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    For information only - not an official document.
      UNIS/GA/1764
          1 December 2000
     General Assembly, Opening Middle East Debate, Receives
    Texts on Golan Heights, Administration of Jerusalem

    Recent Violence Deplored, Resumption of Negotiations Urged; Speakers
    Challenge Israeli Settlement Policies, Occupation of Arab Territories
     
     

    NEW YORK, 30 November (UN Headquarters) -- As it began debate on the situation in the Middle East, the General Assembly this afternoon received two draft resolutions -– one demanding, among other provisions, Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Syrian Golan, and the other declaring null and void Israel's decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem.

     By the terms of the draft on Jerusalem, the Assembly would deplore the transfer by some States of their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem, in violation of Security Council resolution 478 (1980), and call once more upon those States to abide by the provision of the relevant United Nations resolution.

     Under the draft on the Syrian Golan, the Assembly would declare that Israel's decision of 14 December 1981 to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan was null and void.  The Assembly would call upon Israel to resume the talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, and to respect the commitments and undertakings reached during previous talks. 
     
    Introducing the draft resolutions, the representative of Egypt said he deeply regretted the halting of the Syrian-Israeli negotiations.  A settlement must give Syria all its occupied territories and a return to the borders before 1967.  Israel must demonstrate a commitment to negotiate honestly for peace, without attempting to use one track against the other.

     The representative of Syria said Israel had occupied the Syrian Golan since 1967.  The occupation exacerbated tension causing new cycles of violence, which Israel used as obstacles to peace.  While committed to peace, Syria was determined not to yield any part of the occupied Syrian Golan; the United Nations should adopt firm measures to make Israel respect international law and implement United Nations resolutions.

     The representative of Saudi Arabia said that 10 years after the Madrid Conference, stability looked far from possible, and peace remained just a hope, because of Israeli action.  Saudi Arabia had condemned the wanton attacks in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories, and wished to reaffirm the Arab nature of Jerusalem.

    The representative of France, speaking for the European Union, said the drama between the Israelis and the Palestinians could not be fully dissociated from the absence of any settlement on the Lebanese and Syrian tracks of the peace process.  In southern Lebanon, a new chapter had been opened by the Israeli withdrawal.  However, the serious incidents that had taken place at the Israeli-Lebanese border since the beginning of October showed how fragile the situation remained.

    Also addressing the Assembly this afternoon were the representatives of Belarus, Senegal, Yemen, Cyprus, Brunei Darussalam, Australia, Jordan, Cuba, Burkina Faso, Malaysia, Argentina, India, and Armenia.  

     As the meeting began, the Assembly took note of the fact that Mauritania had made the necessary payment to reduce its arrears below the amount specified in Article 19 of the Charter. 

     The Assembly meets again at 10 a.m. tomorrow (1 December), to continue its consideration of the situation in the Middle East.

    Assembly Work Programme

     The General Assembly met this afternoon to consider the situation in the Middle East.

     The Assembly had before it a report of the Secretary-General (document A/55/538) on the situation in the Middle East, submitted following Assembly resolutions 54/37 and 54/38 of 1 December 1999.  [In resolution 54/37, which deals with the transfer by some States of their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem in violation of Security Council resolution 478, the Assembly called once more upon those States to abide by the provisions of the relevant United Nations resolutions.  In resolution 54/38, which deals with Israeli policies in the Syrian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, the Assembly demanded once more that Israel withdraw from all the occupied Syrian Golan in implementation of the relevant Council resolutions.]  

    The Secretary-General, on 7 August 2000, addressed notes verbale to the Permanent Representative of Israel and to the Permanent Representatives of other Member States requesting them to inform him of any steps their Governments had taken or envisaged taking concerning implementation of the relevant provisions of those resolutions.  As of 26 October 2000, replies had been received from Denmark, Israel, Namibia and Qatar.  In a note verbale, the representative of Israel said the resolutions were not only unbalanced, but were an undue interference in matters which lay at the very core of the bilateral negotiations between Israel and her neighbours.  

    He said the one-sided approach threatened to prejudge the outcome of negotiations, and to undermine the prospects of achieving a just and lasting peace settlement based upon directly negotiated and mutually agreed solutions.

     Also before the Assembly this afternoon was also a report of the Secretary-General on The situation in the Middle East and the Question of Palestine (document A/55/639-S/2000/1113) transmitting a reply from the Security Council dated 29 September to a letter of the Secretary-General and notes verbale from the representative of Israel and from the Permanent Observer for 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 condemned all acts of terrorism and violence in the region, and urged all parties to fully respect the commitments they 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 delegation voted against Assembly resolution 54/42 of 1 December 1999, viewing it 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 threatened 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 could only be based upon directly negotiated and mutually agreed solutions.

     The Israeli representative expressed the hope that the Assembly, respecting negotiations currently under way, will offer its unwavering and impartial support for the peace process.

     In his note verbale of 7 November, the Permanent Observer of 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 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 also failed 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 2000, the injury of more than 3,000 people and extensive destruction to the property and livelihood of the Palestinian people.  He states that the recent tragic events, which began on 28 September, 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.  He states that the Palestinian people, in response, have expressed their rejection of these acts, their rejection of the occupation, their determination to defend their Islamic and Christian holy places and the Arab nature of East Jerusalem, and their determination to achieve their natural rights, including the establishment of their independent State with Jerusalem as its capital.  Israel, the note adds, used its huge war machine to launch a bloody campaign of repression against the Palestinian people, in grave and serious breaches of the Fourth Geneva convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949.

     The Permanent Observer notes that the Security Council has dealt with the situation by adopting resolution 1322 (2000).  However, the situation on the ground did not change and Israel, the occupying Power, failed to comply with any of the provisions of the resolution.  The Council was once again called upon to adopt an immediate resolution to end the escalation, but a permanent member declared it would use its right to veto any resolution, regardless of its content.  At that point, the tenth emergency special session of the Assembly resumed, where resolution ES/10/7 was adopted.  Israel, the note adds, must abide by United Nations resolutions, and agreements between the two sides, including the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings.

     The Secretary-General, in his 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 the United Nations humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, a task force has been established, chaired by the United Nations Special Coordinator in Gaza.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) 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, the report continues, 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.
     
     The Assembly also has before it two draft resolutions.  By one, on Jerusalem (document A/55/L.49), the Assembly would determine that the decision of Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem was illegal and therefore null and void.  The Assembly would also deplore the transfer by some States of their diplomatic mission to Jerusalem in violation of Security Council resolution 478 (1980) and their refusal to comply with the provision of that resolution.  Further to the draft, the Assembly would call once more upon those States to abide by the provision of the relevant United Nations resolution.

     The draft is sponsored by Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Namibia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Palestine.

     The other draft resolution on The Syrian Golan (document A/55/L.50), would have the Assembly declare that Israel had failed so far to comply with Security Council resolution 497 (1981) and that the Israeli decision of 14 December 1981 to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan was null and void, and had no validity whatsoever, and would call upon Israel to rescind it.  The Assembly would call upon Israel to resume the talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks and to respect the commitments and undertakings reached during the previous talks.  It would also demand that Israel withdraw from all the occupied Syrian Golan to the line of 4 June 1967 in implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions.  The Assembly would call upon all the parties concerned, the co-sponsors of the peace-process and the entire international community to exert all the necessary efforts to ensure the resumption of the peace process and its success by implementing Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).

     The draft is sponsored by Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Comoros, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

    Introduction of Drafts

     AHMED ABOULGHEIT (Egypt), introducing the draft resolution on Jerusalem (A/55/L.49) said Lebanon and Togo had joined as co-sponsors.  Introducing the draft resolution on the Syrian Golan (A/55/L.50), he said that Togo, Malaysia, and Pakistan had joined as co-sponsors. 

    He said he had given basic elements of his country’s positions on the Palestine question.  Achieving peace required that Israel's approach to peace should not be restricted to speech, but to implementation of agreed-upon commitments and based on the principle of land for peace.  Any settlement should be based on full Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories, the establishment of mutual security arrangements and normal relations between Arab parties and Israel.  Until such a settlement was reached, Israel should avoid  unilateral procedures in contradiction with international law and United Nations resolutions.  The Arab participation in Madrid in 1991, and later, was based on Security Council resolution 242 as the major cornerstone of the peace process.  Peace established between Egypt and Israel was based on that resolution and hence on the basis of the principle of land for peace.  It had therefore set an essential precedent in achieving a peaceful settlement.   

    Resolution 242 could not be broken into pieces, he said.  Israeli claims that that resolution could be applicable to one negotiating track and not to others were unacceptable.  Those claims lacked the proper understanding of resolution 242.  All occupied territories should be evacuated.  That was a principle enshrined in the United Nations Charter, and the only principle on which true, just and lasting peace in the Middle East could be founded.

     He said he deeply regretted the halting of the Syrian-Israeli negotiations in the wake of the Geneva Summit in May between the two countries.  A settlement should give Syria all its occupied territories and a return to the borders before 1967.  Israel’s commitment to negotiate honestly for peace should be present, and on the same level, on all tracks and without attempts to use one track against the other.  The wish for peace in the Middle East was an integral entity and there could not be talk about normal relationships without that understanding.  The establishment of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East constituted a true basis for security.  

    Egypt continued to demand to free the Middle East region from all nuclear weapons, in order to declare the Middle East a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction.  Israel had refused to take any measures to help confidence in the field of inspection of its nuclear facilities, which was another element of tension in the region.  Security should be security for all.  Egypt’s hope that it would be possible to reach a genuine and comprehensive peace settlement for the Middle East had been tested by Israel.  That hope was based on the conviction that peace was the only option available in the Middle East region.  Israeli behavior should be commensurate with the objective of peace and Israel should realize the importance of changing its behaviour to convince its partners of the seriousness of its wish for peace.  Otherwise, the tensions would be a prelude to a phase he had hoped was left behind.

    Statements

    SERGEI LING (Belarus) said that the course of the peace process in the region was once again under threat and that there had been a considerable escalation of violence.  The situation testified to the need for urgent measures to assure the full implementation of the basic Security Council resolutions in all areas.  At the tenth special Assembly session on 20 October, Belarus had expressed its support for the draft resolution, condemning the provocative action of the Israelis.  His country would like to stress the need for continuing consistent measures to ensure the withdrawal of Israel’s forces from the Syrian Golan.  Today the United Nations had an opportunity to make a difference to that process.  Belarus shared the view on the need for action rather than just words if real progress was to be achieved.  In the balance were the lives of many innocent citizens on both sides of the conflict. 

     IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal) said that the question of the Middle East continued to be a serious preoccupation of the international community, who remained convinced that its resolution would, in part, affect peace in the world.  The recent events in the region, provoked by the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Mosques of Jerusalem, had put a strain on resolving the question of Palestine, which was at the heart of the Middle East crisis.  He said his delegation felt, the Arab Summit held in Cairo last September was a worthy example of sensitivity and responsibility.  While they had expressed their condemnation of the Israeli violence, the leaders had also reiterated their commitment to the peace process.  The incidents of violence were multiplying, and financial sanctions were paralyzing the Palestinian territories.  The appeals of the Palestinian President must be heard, he said.  His recent visit to the United Nations had shown, once again, the limits of the constructive commitment of the international community. 
     
    He referred to the issue of the transfer, by some countries, of their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem.  He said that while recognizing the right of countries to have diplomatic resolutions with any State, his delegation felt that these transfers did not respect international law and must be discouraged.  He said the Syrian Golan was one of the most important aspects in the question of the Middle East.  The international community should find new ways, unconditionally, to restore Syrian sovereignty, which would facilitate the resolution of related issues, such as the security of and access to water supplies, which could be the subject of a mutually beneficial agreement.  Any discussions of a viable peace, must take into account the establishment of a system of collective security, the settlement of the question of refugees, and the proper handling of access for all peoples to water. 

     MOHAMED ABDO AL-SINDI (Yemen) said that Palestine constituted the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Due to the Palestinian question, once again the international community was remembering the Israeli aggression that took place in June 1967.  He felt that Israel was making clear its expansionist tendencies; in addition, it was developing its military power, designed to destroy all the peaceful steps that had been achieved.  While the General Assembly and the Security Council had passed numerous resolutions on the Middle East, many conferences had been convened, and despite efforts by the Secretary-General to halt the violence, each year brought more condemnations of Israel.

    Yemen believed that Israel recreated new crises in the region.  Now it was challenging the entire international community.  His Government felt that peace and stability in the Middle East could be established only on the basis of the principle of land for peace.  He called for the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from all territories occupied since 1967; the evacuation of settlers; the establishment of an independent Palestinian state; withdrawal from the Syrian Golan Heights; and the release of all Arab prisoners from Israeli jails.  In closing, he said his country looked forward to the day when peace and security would prevail in the Middle East.

     SOTIRIOS ZACKHEOS (Cyprus) said that despite the efforts of international and regional leaders, the forces of extremism had managed to "scuttle the drive" towards peace in the Middle East, leading to the current, unacceptable situation with the spiralling of violence and the tragic loss of life.  His country joined others concerned over the current situation in urging an end to the violence.

    The Palestinian issue lay at the core of the conflict, and without its just settlement, there was no hope of reaching a comprehensive and lasting solution to the Middle East problem.  The current situation had aptly demonstrated the explosive consequences of the long delay in solving the Palestinian problem.  Israel, he went on, should desist from actions aimed at the collective punishment of the Palestinian population.  Those were certain to widen the chasm between the two sides.  Action brought reaction, further setting back the prospects for peace.  He agreed with the position of the European Union concerning the negative impact of the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories; further economic deterioration would breed more violence and frustration.  

    He said Israel must withdraw its forces to the position held on 28 September, and avoid any disproportionate response to the violence.  At the same time, the Palestinian Authority should exert every effort to control violent outbursts.  Only then would the destructive cycle of hatred subside.  Both parties must exercise the maximum degree of self-restraint.  It was not the time for mutual recrimination, but of mutual action in support of the peace process and the commitments undertaken at Sharm el-Sheikh and in Gaza on 2 November.  An improvement of the regional climate, he said, should also allow the resumption of negotiations between Israel and Syria.  Israel should withdraw from the Golan Heights in order to achieve a comprehensive solution to the problem.  A necessary component of peace was security for all States of the region.  Peace should also make possible a new era of regional economic cooperation, and the pursuit of other measures to benefit the region as a whole and reduce the number and types of weapons which threatened to engulf the region in major disasters.

     JOHAN THANI ABDULLAH (Brunei Darussalam) said that the core issue in the Middle East was the question of Palestine, which remained far from being solved.  After several decades of struggle, the Palestinians were still denied their aspirations and their legitimate rights were continuously violated.  He was particularly concerned with the ongoing tension and violence in Palestine, especially in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  The tragic events were threatening to derail progress made in the peace process.  The problem was becoming more serious, judging from the increasing number of recent deaths and casualties.  He encouraged the Commission of Inquiry set up by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to gather information on the violations of human rights and grave breaches of international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territories.  

     At the same time, he hoped that a decision would be made regarding the establishment of a 2,000-strong United Nations observer force, which could at least help to restore order and end violence in that area, he said.  He commended the concerted efforts by countries involved in trying to bring the parties concerned to the negotiating table.  Also, he further encouraged the leaders of Israel and Palestine to continue to work towards a peaceful and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian problem, based on Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 425.  Finally, he reaffirmed his support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinians and hoped that their struggle for peace and freedom would bring about a just and lasting settlement.

     PENNY WENSLEY (Australia) said that the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and the second Camp David summit had raised Australia's hopes, but during the last two months, cycles of provocation, violence and retribution had gravely damaged them.  She said she understood the grief and uncertainty that now prevailed between Israel and the Palestinians.  

    However, she went on, unbalanced criticism and the singling out of one side only for blame in the current context was deeply unhelpful.

    She strongly supported the call of the International Committee of the Red Cross for both sides to respect, and to ensure respect for, international humanitarian law and its principles.  All those involved must respect civilians, medical personnel and the activities of ambulances and hospitals.  Misuse of protective emblems must be prevented. 

    She said Australia had made tangible commitments to the Middle East peace process through targeted development assistance, and emergency aid for the Palestinians.  She was deeply concerned by the humanitarian consequences of the closure of Gaza and the West Bank, including reported obstructions to the circulation of food, fuel and medical supplies into and within the areas. 

     The Middle East, she continued, was a region where the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles remained a concern for the international community.  Australia strongly urged all States in the region to become parties to all relevant international arms control instruments.  A further step in reducing tensions in the Middle East would be negotiation and implementation of a fissile material cut-off treaty, the next logical step on the disarmament agenda.  She said the continued lack of assurance about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq could only have a destabilizing effect on the region as a whole.  The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission was ready to commence preparatory work in Iraq, for resumption of the tasks envisaged by the Security Council.  What was needed now was for Iraq to comply fully with the United Nations Security Council requirements in relation to its weapons programmes. 

     Prince ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL-HUSSEIN (Jordan) said the Middle East question remained important, especially at a time when the Palestinian people were subjected to attack by Israeli armed forces.  He was deeply concerned at the latest escalation, and called upon the international community to fulfil its responsibility towards the Palestinian people by providing and dispatching international security forces to the region, and by immediately establishing a committee of inquiry.

    Peace should be just, comprehensive and balanced, he said.  Commitment to that peace should also be a basic undertaking founded on United Nations resolutions and Security Council resolution 242, which had not been implemented. 

     He said the peace process was founded on firm principles, one of which was the land for peace principle, which was contained in Council resolutions 242 and 338.  If full Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories was not realized, that peace could not be achieved; nor could it be realized if Israel continued to deny the right of the Palestinians to justice.  

    He said East Jerusalem was part of the West Bank occupied in 1967 and, therefore, subject to the Security Council resolutions.  The Council had rejected annexations of East Jerusalem and all procedures changing the status of the city.  Israeli claims that Jerusalem was an internal capital of Israel was in contradiction to that.  Jerusalem, he went on, should remain an ideal, and a noble symbol of peace and cooperation, something which could be realized only by full Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied in 1997.  The issue of the Palestinian refugees still awaited a just solution, in accordance with Council resolutions and international regulations.  A solution to that question was another important basis for peace and security for the region.

    JEAN-DAVID LEVITTE (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said there was no alternative to a peace process that had to result in a peaceful cohabitation between Israel and a viable State of Palestine.  Every step that could contribute to appeasement and favour the resumption of contacts between Israelis and Palestinians must be supported, he said.  The European Union wished that the Fact-Finding Committee would be able to expeditiously achieve its task.  However, the drama could not be fully dissociated from the absence of any settlement on the Lebanese and Syrian tracks of the peace process.  In southern Lebanon, a new chapter had been opened last May by the Israeli withdrawal.  The European Union had supported the Secretary-General's efforts aimed at certifying the Israeli withdrawal and at favouring the redeployment of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, parallel to the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the South. 

     The European Union welcomed the renewal of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon's (UNIFIL) mandate through resolution 1310, as well as the redeployment of the international force and the dispatch by the Lebanese Government of a security "joint force" in the South.  Those gestures had represented positive steps in the restoration of stability in the South, and the European Union was prepared to contribute to reconstruction efforts in the region.  But the serious incidents which had taken place at the Israeli-Lebanese border since the beginning of October showed how fragile the situation remained in southern Lebanon.  The escalation of violence remained possible at any moment.  The European Union called upon the parties to demonstrate utmost restraint. 

     The withdrawal of Israel from southern Lebanon and the progressive restoration of Lebanese sovereignty in the area were steps in the right direction.  However, only an agreement between Israel and Syria concerning the Golan would be able to bring about the peace to which all the peoples in the region aspired.  The European Union called on both parties to resume negotiations, as soon as the circumstances would allow it, on the basis of international law principles and on the experience of the peace process in Madrid in 1991.  

     RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba) said agreements of recent years made it appear that the Middle East peace process would be transformed into reality, and there would be a successful move towards a just and durable peace.  However, all of those efforts had been frustrated by the escalation of aggressive and hostile actions by Israel, the occupying power.  By continuing to carry out violent actions against the civilian Palestinian population, he said.  Israel had demonstrated its total contempt for the most elemental norms of international law, and the human rights of the Palestinian people.

     He said Cuba expressed deep concern at Israel’s actions threatening to bring about the collapse of the Palestinian economy, which had already lost more than $1 billion.  The Arab peoples in the occupied territories, lived in terrible conditions.  Cuba, he said, condemned the new military aggression, including deportation and maltreatment of the Arab populations.

     He said it was incredible, at the start of the new century, that despite more than 26 resolutions of the Security Council and many others in the General Assembly the international community had been unable to resolve the conflict in the Middle East.  This shameful reality could be explained only by the total disrespect of Israel for the laws of the international community, and the support it had received from the United States, both inside and outside of the United Nations.

    For the people and Government of Cuba, however, solidarity with the Palestinian people was a matter of principle; there must be an end to the occupation and the violation of the human rights of the Palestinians.  The international community hoped and demanded that peace would prevail over aggression.

     MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso) said the question of the Middle East was, above all, an overlapping of circumstances, myth and reality, the security of a State, Israel; the protection of a national heritage, that of the Palestinian people; and the respect of the holy sites claimed by Islam, Christianity and Judaism.  It was a violation of one of those sanctuaries that had recently ignited the situation.  Leaders in the region must have the will to establish understanding and peace.  The international community and the United Nations must use their influence to convince the two parties to declare their desire for peace resolutely. 

    He said there must be a guarantee of security for Israel whose borders must be internationally recognized.  The ostracism of the State of Israel was no longer appropriate.  However, Palestine must also be able to live and prosper within territorial limits; Israel must bow to that necessity, which its very existence depended on.  Israel, he continued, must give back the territories that it had acquired in 1967 and abide by Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 1322.  The establishment of settlements was unacceptable.  It was negotiation not war that would solve the problems in the Middle East. 

     HASMY AGAM (Malaysia) reiterated his strong condemnation of the excessive and disproportionate use of force by Israeli security forces against Palestinians in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem.  He urged the international community to support the expeditious establishment of a protection or observer force, ensuring the protection of civilians while, at the same time, helping to defuse the current explosive situation.

     It was regrettable that there had been no progress in the peace talks between Israel and Syria.  The inhabitants of the Syrian Golan continued to live under Israeli occupation, with all the deprivations, humiliation and other indignities that life under occupation entailed.  The continued existence and expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied Syrian Golan remained a major stumbling block to a resumption of the Syrian-Israeli peace process and called into question the seriousness of Israel in seeking peace with its neighbour.  He urged Israel to abandon those policies and resume peace negotiations on the principle of land for peace.  On the security front, the situation remained potentially volatile and dangerous.

     He said that following Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon, the situation in the area remained volatile.  The recent incident at the Blue Line in Lebanon underscored the urgent need to ensure full respect by all parties for the withdrawal line, on the ground as well as in the air.  A comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East or West Asia could only be achieved with the complete withdrawal of Israeli armed forces and settlers from all Arab and Palestinian lands occupied since 1967, including Al-Quds Al-Sharif and the occupied Syrian Golan.  He called on Israel, the occupying Power, to comply with Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, 425 and all other relevant resolutions of the Council and the General Assembly.

    FAWZI BIN ABDUL MAJEED SHOBOKSHI (Saudi Arabia) said that the United Nations must work to put an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Shebah in southern Lebanon and the Syrian Golan.  Ten years after the Madrid conference, stability looked far from possible, and peace was still just a hope.  He said the Palestinians were still being besieged by Jewish settlements that were expanding every day.  The Palestinian people were isolated from each other, and from their Arab context as well.  The Israeli forces were practising the worst kind of oppression, preventing food and medical supplies from reaching the Palestinian people, violating Islamic sanctuaries, and hitting them with weapons, including internationally prohibited weapons.  The Israelis should abide by Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which required the full withdrawal of all occupied Arab territories in 1967. 

    He said Saudi Arabia had always favoured a just and comprehensive peace, it had supported peace talks from the beginning.  It was aware of the suffering to which the Palestinians had been subjected, and had condemned the wanton attacks in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories.  It wished to reaffirm the Arab nature of Jerusalem.  A just and comprehensive peace would not be realized without the full withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories, southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights.  In addition, his country attached great importance to the removal of weapons of mass destruction from the region and was concerned by Israel’s refusal to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), or to subject its facilities to international monitoring and verification. 

     ARNOLDO LISTRE (Argentina), expressing concern at the increase in violence, since the end of September, in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and in Israel, as well as rising border tension between Israel and Lebanon, said his Government supported the proposed fact-finding mission, and hoped that its work would begin soon.  While that initiative could have a short-term effect, he said, it was necessary to re-start negotiations.  Peace could be achieved only through the implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

    He said Argentina supported the right of the Palestinians to establish an independent state.  It firmly condemned all acts of violence, and also rejected all terrorism.  It was dismayed by the lack of dialogue between Syria and Israel over the Golan Heights.  He said the United Nations had a special responsibility to help Palestine, because of its historical relationship that had been maintained and consolidated for half a century.  Argentina was encouraged by the efforts of the Secretary-General in trying to persuade the parties to stop the violence and return to the negotiating table.

     KAMALESH SHARMA (India) said recent developments in the occupied territories had contaminated and charged the atmosphere. He hoped that at this difficult time, both Syria and Israel would continue to strive hard to find a solution which would indeed have a positive impact on the overall situation in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine.  His country remained committed to the unconditional and full implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), at the earliest time, and the extension of the authority of Syria over its entire territory.  He said, the Middle East region, a "cradle of human civilization", was important to the entire international community.  

    Today's atmosphere was far different from just a few months ago, when the leaders of Palestine and Israel were striving hard to negotiate a solution.  Those recent setbacks which challenged the wisdom and statesmanship of the leaders of both sides, had to be put aside in favour of a common future.  He said the first year of the new millennium, which began with the hope and promise that the shadows of the past would be left behind, must end on a happy note.  The progress achieved on the Lebanese track should serve as an example of what was possible with dialogue, goodwill and determination.  The path to peace was not easy, but it was the only path.  There was no other option, no other choice.

     MIKHAIL WEHBE (Syria) said tension was increasing and the situation was threatening.  The survival of the Palestinian people was threatened.  Since the beginning of the peace process 10 years ago, the Israeli occupation of the territories was continuing, as was the establishment of Jewish settlements.  The refugees were banned from returning to their land.  The peace process had reached a dead-lock.  

     He said the halting of the peace process, the killing the Palestinians by occupying forces and the acts of destruction amounted to the crime of State terrorism, conducted by Israel.  It was proof that Israel was the sole party responsible for aborting the peace process.  The international community must adopt all possible measures to end Israeli aggression and the massacres perpetrated against unarmed Palestinians.  He said the bloody events in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, clearly showed that the Israeli leaders were competing with each other to ensure electoral votes.  The two Israeli parties were trying to prove that they were capable of ensuring victories for Israel by adopting evermore extremist positions.  Israel was trying to impose through force what it could not obtain through negotiations, but it must understand the lessons of history, of people’s struggles against occupation.  Resistance to occupation, he said, must not be called a freedom struggle in some regions and terrorism in others.  

    He said Israel had occupied the Syrian Golan since 1967;  that occupation was threatening Syria and Lebanon.  Islamic leaders had reaffirmed that a just and comprehensive peace in the region required complete withdrawal by Israel from all occupied territories, including Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan, and withdrawal from still occupied Lebanon territories, in accordance with Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 425.  A settlement also depended on the principles of land for peace, and restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to return to their lands and establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.  

    He said Syria was sincerely committed to a comprehensive and just peace.  It was up to the other side to show its political will to work seriously to prevent the people of the region from having to suffer under the scourge of war.  

    While committed to peace, he added, his Country was even more determined not to yield any part of the occupied Syrian Golan.  He called on the United Nations to adopt firm measures to make Israel respect international law and to implement United Nations resolutions in a non-discriminatory way. 

     MOVSES ABELIAN (Armenia) said the Arab-Israeli conflict was probably the most complex international problem inherited by the twenty-first century.  Peaceful resolution of that conflict would have a positive psychological effect of enormous scale, capable of provoking a “chain reaction of peace” throughout the conflict areas of the world.  He said the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon had provided an opportunity for progress on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.  Regrettably, that opportunity had not been used to its full capacity.  Progress on those two tracks remained an essential element of the comprehensive settlement, and there was no positive alternative to the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel, Syria and Lebanon.

     He said there were fears that the issue of Jerusalem would eventually explode and nullify all agreements.  Although the Christian leaders of Jerusalem and the churches they represented were not part of the dispute, taking into account their views and concerns would make the final outcome of negotiations more comprehensive and acceptable for all concerned parties.  It would reaffirm the significance of the Holy City to the whole international community.

     He said the future status of the Armenian quarter was one of the issues in recent deliberations about the future of Jerusalem, with both sides wishing to see the quarter under their sovereignty.  Without expressing any preferences to either side, he said he felt it necessary to point out that the Armenian and the Christian quarters of the old city of Jerusalem were contiguous and inseparable entities.  Together they formed ”Christian Jerusalem”, spiritual homeland and focus of aspirations of billions of believers worldwide.  Forced separation of those two quarters from each other would endanger the provisions of the “Status Quo of 1852”, adding to the complexity of the situation.

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