Press Releases

     

    GA/PAL/860
    14 June 2001

    LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN MEETING ON
    PALESTINE QUESTION OPENS IN HAVANA

    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)

    HAVANA, 12 June -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the opening session of the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on the Question of Palestine in Havana today that he remained fully engaged and was prepared to do whatever was in his power to help move the peace process forward. In that connection, he had decided to undertake a trip to the region.

    In a statement read out on his behalf by Danilo Turk, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, the Secretary-General said the attacks by Israeli armed forces against Palestinian towns and villages, and the restrictions imposed on Palestinian economic activity were excessive, disproportionate and counter-productive. The events of the last few months had shown that there could be no military solution to the conflict. The only viable political settlement was based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).

    The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Felipe Peréz Roque, said the use of force by the Israeli Army was reflected in the launching of missiles, and helicopters attacks on unarmed civilians, thanks to the help of the United States, its unconditional ally. While the Security Council recommended humanitarian interventions in other situations, there was a heinous, complicitous silence in the case of Palestine, because of the United States veto. The United States had used the veto 22 times to prevent the Council from acting on the behalf of the Palestinians, he noted. Once again, the double standard characterizing the work of that Council prevailed.

    The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Ibra Deguène Ka, said the United Nations should maintain its permanent responsibility towards all the aspects of the question of Palestine until it was resolved in accordance with international legitimacy, and until all the rights of the Palestinian people were fully realized. The need for the sustained involvement of the United Nations on the question of Palestine had been illustrated by the dramatic developments on the ground and the deadlock in the peace process.

    The Chairman called attention to the absence of scheduled speakers for Palestine who had been prevented from coming to the meeting by Israeli travel restrictions.

    The theme of the two-day meeting, convened by the Palestinian Rights Committee, is "Achieving the inalienable rights of the Palestinian People -- a key to peace in the Middle East". Experts will assess the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and consider the need to uphold international legitimacy as the path to a just and lasting solution to the conflict. Participants will also discuss ways to increase international support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, in particular, action by Latin American and Caribbean States.

    The Head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Farouk Khaddoumi, also made a statement.

    The representatives of China, Russian Federation, Syria, Indonesia, Jamaica, Malaysia and Viet Nam also made statements, as did representatives of the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

    When the meeting reconvenes this afternoon, it will hear a keynote presentation by the Head of the Political Department, Palestine Liberation Organization, Farouk Kaddoumi, on the theme of the meeting.

    Participants will then hear presentations by experts on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, focusing on the situation since September 2000 and its effect on the Palestinian people; the continued expansion of Israeli settlements; efforts by United Nations organs; the need for international protection of the Palestinian people; and the obligations of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention.

    Opening Statements

    FELIPE PEREZ ROQUE, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, said it was unfortunate that while today’s meeting was going on, the streets of Palestine were filled with ambulances carrying scores of Palestinians. The cement for peace in the region resided in international law. Israel’s occupation of Arab and Palestinian territory was in obvious violation of international law. The expansion of Israel settlements, the construction of new settlements, the confiscation of Palestinian land, the destruction of homes and crops, the cutting off of water supplies, the constant violation of agreements reached with respect for Palestinian autonomy had all been done to modify the status quo for the benefit of the occupying Power.

    He said the use of force by the Israeli Army was reflected in the launching of missiles, use of depleted uranium and helicopters attacks on unarmed civilians, thanks to the help of the United States, its unconditional ally. The situation was the source of the oldest unimplemented resolutions of the Council. While the Council recommended humanitarian interventions in other situations, there was a heinous, complicitous silence because of the United States veto, such as the one used on 27 March when the United States vetoed a resolution by the Non-Aligned States to establish an observer force in the occupied territories. The United States had used the veto 22 times to prevent the Council from acting on behalf of the Palestinians, he said. The Council’s tolerance for the aggressive action had been imposed upon. Once again, the double standard characterizing the work of that Council prevailed.

    He went on to say that the events occurring in the region were covered under various international laws. The Arab countries had the right to recover the land usurped from them by force. A solution to the Palestinian question was the key to peace and stability in the Middle East. There could be no peace until an independent State was declared. There could be peace until the Council assumed direct responsibility in accordance with the Charter. He hoped that the day would come when the international community could talk about a free and independent State. He demanded complete compliance with resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).

    DANILO TURK, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, read a statement on behalf of Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He said that since last September, violence had interrupted the Middle East peace process which had started in Madrid in 1991. Once again, mutual trust had given way to hostility and suspicion.

    He said that despite international pressure, the violence had escalated rapidly. He strongly condemned indiscriminate terrorist attacks from whatever quarter they came. The attacks by Israeli armed forces against Palestinian towns and villages, and the restrictions imposed on Palestinian economic activity were excessive, disproportionate and counter-productive. The recommendations of the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee aimed at calming the situation and enabling the peace talks to resume offered the most promising opportunity to stop the violence, rebuild confidence and jump-start the peace dialogue. It was important that the parties use them to build tangible and coherent steps to be implemented and carefully monitored in accordance with an agreed and verifiable timetable. Both sides needed to move beyond their anger, bitterness and recriminations. The events of the last few months had shown that there could be no military solution to the conflict. The only viable political settlement was based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).

    He expressed concern over the damage inflicted on the Palestinian economy during the confrontation and said that only a coordinated and concerted international relief and assistance effort could help rehabilitate the infrastructure and improve the people’s living conditions. He called on donors to assist the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) so that it could continue to deliver badly needed services, especially now during a time of crisis and economic hardship. The international community must intensify efforts to support and assist the Palestinian people until a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine was achieved. The current meeting provided an opportunity for the governments and peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean to demonstrate their solidarity with the Palestinian people and to reaffirm their support for the Middle East process.

    "I myself remain fully engaged and I am prepared to do whatever is in my power to help move the peace process forward", he said. In that connection, he had decided to undertake a trip to the region.

    IBRAHIM DEGUENE KA, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the history of Cuba and of Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole served to strengthen the resolve to defend a just struggle against foreign domination and oppression, for self-determination and independence, as in the struggle of the Palestinian people. The Committee had been much alarmed by the continuing violence in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and the excessive use of force by the Israel Defence Forces in response to outbreaks of Palestinian protests. He condemned the extra-judicial killings of Palestinian officials by Israeli security forces, a policy which was contrary to international law. It perpetuated violence, led to a crisis of confidence between the parties and pushed back prospects for resuming the peace negotiations. The international community should act without further delay to explore ways of protecting the Palestinian people. He regretted the inability of the Security Council to establish a protection mechanism for Palestinian civilians, owing to the negative vote of a permanent member of the Council in late March. He hoped that the deadlock would soon be overcome and action by the Council would be possible.

    The present crisis must be dealt with as a matter of extreme urgency, he stressed. The Committee supported the Mitchell Committee report, which presented an opportunity for an exchange of views on how to move decisively to lower the level of violence, help the parties restore the channels of communication lost since last September, and discuss further steps in the peace process. The Egyptian-Jordanian initiative might also serve as a helpful building block in reducing violence and getting the parties back to the negotiating table. He would like to hear members of the Security Council pronounce themselves and eventually act on ways of protecting the civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territory. He emphasized that the efforts of the Non-Aligned caucus in the Council had been crucial. Recently the Non-Aligned Movement had taken on a broader and more involved role in efforts to calm the explosive situation in the Middle East and revive the stalled peace negotiations.

    He said that the heart of the question of Palestine was the illegal occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, the illegal settlement activity and other illegal policies and practices. The Committee would continue to call upon the Government of Israel to respect and fully abide by the principles of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, and the provisions of relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

    He went on to say that economic development should serve as an important underpinning of peace in the region. He expressed concern at the dangers posed by the rapid disintegration of the Palestinian economy as a result of restrictive policies pursued by the Government of Israel. A very real concern was the fiscal crisis of the Palestinian Authority, its institutions and their capacity to continue to function. That situation should be at the top of the agenda of the international community.

    Noting that 2001 marked the tenth anniversary of the Middle East peace conference held at Madrid, he said the anniversary was seen as an opportunity for reflection rather than celebration. Next month at Madrid, the Committee would hold an international meeting aimed at taking stock of the accomplishments and failures of the peace process since the peace conference and discussing how best the peace process could be assisted. The progress made in the past decade simply could not be allowed to wane. Concluding, he reaffirmed the position of the Committee that the United Nations should continue to maintain its permanent responsibility towards all the aspects of the question of Palestine until it was resolved in accordance with international legitimacy, and until all the rights of the Palestinian people were fully realized. The need for sustained involvement of the United Nations on the question of Palestine had been illustrated by the dramatic developments on the ground and the deadlock in the peace process.

    He welcomed and encouraged the close engagement of the Secretary-General and wished him success in his current visit to the region. The international community should support those efforts and use all means at their disposal to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinian people and help reverse the current unacceptable state of affairs.

    FAROUK KADDOUMI, Head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said he hoped the meeting would bring the true message about the tragic situation and deteriorating conditions in the occupied territories. Palestinians in those territories had been living under Israeli occupation for the last 34 years and were confronting brutal measures for more than 9 months. The Palestinians were acting in self-defence in confronting Israeli firepower and draconian measures. They were facing a horrible campaign organized by the Israeli Government, aiming at Palestinian submission if not their elimination.

    He called attention to the statement by Yasser Arafat to the Special Ministerial Meeting convened on 3 May under the auspices of the Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement in which he reiterated his commitment to the peace process and all agreements signed. He had said that the language of violence and bombardment would not serve the interests of Palestinians or Israelis. Mr. Arafat had announced his full acceptance of the Egyptian-Jordanian proposal, stating that his acceptance was made on behalf of the interests of the Israeli people, the Palestinian people and the peoples of the Middle East. His commitment to peace was for security for the children of the region and for the stability and peace of the whole Middle East.

    The representative of China said that for the last half century, the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people had not been guaranteed. Starting with the Madrid conference, the process towards peace had made some progress. However, the violence that had followed the Israeli provocation last September had resulted in huge losses. His Government had expressed profound concern and hope that the achievements of the peace process would not disappear. History and the reality in the Middle East showed that confrontation by force was not conducive to the solution of the Middle East problem. The international community should assist the parties in the Middle East to over come their problems. As a permanent member of the Security Council, China had supported Palestinian rights. It had also provided material and economic assistance within its means. China would continue to support efforts to bring about a just and durable solution to the question of Palestine.

    The representative of the Russian Federation said that from the beginning of the current cycle of violence, Russia had taken intensive steps to overcome the danger, to protect civilian rights and security and to prevent an economic collapse. Under the circumstances, a set of arrangements must be implemented to normalize the situation, as well as reinvigorate the negotiating process. Those arrangements would provide for the withdrawal of Israeli troops, lifting the closure of territories and the financial and economic sanctions, along with full cessation of the settlement activities. Sustainable security and stability was only possible if the prospect of a political settlement of the Palestinian problem was defined. An interim period arrangement was necessary. At the same time, he supported keeping a constant focus on the fundamental issues of the final status.

    The representative of Syria said that at no other time had Zionist racist ideology and Israeli inhuman crimes been more manifest than in the past few months. The Middle East process was convened on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), international legitimacy and the principle of land for peace. Syria had opened the way for that process and had made just and comprehensive peace its strategic option. However, Israel clearly wanted to preserve its occupation of the Arab territories. All of the Israeli policies demonstrated that it wanted neither peace nor justice. The United Nation needed to invigorate its actions to protect the Palestinian people from Israeli State terrorism and policies of destruction. The Organization should continue to maintain its permanent responsibility towards all aspects of the question of Palestine until it was resolved in conformity with relevant United Nations resolutions and international law. Attempts made to prevent the Council from discussing the Palestinian issue contravened the responsibility of the Council and diminished the credibility of the Council. In the absence of any of hope of a just and comprehensive peace, the Palestinian people had every right to continue their just struggle.

    The representative of Indonesia said that in spite of initiatives by the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Security Council had twice failed to adopt a draft resolution that would have established a United Nations observer force to be dispatched throughout the occupied territories. If the Council had undertaken its responsibilities and acted decisively on those occasions, a needless loss of lives would have been avoided and the situation could have been brought under control. Peace could only be accomplished with the return of all Palestinian lands and the establishment of a viable contiguous State. The conclusion of numerous peace agreements was of little significance if the concerned parties failed to honour their obligations and responsibilities. The United Nations had a historic responsibility towards securing a comprehensive and just solution. Every effort should be made towards fostering trust and confidence, resuming negotiations and reaching out for peace.

    The representative of Jamaica said his Government commended the Egyptian-Jordanian peace initiative and the findings and recommendations of the Mitchell Commission. Those recommendations, if fully implemented, would pull the region back from a culture of violence and promote a culture of peace. Jamaica supported the implementation of all the relevant resolutions of the United Nations. The United Nations had a permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until the matter was fully resolved. Until there was a resumption of the peace process, the humanitarian dimensions of the conflict made necessary the presence of a United Nations observer force. An observer mission would contain the violence on both sides and, in particular, the excessive violence against the Palestinians. Once the violence had subsided, it would be far easier to talk peace.

    The representative of Malaysia said his Government shared the international community’s indignation over Israel’s continued use of a massive and unmitigated forceful response to individual Palestinian protests. He called on Israel to lift the protracted closures of the occupied territory so as to ameliorate the plight of the people living there. He commended the Palestinian Authority for unambiguously accepting the Mitchell Report and called for an immediate implementation of all the Committee’s recommendation. He regretted that Israel had rejected major parts of the report and called on that Government to accept the report as a whole and without conditions. The establishment of a United Nations observer force would calm the situation and prevent needless deaths and injuries. It would send a message to Israel of the serious concern of the Council and the international community. It would be most unfortunate if the Organization, and the Council in particular, continued to do nothing and to bear witness to more deaths and injuries in the coming months.

    The representative of Viet Nam demanded an immediate end to the Israeli blockade of Palestinian borders. As a nation of people living in exile, the Jewish people should understand the suffering of the Palestinian people. He welcomed attempts by the international community to untangle existing deadlocks with a view to reaching a peaceful and lasting settlement, but greater efforts were needed to strengthen international solidarity. The United Nations should double its efforts to support the Palestinian people.

    The representative of the League of Arab States said that time and again the international community had condemned Israeli practices and actions, since they constituted serious violations and flagrant breaches of international law, the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilians, United Nations resolutions, as well as the basic principles of humanity and justice. A recent meeting of the Arab Foreign Ministers called on Arab governments to halt all political contacts with Israel until it stopped the aggression against the Palestinian people. At the same time, the Arab States remain attached to their commitment to peace as a strategic objective and they had called on the Security Council to deploy a United Nations observer force in the occupied Palestinian territory. At the current juncture, serious collective efforts by the international community were urgently needed to help in consolidating the ceasefire, implementing the Mitchell Report recommendations and resuming negotiations.

    The representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the Islamic Conference had always supported the Palestinian cause and had demonstrated and affirmed that support in all of its meetings. The resolution adopted at the latest meeting in Doha included requests to the Security Council to assume its responsibilities in accordance with the Charter to end the Israeli occupation. It charged that Israeli activities represented war crimes under international law and called for the establishment of a criminal court to try such crimes. The Organization of the Islamic Conference asked that the international community, especially the United States, not place obstacles in front of the Security Council. It also called for international pressure on Israel to make it withdraw its troops from all the Palestinian Arab lands. The Islamic Conference resolution stressed the need to enable the Palestinian people to regain their inalienable rights.

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