Press Releases

    GA/PAL/857
    6 March 2001

    MULTIPLE CRISES IN MIDDLE EAST REQUIRE "STATESMANSHIP AND VISION", SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS
    PALESTINIAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE

    Committee Adopts Work Programme, Elects Officers;
    Palestine’s Permanent Observer Stresses Need for Observer Mission

    NEW YORK, 1 March (UN Headquarters) -- Opening today’s meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said "statesmanship and vision" were required for the parties to the Middle East peace process to address several linked crises at once, as the historic gains that had been made since 1991 should not be allowed to ebb away.

    The Secretary-General said the parties faced: a security crisis of violence, destruction and death; and an economic and social crisis of growing unemployment, poverty and restrictions that deprived the Palestinian Authority of necessary financial resources. There was also a crisis of confidence, with rising fear, despair and anger, and plummeting faith in the peace process. Those crises were linked and must be addressed simultaneously. Also, for the peace process to succeed, it must be accompanied by a vigorous international effort to turn around the dire Palestinian socio-economic situation, which had catastrophically worsened during the recent crisis after several years of recovery and progress.

    He called on the parties to preserve the gains made since 1991 and to move ahead towards a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). The United Nations remained fully committed to supporting the parties through the current difficult and traumatic period, and would remain closely engaged in efforts to bring about a comprehensive, just and lasting peace, he said.

    Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Permanent Observer for Palestine, said the United Nations had stressed the need for a mission comprising military and police observers. On 18 December 2000, the Security Council had failed to adopt a resolution that would have led to the creation of such a mission, due to the lack of the required nine affirmative votes. He hoped the Council would soon take the necessary action in that regard. The General Assembly, on the other hand, had called for a conference of the high contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention in order to enforce the Convention in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem. Such an action would help address the situation on the ground.

    The international community must make clear to the occupying Power that the crux of the problem was the continuing occupation, he said. Whatever happened, ending that occupation should remain the main aim for the near future. Attempts to appease the Israeli Government, or to be artificially neutral as the occupation and the violations continued, could not but harm the prospects for a better future, including the future of the Israelis. There was also an increasing need for assistance to ameliorate the living conditions of the Palestinian people. It was absolutely vital to affirm the need to abide by the agreed basis of the Middle East peace process and the existing agreements.

    Committee Chairman Ibra Deguene Ka (Senegal) said that each party to the conflict was entitled to peace. Negotiations must be brought to a successful conclusion and the United Nations must be involved in the full process. The Committee remained open and ready to contribute, including recommending to the General Assembly any and all means to achieve a constructive remedy. He hoped 2001 would see important milestones in the pursuit of peace and the rights of the Palestinian people.

    Also this morning, the Committee unanimously re-elected its officers: Mr. Ka (Senegal), Chairman; Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla (Cuba), Vice –Chairman; Ravan Farhadi (Afghanistan), Vice-Chairman; and Walter Balzan (Malta), Rapporteur. The representative of Tunisia proposed their re-election, which was seconded by the representative of Ukraine. The Committee also adopted its programme of work.

    The representatives of Cyprus and the United Arab Emirates also made statements, as did a representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

    The Committee will meet again at a time to be announced.

    Background

    The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning to elect its officers and adopt its programme of work for the year.

    Following the election, conducted by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Committee was expected to consider the developments in the Middle East peace process and the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem.

    Election of Officers

    MOKHTAR CHAOUACHI Tunisia), in proposing that the current leadership continue in its posts, praised that leadership and noted the importance of the Committee’s work at the current time. He proposed that current officers be re-elected: Ibra Deguene Ka (Senegal) as Chairman, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla (Cuba) and Ravan Faradi (Afghanistan) as Vice-Chairman and Walter Balzan (Malta) as Rapporteur.

    VOLODYMYR KROKHMAL (Ukraine), seconding the proposal, said that the current leadership of the Committee should be continued because of its experience and its solid record of commendable activities.

    Statement by Secretary-General

    KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, noted the continuing support of the United Nations for the mandate of its various organs devoted to Palestinian issues, underscored by the Assembly’s debate on the question of Palestine. The present, he said, was a particularly sensitive moment, considering the violence, the casualties and the unraveling of progress towards a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. In the past few months, the international community had made sustained efforts to persuade the two sides to end the violence, protect civilians and resume negotiations. The understandings reached at Sharm el-Sheik were an important step in that direction; the hard work done on core issues at Taba would be of lasting value in the ongoing search for a settlement.

    Whatever the policies of the new Israeli Government, he said, it would face the daunting task of doing its part to restore and foster a climate in which real progress could be achieved. In the tragic, deepening crisis, in fact, the parties faced several crises at once: a security crisis of violence, destruction and death; an economic and social crisis of growing unemployment, poverty and restrictions which deprive the Palestinian Authority of necessary financial resources; and a crisis of confidence, with rising fear, despair and anger, and plummeting faith in the peace process.

    Those crises were linked and must be addressed simultaneously, he said. The parties must exercise maximum caution and restraint to prevent a further escalation of violence, which could have very serious consequence for the entire region. It was time for statesmanship and vision. The historic gains that had been made since 1991 should not be allowed to ebb away. He called on the parties to

    preserve them and to move ahead towards a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

    For the peace process to succeed, he said, it must be accompanied by a vigorous international effort to turn around the dire Palestinian socio-economic situation, which had catastrophically worsened during the crisis after several years of recovery and progress. The United Nations continued to provide emergency and longer-term aid; the international community should address the situation as a matter of urgency, in particular funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to continue its vital work.

    Coordinating United Nations assistance to the Palestinian people, he said, was also a key responsibility of Terje Roed Larsen, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the Secretary-General's Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. The Special Coordinator also headed a newly established Humanitarian Task Force for Emergency Needs to coordinate international assistance and had been asked to undertake wide-ranging, urgent consultations on conditions in the occupied territories.

    The United Nations, he said, remained fully committed to supporting the parties through the current difficult and traumatic period, and would remain closely engaged in efforts to bring about a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. He reaffirmed his appreciation and support for the work of the Committee and its important mandate.

    Statements

    IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Committee Chairman, said that ever since the Committee’s inception a quarter of a century ago, it had woven ties of confidence and fruitful cooperation, maintaining excellent cooperative and collaborative ties with the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Non-Aligned Movement and the European Union troika. The Committee’s cooperation with non-governmental organizations involved in Palestine issues had grown stronger over the years.

    He said the Committee was determined to do its utmost in support of the Middle East peace process and the rapprochement that had been undertaken by the protagonists. For weeks now, all eyes had been on developments in the region. People were torn between doubt and hope for a settlement. The gains of the past several years must not be called into question. It was necessary to quell the violence and to resume negotiations.

    Each entity that was party to the conflict was entitled to peace and peaceful existence, he said. Negotiations must be brought to a successful conclusion. The United Nations must be involved in the process until a peaceful conclusion was reached. The Committee remained open and ready to contribute, including recommending to the General Assembly any and all means to achieve a constructive remedy. Hopefully, 2001 would see important milestones in the pursuit of peace and the rights of the Palestinian people.

    NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said that the Israeli military campaign against the Palestinian people had involved the use of Israel’s military might, including heavy weapons, and the destruction of the Palestinian economy through a combination of severe restrictions on the movement of persons and goods, the direct destruction of economic facilities and agricultural lands and the withholding of Palestinian money. The situation had also caused a drastic decline in the living conditions of the Palestinian people and an escalation of hardships in all sectors of life.

    With specific reference to the closures imposed by Israel on the occupied Palestinian territory, he referred to the prevention of Palestinian panellists from leaving Palestine to attend the Committee’s recent seminar in Vienna. He condemned that closure in the strongest terms and called upon everyone to do the same.

    He said the United Nations had to provide a solution to stop the deterioration on the ground and to restore the situation to what it had been before 28 September. That could be facilitated by dispatching a United Nations mission comprising military and police observers. On 18 December 2000, the Security Council had failed to adopt a resolution that would have led to the creation of such a mission, due to the lack of the required nine affirmative votes. It was hoped that the Council would soon take the necessary action in that regard. The General Assembly, on the other hand, had called for a conference of the high contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to enforce the Convention in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem. Action by the high contracting parties and the depositary State, Switzerland, would help address the situation on the ground.

    The international community must make clear to the occupying Power that the crux of the problem was the continuing occupation, he said. Whatever happened, ending that occupation should remain the main aim for the near future. Attempts to appease the Israeli Government, or to be artificially neutral as the occupation and the violations continued, could not but harm the prospects for a better future, including the future of the Israelis. There was also an increasing need for assistance to ameliorate the living conditions of the Palestinian people and to meet the basic operating costs of the Palestinian Authority. On the political level, an absolute affirmation was needed to abide by the agreed basis of the Middle East peace process and the existing agreements, which could only mean the absolute necessity for the parties to take the progress made over the past few years into consideration.

    Mr. KA (Senegal), Committee Chairman, reporting on the Committee’s activities during the year, noted the European Union’s adherence to the search for a peaceful solution to the conflict. The Committee would pursue contacts with the European Union troika.

    Introducing the draft programme of work for the year, he said that the Committee would address some critical aspects of a Palestinian transition to statehood, including efforts at nation-building, international assistance, as well as economic and social development of the Palestinian people.

    The international community should not abandon the Bethlehem 2000 Project of the Palestinian Authority, he said. The Project would require sustained international support, not only for the period of the millennial celebrations in Bethlehem, but also long after the celebrations came to a close. The Committee also drew the attention of the international community to the urgency of providing assistance to other Palestinian municipalities throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

    He said the draft programme of work outlined action taken by the Committee during the year, including its Chairman's participation in relevant intergovernmental and other conferences and meetings. It stressed that in response to the tense and volatile situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, and the crucial stage reached in the peace negotiations, the Committee would focus on support for the peace process, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Palestinian nation- and institution-building, social and economic development, as well as the emergency needs of the Palestinian people.

    In 2001, non-governmental organizations should focus their efforts on areas relevant to the permanent status issues, namely Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and borders, he said. It was important for them to continue to support the peace negotiations and, in particular, Palestinian efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine, based on international legitimacy.

    Regarding the annual observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, he said the Committee recommended that it be observed on Thursday, 29 November, and that the usual programme of activities be envisaged, including a Palestinian exhibit.

    Reporting on the Vienna seminar of the Committee, he noted with concern the non-attendance of Palestinian delegates who had been blocked by Israeli authorities. They could have provided valuable information and assistance. The conclusions and report of the seminar would be presented to the forthcoming session of the Economic and Social Council and to the fifty-sixth session of the General Assembly.

    Mr. AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, extended his thanks to Austria for having hosted the seminar in Vienna. He proposed that the Committee send a letter to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council expressing concern at the ever-deteriorating situation on the ground and the very high price being paid in terms of martyrs, the other effects on people and restrictions that prevented the implementation of Committee’s program of work. The declaration needed to be translated into concrete work.

    Mr. KA (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee, said that he found the proposal interesting, took note and would make the necessary considerations.

    The Committee then adopted its program of work and also took note of the Chairman’s report on the Vienna seminar.

    The CHAIRMAN then turned to the fifth agenda item, developments in the Middle East peace process and the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem.

    Mr. AL-KIDWA, Observer for Palestine, speaking on the agenda item, said that there were now 364 martyrs, with another falling yesterday while sitting in his house, as it was hit by a direct projectile attack. That was a strong indication of the current situation. The stand of the Sharon Government was particularly dangerous. Unfortunately, Colin Powell’s visit to the region did not clarify the policy of the new American administration. He looked forward to working with the United States towards implementing the accords sponsored by that country. At the same time, no effort was being spared in maintaining good relations with the Palestinians’ Arab neighbors, including a March summit in Jordan. The head of the Non-Aligned Movement, South Africa, and the Islamic Conference, were also in close contact.

    He called for support for another conference of the contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention. So far the large majority of reactions to holding that conference had been positive. There were some negative responses, however, shockingly including Canada, which was known for its advocacy on the part of civilians in times of war. Given the developments on the ground, the conference indeed needed to be held again. If the parties to the conflict could be convinced to hold to previous agreements and resolutions, it would be a great advance. In concluding, he did not want to mention bleak possibilities, but rather to stay on a positive note, considering the wide international support that had been expressed for the inalienable rights of Palestinians.

    SOTIRIOS ZACKHEOS (Cyprus) reiterated his country’s strong support for the Secretary-General’s efforts in the Middle East. The grim situation of the economy in the territories and the budgetary situation of the Palestinian Authority needed to be fully addressed. He also reiterated his country’s unwavering support of the pursuit of peace in the region, and its concern over the unacceptable loss of life and property, perpetuation of economic misery and violations of human rights affecting the daily lives of millions of people. The tragic consequences of the continuation of the present state of affairs were very clear to all. There were no alternatives to common efforts for an amelioration of the situation of the Palestinian people and the creation of conditions that would lead to a negotiated solution. If not contained and terminated, the conflict could engulf the entire region with unimaginable consequences.

    The most important consideration of policy makers, he said, should be the achievement of prosperity and security for all. There could be no winner or loser. Efforts towards the achievement of a just and viable settlement based on United Nations resolutions would lead to a "win-win" situation for all concerned, and to regional peace, stability, security and cooperation. For that to happen, however, the core issues, particularly the central Palestinian issue, must be tackled with courage, determination and political will by all parties. It was only natural that dealing with those issues would cause agitation. The forces of moderation should redouble their efforts, isolate the extremists and work diligently to reinforce hope and hold to the vision of a new Middle East, where coexistence was the only acceptable way.

    MOHAMMAD SAMHAN (United Arab Emirates), as Chairman of the Arab Group, said that Israel’s crimes in the Middle East involved the violation of all humanitarian laws and urged the Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities fully, since its resolutions had not been implemented, especially Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. A just, lasting and complete peace required political and juridical commitments by all the States concerned, especially Israel. The Council should dispatch international observers to monitor the crimes being committed in the region.

    He called for the convening of a conference of the high contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention. Time was of the utmost importance to the Palestinian people. The highest hopes were invested in the Committee, with regard to achieving the legitimate and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. A start to the achievement of those rights must involve the end to the occupation,

    the dismantling of illegal Israeli settlements and an end to Israel’s occupation of the Syrian Golan, as well as all Lebanese territory.

    MOKHTAR LAMANI, Observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, expressed complete and unfailing commitment to the Committee’s work, especially in light of recent developments in the Middle East. The entire Madrid process was in suspension due to the irresponsible actions of the Israeli Government. That was a cause for great pessimism.

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