Acts of violence aimed at derailing the Middle East peace process -- such as the terrorist attack that took place in Israel yesterday -- must be condemned, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali told the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this morning as it opened its 1996 session.
The positive achievements made towards full implementation of the Declaration of Principles should encourage progress at the next stage of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, due to start in May, as well as the Israeli- Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks of the peace process, he said. All were essential to the realization of a just and lasting settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).
The Committee Chairman, Keba Birane Cisse (Senegal) said some were too optimistic when they envisaged the disappearance of the Committee because Israelis and Palestinians were talking to each other. The Committee was a beneficial component in the peace process. Violations of Palestinian rights still took place, not because Israel was going back on Oslo commitments but because the situation could not change overnight. Events over the weekend, in which terrorist bombs had killed 27 Israelis and wounded more than 70 people, had been a tragic reminder of that reality.
Nasser Al-Kidwa, Observer for Palestine, said that notwithstanding the financial crisis of the United Nations, the Committee should be enabled to fulfil its mandate. He expressed the hope that the United States would adopt a more positive view toward the Committee.
Also this morning, the Committee decided to maintain the current composition of its bureau until the holding of election of officers at a later date. The decision stemmed from the fact that the Chairman of the Committee, Keba Birane Cisse (Senegal), has been appointed to another post and his successor has not yet arrived.
Speaking on the Committee's organization of work, the Chairman recalled that the General Assembly's fiftieth session had adopted important resolutions on the question of Palestine which took into account the recent major developments and at the same time recognized that the Committee had an important role to play in contributing to the peace process. Thus, the Committee would need to consider soon its activities for 1996, in light of the recent elections and the ongoing peace process and of current developments in the region. A draft programme of work had been prepared by the bureau and would be submitted to the Committee in the near future.
Expressions of gratitude to the Chairman and of assurance that he would continue to support the cause of Palestinian rights were offered by the representatives of Afghanistan, Egypt, Ukraine, Malta, Guyana and Pakistan.
Statement by Secretary-General
Secretary-General BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI said that the past few years had seen the "moulding of history" in the Middle East as the vision inherent in the Declaration of Principles signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993 had been sustained. Both parties had demonstrated their commitment to the principles of the agreements signed by them, and had shown their determination to proceed in their implementation.
The Secretary-General said that he welcomed the 28 September 1995 signing of the agreement between the Government of Israel and the PLO. Sadly, Yitzhak Rabin, a national leader and an international statesman, and one of the great contributors to the fulfillment of that agreement, was no longer with us.
"I was privileged to count him as a distinguished personal friend", the Secretary-General said. "I pay tribute to his memory and affirm the resolve of the United Nations to pursue with vigilance the ideal of regional peace for which he worked to the very end."
The Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip represented an important step towards full implementation of the Declaration of Principles, the Secretary-General continued. The timely withdrawal of Israeli troops and the successful holding of Palestinian elections had been further crucial milestones. He hoped that those achievements would encourage progress towards the next delicate stage of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, due to start in May, as well as towards the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks of the peace process. All were essential to the realization of a just and lasting settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).
The security situation in the region remained a cause of concern. Yesterday, another act of violence intended to derail the peace process had been made. "How many more innocent people must die?" he asked. Extremism from any quarter must be curbed. It was also essential that economic instability be redressed and that poor living conditions -- especially in the Gaza Strip -- be improved. The United Nations system would continue to assist in economic and social development. Under-Secretary-General Peter Hansen, recently named Commissioner-General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, with his headquarters in Gaza, would build on the work of his predecessor, Ilter Turkmen.
Terje Rod Larsen, the Secretary-General's Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, would continue to guide United Nations programmes and agencies, including the development of public works projects, he said. Towards that end, a coordination mechanism was now ensuring the effective disbursement of donor funds for training and other assistance for the Palestinian police, institution-building and the development of infrastructure.
KEBA BIRANE CISSE (Senegal), the Chairman of the Committee, noting that today's meeting would be the last he would chair, offered a retrospective of his four years as Chairman. The Palestinian problem was at the core of the difficult relations between Israel and its neighbours in the Middle East, it had been said, thus placing the Committee to ensure the rights of the Palestinian people at the core of the Middle Eastern conflict.
In 1992, after his arrival in New York he could not foresee that history would accelerate in the following years in the Middle East, he said. Contrary to what some had thought, the Committee had not deviated from verified documented facts on the situation of the Palestinian conflict. It was simply not possible at that time to put victims and torturers on the same level. Something of major proportions had taken place on 13 September 1993, when Israel and the PLO had recognized each other. The Committee had followed the course of history since 1993, and its main concern had been not to be behind but also not to be ahead of events.
From the outset, the Committee had recognized the importance of the Oslo Agreements, he said. The seminars held since then had been proof of that. The dialogue established had been important. In view of all of that, the Committee had to effect internal changes. An appeal had been launched by the Secretary-General calling for increased support to the Committee, including increasing its membership. The Committee had also modified its programme of work. The financial crisis faced by the Organization required it to be more rigorous in organizing its activities. The means for the database UNISPAL should be strengthened. The bureau of the Committee and the Division of Palestinian Rights should continue efforts to save the necessary funds.
He stressed that under no circumstances should the Committee die because its means of survival had been taken away from it. The return of President Yasser Arafat to Palestinian soil and the election confirming him as President of the Palestinian Authority were encouragements for the Committee's continued work. Some were too optimistic when they envisaged the disappearance of the Committee because Israelis and Palestinians were talking to each other. The Committee was a beneficial component in the peace process. Violations of Palestinian rights still took place, not because Israel was going back on Oslo commitments but the situation could not be changed overnight. Events over the weekend, in which terrorist bombs had killed 27 Israelis and wounded more than 70 people, had been a tragic reminder of that reality.
He concluded by thanking all those who had supported the Committee's work, including the Department of Public Information.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said that the United Nations would have a continuing responsibility regarding the situation in Palestine until it was finally resolved in all its aspects. International lw was the only weapon that Palestinians possessed in negotiating a final resolution of that situation. The international community, represented by the United Nations, should maintain its principled position on Palestine while supporting the peace process.
The Middle East region had witnessed many new developments, notably the continuing movement of Israelis to the occupied territories and the Palestinian elections. A high percentage of voters had taken part in those transparent elections, which had reinforced the peace process.
All present political developments would be critical to the future. Bearing that in mind, the parties should hold true to their commitments. Safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank had still not been established. Also, persons displaced since 1967 had not been allowed to return to their homes. Attempts to close the occupied territories and isolate them from the outside world were continuing. The parties should be faithful to their agreements.
Continuing negotiations on a final solution, consistent with international law, should take place within the time-frame already agreed upon. A faster pace should be established for the peace process itself. The Israeli side should facilitate economic developments, and the international community should continue its support for the Palestinian Authority.
The suicide attempt performed yesterday had been condemned by the PLO at all levels. The PLO would continue to condemn all acts of violence as a matter of principle. Given the continuing peace process and its tangible achievements, there could be no justification whatever for those acts. The PLO urged a cessation of all acts of violence, including political assassination.
While acknowledging the financial crisis of the United Nations, he said that the Committee should be maintained at a level consistent with fulfilling its mandate in the present critical phase of its work. The PLO regretted remarks regarding the work of the Committee recently made by David Birenbaum, United States representative to the Open-Ended Working Group on the Strengthening of the United Nations. His comments had been hostile to the interests of the Palestinian people. The United Nations needed to coordinate its work concerning Palestine, bearing in mind the new reality on the ground. Positive change was a two-way street. While rejecting the views of Ambassador Birenbaum, the PLO hoped to see a more positive view towards the Committee on the part of the United States.