime Minister to preserve the present occupation of that area. Syria would not accept giving up one inch of its soil. Could anyone expect Syria to establish peace with the Israeli Government while Syrian land was still in Israeli hands?

In a guarantee to Syria, the United States had said it would not accept the annexation of Syrian land by Israel. The Israeli representative had spoken jocularly about armaments in the Middle East. The world knew that Israel was qualitatively and quantitatively superior in armaments to the Arab States. It possessed nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction which it manufactured locally and other sophisticated weapons received from abroad, such as tanks, planes and cannons.

Daily statements by the Israeli Prime Minister on his decision to preserve Israel's occupation of Arab territories and the construction of more projects in Syrian Golan confirmed the emptiness of the speeches made by the Israeli representative, in an effort to enhance the image of his country's leadership. Syria reconfirmed its commitment to peace on the basis from which it started in Madrid, and not on any other basis whose only purpose was to satisfy Israeli arrogance and the perpetuation of its hegemony.

DORE GOLD (Israel) said it was a myth to assert that the peace process was in an idyllic state until the current Israeli Government. It was forgotten that hundreds of rockets fired from southern Lebanon had fallen on northern Israel, that repeated deliveries by Iranian aircraft of weapons for Hizbullah arrived at Damascus airport and were shipped through Lebanon. The repeated bus bombings that occurred during negotiations were also forgotten. The missiles and bombings originated in areas under the control of Israel's negotiating partners.

Israel chose to move forward in the peace process. The present Government of Israel sat down with the representatives of Lebanon and Syria and completed a protocol for a monitoring group in southern Lebanon where Lebanese, Israeli and Syrian officers sat down together to discuss security problems. The present Israeli Government sat down with representatives of the Palestinian Authority, despite bus bombings, to sign the Hebron protocol and implemented it. The present Government charted a course for 1997. It tried to make the peace process work. Israel called on governments represented in the General Assembly to help it with the task by taking positive positions. They should not make an already difficult process, which Israel had inherited, more difficult.

SAMIR MOUBARAK (Lebanon) said the occupying Power was criticizing the guns of those resisting occupation of their lands and calling them terrorists because they insisted on their freedom. Could the representative of Israel mislead the Assembly? Could he convince it that the weapons of mass destruction in his country's possession could not destroy the entire land of Lebanon? Could he continue flouting United Nations resolutions, placing his country above the law? By what norm of international law could those resisting occupation be called terrorists? How could attacking invading forces be called terrorism when bombing hospitals and children could be called self-defence? Israeli logic was unacceptable in the Assembly, where the people of the world placed their hopes in peace and security.


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For information media - not an official record