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


Committee on Rights
of Palestinian People
230th Meeting (AM)
GA/PAL/758
9 June 1997

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY MUST RECOMMIT ITSELF TO ENDING DECADES-LONG

ISRAEL OCCUPATION, PALESTINIAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE STATES

In Special Meeting Marking 30th Anniversary of Occupation,
Committee Says Palestinians Live as Hostages in Their Own Land


The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this morning stated that the international community must recommit itself to ending the decades-long illegal occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem and other Arab territories, as it concluded a special meeting at the ambassadorial level marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Israeli occupation.

In approving its statement on the occasion, the Committee said that as a direct result of the Israeli occupation, the Palestinian people were living as hostages in their own land and had not been able to enjoy their inalienable rights under the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They were denied human, economic, housing and religious rights, as well as the right of return, because of Israeli actions and policies.

In an address to the Committee, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he had been encouraged by the 15 January agreement between Israel and the Palestine Authority on Hebron and other important issues, which should pave the way for further progress in the peace process. Regrettably, there had been a number of set-backs since then, including acts of violence which he had condemned in the strongest terms.

The Secretary-General said he had appealed to the parties not to allow the actions of a radical few to derail a peace process designed for the good of many. He called on the parties to do their utmost to find mutually acceptable solutions and said he would continue to do his utmost to mobilize United Nations resources to meet the Palestinians' humanitarian and development needs.

In a message read out by the Observer from Palestine, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, said the United Nations had a permanent responsibility with respect to the question of Palestine until it was solved in all its aspects. The resolution adopted at the recent emergency special session of the General Assembly, calling for immediate cessation of the new settlement construction in the Jabal Abu Ghneim area of East Jerusalem, must be implemented.

The current Israeli policies and practices must be brought to an absolute end and their consequences reversed through the realization by the Palestinian people of their inalienable rights, including their right to return, the right to self-determination and the right to establish their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, Mr. Arafat said. The Palestinian Authority remained committed to the Middle East peace process and affirmed the necessity for intensified efforts, particularly by its cosponsors and other concerned parties, in order to savage the peace process and achieve progress on all its tracks.

Also addressing the meeting were the Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee, the President of the Security Council, and a representative of the International Coordinating Committee for Non-Governmental Organizations on the Question of Palestine.

Statements were also read out on behalf by the representatives of the Philippines, for the President of the General Assembly; Colombia, for the Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement; Indonesia, for the Chairman of the Twenty-fourth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers; Zimbabwe, for the Chairman for the Organization of African Unity (OAU); and by the observer for the League of Arab States, for its Secretary-General.

The Palestinian Rights Committee will meet again at a date to be announced in the Journal.

The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this morning convened a special meeting to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and other Arab territories.

Statement by Committee Chairman

IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee, said the Middle East peace process remained laborious, intense and difficult. The Palestinian people were surrounded by the thicket of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Declared Israeli plans for new settlements jeopardized the livelihood of present and future generations of Palestinians. Since 1967, the United Nations had repeatedly emphasized that the construction and expansion by Israel of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian and other Arab territories was a violation of its obligations under the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. That policy also contradicted the agreements already signed as part of the current peace process, as it sought to predetermine the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.

The question of Jerusalem had been brought to the forefront recently as a result of those illegal settlement activities, he said. Knowing that the future of the Holy City was to be at the centre of permanent status negotiations, Israel had nevertheless decided to proceed with plans to surround Jerusalem with a dense ring of Jewish settlements and a road infrastructure bypassing Palestinian villages. The Security Council and the General Assembly had often declared that any attempts by Israel to change the demographic composition and status of the occupied territories was null and void.

Thirty years of occupation had had a devastating impact on the economic activity of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, he said. For many years, the United Nations had been a major contributor to programmes of economic assistance and rehabilitation for the Palestinian people. In the context of the multilateral negotiating process launched by the Madrid peace conference, the international community had accelerated the provision of such assistance. However, despite those efforts, the Palestinian economy remained fragmented, unstable and dependent on that of Israel.

The years of military occupation and denial of fundamental human rights to the Palestinian people had also had a detrimental effect on the fabric of Palestinian society, he said. Even today, with the peace process in place, Israel continued to violate the individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people, virtually on a daily basis. Arbitrary arrests and detentions of Palestinians by the Israeli authorities were well-documented, and beatings and torture of Palestinian detainees had been recorded by human rights organizations. Despite widespread international criticism, forms of collective punishment were still being practised by Israel.

KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the Organization had always played a central role in assisting efforts by the parties to reach a negotiated settlement. The signing of the Declaration of Principles by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in September 1993 had been a major breakthrough in those efforts. The beginning of the Oslo peace process had also opened new opportunities for United Nations supportive action. Those had included the creation of a special mechanism to coordinate international assistance and the appointment of a United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, based in Gaza, to serve as a focal point for all United Nations agencies and programmes operating on the ground. The headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had been moved from Vienna to Gaza last year.

The Secretary-General said he had been encouraged by agreement on Hebron and other important issues, concluded on 15 January between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It was an important achievement that should pave the way for further progress towards full implementation of the process envisaged at Oslo. Regrettably, there had been a number of set-backs in the peace process since then, including acts of violence which he had condemned in the strongest terms. He had appealed to the parties not to allow the actions of a radical few to derail a peace process designed for the good of many. He had also expressed deep concern that, despite appeals from the international community, the Israeli Government had decided to proceed with the construction at Jabal Abu Ghneim/Har Homa. He called on the parties to do their utmost to find mutually acceptable solutions and to proceed with the peace process.

The international community's great concern for peace in the area had manifested in two meetings of the Security Council and the General Assembly, including an emergency special session of the Assembly in late April, he went on to say. The Secretary-General would continue to do his utmost to mobilize United Nations resources to meet the humanitarian and development needs of the Palestinians, towards the aim of achieving a just and lasting peace.

SERGEY V. LAVROV (Russian Federation), President of the Security Council, said the Council had been closely involved in efforts to defuse the conflict in the Middle East since the outbreak of hostilities in 1967. Its resolution 242 (1967) continued to reflect the United Nations position on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East. The principles inscribed in that and other resolutions adopted over the years served as a foundation for international action aimed at achieving peace and stability in the region.

The Council had on many occasions directed its attention to various political and humanitarian aspects of the question of Palestine, he said. It had always been aware of the special importance of the Palestinian dimension in the quest for an overall peace settlement. The Council was gratified by the wide-ranging economic and technical assistance given to the Palestinian people by international donors, including the Organization. Council members had also stressed the need for a thorough and effective coordination of the United Nations assistance effort, through mechanisms currently in place.

Today, as the Palestinian people were going through a crucial transition phase, fraught with set-backs, it was of paramount importance that the international community continue to work hard to make the peace process a genuine success, he said. Council members were fully aware of the handicaps and hidden dangers in the peace negotiations. They followed the course of those negotiations, bearing in mind the many concerns and claims of the parties.

He said the Council appreciated the overwhelming international support for the agreements already reached and hoped it would help the parties achieve the goals set at the beginning of the Madrid peace process. The Council was duty-bound to assist the parties in achieving reconciliation and peace. It called on the Israelis and the Palestinians to move forward with courage and resolve along the path of peace and to exercise maximum restraint in their actions on the ground, so as not to break the fragile building blocks of the peace process.

FELIPE H. MABILANGAN (Philippines), Vice-President of the General Assembly, reading out a statement by Assembly President Razali Ismail (Malaysia), said the question of Palestine remained the most intractable conflict situation in the history of the United Nations. Move than five years ago, historic decisions were taken by courageous and far-sighted leaders of Palestine and Israel, who overcame the fear of committing themselves to a common destiny and decided to agree on mutually reinforcing steps towards a peaceful settlement of the Palestine question. It was regrettable that the prospect of a just and durable peace for the peoples of Palestine and the Middle East was now seriously at risk and had been jeopardized owing to recent actions taken by the Israeli Government.

The United Nations should be a vocal critic of those who wanted to derail the peace process, he said. Although several United Nations resolutions had recognized the rights of the Palestinian people to the realization of their inalienable rights, their struggle for a homeland continued to be denied. The current construction at Jabal Abu Ghneim was merely the extension of an established Israeli policy of systematically altering the character, demographic composition and legal status of Jerusalem. The international community could not allow the continued violations of international law, the United Nations Charter and relevant United Nations resolutions.

Peace must be given a chance to take root and flourish in the region, but peace could only be meaningful and durable if the Palestinians were part of it, he said. The international community must not only offer words of encouragement; it must also take substantive action to ensure that peace, justice and stability would prevail.

M. NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, reading out a message from the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, said the Israeli occupation represented one of the ugliest forms of occupation in contemporary history. From the first day of that occupation, Israel had undertaken expansionist policies and practices which represented a unique mixture of colonialism and apartheid-like arrangements. Furthermore, Israel had carried out oppressive policies against the Palestinian people, which included killing, jailing, torturing, administrative detention, deportation and the demolition of homes. Israel had also imposed complete economic control over the Palestinian territory, which it exploited as its own exclusive market while exploiting Palestinian workers as a source of cheap labour.

He said Israel had persisted with those policies and practices over the past 30 years despite international opposition, reflected in tens of Security Council resolutions and hundreds of resolutions of the General Assembly and other United Nations organs. Those policies and practices must be brought to an absolute end and their consequences reversed through the realization by the Palestinian people of their inalienable rights, including their right to return, the right to self-determination and the right to establish their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.

The United Nations had a fundamental role to play in the achievement of a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, he said. Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and the principle of land for peace were the basis of the agreements signed by the PLO and the Government of Israel. The United Nations had a permanent responsibility with respect to the question of Palestine until it was solved in all its aspects. The Palestinian Authority anticipated a follow-up to the recent emergency special session of the Assembly, including implementation of its resolution ES-10/2, until Israel respected the will of the international community.

The Palestinian Authority remained committed to the Middle East peace process and wanted to proceed forward towards full implementation of the agreements which had been reached, he said. It affirmed the necessity for intensified efforts, particularly by the co-sponsors of the peace process and other concerned parties, in order to salvage the peace process, implement the agreements and achieve progress on all tracks, with the aim of securing a just, permanent and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

JULIO LONDONO-PAREDES (Colombia), reading a statement by the President of Colombia in his capacity as Chairman of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, said the decision to proceed with the settlements at Jabal Abu Ghneim, in flagrant violation of the Madrid and Oslo agreements, had altered the atmosphere of cordiality and frankness in the peace process. The entire international community knew that such a decision would be detrimental to the peace process and cause friction and conflicts. The Movement regretted that the atmosphere of trust that had prevailed in the region had deteriorated and put the peace process in jeopardy.

At this delicate juncture, the Non-Aligned Movement reiterated its unflinching support for the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination and independence, he said. The United Nations vigilant attention to that issue should continue until the Palestinian people established an independent and sovereign state on their own territory, and the problem of refugees was solved in accordance to the relevant United Nations resolutions. All relevant Council and Assembly resolutions should be fulfilled, and all actions contrary to those resolutions should be considered null and void.

ARIZAL EFFENDI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of his Foreign Minister in his capacity as Chairman of the Twenty-Fourth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers, said three decades of Israeli occupation had exacted a heavy toll on the lives of the Palestinian people. Occupation had meant thinly veiled attempts at altering the demographic composition and physical characteristic of the occupied Palestinian territory through settlements, forcible expulsions, land expropriation, destruction of Palestinian homes and properties and the restriction of movement of persons and goods.

Today's meeting was being held at a critical juncture in international efforts to achieve a just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine, which was central to a lasting peace in the Middle East, he said. Recent gains were at peril. Israel had perpetrated a series of acts which violated the letter and spirit of the Declaration of Principles and subsequent agreements. The expansion of settlements had intensified and closures of areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority had continued unabated. Steps which were to have been carried out by Israel during the interim period remained unimplemented -- including a safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip -- as Israel continued to set aside agreed timetables. The opening of a new tunnel along the western wall of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the construction of a new settlement at Jabal Abu Ghneim in East Jerusalem were the most blatant and recent evidence of the reckless way Israel treated the peace process.

The future of peace in the Middle East must be secured, he said. Israel must fully and consistently comply with the provisions of its agreements with the Palestinians and proceed with final status negotiations, based on recognition of the inalienable rights of the Palestinians as an independent state with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital. The peace process must be reinforced through concerted international efforts to strengthen the foundations of the Palestinian nation. Particularly galling was the drastic deterioration in Palestinian living conditions, owing to Israeli policies which persisted in stifling the development of a viable Palestinian economy.

MACHIVENYIKA TOBIAS MAPURANGA (Zimbabwe), reading out a message from the President of Zimbabwe in his capacity as Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), said 30 years had elapsed since the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem. Today, the situation continued to deteriorate, causing hardship and despair among the Palestinian people. The Israeli Government had intensified its policy of land confiscation, leading to growing concern for the status of the peace process.

He said the Security Council and the General Assembly had overwhelmingly supported the broad steps taken by the leaders of Israel and the PLO since the Madrid Conference, which had marked a gradual improvement in relations among the parties. Zimbabwe remained a strong advocate of that process, which was the only viable option for peace and stability in the Middle East. The OAU had kept the situation in the Middle East, and especially Palestine, as permanent items on its agenda and had consistently opposed any attempts to derail the peace process.

The recent emergency session of the General Assembly was indicative of the disquiet with which Members States viewed the situation in the Middle East, he said. The OAU did not recognize Israel's annexation of Jerusalem. It viewed as illegal Israel's efforts to change the status of occupied East Jerusalem through a policy aimed at creating a Jewish majority in that district of the city. The OAU considered all measures and actions taken by Israel to change the legal status of Jerusalem as null and void, as they violated the letter and spirit of the Declaration of Principles.

In its preoccupation with being seen as even-handed, the international community had forgotten that the continued occupation of Palestinian land and the creation of Jewish settlements there represented a mortal threat to the peace process, he said. The OAU's position was that the international community must save the region from possible conflict and war, and that there must be compliance with existing agreements and accords. Israeli leadership should concede to the realities on the ground and reverse its alarming action of building new settlements in East Jerusalem and other occupied Palestinian lands.

ALI MOHAMED AHMED AL-SALAFI, Observer for the League of Arab States, said Israel's increasingly oppressive practices violated resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly, as well as the will of the international community. They also threatened efforts to achieve a just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine. The process of the Judaization of Al-Quds Al-Sharif and the closures of the West Bank and Gaza were a violation of relevant resolutions. The recent construction of an Israeli settlement at Jabal Abu Ghneim in East Jerusalem had been condemned by the Assembly. It stopped the peace negotiations and caused a return to the cycle of violence.

He said such Israeli practices as the withdrawal of identity cards from Palestinians were part of a policy aimed at expanding its jurisdiction in the Palestinian homelands. Israel had used force, particularly in the field of agriculture, with the purpose of annexing the Palestinian economy to its own. In 1996, Israel's Supreme Court had allowed the torture of Palestinians. The Government had demolished more than 2,000 Palestinian homes and partially demolished more than 3,000 homes, some during rocket attacks. Such actions violated the Geneva Conventions on the protection of civilians during time of war.

The Arab League had supported the peace process even before the Madrid Conference, he said. It considered the 1993 Declaration of Principles as the first step towards achieving peace within the framework of international law. However, the present Israeli administration continued violating all agreements of the previous Government, and its policies continued to have a negative effect on the lives and development of the Palestinian people. The Middle East should be a region of peace. The United Nations and the Security Council should continue to put pressure on Israel to abide by its relevant resolutions. The Arab League was keen to see the peace process continue as planned.

LARRY EKIN, of the International Coordinating Committee for NonGovernmental Organizations on the Question of Palestine, said the continuing fragility of the Middle East peace process should serve as a reminder that, at least for the foreseeable future, the Palestinian Rights Committee should continue its efforts with respect to the question of Palestine and keeping it firmly on the United Nations agenda. The Committee's work should continue to be supported until such time as the Palestinians themselves no longer deemed it necessary.

He said that hundreds of non-governmental organizations from around the world had affirmed their support for the Palestinian people through their affiliation with the Committee. There was a wide range of diversity in their size and activities, but they shared a common commitment to the Palestinian people that enabled them to work together. Their struggle had often been conducted against long odds, in the face of daily oppression and repressive measures. Such measures were intended to quell people's spirits every bit asmuch as they were meantto continue creatingfacts on the ground.

Draft Statement

Mr. KA (Senegal), Committee Chairman, read out the following draft statement for approval by the special meeting:

"Today, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People calls the attention of the States Members of the United Nations and of the entire international community to the fact that three decades after the hostilities of 1967 and the adoption by the Security Council of resolution 242 (1967), Israel continues its illegal occupation of large areas of Palestinian land in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, as well as other Arab territories. By doing so, the occupying Power clearly defies the established norms of international law and violates the provisions of scores of relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and decisions.

"On this day, it is of paramount importance to remind ourselves that as a direct result of the Israeli occupation, the Palestinian people is living a life of a hostage in its own home, on its own land. The Palestinian people has not been able to enjoy its inalienable rights under the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For too long, the Palestinian people has been denied human rights because its fate has been and to a large extent remains in the hands of the occupier. It has been denied economic rights because the occupier strangulated what could have become a national, independent economy. It has been denied housing rights because the occupier has been confiscating its land and building illegal settlements. It has been denied religious rights and freedoms because of the occupation laws. Palestinian refugees have been denied the right of return because of the restrictive Israeli legislation. The list of violations of the rights of the Palestinian people can be continued and Israel, the occupying Power, has carried out these actions and policies for all these years with remarkable impunity.

The Palestinian people is due much credit. Throughout the entire occupation period and until this very day, the Palestinians have shown incredible, almost stoic resilience, courage and persistence in overcoming the many challenges of their daily living. In 1991, its leadership brought the Palestinian people to Madrid. In the course of the peace process, the Palestinian people has demonstrated its strong desire to take full control of its life and of its future and pursue the right to self-determination and statehood.

"Our Committee believes that the role of the United Nations and of the international community as a whole is to assist the Palestinian people in accomplishing this task. No less today than 30 years ago, we are dedicated to working towards the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights. The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People reiterates that the United Nations has a permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until it is resolved in all its aspects. The United Nations has a crucial role to play in promoting the current peace process, inasmuch as it is rooted in Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and the land-for- peace principle. Today, we must recommit ourselves with resolve to pursuing the goal of ending the decades-long illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and other Arab territories and set out on a mission to bring a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine, and with it peace, stability and prosperity to the entire region of the Middle East.

"Today, we must reaffirm our support for the peace process and the agreements already concluded and do everything possible to salvage the peace process in the interest of all peoples of the region and in the interest of peace and international security."

The statement was approved without a vote.



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