Reaffirming the firm commitment of the United Nations to support that process, he said that social and economic development was essential for the creation of an environment favourable to a lasting peace. To that end, real progress was now needed in the fields of employment, health, education and development.
The President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, in a statement read out by the Observer for Palestine, M. Nasser Al-Kidwa, said a genuine crisis was threatening to bring about a complete breakdown of the peace process. The Israeli Government was ignoring its agreements with the Palestinian side and had chosen instead to pursue a policy of imposing dictates and faits accomplis. He urged those committed to the success of the Middle East peace process, and primarily the United Nations, to pressure the Israeli Government to comply with the will of the international community, the relevant United Nations resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The President of the General Assembly, Hennadiy Udovenko (Ukraine), said that unreasonable unilateral decisions could lead to a crisis of confidence and further erode the peace process. Mistrust among the parties could destroy the delicate structure of peace built so assiduously over the past year. The President of the Security Council, Fernando Berrocal Soto (Costa Rica), said the Council called upon the Israelis and Palestinians, in their quest for reconciliation, to proceed with perseverance, flexibility and mutual understanding.
The Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee, Ibra Deguene Ka (Senegal), said that 50 years after the General Assembly resolution partitioning Palestine, the Palestinian state remained a dream, and the Palestinian people continued to live in refugee camps and scattered throughout the world. The dispossession of that people and the denial of their national rights could not continue.
Statements were also read out on behalf of the Presidents of Colombia (for the Non-Aligned Movement) and Zimbabwe (for the Organization of African Unity), as well as for the Foreign Minister of Indonesia (as Chairman of the Conference of Islamic Foreign Ministers) and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.
Also addressing the meeting were the representatives of Sri Lanka, as Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, and by the Chairman of the International Coordinating Committee of Non-Governmental Organizations on the Question of Palestine.
At the outset of this morning's commemoration, participants observed a moment of silence in memory of all those who had given their lives for the cause of the Palestinian people and the return of peace to the Middle East.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met today to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. (For background on the Day, see Press Release GA/PAL/768 of 25 November.)
IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Committee Chairman, said today's meeting marked the fiftieth anniversary of the General Assembly's partition resolution. Today, the Arab State remained a dream and the Arab people remained dispossessed, living in refugee camps and scattered in countries throughout the world. June marked the thirtieth anniversary of the six-day war, which resulted in Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.
Despite progress in peace process, the area now under Palestinian administration represented only a small part of the Arab territory in 1967, he said. The remainder of the territory was still under partial or total control of the Israeli army, subject to land seizures and other actions. East Jerusalem remained under occupation and was separated from the West Bank. The dispossession of the Palestinian people and denial of their national rights could not continue, nor could it be tolerated by the world community.
The overwhelming majority of Member States had recently adopted a resolution outlining measures to be taken by Israel, he said. The Palestinian Rights Committee was disappointed that the Israeli Government viewed the Assembly's tenth special session, at which that resolution was adopted, as a masquerade. He appealed to Israel not to isolate and to pay attention to the voice of the international community. Negotiations were stalled, but they should not be allowed to remain stalled. The Palestinian people needed the support and solidarity of the international community more than ever. In the coming year, the Committee would seek to mobilize the international community at all levels.
HENNADIY UDOVENKO (Ukraine), President of the General Assembly, said the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East jeopardized the existing fragile balance and stability. There was a real danger that unreasonable unilateral decisions could lead to a crisis of confidence, which could further erode the peace process. Mistrust among the parties could destroy the very delicate structure of peace so assiduously built over the past year.
There was no alternative to Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations based on mutual respect, confidence, adequate understanding by both sides of their respective interests, and willingness to come to a reasonable compromise, he said. Overcoming mistrust and suspicion, the cessation of provocative acts, the implementation in good faith of previously reached agreements, and early resumption of the peace talks should now be considered imperative. Additional measures should be taken to normalize Arab-Israeli relations, with real progress on the Israeli-Lebanese and Israeli-Syrian tracks.
The United Nations must play a more effective role, both as a guarantor of international legitimacy and in the mobilization and provision of international assistance, he said. The activities of United Nations agencies aimed at providing assistance to the Palestinian people and ensuring the effective disbursement of donor funds were also of great importance. Efforts to stabilize the region should promote the gradual integration of the Palestinian Authority into the economy of the Middle East as a whole, as an essential element of peace efforts.
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the annual observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People was an occasion to remember and to reflect and to renew commitments. Since the General Assembly decided on 29 November 1947 to partition Palestine, each Secretary-General had been deeply involved in the search for an equitable and peaceful settlement of that issue. They had also mobilized the resources of the entire United Nations family to provide humanitarian and development assistance. Mr. Annan pledged to continue those efforts.
He said that today's commemorative event provided an opportunity to remind the international community that the question of Palestine, which lay at the centre of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East, remained unresolved despite the many efforts over the years and the undeniable achievements of the peace process which began at Madrid in 1991. With the signing of the historic Declaration of Principles on 13 September 1993 and the subsequent agreements referred to as the Oslo process, Israelis and Palestinians had embarked on the road to mutual reconciliation and a negotiated peace. The international community must commend their courage.
It was also reassuring that earlier this year, after a lengthy delay, the Protocol concerning the redeployment in Hebron had been signed, he said. It was now of the utmost importance to prevent those achievements from being dissipated and to build on them, to fulfil the hopes of all the peoples of the region for a future of peace. Regrettably, there was now concern that the peace process was in jeopardy, and there had been horrifying acts of violence against innocent civilians. Nevertheless, the Secretary-General had appealed to the parties not to let themselves be swayed by those tragic incidents, but rather to intensify their efforts to overcome the obstacles that stood in the way of a speedy return to the peace process.
The Secretary-General said he had called on the parties to take measures, in a spirit of partnership, to restore mutual confidence. He had called on them to resume negotiations in earnest towards implementation of the agreements already reached, and towards a final settlement. Encouraged that the parties had been able to resume talks in Washington recently, he sincerely hoped that, with the help and involvement of the co-sponsors of the peace process, they would be able to make progress on the outstanding issues. He said he hoped it would also become possible to resume talks on the other tracks of the Middle East peace process.
As public opinion surveys and mass demonstrations had made absolutely clear, the vast majority of Palestinians and Israelis want a just peace that would enable them to live normally, side by side, he said. It was essential to create the political and economic conditions that would enable that hope to become reality. Recent events, as well as deliberations in the Security Council and the General Assembly -- including its tenth emergency special session -- had highlighted the fundamental importance of respect for the provisions of international law and of full implementation of the agreements already reached. There was an urgent need to make tangible progress towards a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). The promotion of social and economic development and of cooperative relationships throughout the region was essential for the creation of an environment favourable to a lasting peace.
The United Nations continued to attach the utmost importance to improving the living conditions in the Palestinian territories as an essential accompaniment to the peace negotiations, he said. The Secretary-General had been seriously concerned at the steady economic decline in the West Bank and Gaza, particularly in the light of prolonged closures and other punitive measures. Real progress was now needed in the fields of employment, health, education and development. Enormous challenges remained.
The deteriorating conditions on the ground had set back some of the Organization's efforts, he said. The serious financial situation faced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) must be addressed. That was essential to ensure that the quality and level of services for Palestine refugees could be maintained as an essential contribution to stability in the area. The Secretary-General reaffirmed the firm commitment of the United Nations system to support the peace process.
FERNANDO BERROCAL SOTO (Costa Rica), President of the Security Council, said that the promising headway in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations made at the beginning of the year had turned into a protracted stalemate. A greater part of the year had been lost because of disruptive actions, which had led to the discontinuation of negotiations. The parties had resumed talks through the efforts of the co-sponsors of the peace process. Narrowing the gap between the two sides was a demanding and time-consuming task, but the Council hoped the parties would restore the trust and mutual confidence vital to moving ahead in accordance with the agreements already reached.
He said the Council was fully aware of the obstacles in the path of the peace negotiations. "That is why it calls upon the Israelis and the Palestinians, in their quest for reconciliation, to proceed with perseverance, flexibility and mutual understanding. The Council appreciates the constructive contribution of the international community to the overall efforts aimed at helping the parties to overcome the difficulties of the current phase", he said.
M. NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, reading out a message from Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority, said the peace process was facing a genuine crisis, with various obstacles threatening to bring about a complete breakdown. He cited the Israeli Government's continuing a policy of ignoring agreements concluded with the Palestinian side, its failure to meet the obligations and deadlines entailed by those agreements, and its rejection of the terms of reference for the peace process, which had been the basis for the original convening of the Madrid Conference.
"This is a policy of imposing dictates and faits accomplis and of the arrogance of power", he said. It was exemplified by the expropriation of Palestinian land for the construction of Israeli settlements, the demolition of homes, and the building of bypass roads. It was also exemplified by the Judaization of the occupied Palestinian city of Jerusalem with a view to obliterating its Arab identity and its religious, historical and cultural status, as well as by attempts to isolate the Holy City from other Palestinian cities.
He urged those committed to the success of the Middle East peace process, and primarily the United Nations, to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli Government to comply with the will of the international community, the relevant United Nations resolutions, and the Fourth Geneva Convention. They must prevail upon it to meet the deadlines to which it was committed under the agreements already reached, especially those for the redeployment and withdrawal of Israeli forces from all the occupied Palestinian areas. They must also prevail upon Israel to desist entirely from unilateral measures, particularly settlement activities, with a view to resuming the final status negotiations in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.
The Palestinian Authority was committed to the peace process chosen by the Palestinian people out of conviction and faith, he said. That strategic choice, from which there could be no retreat, would be vigorously defended. The preservation of security and stability in the region and the opening of new prospects for coexistence and regional cooperation required, above all, the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace. Peace was as much an international necessity as it was a regional necessity. It required the intervention of the United Nations to ensure the implementation of the agreements concluded on the basis of its resolutions -- particularly Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) -- and the terms of the reference of the Madrid conference, as exemplified by the principle of land for peace.
HERMAN LEONARD DE SILVA (Sri Lanka), Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, said the agreements which had led to such positive actions, as the withdrawal of Israeli troops from some occupied Arab territories had also engendered hope for a new era of peace and security. However, the actions of the Israeli Government and the escalation of violence in the occupied territories had dashed hopes for continuation of the peace process.
The Israeli Practices Committee had concluded that human rights in the occupied territories had not improved, but deteriorated, he said. The closures had taken a negative toll on the economy of the occupied territory, as well as on public health. In addition to the curtailment of freedoms, human rights abuses continued, including the violent shaking of people in detention -- actions which amounted to torture. House demolitions had increased, and new restrictions were being placed on people hoping to gain residency status in Jerusalem.
The Israeli Government's decision to expand settlements was a great threat to the peace, he said. In the occupied Syrian Golan, 900 new housing units were being built. Such actions were of great concern. Violence had greatly escalated following the opening by Israel of the "Western Wall" tunnel near the Islamic world's third holiest shrine. The deteriorating situation in the territory could result in continued unrest.
ANDELFO J. GARCIA (Colombia) read out a statement by his President, Ernesto Samper Pizano, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. He said the non-aligned countries had long supported the efforts of the Palestinian people to exercise their right of self-determination. It was regrettable that the atmosphere of trust in the region had deteriorated to the point where the achievement of a lasting peace was at risk. The radical posture of the Israeli Government, expressed in such extreme measures as withholding of levies due to the Palestinian Authority, ran counter to the rights of the Palestinian people.
The recently resumed bilateral negotiations must continue, he said. The peace process could only proceed if people saw tangible benefits from it. The expansion of settlements must be terminated, including in East Jerusalem. The United Nations must continue its efforts in the region until Palestinians were allowed to exercise their right to self-determination and to establish their own state, and until the refugee issue was resolved.
* MAKARIM WIBISONO (Indonesia) read out a message from Ali Alatas, his country's Foreign Minister and Chairman of the twenty-fourth session of the Conference of Islamic Foreign Ministers. He said the peace process had been paralyzed for the past two years as Israel had reneged on its commitments to agreements already reached, subjecting the Palestinian people to such provocative measures as arbitrary arrests and detention, confiscation and demolition of Palestinian properties, and prolonged border closures. Particularly reprehensible was the escalation of the construction of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Arab lands, including in and around Jabal Abu Ghneim. That brazen attempt to alter the demographic composition of the occupied territories had been condemned by the international community as a flagrant violation of the 1993 Declaration of Principles and subsequent agreements, and as a travesty of the relevant United Nations resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Conventions and the provisions of various international laws.
He drew attention to the Conference of Islamic Foreign Ministers at Jakarta in December 1996, the Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit in Islamabad on 23 March, and the Annual Coordination Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference at United Nations Headquarters on 2 October. All had emphasized that Israel must be prevailed upon to comply fully with its commitments and obligations to agreements already reached, in order to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.
The persistence of the question of Palestine on the United Nations agenda for five decades was a searing wound to the world Organization, he said. It meant that a cardinal principle enshrined in the Charter remained unimplemented. At stake was not only the future of a nation and a people, but also the shared vision of a world of peace, social justice and equitable prosperity. That vision could never be realized as long as a regime of oppression, provocation and poverty threatened the stability of one of the world's most strategic regions.
MACHIVENYIKA TOBIAS MAPURANGA (Zimbabwe) read out a statement by his President, Robert Mugabe, on behalf of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). He said the success of the peace process depended on the commitment and willingness of the parties to implement scrupulously all provisions of agreements into which they had entered freely. Extremism and terror tactics aimed at derailing the peace process must be rejected. Zimbabwe was confident that the leadership of President Arafat would lead the Palestinians to a just and successful conclusion in their efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state.
SAID EL KAMAL, of the League of Arab States, spoke on behalf of its Secretary-General, Ahmed Esmat Abdel-Meguid. He said that cooperation had been undertaken between the Arab League and the United Nations, leading to a decision to hold an international conference on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people on 23 and 24 February 1998 in Brussels. President Arafat, the Secretaries-General of relevant organizations, and government representatives -- including those representing the co-sponsors of the Middle East peace process -- would participate in that conference.
The Arab League had taken the initiative long ago to support the peace process, he said. With the signing of the 1993 Oslo agreement, it had been hoped that real progress would be made along the lines of land for peace.
However, the current Israeli President had consistently taken actions antagonistic to the peace process. The international community, and particularly the co-sponsors of the peace process, must address those acts of the Israeli Administration. Violence should be avoided, which would compromise the interests of many States.
DON BETZ, Chairman of the International Coordinating Committee for Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) on the Question of Palestine, said that 50 years after the fledgling United Nations had adopted resolution 181 to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, that and other related resolutions remained unfulfilled.
The United Nations and the Coordinating Committee must tell the story of the past 50 years as seen and felt through the eyes and hearts of the Palestinian people, he said. Most people alive today were born after 1947 and had no historical context in which to accurately assess the significance and truthfulness of the mass of expertly prepared programming to which they were exposed.
He said the United Nations and the Committee must work in a complementary fashion to offer the attentive public, particularly in the United States and Europe, another version of the history they presumed they knew so well. The question of Palestine had always been about control and freedom, security and self-determination, independence and "creating facts on the ground".