Progress in the Israeli-Syrian and the Israeli-Lebanese tracks of the Middle East peace process was crucial for the realization of a comprehensive and just settlement in the region based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this afternoon, as it opened its 1997 session.
The Secretary-General described the steps taken in the last three-and-a-half years as important signposts on the road towards peaceful Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, which had led to such concrete realities as the establishment of an elected Palestinian administration in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. Those steps included the signing by the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the agreement on the Hebron Protocol.
Since the promotion of Palestinian economic and social development was necessary for the creation of solid foundations for peace and improved living conditions, he went on, the United Nations was contributing in that area, with special emphasis on employment generation and Palestinian institution-building. The just-appointed Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, would work closely with the Palestinian Authority to identify areas in which the United Nations could enhance its contribution in the economic and social fields, he said.
The Committee Chairman, Ibra Deguene Ka (Senegal), said it was vital for the Committee to mobilize support for the Palestinian people and for the international community to intensify support for the peace process and help completely restore the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. It was the Committee's hope that 1997 would also be the year in which irreversible progress would be made towards the establishment of a Palestinian State and a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
The Observer for Palestine, Nasser Al-Kidwa, informed the Committee that Israel's building of illegal settlements in the occupied territories would undermine the peace process and render agreements reached useless. In a dangerous development, many Israeli officials were indicating their intention to build a new settlement in the Jabal Abu-Ghoneim neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. The Committee should help ensure that the plan was not implemented.
Speaking on the Department of Public Information's 1997 Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, the Director of the Promotion and Public Services Division, Mian Qadruddin, said the programme had two objectives: the provision of assistance directly to Palestinian media practitioners; and the dissemination of information about all United Nations activities on the question of Palestine. The programme would, among others: train media practitioners, in October and November; hold an International Encounter for Journalists on the Question of Palestine, in May; and organize fact-finding missions for journalists to Amman, Cairo and the Gaza Strip.
The Committee also adopted its 1997 organization of work and the Special Information Programme. It then re-elected Mr. Ka (Senegal) as Chairman, and Bruno Rodriquez Parilla (Cuba) and Ravan Farhadi (Afghanistan) as Vice- Chairmen. The election of the Rapporteur will take place at a later date.
The officers were nominated by the representative of Tunisia and seconded by that of Ukraine.
The Committee will meet again at a date to be announced.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met today in an organizational session to consider, among others, its 1997 draft programme of work.
Statement by Secretary-General
Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN said the fifty-first session of the General Assembly had reaffirmed the mandate of the Committee. In the past years, courageous new steps had been taken in the Middle East as a result of the peace process launched in Madrid in 1991, including the signing by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements and subsequent agreements, in particular, the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Only last month, the peace process had gained important momentum as a result of the agreement reached on the Hebron Protocol and the Israeli and Palestinian undertakings on other key issues.
Those arrangements reached over the last three-and-a-half years were crucially important signposts along the road towards peaceful Israeli- Palestinian coexistence, he continued. They had created new realities on the ground, such as the establishment of an elected Palestinian administration in Gaza and parts of the West Bank last year. Despite some setbacks, the vision in the Declaration of Principles had been sustained. It was important to build on those principles in order to fulfil the hopes of all the peoples of the region. For the Middle East peace process to flourish, progress was also required in the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks. That would be crucial for the realization of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). He expressed hope that those negotiations would quickly resume.
Mr. Annan said that promoting Palestinian economic and social development was essential for improving living conditions, especially in Gaza. The United Nations system was contributing to that area, with special emphasis on employment generation and Palestinian institution-building. But, the Organization could do more. The newly appointed Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, would work in the weeks ahead with the Palestinian Authority to identify areas in which the United Nations could enhance its contribution in the economic and social fields.
IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee, said the Secretary-General's comments reflected his commitment to the continuity of shared actions and the Committee's mandate. It was now important for the Committee to mobilize assistance and support for the Palestinian people, sparing no effort in making a high-quality contribution to the quest for peace and stability in the region. Recent political events had made it possible to perceive what events lay at the heart of the question of Palestine, as well as the path towards a just and peaceful settlement, he continued. The accord signed in Hebron and the recent release of female Palestinian political prisoners confirmed the conviction and will of the parties concerned and the commitment of the friends of peace that there were no insurmountable obstacles to peace. The signing of the Declaration of Principles had opened a crucial chapter of substantive negotiations in the final stage of the peace process. The parties concerned now needed the commitment of all those in the international community and the United Nations to bring about peace. The international community must, above all, intensify its efforts to support the peace process and for the complete restoration of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The Secretary-General's important statement demonstrated the important place the question of Palestine held in the agenda of the United Nations, he said. The year 1997 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the military occupation of Palestinian territories and Jerusalem. It was the hope of the Committee that 1997 would also be the year that irreversible progress would be achieved towards the establishment of a Palestinian State and a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. The Committee would continue to relentlessly strengthen working relations with all organs of the United Nations, Member States and concerned non-governmental organizations in order to make a modest contribution to peace, stability, cooperation and the development of the immense potential of all the States in the region. Speaking on behalf of the other members of the bureau, he thanked the Department of Public Information (DPI) for keeping the international community increasingly informed on the question of Palestine. He also thanked the staff of the Division for Palestinian Rights for their work and dedication.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said 1997 would witness the thirtieth anniversary of the occupation of Palestine and the fiftieth anniversary of the General Assembly's partition resolution 181 (II). The history of the United Nations and the Palestinian peoples were interlinked. The General Assembly should try to lead to fair solutions that would take into account the rights of the Palestinians and would offer a just solution to the question of Jerusalem. The peace agreements should be supported and the Palestinian people helped with all available means. United Nations activities in support of the Palestinian cause were appreciated by the Palestinians, who were grateful for what the Organization and others had done for them. But, the United Nations should be more directly involved in the peace process.
He said he was optimistic that the peace process would continue, despite some of the negative actions taken by Israel, and that the Secretary-General, the Committee, the United Nations and the international community would be able to work towards the attainment of a just peace for the Palestinians.
1997 Programme of Work
The Chairman, Mr. KA (Senegal), introduced the Committee's draft programme of work and paid tribute to Joseph Cassar, former Rapporteur of the Committee, for his valuable contribution to the drafting of the document. He said section I of the programme of work was largely procedural and summarized the relevant resolutions adopted by the General Assembly at its fifty-first session containing the respective mandates of the Committee, the Division for Palestinian Rights and the DPI.
Dealing with the priority issues in the Committee's programme of work for 1997, section II contains the recommendations made by the Committee in its last report and reaffirmed its position on the issues, he continued. It indicated that the Committee would continue to exert all efforts to promote the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the effective implementation of the agreements reached between the parties and mobilize international assistance to the Palestinian people, in cooperation with all concerned.
Section III concerns the proposed activities of the Committee and the Division for Palestinian Rights, he said. In subsection A, the draft indicated that the Committee would continue to keep under review the situation relating to the question of Palestine, report to the General Assembly or the Security Council, bring urgent developments in the occupied territories to the attention of the international community, and continue to participate in important international meetings. It was further proposed that the Committee would continue to expand contacts with the Palestinian Authority and other institutions, including non-governmental organizations, in the areas under its jurisdiction.
In addition, as a new activity, the Committee would note the adoption of Assembly resolution 51/129 of 13 December 1996, in which the Secretary-General was requested to preserve and modernize the land records of the Arab refugees of the Conciliation Commission for Palestine, he said. The Committee would agree with the request of the resolution's co-sponsors that the electronic facilities of the Division for Palestinian Rights be used for that purpose, provided that the Division received the full level of staffing and financial resources as approved in the current budget. The Committee would also request the Division to explore the technical and other aspects of the mandate.
In subsection B, the Committee would express the importance it attached to UNISPAL -- an electronic database on the question of Palestine -- and to the full implementation of that mandate, he continued. Among other things, it would stress the need for further development of the UNISPAL page on the Internet.
In addition to the meeting of consultations with non-governmental organizations held between 3 and 4 February, at Headquarters, it was envisaged that the Asian Seminar and non-governmental organization symposium on the question of Palestine be held at Jakarta, Indonesia, in April or May 1997, he continued. The North American non-governmental organization symposium on the question of Palestine would be held from 9 to 11 June 1997 at Headquarters. It was also recommended that a seminar on assistance to the Palestinian people and the international meetings of non-governmental organizations and the European non-governmental organization symposium on the question of Palestine be held again this year, with the dates and venues to be determined later. Due to the emerging priorities and concerns in its work, as well as the Organization's continuing financial crisis, the Committee would decide not to hold other seminars and non-governmental organization meetings forecast in the budget for the current biennium.
Subsection D of the draft states that the Committee would continue to attach great importance to the contribution of the Division for Palestinian Rights as a centre for research, monitoring, the preparation of studies and the collection and dissemination of information on issues related to the question of Palestine, and request it to continue its programme of publication in consultation with the Committee, he said. The Division would also be requested to continue to issue the various mandated publications, including the study of Jerusalem and a new study on settlements, and to continue its periodic summary of non-governmental organization activities.
Regarding the annual commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the bureau recommended that it be observed on Monday, 1 December 1997, because 29 November was a Saturday, he said.
He also proposed that some of the issues be considered by the Committee's open-ended working group and, therefore, that it be re-established in accordance with past practice, under the chairmanship of the Rapporteur.
MIAN QADRUD-DIN, Director of the Promotion and Public Services Division of the DPI, introduced the 1997 Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, ascribing to it two objectives: the provision of assistance directly to Palestinian media and practitioners; and the provision and dissemination of information in the territories and around the world about all United Nations activities on the question of Palestine.
The two-pronged programme included the training of media practitioners in October and November, he said. Its other parts involved the dissemination of information, which included in May the International Encounter for Journalists on the Question of Palestine, in Athens. Fact-Finding missions for journalists to important capitals and other destinations in the Middle East were also planned. To economize, such missions would be sent immediately after the International Encounter in May, with some of the participating journalists taken to Amman, Cairo and, if feasible, to the Gaza Strip.
He said that publications would also be used in the special programme. For example, a publication on the outcome of the International Encounter for Journalists would be produced. If funds were available, the Department would update some of its publications on Palestine. It would also produce radio programmes and a video library on issues related to the question of Palestine. The Department would send a mission to the Palestinian territories to collect material for a video documentary on the subject of the Department's training programme for Palestinian journalists.
The Chairman, Mr. KA (Senegal), then introduced a report on the Committee's consultations with representatives of non-governmental organization coordinating committees. He said that 22 non-governmental organization representatives from the International, the North American and the European Coordinating Committees had taken part in the meeting on the question of Palestine held at United Nations Headquarters on 3 and 4 February. The Committee's bureau had also participated in the meeting and briefed the non-governmental organizations on the evolving political situation and on the Committee's concerns and objectives. The bureau also stressed that the annual non-governmental organization symposia and meetings should be used as a tool for achieving common goals and made some suggestions for improving the usefulness of the event organized under the Committee's auspices.
The Chairman said that the non-governmental organization representatives stressed that the symposia and international meetings were major highlights of their activities in support of the cause of the Palestinian people. Agreement existed on the priorities for the immediate future, namely, to promote the implementation of the agreements concluded between Israel and the PLO, to support the Palestinian positions regarding the permanent status negotiations, and to focus in that respect on the right to self-determination and on the issues of settlements, Jerusalem and refugees, and to advance projects to help the Palestinian people in their efforts towards sustainable development.
He said that the non-governmental organizations suggested that they use some important anniversaries in 1997 to further mobilize their constituencies: the thirtieth anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza in June; the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of General Assembly resolution 181 (II) in November; and the tenth anniversary of the outbreak of the intifadah in December. In that regard, it was suggested that the North American non-governmental organization symposium in New York be held from 9 to 11 June, to bring it closer to the anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Regarding the Asian seminar and non-governmental organization symposium to be held in Indonesia, representatives of the Asian and international non- governmental organizations promised cooperation, he said. As for the European symposium and international meetings, which had traditionally been held in Geneva or Vienna, the Committee bureau had discussed with non-governmental organization representatives various alternative venues, because it had been suggested that the international meetings be held in the Middle East and the European symposium in a western European country.
Mr. AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, said he was speaking in order to brief the Committee on recent political developments on the question of Palestine. On 15 January 1997, the PLO and the Government of Israel had agreed to a Protocol on the redeployment of Israeli forces in Hebron and a Note for the Record. His delegation considered that agreement to be an important step forward and hoped that all matters agreed upon would be implemented in due time. Regarding the redeployment of Hebron forces, Israeli forces did withdraw from 80 per cent of the city. It was also significant to the Palestinian side, which stressed continuity in all agreements reached, that the Protocol on redeployment did not differ much from the original version.
On 16 February 1997, eight subcommittees began meeting to discuss outstanding issues related to the transitional period, he said. Issues discussed included: the release of Palestinian prisoners; the operation of the airport; the construction of a seaport; financial issues, especially Palestinian financial rights; and, most importantly, freedom of movement of persons and goods, especially safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza. No agreements had been achieved in those eight subcommittees, but it was hoped that they would be able to complete their work.
An important upcoming test of the peace process would be the first further redeployment of Israeli forces in the West Bank, which would take place on 7 March, he said. The interim agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip stated that there would be three successive redeployments, which would result in keeping Israeli persons confined to agreed military locations. Serious disagreements concerning that issue were already materializing, as the Israeli side had suggested completely unacceptable formulas. It was hoped that the Committee would pay close attention to that important issue.
The proceedings of the peace process and the fate of all agreements would depend largely on Israeli behaviour regarding the illegal settlement system, he said. If Israel continued to defy the international community, legalities and agreements and continued to build settlements in the occupied territories, it was only logical to expect that the peace process would be greatly undermined and that the agreements would be rendered useless.
In another dangerous development, many Israeli officials were indicating their intention to build a new settlement in East Jerusalem, in the neighbourhood of Jabal Abu-Ghoneim, he said. His delegation would start forging contacts regarding that matter, with the aim of guaranteeing that the Israeli plan would not be implemented and that no decision would be made in the coming week. It was hoped that the Committee would be able to contribute in that important endeavour and thereby ensure the continuation of the peace process.
Mr. Al-Kidwa also announced to the Committee that Yasser Arafat would visit Washington, D.C., on 3 March, to meet with President William Clinton regarding developments in the Middle East peace process.