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      UNIS/GA/1759
          30 November 2000
     Assembly, Opening Debate on Question of Palestine, Hears Call
    For Enhanced UN Involvement in Current Middle East Situation

    Chairman of Palestinian Rights Committee Introduces Four Draft Texts
     

    NEW YORK, 29 November (UN Headquarters) -- The Assembly opened its debate on the question of Palestine this afternoon, hearing 15 speakers and the introduction of four draft resolutions by the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

    The observer for Palestine asked the United Nations to take a decision to dispatch international forces to “prevent the extinction” of the Palestinian people.  To reach that decision, he said, the Organization should dispatch an international committee of investigation to the Palestinian territories to witness the “criminal Israeli actions”.  The question of Palestine had remained on the agenda of the United Nations for over half a century.  The United Nations had taken the decision on the partition of Palestine, thereby creating the most difficult political problem in the Middle East region.  After that, the region had witnessed many wars and the displacement of millions of Palestinian people.

     He said the failure of the Camp David Summit in 2000 had led to an escalation of tensions, especially after Ariel Sharon’s visit, under escort, to Al-Haram Al-Sharif.  The next day, the Israelis had killed seven people.  It was clear, he said, that those “criminal” actions had been previously planned by Mr. Barak to provoke the Palestinian people.  Israeli forces had arbitrarily shot unarmed Palestinian citizens and laid economic and military siege to the Palestinian people.  During the Sharm el-Sheikh conference in October, an agreement was reached to set up an investigative committee.  The Assembly, in emergency session, had adopted a resolution calling for adequate protection of the Palestinian people.  A political settlement would provide Israelis and all Arab parties with elements of peace and security.

     The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Ibra Deguène Ka (Senegal), in introducing four draft resolutions, said that the question of Palestine and the rights of the Palestinian people had remained overshadowed by conflicts and hostilities in the region.  The Committee had welcomed the 1991 Madrid Middle East Peace Conference, which launched the current peace process.  The agreements concluded since, including the Wye River Memorandum and the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, had signalled that a diplomatic solution that took into account the rights and needs of both sides was indeed possible. 

     Regrettably, expectations had been dashed on 28 September, he said.  The Committee strongly believed that the events of the past several weeks were a direct result of the policies and practices of the Israeli occupation, and the failure of Israel to live up to its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and respect the provisions of relevant Security Council and Assembly resolutions.  The international community must stand ready to extend its helping hand to the parties, as all the permanent status issues -- Jerusalem, settlement, refugees and borders -- were complex and multidimensional and might require outside assistance in order to overcome obstacles and create the necessary momentum in the negotiations.

    The representative of South Africa said his country, after enduring the struggle against apartheid, could not but be inspired to support the fight of the Palestinian people for self-determination and the establishment of an independent state.  Securing their inalienable right to self-determination and independence was pivotal to achieving sustained and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. 

    He said the Non-Aligned Movement had called on Israel to halt all settlement-related activity and any other actions which exacerbated the suffering of the Palestinian people.  Those acts constituted an illegal attempt to change the physical character, legal status and demographic composition of the occupied territories, in direct violation of the agreements reached between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel.  Peaceful negotiation was the only means of ensuring lasting peace and security in the region.

    Yemen's representative said Israel had only been established after the people of Palestine had been displaced from their homeland.  The people of the region had welcomed the many agreements reached, particularly the personal role played by President Clinton, as his efforts might have helped to make the region safe and peaceful.  Yet, all those endeavours had fallen short of a conclusion as a result of Israel’s violations and aggressions in Al-Quds al-Sharif.

    The Middle East was in a serious dilemma because of the Israeli use of force with all types of weapons, he said.  Fortunately, because of scientific developments and television, the world could hear, see and live the bloody and aggressive Israeli acts and killings of anything that was Palestinian.  That the aggression was at its climax was clear from the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to the region.  Her report was enough to spur everyone to condemn the Israeli occupying forces. 

    The Rapporteur of the Committee of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Walter Balzan (Malta) introduced the Committee’s report.

    Representatives of the United Arab Emirates, China, United Republic of Tanzania, Bahrain, India, Egypt, Algeria, Mauritania, Cuba and Nigeria also addressed the Assembly.

    The Assembly will meet again tomorrow, Thursday, 30 November, at 3 p.m. to continue its consideration of the question of Palestine.

    Assembly Work Programme

     The fifty-fifth regular session of the General Assembly met this afternoon to consider the question of Palestine.  It had before it the report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Middle East and the question of Palestine.

    Background to Question of Palestine

     At the end of the Second World War, Palestine was a territory administered by the United Kingdom under a mandate from the League of Nations.  Faced with escalating violence resulting from increasing Jewish migration to Palestine and Arab opposition to such immigration, the United Kingdom brought the matter before the United Nations in 1947.  The Assembly established a committee of 11 States to investigate all matters relating to the question of Palestine and to recommend solutions.  The majority in the Committee recommended that Palestine be partitioned into an Arab State and Jewish State, with special international status for Jerusalem.

    The Assembly, at its second regular session, adopted resolution 181 on 29 November 1947, by whose terms it approved the partition plan of the majority.  The Plan was not accepted by the Palestinian Arabs, because they would oppose any scheme which provided for the dissection, segregation or partition of their country, or which gave special and preferential rights and status to a minority. The relinquishing of the mandate by the United Kingdom in May 1948 and the declaration of the Jewish State sparked a war between Arab and Jewish communities in the area.  Fighting continued despite the efforts of a United Nations mediator.  By the time a truce called for by the Security Council came into force in July 1948, Israel controlled much of the territory originally allotted to the Arab State.  Jordan and Egypt respectively administered the remaining portions of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

    The events of 1947-1948 created a serious refugee problem, with thousands of Palestinians being uprooted and ending up in Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria or Kuwait.  The United Nations quickly set up the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to support the refugees.  In December 1948, the Assembly declared that refugees must be permitted to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbours, and that those choosing not to return should be compensated.  Under resolution 194, the Assembly called for the demilitarization and internationalization of Jerusalem.  The resolution was never implemented, but its provisions on the special status of the city and the right of Palestinian refugees to return have been reasserted by the Assembly virtually every year since 1948.

    Israel was admitted into the United Nations in May 1949.  Between February and July of that year, under the auspices of the United Nations, armistice agreements were signed between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  

    The Arab-Israeli dispute simmered for the next two decades, erupting into open hostilities in 1956 and again in 1967.  A turning point in Middle Eastern affairs was reached with the Six Day War of 1967 between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria.  By the time a ceasefire took effect, Israel had occupied Egyptian Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and part of the Syrian Golan Heights.  The Security Council in resolution 237 (1967) called upon Israel to ensure the safety and welfare of the inhabitants where military operations had taken place, and to facilitate the return of displaced persons.

    Later, the Council adopted resolution 242 (1967) which laid down the principles for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East -– the withdrawal of Israel’s armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict, and recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area, along with the right to live in peace with secure and recognized boundaries.

    When another Arab-Israeli war broke out in October 1973, the Council adopted resolution 338 (1973) calling for an immediate truce and asking the parties to begin the implementation of resolution 242 immediately after the ceasefire.  The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), joined by Arab States, criticized the resolutions for reducing the Palestinian problem to a question of international charity and for reducing the Palestinians to the status of refugees without national political rights.
    Following the 1967 war, the question of Palestine began to be understood in a broader political context, rather than as a matter related only to refugees.  In November 1974, the Assembly reaffirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination without external interference, the right to national independence and sovereignty, and the right to return to their homes and property.  Those rights, as set out in resolution 3236 (XXIX), have been reaffirmed by the Assembly every year since.  That same year, the Assembly invited the PLO to participate in its proceedings as an observer.  The item entitled “The question of Palestine” has been on the Assembly’s annual agenda since 1974.

    Gravely concerned that no progress had been achieved towards the exercise by the Palestinian people of their inalienable rights, the Assembly on 10 November 1975, through resolution 3376 (XXX), decided to establish the Palestinian Rights Committee with the primary mandate to make recommendations to fulfil those rights.  Since 1976, the Assembly has endorsed recommendations from that Committee as a basis for solution to the question of Palestine.

    Report of Committee on Exercise of Inalienable Rights of Palestinian People

     The report (document A/55/35), transmitted by the Secretary-General, states that the Committee devotes its activities to the full realization by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights -- the right to self-determination without external interference; the right to national independence and sovereignty; and the right to return to their homes and property, from which they had been displaced.  It is incumbent on the international community to assist the Palestinian people in its quest for justice, peace, a better future for their children and economic prosperity.

     The report describes the mandate of the Committee, its organization of work over the reporting period, a review of the situation in Palestine, action taken by the Committee in accordance with various Assembly resolutions and action taken by the Department of Public Information (DPI).

     The report says that the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, co-sponsored by the Russian Federation and the United States, are now at a critical turning point.  Following the signing, in September 1999, of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, the Committee was encouraged by steps aimed at its implementation, namely, the partial release of Palestinian prisoners, the opening of the southern safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the further redeployment of Israeli troops from areas of the West Bank, to mention a few positive developments.

     According to the report, the Committee was greatly disturbed by the violent confrontations between the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and police and Palestinian civilians at the Al-Haram al-Sharif compound in the Old City of Jerusalem that erupted on 28 September 2000, following a visit to the holy site by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon and others.  Confrontations also took place all across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  The Committee was shocked by the tragic loss of life, in particular, by the deaths of innocent Palestinian children.

     The report notes that the Committee considers it unacceptable that the Palestinian people are still carrying the heavy weight of occupation.  The Committee was appalled that settlement activity continued alongside peace negotiations, a policy which stood in marked contrast to the mutually agreed ground rules of the peace process.  It strongly believes that the United Nations should continue to exercise its permanent responsibility towards all aspects of the question of Palestine until it is resolved in a satisfactory manner.  The United Nations should remain the guardian of international legitimacy and play a key role in mobilizing international assistance for development, as an important underpinning of the peace process.

    Report of Secretary-General

     The report on the situation in the Middle East and the question of Palestine (document A/55/639-S/2000/1113) transmits a reply from the Security Council, dated 29 September, to a letter of the Secretary-General and to notes verbales from the representative of Israel and from the Permanent Observer of Palestine.

     The Security Council states that its members welcomed the participation of the Israelis and Palestinians in the final status negotiations held at Camp David in July.  They strongly condemn all acts of terrorism and violence in the region and urge all parties to fully respect the commitments they have assumed under existing agreements, and to refrain from any activities that might jeopardize the success of the talks and aggravate the political and economic situation in the Palestinian territories.

     In his note verbale of 11 September, the representative of Israel states that his country had voted against Assembly resolution 54/42 of 1 December 1999.  Israel views the resolution not only as unbalanced, but also as an undue interference in matters which lie at the very core of bilateral negotiations currently under way between Israel and the Palestinians.  The one-sided approach reflected in this and other Assembly resolutions threatens to prejudge the outcome of the process, impede the progress of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, and undermine the prospects of achieving a just and lasting peace settlement.  A comprehensive solution to the conflicts in the Middle East can only be based upon directly negotiated and mutually agreed solutions.

     In his note verbale of 7 November, the Permanent Observer for Palestine states that Assembly resolution 54/42 should serve as an acceptable basis for all parties to work on important issues of the peace process.  Despite the agreement on the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum of 4 September 1999, Israel had failed once again to implement most of the overdue provisions and commitments agreed upon, including the third redeployment of its occupying forces, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the return of Palestinian displaced persons, and failed also to adhere to the agreed timetable.

     He notes that the optimistic expectations of a positive change in the status of the peace process have not been fulfilled.  Unfortunately, a dramatic deterioration of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, took place to an unprecedented level of aggression against the Palestinian people, resulting in the killing of more than 160 Palestinians as of 7 November, the injury of more than 3,000 people and extensive destruction to the property and livelihood of the Palestinian people.  The recent tragic events, which began on 28 September 2000, started with the “mal-intentioned visit of the infamous Ariel Sharon” to Al-Haram al-Sharif in Occupied East Jerusalem and the storming by the Israeli occupying forces of Al-Haram al-Sharif the next day.

     The Palestinian people, he continues, have expressed their rejection of these acts and their rejection of the occupation, and have expressed their determination to defend their Islamic and Christian holy places and the Arab nature of East Jerusalem, as well as their determination to achieve their natural rights, including the establishment of their independent State with Jerusalem as its capital.  In response to the Palestinian protests, Israel, the occupying Power, has used its huge war machine to launch a bloody campaign of repression against his people.  The Israeli actions and measures constitute grave and serious breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, and some of these acts even constitute war crimes according to the Convention.

     The Security Council has dealt with the event by adopting resolution 1322 (2000), the Permanent Observer notes.  Despite the adoption of the resolution, the situation on the ground did not change and Israel, the occupying Power, did not comply with any of the provisions of the resolution.  Instead, a dangerous Israeli escalation of its military campaign followed.  The Council was, once again, called upon to adopt an immediate resolution to end the escalation, but a permanent   Council member declared it would use its right to veto.  At that point, the tenth emergency special session of the Assembly resumed, where resolution ES/10/7 was adopted.

     According to the Permanent Observer, it remains indispensable for Israel, the occupying Power, to abide by and implement United Nations resolutions and agreements reached between the two sides, including the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings, in order for the situation to calm down and for negotiations to be resumed on the final status issues.

     The Secretary-General's report observes that the present crisis holds the potential for further escalation, with dangerous consequences for the entire region.  It is, therefore, imperative that all efforts be made to curtail the current wave of violence and resume the peace process.  The Israelis and Palestinians know well that they have to live side by side with each other, and must reconcile their differences through dialogue and cooperation.  The question is how to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to personal dignity and national independence, and to the legitimate security concerns of the Government of Israel.

     According to the report, the present crisis has led to a serious deterioration of the humanitarian and economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.  In order to improve the coordination of United Nations humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, a task force has been established, chaired by the United Nations Special Coordinator in Gaza.  The UNWRA has recently launched an urgent appeal for $39 million to fund a three-month contingency plan to buy food and medical supplies.

     As the Assembly has underscored on many occasions, achieving a final and peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, is imperative for the attainment of a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.  It is to be hoped that there will also be movement soon on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks so that peace, security and stability may be achieved for all peoples in the region on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).

     The report states that, for its part, the United Nations will continue to support the resumption of the peace process and to respond in an integrated way to the economic, social, humanitarian and other needs of the population in the West Bank and Gaza.  The Secretary-General calls upon the international community to provide the necessary resources in support of the United Nations programmes to address the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people.

    Draft Resolutions

     Draft resolution (A/55/L.45) on the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, is sponsored by Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Namibia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Palestine.  By the terms of the resolution, the Assembly would request the Committee to continue to keep under review the situation relating to the question of Palestine, and to report and make suggestions to the General Assembly or the Security Council.  

    The Assembly would also authorize the Committee to continue to exert all efforts to promote the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, to make such adjustments in its approved programme of work as it may consider appropriate and necessary in the light of developments, to give special emphasis to the need to mobilize support and assistance for the Palestinian people, and to report thereon to the General Assembly.

    Further to the draft, the Assembly would request the Committee to continue to extend its cooperation and support to Palestinian and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in order to mobilize international solidarity and support for the achievement by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights and for a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, and to involve additional NGOs in its work.  

    The Assembly would also request the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine and other United Nations bodies to continue to cooperate fully with the Committee, and would request the Secretary-General to circulate the report of the Committee to all the competent bodies of the United Nations.

    Finally, the draft resolution would request the Secretary-General to continue to provide the Committee with all the necessary facilities for the performance of its tasks. 

    A draft resolution on the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat (document A/55/L.46) is sponsored by Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Namibia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Palestine.

     By the terms of the draft resolution, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to continue to provide the Division with the necessary resources and to ensure that it continued to carry out its programme of work as detailed in the relevant earlier resolutions, in consultation with the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, including the organization of meetings in various regions with the participation of all sectors of the international community, the further development and expansion of the documents collection of the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine, the preparation and widest possible dissemination of publications and information materials on various aspects of the question of Palestine and the provision of the annual training programme for staff of the Palestinian Authority. 

     The Assembly would also request the Secretary-General to ensure the continued cooperation of the DPI and other units of the Secretariat in enabling the Division to perform its tasks and in covering adequately the various aspects of the question of Palestine.

     Further to the draft resolution, the Assembly would note with appreciation the action taken by Member States to observe annually, on 29 November, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and would request the Committee and the Division to continue to organize an annual exhibit on Palestinian rights, in cooperation with the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations.

     A draft resolution on the Special Information programme on the question of Palestine of the DPI of the Secretariat (document A/55/L.47) is sponsored by Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Namibia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Palestine.  

     By the terms of the resolution, the Assembly would request the Department, in full cooperation and coordination with the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, to continue with the necessary flexibility as may be required by developments affecting the question of Palestine, its special information programme for the biennium 2000-2001 and, in particular:  to disseminate information on all the activities of the United Nations system relating to the question of Palestine, including reports on the work carried out by the relevant United Nations organizations; to continue to issue and update publications on the various aspects of the question of Palestine; to expand its collection of audio-visual material on the question of Palestine and to continue the production of such material, including the updating of the exhibit in the Secretariat; to organize and promote fact-finding news missions for journalists to the area, including the territories under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and the occupied territories; to organize international, regional and national seminars or encounters for journalists, aiming, in particular, at sensitizing public opinion to the question of Palestine; to continue to provide assistance to the Palestinian people in the field of media development, in particular, to strengthen the training programme for Palestinian broadcasters and journalists initiated in 1995.

     The Assembly would also request the DPI to promote the Bethlehem 2000 Project, including the preparation and dissemination of publications, audio-visual material and further development of the "Bethlehem 2000" site on the United Nations Internet home page. 

     A draft resolution on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (document A/55/L.48) is sponsored by Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Namibia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Palestine.  

     By the terms of the resolution, the Assembly would express its full support for the ongoing peace process which began in Madrid and for the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements of 1993, as well as the subsequent implementation agreements, including the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip of 1995 and the Sharm el-Sheik Memorandum of 1999.  It would express the hope that the process would lead to the establishment of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. 

     The Assembly would also stress the necessity for commitment to the principle of land for peace and the implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), which form the basis of the Middle East peace process, and the need for the immediate and scrupulous implementation of the agreements reached between the parties, including the redeployment of Israeli forces from the West Bank, and would call for the speedy conclusion of the final settlement agreement between the two sides.

     The Assembly would call upon the concerned parties, the co-sponsors of the peace process and other interested parties, as well as the entire international community, to exert all the necessary efforts and initiatives to immediately reverse all measures taken on the ground since 28 September 2000, in implementation of the Sharm el-Sheik understandings and to ensure a successful and speedy conclusion of the peace process.  

     The Assembly would also stress the need for the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.

     By the terms of the draft, the Assembly would stress the need for resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees in conformity with its resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, and would urge Member States to expedite the provision of economic and technical assistance to the Palestinian people during this critical period.

     Finally, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to continue in his efforts with the parties concerned, and in consultation with the Security Council, for the promotion of peace in the region.  It would request him to submit progress reports on development in this matter.  

    Introduction of Draft Resolutions

     IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), speaking in his capacity as Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, introduced a number of draft resolutions.  He said that the item discussed today was first brought before the General Assembly in 1947.  In the intervening years, the question of Palestine and the rights of the Palestinian people had remained overshadowed by conflicts and hostilities in the region, and had mainly been discussed as part of a larger Middle East problem or as a refugee issue.  The General Assembly had authorized the Committee to exert all efforts to promote the implementation of its recommendations, and had requested it to keep the situation relating to the question of Palestine under review and to report and make suggestions to it or the Security Council.  The Assembly had also requested the Committee to promote the dissemination of information on its recommendations through non-governmental and other appropriate means.  Over time, the Assembly had gradually expanded the Committee’s mandate to include new activities. 

     The Committee had welcomed the 1991 Madrid Middle East Peace Conference which launched the current peace process, based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).  The agreements concluded since, including the Wye River Memorandum and the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, had signalled that a diplomatic solution that took into account the rights and needs of both sides was indeed possible.  The concrete accomplishments of the past year included the partial release of Palestinian prisoners, the opening of a southern safe passage route between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the further redeployment of Israeli troops from areas of the West Bank, the resumption of the interim and permanent status talks, and the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian agreements on the implementation of economic issues and on the construction work on the Gaza seaport. 

     Regrettably, expectations had been dashed on 28 September, he said.  The Committee, along with the rest of the international community, had been greatly dismayed by the violent confrontations between the IDF and Palestinian police and civilians at the holy site of Al-Haram al-Sharif in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Excessive force had been used by the IDF against the Palestinian protesters; the deadly arsenal was impressive indeed.  The Committee was particularly shocked by the deaths of innocent Palestinian children; it had voiced its position on October 10 and adopted a statement to that effect.  The Committee strongly believed that the events of the past several weeks were a direct result of the policies and practices of the Israeli occupation, and the failure of Israel to live up to its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and respect the provisions of relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

     The Committee was hopeful that the Sharm el-Sheikh agreements would lead to the end of violence, the setting up of a fact-finding mechanism and, ultimately, to the return of the two sides to the negotiating table.  The Committee maintained that the United Nations must continue to exercise its permanent responsibility towards all aspects of the question of Palestine until it was resolved in a satisfactory manner.  The United Nations must also remain the guardian of international legitimacy and play a key role in mobilizing international assistance for development, as an important underpinning of the peace process.  It must stand ready to extend its helping hand to the parties, as all the permanent status issues -- Jerusalem, settlement, refugees and borders -- were very complex and multidimensional and might require outside assistance in order to overcome obstacles and create the necessary momentum in the negotiations. 

     The Committee had observed very closely and with growing alarm the Israeli settlement activities and the construction of roads throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.  He was troubled by the fact that, in spite of the ongoing negotiations, the settlement drive in the course of the year had been as vigorous as it had been in previous years.  The Committee reaffirmed that the confiscation of Palestinian land, demolition of houses and other Palestinian property, construction of settlements and other illegal construction work on Palestinian land constituted a serious violation of international law, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention on the treatment of civilians in time of war.  He also expressed concern at the economic hardship suffered by the Palestinian people as a result of Israeli actions.  The losses to the Palestinian economy due to Israel’s closure policy in the first month of violence had recently been estimated by the World Bank at some $210 million, in terms of gross domestic product (GDP).  He said that all concerned -- governments, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations bodies, civil society -- must continue to develop cooperation in an effort to make a constructive contribution to the achievement of a just and peaceful settlement in which the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were fully recognized.

     He then drew the Assembly’s attention to four draft resolutions, explaining that the first three related to the work of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the work of the Division for Palestinian Rights and the work of the DPI.  The drafts reaffirmed the important mandates entrusted to those entities by overwhelming majorities in the past.  The draft resolutions were focused on enhancing the Committee's endeavours in support of the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights and of a just and peaceful solution to the question of Palestine.  The fourth draft, entitled “Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine”, reflected the position of the General Assembly with regard to the essential elements of such a settlement, and had been updated in light of the developments of the past year.  The four draft resolutions outlined positions, mandates and programmes of special importance, particularly at the present stage of the peace process.  He called upon the General Assembly to express its full support for those mandates by an even greater majority of votes than in the past. 

     WALTER BALZAN (Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, introduced the Committee’s report (document A/55/35).

    Statements

     FAROUK KHADOUMI, observer for Palestine, said the question of Palestine had remained on the agenda of the United Nations for over half a century.  The United Nations had taken the decision on the partition of Palestine, thereby creating the most difficult political problem in the Middle East region.  After that, the region had witnessed many wars and the displacement of millions of Palestinian people.  The Palestinians had agreed to live together with the Jewish foreigners who had immigrated into Palestine before the Second World War, and had hoped that its small piece of the Holy Land would not be partitioned.  But the ambitions of the Zionist movement and the conspiracy of the old colonial movement had kindled the wars between Arabs and Israel.

    In the wake of the Gulf War in 1991, United States President Bush had taken a new initiative, accepted by the parties concerned, on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of land for peace.  Great hopes hinged on those negotiations but, after two years, because of the intransigence of the Israeli Prime Minister, had yielded no results.  The Oslo negotiations witnessed some progress, thanks to the flexibility of the Palestinians and the response of Mr. Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.  With Mr. Perez and Mr. Netanyahu, the window of hope was totally closed.  Mr. Netanyahu started with racist practices and dangerous declarations, insisting on renegotiating already agreed-upon results signed by previous officials.  In 1996, Israel had started to dig a tunnel under Al-Haram Al-Sharif, leading to bloody confrontations.  In 1998, Netanyahu came to Washington with resolutions expressing Israel’s determination to hold on to its vital interests, such as an eastern security zone along the Jordan River, western security areas, all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and the roads connecting them, sacred Jewish sites and all roads leading to them, and the expanded city of Jerusalem, leaving nothing for the Palestinian state.  

     Mr. Barak was a man well known for his hatred of the Arabs.  He came to the negotiations armed with “the five Nos”, among which were:  no to return of refugees and no to dismantling of the settlements.  In 1999, the PLO was supposed to declare the establishment of its independent State, but the United States and friendly countries asked for a postponement, which the Palestinians granted.  This year’s Camp David Summit failed because of Israeli claims that Al-Aqsa Mosque was built on the Temple Mount, even though - after 70 years of digging -- scientists had concluded that such claims were based on myth.  According to a statement of the United Kingdom Privy Council of 19 May 1931, the Muslims and none other had absolute ownership of the Wailing Wall.  The Wall was an integral part of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, according to that statement.  

     The failure of the Camp David Summit had led to escalation of tensions, especially after Sharon’s visit -- under protection -- to Al-Haram Al-Sharif.  The next day, the Israelis killed seven people.  It was clear that those criminal actions had been previously planned by Barak to provoke the Palestinian people.  Israeli forces arbitrarily shot unarmed Palestinian citizens, and laid economic and military siege to the Palestinian people.  Nine hundred million dollars had been lost as a result of those measures.  

     During the Sharm el-Sheikh conference in October, it was agreed to form a committee of inquiry.  The Assembly, in emergency session, had adopted a resolution calling for adequate protection of the Palestinian people.  The Security Council should authorize the Secretary-General to form an international force to provide that protection.  A political settlement would provide Israelis and all Arab parties with elements of peace and security.  The Palestinians had proven their good intentions and had adopted flexible political positions which were in stark contrast to the intransigence of the Israeli positions.  He asked the United Nations to dispatch an international committee of investigation to witness the criminal Israeli actions, with a view to dispatching international security forces to prevent against the extinction of the Palestinian people.

     MOHAMMAD J. SAMHAN (United Arab Emirates) said the statement made by the Chairman of the Committee reflected the serious situation in the occupied territories and the continuous violation of the most basic principles of humanitarian law.  The United Arab Emirates supported the Palestinian people in their just struggle for self-determination.  The United Nations had lived with the question of Palestine for 42 years.  The historical and legal roots of the question stemmed from the division of Palestine into two States, he said.  The Palestinians had the right to establish their own State with its own capital, Al-Quds al-Sharif, and Israeli colonial settlements must end.  Yet, despite several agreements, Israel continued its violations.  In so doing, Israel went against the wishes of the international community, which aspired to find a just and durable peace in the Middle East.  

    The recent unrest had lasted for three months, including killings, the destruction of houses and property, a serious impact on the socio-economic situation, illegitimate imprisonments, restriction of communications and a ban on supplies of food and medicines.  Those actions clearly ignored basic international principles.  It was easy to see the true intentions of the Israeli Government, as it entrenched its occupation of Palestinian territory.  Israel continued to build settlements in order to change the territory’s demographic, historical and religious character.  He called upon Israel to ensure the immediate cessation of all hostile actions against the Palestinian people.  Until now, Israel continued to ignore its legal, political and moral obligations, the most serious violation being its refusal to adhere to Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and the Fourth Geneva Convention. 

    The United Arab Emirates affirmed the responsibility of the United Nations, and particularly the Security Council, to ensure the implementation of resolutions and the establishment of an independent Palestinian State.  He called upon “certain permanent members” of the Security Council to give up their double standards.  He suggested that international forces be sent, just as in other international cases, such as East Timor.  Had it not been for the inability of the international community and the Security Council to face up to Israeli crimes, the Israelis would not have been able to continue their violations of international law.  He called upon the sponsors of the peace process, particularly the United States, to induce Israel to withdraw fully from all Palestinian and Arab regions.

     WANG YINGFAN (China) said that, although the Palestinian had achieved self-government in parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, they still faced huge difficulties in terms of economic development and people’s livelihood.  The serious violence since the end of September had caused enormous losses of Palestinian civilian life and property.  The new round of Israel-Palestine conflict had thrown “a big wrench” into the works of the Middle East peace process.  His Government was deeply concerned about that.  It opposed the use of force by Israel against innocent civilians.

     The question of Palestine was at the core of the Middle East issue.  Without a solution of that question, there was no way to root out violence in the Middle East.  Violence would only serve to deepen mutual hatred, while negotiation and dialogue would bring hope and peace.  Negotiation and dialogue would not only conform to the fundamental interests of people of all countries in the Middle East, but also foster peace and stability in the region and in the whole world.  The legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to establish Palestinian statehood, should be restored, and the international community had the responsibility to render necessary help to them.

     He reiterated his country’s support for the Middle East peace process.  Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, as well as the principle of “land for peace”, constituted the basis for negotiations.  Both the Arab and Israeli sides should try to solve their differences through earnest and practical negotiations and move the peace process forward on the basis of the implementation of existing agreements between them.

     DAUDI MWAKAWAGO (United Republic of Tanzania) said the provocative actions that had ignited the recent unfortunate events were deplorable, as was the excessive and disproportionate use of force by the Israeli army since then.  There was no justification for the use of tanks, helicopter gunships and missiles against stone-throwing protesters.  Surely, there must be other ways of restraining protesters.

     Israel's inexcusable use of deadly military force against Palestinian civilians could only lead to more violence.  Further, the collective punishment meted out by the Israeli authorities against the Palestinian civilian population only exacerbated the situation by fueling anger and resentment.  Since there was no military solution, restraint on both sides was the only way out, combined with fair, equitable and just negotiation.  But peace should be given a chance.  Since force would not deliver peace or ensure a conducive climate for negotiations, the measures already proposed should be supported.

     First, he called for an immediate cessation of violence on both sides, with movement towards resuming the peace negotiations.  Next, he called for speedy implementation of Security Council resolution 1322 (2000), calling for an international inquiry into the recent events with the aim of preventing a repetition.  Finally, he called for the deployment of a United Nations observer force to ease the situation and safeguard the lives of the Palestinian people. 

    DUMISANI S. KUMALO (South Africa) said his country, after enduring the struggle against apartheid, could not but be inspired to support the fight of the Palestinian people for self-determination and the establishment of an independent State.  He firmly believed that securing their inalienable right to self-determination and independence was pivotal to achieving sustained and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.  He noted that this was a critical juncture for the Palestinian people, and that the continued support of the United Nations, its organizations and agencies could not be underestimated.  He also said that endorsing the resolutions currently before the Assembly would send a clear message that, until a definitive solution was reached, the United Nations would remain fully seized of the question of Palestine.

     He noted the importance of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  That Committee, he said, provided a forum for governments, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs to discuss the important issue.  Indeed, a recent international conference held in Paris under the Committee’s auspices had drawn attention to the desperate plight of Palestinian refugees as a result of displacement.  

    He said that at another conference in support of a peaceful settlement to the question of Palestine, held earlier this year in Athens, Member States were repeatedly urged to abide by the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols.  In particular, the Non-Aligned Movement had called on Israel to halt all settlement-related activity and any other actions which exacerbated the suffering of the Palestinian people.  Those acts constituted an illegal attempt to change the physical character, legal status and demographic composition of the occupied territories, in direct violation of the agreements reached between the PLO and Israel.  Peaceful negotiation was the only means of ensuring lasting peace and security in the region.  

    MOHAMED ABDO AL-SINDI (Yemen) said Israel had only been established after the people of Palestine had been displaced from their homeland.  Unfortunately, that situation was ongoing, even though the representatives of the international community had expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination.  Regrettably, the Israeli occupation had continued year after year, and aggressive activities had doubled.  The people of the region had welcomed the many agreements reached, particularly the personal role played by President Clinton, as his efforts might have helped to make the region safe and peaceful.  Those efforts included the Wye River, Camp David and Sharm el-Sheikh agreements.  Yet, all those endeavours had fallen short of a conclusion as a result of Israel’s violations and aggressions in Al-Quds al-Sharif.

    The Middle East was in a serious dilemma because of the Israeli forces and their use of all forms of weapons.  Fortunately, because of scientific developments and television transmissions, the world could hear, see and live the bloody and aggressive Israeli acts and killings of anything that was Palestinian.  That the aggression was at its climax was clear from the visit of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to the region.  Her report was enough to spur everyone to condemn the Israeli occupying forces.  Despite international pleas, the IDF were using internationally prohibited ammunition, had closed the safe passages, burnt and destroyed houses.  So far, 270 Palestinians had been killed and 11,000 had been injured.  He appealed to the international community, and particularly the members of the Security Council, to intervene in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention and to send a fact-finding mission to the region. 

     JASSIM MOHAMMED BUALLAY (Bahrain) said hopes for peace in the region were revived because of agreements reached in 1993.  The hope existed that the Palestinian people would be able to regain some of the usurped territories and could establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.  But subsequent events had changed those hopes, largely because of the unexpected changes by successive Israeli Governments. 

    Every Israeli Government had taken steps backwards, which made it clear that Israeli Governments simply did not want to continue the peace process but instead wanted to high-handedly dictate peace.  The Palestinian people had grown sick and tired, and had started the intifadah because of that.  Among other things, Israel had intensified the establishment of settlements, and had committed provocative acts such as allowing Sharon to enter Al-Haram Al-Sharif, leading to an angry Palestinian reaction.  The international community should put pressure on Israel to change its behaviour.  The question of Palestine would be resolved only in accordance with international law and Security Council resolutions, he said.  

     It was not fair to treat two parties at equal footing at all times, when one party continued to use deviations.  That would only encourage the Israeli party to continue its deviation, which would lead to more instability internationally.

     KAMALESH SHARMA (India) said the celebration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People underlined the international community’s support for the people of Palestine in its quest for the realization of their legitimate goals and aspirations.  India’s bonds of friendship with the Palestinian people were based on civilizational links spanning almost every aspect of human endeavour -- cultural, social, religious, economic and political.  Since the time of Mahatma Gandhi, India’s support for the Palestinian cause had been strong and unwavering. 

     His Government had consistently advocated a peaceful solution to all disputes, believing that there must be a commitment of the parties concerned  to a peaceful resolution of all outstanding problems.  While India had welcomed interim agreements, such as the Wye River Memorandum of 1998 and the Sharm el-Sheikh Agreement of 1999, it realized the complexities of various issues facing the two sides, as evidenced at the recent Camp David summit meeting.  He supported the continuation of dialogue, hoping that the final agreement reached would be mutually beneficial to both countries and would address basic requirements of the situation on a lasting basis.

     India expressed deep concern over the recent incidents of violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and elsewhere, because those incidents had involved deliberate acts of provocation, excessive use of force and violation of basic human rights, including the right to life.  His country was encouraged by the understandings reached at the Summit meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh on 17 October 2000, since implementation of these agreements would go a long way to alleviating suffering and creating the necessary climate for achieving the goal of a just, comprehensive and durable peace in the region.  Lastly, India felt that, together with political support for the peace process, there was a need to focus on the multifaceted tasks of nation-building.  His Government would continue to extend material and technical assistance to the people of Palestine to consolidate their progress towards self-government and nation-building.

     AHMED ABOULGHEIT (Egypt) said that on this same day in 1947, the United Nations had adopted resolution 181, which had changed the history of the Middle East forever.  The International Day of Solidarity reminded everyone that the Palestinian people, despite many resolutions, were still deprived of their natural and inherent right to self-determination.  The fact that that item was considered every year in the General Assembly highlighted the historic responsibility that the United Nations bore vis-à-vis Palestine.  The present International Day of Solidarity occurred when a very serious turn of events had occurred in the region -– the deterioration of the peace process.  There was an accumulation of despair, he said, as a result of Israel’s failures to respect what had been agreed upon in several accords.  The international community must understand that the Palestinian question represented the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Without a just, lasting and comprehensive peace, the Middle East would continue to be a hotbed of tension and instability.  Egypt was fully confident that the international community understood that the Palestinians needed solidarity more than ever before, in the face of excessive and unjustifiable force by Israel.

     On 20 November 2000, Egypt had recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv in the wake of the escalation of the bombardment campaign against Palestinian Authority buildings.  That had sent a clear and decisive message to Israel that Egypt could not accept that excessive use of force.  He said that any fair-minded person could not ignore the negative impact of the Israeli settlement activities on Palestinian aspirations.  It was regretful to find that the Israeli Government had provided support, in words and in deeds, for illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.  That was a strategy to establish a fait accompli, which made attempts for peace meaningless, he said.  Egypt believed that the continuation of Israeli settlements had a detrimental effect on the peace process as a whole.  There could be no true peace as long as that trend continued.  

     Any settlements or solutions on the negotiating table on that issue must include the issue of Palestinian refugees, he said.  That could be settled on the basis of justice, and relevant General Assembly resolutions that provided Palestinians the right to return home or receive compensation if they chose not to return.  The present situation required the international community to ensure that Israel refrained from all provocative measures and from the unjustifiable use of force.  It was vital that all parties, as soon as the acts of violence had ceased, made a serious effort to bring about an agreement on points such as the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, the total Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and the dismantling of Israeli settlements, the lifting of restriction of movement, and the maintenance of peace, security and stability.   

     NACERDINE SAI (Algeria) said the current issue had been on the General Assembly’s agenda since 1947 and was the oldest issue still being discussed.  What the Palestinian people were going through today was something which touched the conscience of the world as a whole.  Since September, the reaction to the visit of Mr. Sharon to the mosque in Jerusalem had been witnessed by the world.  Since that visit, there had been a courageous popular uprising expressing a refusal to accept occupation.  It was a loud protest against attacks on the sacred places of Islam.  Israel, the occupier, had tried to stamp out the intifada, attacking with tanks and helicopter gunships, and often against children armed only with stones.  

     Given the bloody daily events, he said, one could say that the peace process had lost all credibility, since one of the parties had turned its back to the commitments, he said.  There was no doubt that Israel alone was responsible for the fact that the region had returned to tension and violence.  A strategic choice had been taken to establish a comprehensive peace on the principle of land for peace and on Council resolutions.  That choice had been repeated in the Islamic Summit in Cairo.  The only condition imposed there was that the peace should be a true peace. 

    The United Nations had a particular responsibility, since its 1947 resolution allowed for the establishment of two independent States, he said.  The United Nations was still being asked, after 52 years, to allow a Palestinian state to be an independent state.  The Organization could establish the necessary basis for a solution that would break out of the current vicious circle and should protect Palestinian people.  It could do this by providing an international observer mission and sending a fact-finding mission to the Palestinian territories.  Israel should dismantle the illegal settlements and allow Palestinian refugees back to their homes.  It should also withdraw from the Syrian Golan and withdraw fully from southern Lebanon, he said.

     MAHFOUDH OULD DEDDACH (Mauritania) said that the General Assembly had convened to consider the Palestinian question at a time when 250 martyrs had already fallen and thousands of people had been wounded in recent months.  Since the beginning of the recent intifada, excessive violence and firing on civilians had continued -- a serious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the treatment of civilians in war.  When the Security Council convened, it had adopted resolution 1322, which called for the immediate cessation of all violence and for an inquiry.  That reflected the opinion of the international community, and yet the killing of Palestinians continued.  

    The meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh had attempted to save the Middle East peace process, and he expressed appreciation for the efforts of Egypt and the Secretary-General to calm the situation, he said.  That summit was followed by the Arab Summit, which also called for a cessation of violence.  Today, more than any time, the international community was called upon to protect the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.  Mauritania would never change its position on the issue of Al-Quds al-Sharif and the return of Palestinian refugees.

     BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba) said it had been two months exactly since the start of the latest chapter in the long history of aggressions against the heroic Palestinian people, of whom more than 250 defenceless civilians had been killed, with the number of injured exceeding 11,000.  The losses to the Palestinian economy during that period, by conservative estimates, exceeded $100 million.  The suffering of embattled Palestinian families, the pain of mothers of Palestinian children killed by Israeli violence, could never be put into words.  Cuba expressed deep concern that, in spite of many calls for a cessation of violence, Israel continued its aggressive escalation whenever the possibility of a just and lasting peace in the region became a reality.

     He asked why the United Nations was incapable of acting to halt the continuing bloodshed and loss of human life.  The General Assembly could and must make a decisive contribution to revitalization of the peace process in the Middle East, since the Security Council had failed in its functions.  The principal reason for the breakdown of the Council was no secret.  The double standard -- the failure of democracy, the obsolete privilege of the veto, and even the more insulting threat of the veto -- constituted daily realities in the functioning of the Security Council.  Supported by the United States, that situation had been exploited by Israel with impunity for all those years.

     Cuba was honoured to co-sponsor the four draft resolutions on the Palestinian question, and would vote in favour of the draft resolutions.  It hoped that the vast majority of Member States would do likewise.  It was high time for Israel to comply with the pertinent resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council, particularly resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), which took the road to peace.  The Assembly must take decisive action because with every minute that passed innocent persons were dying.  His Government called for the deployment of an international force to protect the Palestinian people, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts.  He condemned Israeli acts of aggression, and reaffirmed his country’s firm and unbreakable solidarity with the Palestinian people in their fight for the establishment of an independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  In closing, Cuba believed resolute action by the international community would save the peace process and facilitate a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

    C.N. UMELO (Nigeria) said the question of Palestine remained one of the most intractable problems on the international agenda.  Various efforts, including the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, the Oslo Accord, numerous conferences and even recent initiatives of the Secretary-General, had all come to naught.  The crisis defied all solutions.  Indeed the Palestinian question was multifaceted; it presented many thorny political, legal, military and humanitarian problems. However, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank remained the crux of the dispute and the main hurdle to resolving the crisis.  The latest outbreak of violence in that region, over the desecration of Al-Haram al-Sharif and other holy sites in Jerusalem, had claimed over 350 lives.  His delegation believed that there was now a stronger need than ever to achieve peaceful settlement to the conflict.

     The international community, as well as the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, must demonstrate the necessary political will to stop violence and return to the negotiating table.  In that connection, he commended the Secretary-General and United States President Bill Clinton for their timely efforts to facilitate the peace process.  He firmly believed in the value of a negotiated settlement.  He, therefore, urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to embrace peaceful negotiations, based on Security Council resolutions 338 (1963) and 242 (1967), which he believed provided a fair and just basis for resolution. 

    Further, his delegation supported the Assembly’s findings at its recent emergency session on the issue, which called on Israel to abide by the provisions of the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in wartime.  In further reaffirming his delegation’s support for the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, he called on Israel not to deplete or endanger the natural resources in the occupied territory.

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