Press Releases

    GA/PAL/876
    30 November 2001

    EVENTS OF 11 SEPTEMBER GAVE NEW URGENCY TO
    SOLVING PALESTINE QUESTION, SECRETARY-GENERAL
    TELLS SOLIDARITY DAY MEETING

    Violence, However, Had Worsened Situation; Committee Hears Calls
    For Renewed Efforts by Parties, With Global Support, To Reach Settlement

    NEW YORK, 29 November (UN Headquarters) -- There was a renewed sense of urgency to find a solution to the question of Palestine after the horrific attacks of 11 September, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this morning, as the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People held its annual observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

    But despite some encouraging signs, the Secretary-General said, the situation had become worse because of escalating violence and significant loss of life, mostly among Palestinians, but also among Israelis. A ceasefire was desperately needed, and full implementation of the Mitchell recommendations offered the best route to a peaceful solution, based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of land for peace. The two parties must do all they could to regain the path of peace and reconciliation.

    In a statement read on his behalf, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority, said the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people required putting an end to Israeli occupation and colonialism. It also required the consolidation of the right of return for refugees, the exercise of the right to self-determination, the establishment of an independent State, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the protection of Christian and Moslem holy places. He called for active intervention by the United Nations, including the quick dispatch of international observers.

    In another statement read to the Committee, Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa and current Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the current moment was filled with opportunities to translate the hopes of the people of Palestine into reality. However, the tragic events of the past year demonstrated much still needed to be done towards that end, and the Non-Aligned Movement reiterated its condemnation of the excessive use of force by Israel.

    The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Papa Louis Fall, said that since September 2000 the occupying Power had made lethal incursions into Palestinian areas, shattering what little remained of the fragile trust between the two parties. At a time when the world was engaged in a global coalition against terrorism, the hope that the conflict would at last be addressed in a resolute manner had been revived. Peace would prosper only when Israelis and Palestinians, who were fated to live together, forged trusting relations as sovereign States within secure and internationally guaranteed borders.

    Statements were also made by the President of the General Assembly; the President of the Security Council; the Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinians and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories; the representative of Mali on behalf of the Chairman of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers; the representative of Zambia on behalf of the Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (0AU) and a representative of the League of Arab States.

    A representative of the International Network of Non-Governmental Organizations on the Question of Palestine also addressed the Assembly.

    Messages of support and solidarity, in observance of the occasion, were received from the heads of State of Algeria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, Guinea, Guyana, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Maldives, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Russian Federation, Senegal, Slovak Republic, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey and Viet Nam.

    Messages were also sent by the heads of Government of Belarus, China, India, Malaysia, Malta and Thailand.

    Messages were received from the Governments of Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Japan, Madagascar, Romania, Syria, Ukraine, Burundi, Uruguay and Venezuela.

    Messages were also received from the European Union; the Organization of African Unity; the Organization of the Islamic Conference; the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the Association des Etudes Internationales; the Committee for Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue; the Indo-Arab Friendship Association; the International Progress Organization and the Society of Inash El-Usr Al-Bireh/Palestine also sent messages.

    The head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization thanked the Committee for its efforts.

    A moment of silence, commemorating Palestinian victims of violence in the Middle East, was observed at the opening of the meeting.

    Background

    The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning to hold a solemn meeting in observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (29 November). The General Assembly, in its resolution 32/40 of 2 December 1977, and in subsequent resolutions, called for the annual observance of such a day, in recognition of the need to promote and support the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination, peace and independence.

    Statements

    The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, PAPA LOUIS FALL, said that during the past year the world had witnessed a deterioration in the situation on the ground, resulting in a setback to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Fourteen months of confrontation, acts of violence and tragedies had brought about the death of a thousand people and had left many injured. Since 28 September 2000, the occupying Power had imposed its law through lethal incursions in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, the destruction of property on a massive scale, and the establishment of new settlements, military occupation, paralysing economic activity. All this had shattered what little remained of the fragile trust between the two parties.

    On many occasions, he said, the Committee had stated its deep concern at the increase in violence, which spread distress, violated agreements that had been reached and subjected the Palestinian people to unbearable suffering, humiliation and collective punishments. At a time when the world was engaged in a worldwide coalition against terrorism, desire re-emerged and hope was revived that the conflict would at last be addressed in a resolute manner.

    In recent weeks, the Committee had noted with appreciation the slight hints of progress towards the revival of the peace process. It welcomed the meeting between Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, which had reaffirmed the relevance of the ceasefire. Still more promising was the fact that the need to create an independent Palestinian State had been publicly acknowledged, remarkably by the United States and the European Union, and that the subject was no longer "taboo" in Israel, even at the highest levels of the State.

    The Committee continued to support the praiseworthy efforts by the representatives of the United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United Nations to bring the parties together and encourage them to implement the recommendations of the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee, the Mitchell Committee. Any settlement of the question of Palestine must be based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), which enshrined the principle of "land for peace" as reaffirmed by the Council’s resolution 1322 (2000) and General Assembly resolution ES-10/7 of 20 October 2000.

    He said the Committee strongly urged Israel to comply with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations and with the 1949 Geneva Convention. He emphasized the importance of the meeting of the Conference of the High Contracting Parties, scheduled for 5 December this year, to consider the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. There was no way that peace could prosper as long as Israelis and Palestinians, who were fated to live together, failed in their attempts to forge trusting relations, as sovereign States, within secure and internationally guaranteed borders.

    The United Nations should remain seized of the question of Palestine until the matter had been resolved in all its aspects. He said he was delighted at the visible role played by the Secretary-General and his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process to bring the parties back to the path towards peace. The Committee was deeply grateful for the Secretary-General’s tireless efforts to establish peace in the Middle East through his active support. He also welcomed the effective participation of ambassadors whose heads of State and government had conveyed messages of support and solidarity to the Palestinian people.

    He said the active participation of the international community to resolve the issue of Palestine was needed. He also urged the co-sponsors of the peace process, the governments concerned, the United Nations system, intergovernmental organizations and civil society to continue their commitment to secure support for the cause of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. He pledged the commitment of the Committee to continue to work with devotion and determination. He said the dawn would soon break in the Middle East, and "the sun was already casting its first rays of peace on the wounded soil of Palestine".

    The President of the General Assembly, HAN SEUNG-SOO (Republic of Korea), said that bringing peace and economic prosperity to the Palestinian people was one of the most urgent and daunting tasks of the United Nations. With the background of the agreements of the early nineties and their breakdown in the recent violence, he hoped that the Palestinian people would soon be able to exercise the inalienable rights of self-determination without external interference, to national independence and sovereignty, and to return to homes and properties or, for those choosing not to return, to receive compensation.

    For that purpose, there was no alternative to the process of Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations based on international law and principles of mutual respect and understanding of each other’s needs and interests, he said. The recommendations of the Mitchell Committee should serve to guide the parties back to those negotiations. As peace and economic development were inextricably linked, the donor community also played a constructive role in providing a solid basis for peace in the region. In particular, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) should be assisted in all possible ways.

    It was the General Assembly’s position, he said, that the United Nations had a special responsibility regarding the question of Palestine until it was effectively resolved in all its aspects, in accordance with international law and the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the Assembly. In his capacity as President of the Assembly and as an economist who had advised the Government of Jordan, he pledged his utmost contribution to the peace and prosperity of the region and the Palestinian people. He welcomed the efforts of the Secretary-General, his Special Coordinator, the co-sponsors of the peace process and the European Union in that regard, and he wished the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People every success in its mission.

    Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN noted that the meeting took place at a critical time for the Middle East and the world. Escalating violence and significant loss of life, mostly among Palestinians, but also Israelis, had increased animosity between the two communities. A ceasefire was desperately needed, and full implementation of the Mitchell recommendations offered the best route to a peaceful solution, based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of land for peace.

    He said the horrific attacks of 11 September had a profound impact on events all over the world; in the Middle East there was a renewed sense of urgency to find a solution to the question of Palestine. But despite some encouraging signs, the continuation of violence had made the situation even worse. The engagement of the international community -– in particular the United States, the Russian Federation, the European Union, the United Nations and other Member States such as Egypt and Jordan -– remained vital. The two parties must do all they could to regain the path of peace and reconciliation.

    The Secretary-General said he shared the hopes of the United States President and Secretary of State that the Israeli occupation would soon end and that two States -– Israel and Palestine -– would soon coexist in mutual respect and security. To that end, he said, the expansion of settlements, assassinations, all acts of terrorism, economic blockades and incursions into autonomous areas should immediately cease.

    The current crisis, he said, also had a catastrophic effect on the Palestinian economy. Repeated border and internal closures had added greatly to the general sense of despair, frustration and anger felt by the Palestinians. The international donor community had provided assistance to the Palestinian Authority, to the population, to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other agencies that were active on the ground. Such assistance remained vital.

    The United Nations Special Coordinator had also been working closely with the parties on peace efforts and the provision of assistance. The Secretary-General, for his part, would continue to work with all parties until a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine was achieved. At the start of the new millennium, he said, the Palestinian people should finally be allowed to exercise their inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination and to a State of their own.

    The President of the Security Council, MIGNONETTE PATRICIA DURRANT (Jamaica), said the Council had been integrally involved in the question of Palestine for more than half a century and two of its resolutions –- 242 and 338 –- constituted the foundation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In the current violence, a concerted and well-coordinated effort was required by all concerned to check the hostilities and stop the suffering.

    She said the Council had met on a number of occasions, and its members were of the view that the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee and the Tenets of Understandings offered a practicable and reasonable way to reduce the level of violence, achieve a ceasefire and resume dialogue. The Council also strongly supported initiatives of the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation, in coordination with the United Nations Special Coordinator. She hoped the statement by United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on 19 November would help the parties return to negotiations. For that purpose, they should unequivocally reaffirm their commitment to the bilateral agreements reached to date and demonstrate, through a tangible effort on the ground, the will to implement those agreements.

    The Council would remain fully engaged and stood ready to assist both sides through the current critical period. The Council also welcomed the increasingly important role played by the Secretary-General. In spite of the enormous recent obstacles, the Council hoped that the two sides would be able to move towards reconciliation for peace. That would require a great deal of personal and political courage, wisdom and far-sightedness. The Council valued the close involvement of the international community in assisting the parties out of the impasse, and was gratified by the economic and other assistance provided to the Palestinian people.

    YASSER ARAFAT, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority (in a statement read to the Committee by Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations), said the commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity, which fell on the occasion of the adoption of the resolution on the partition of Palestine, underscored the importance of establishing a State of Palestine as a basic element of international security and stability. The obstruction to the implementation of relevant Council resolutions had kept the region in an ongoing state of turmoil and instability, which in turn threatened international peace and security. The issue of Palestine was the quintessence of the conflict in the Middle East for all Moslems and Christians the world over, because of the dangers, aggressions and difficulties to which its Christian and Islamic holy places had been exposed as a result of Israeli occupation.

    In his statement, the PLO Chairman said the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people required putting an end to Israeli occupation and colonialism. It also required the consolidation of the right of return for refugees, the exercise of the right to self-determination, the establishment of an independent State, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the protection of Christian and Moslem holy places. The realization of those rights on the ground, the statement continued, necessitated a more active intervention by the United Nations and the Security Council. The escalating cycle of violence in the region, the prime source of which was the Israeli aggression, needed to be stopped by providing the people with immediate international protection.

    The statement said the choice of the Palestinian people was for a permanent and just peace which provided security and stability for the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as for the peoples of the region. Citing the statement of the United States Secretary of State calling for the immediate implementation of the Tenets of Understandings and the Mitchell Report, the PLO Chairman said that speech indicated the importance of quickly dispatching international observers.

    JOHN DE SARAM, Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territory, said the Special Committee, at the conclusion of its visit to the region in May last year, believed that there were still glimmers of hope that developments in the peace process might lead to tangible improvements in the conditions of Palestinians in the occupied territories. There were, however, the tragic occurrences in the closing days of September 2000 in East Jerusalem and the ensuing violence in the occupied territories. The only conclusion that now seemed possible was that the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza and the unrelenting cycle of violence, were not conducive to the observance of human rights.

    In its annual report, the Special Committee had called attention to the existence in the occupied territories of systems of civilian and military control that were elaborate, discriminatory and, during periods of tension, oppressive, he said. The Special Committee had sought to convey a full sense of the troubling conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories. Such conditions were not in accord with contemporary human rights standards and obligations or with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The conditions of Palestinians in refugee camps were particularly distressing. They had no means of subsistence outside the refugee camps and when a "state of siege" was imposed, and the Palestinians were unable to obtain employment outside the camps, they were without any subsistence resource.

    The sad reality was that in the harsh conditions of the occupied territories, the human rights of the Palestinians were being ignored, he continued. Until the peace process was satisfactorily concluded, all should agree that it was of the greatest importance that contemporary human rights standards and the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention be fully honoured. The overall consequences of the occupation had been catastrophic on the occupied territories as a whole, including disruption of trade and employment, disruption in the provision of health services, education and public services and an all-pervasive cloud of frustration, desperation and hopelessness that had enveloped the occupied territories. On the part of all the Palestinians who had addressed the Special Committee, there was a yearning for peace. For peace to be achieved there had to be a return to the peace process.

    DUMISANI SHADRACK KUMALO (South Africa) in a message from the President of South Africa, THABO MBEKI, current Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the current moment was filled with opportunities to translate the hopes of the people of Palestine into reality. The Non-Aligned Movement welcomed recent statements and actions of the United States, the European Union, and European and Arab countries which would assist in rekindling the peace process, along with the emerging international consensus on the need for an independent Palestinian State based on relevant Security Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace. He said the Non-Aligned Movement supported the achievement of such a State, with Jerusalem as its capital.

    The tragic events of the past year demonstrated much still needed to be done towards that end, and the Non-Aligned Movement reiterated its condemnation of the excessive use of force by Israel, its incursions, its extra-judicial killings, its continuing settlement activity, its blockades and other forms of collective punishment. A just and lasting peace, he said, could be achieved only through peaceful negotiations, towards which the recommendations of the Mitchell Report provided a good basis. The United Nations, and in particular the Security Council, had a permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine and he commended the role played by the Secretary-General in the peace process.

    MOCTAR OUANE (Mali), on behalf of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers, said the International Day occurred this year at a time when Israel was intensifying its aggression against the Palestinian people, with at least 1,000 dead and many injured. Israel daily violated relevant conventions and commitments, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention. It conducted premeditated assassinations against Palestinian leaders, and harassment operations. Entire Palestinian neighbourhoods had been demolished.

    For two years, Israel had also imposed strict blockades at border crossings, isolating neighbourhoods and communities. It had set up apartheid-type policies in the occupied areas. Trenches had been dug to prevent the faithful from going to mosques. Constant attacks on schools, the seizing of funds from the Palestinian Authority and the paralysis of public life had severely damaged the Palestinian economy. Israel was continuing its aggression, openly pursuing plans to murder Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian leaders.

    He said the international community must not close its eyes to State terrorism, which was a threat to the stability of the entire region. Action was needed to immediately end Israeli aggression, and make Israel respect agreements already reached. An equitable solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees must be found and the creation of a fully independent Palestinian State ensured. The international community had the duty to provide the Palestinian people with the financial resources for the restoration of institutions and what had been destroyed by Israeli occupation.

    MWELWA C. MUSAMBACHIME (Zambia), in a message from the President of Zambia, current Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), said the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and independence were recognized by the international community and well documented by the United Nations. He had confidence in the Israeli and Palestinian Authorities to resolve their differences. Through collective prayers, peace and love would prevail over hate and vengeance in the Middle East. The OAU had expressed grave concern at the lack of a solution to the issue of Palestine and its ramifications for the entire region.

    He said it was a matter of regret that the question of Palestine was still on the international agenda despite great efforts towards the search for an acceptable and lasting solution. It was clear, however, that the peace process in the Middle East had been undermined by a lack of commitment by the parties involved. Honest dialogue between them was the only way forward. The position of Zambia and the OAU on Palestinian self-determination continued to be that of support and solidarity.

    He said he was pleased that consensus was emerging for the establishment of an independent State of Palestine, which would coexist with the independent State of Israel. That was the only lasting solution to the Middle East conflict. The United Nations should continue to influence global efforts towards a more stable and fair international order and should play a more active role in stemming the increasing hostilities between Palestine and Israel.

    HISHAM ABBAS, on behalf of Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, said the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East, and the suffering of the Palestinian people, had been unprecedented because of Israeli practices. An international mechanism was needed to protect that people and their rights. Israel had exploited recent tragedies to reassert its control over much Palestinian territory. Such practices would lead to instability in the region.

    He said he welcomed the recent statements of United States President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell in favour of a just solution for the Palestinian question, but called for greater and more balanced action by the United States towards that end. While the League of Arab States had condemned terrorism, it also condemned any portrayal of Islam as connected to terrorism, along with the confusion of a people’s struggle for self-determination with terrorism. He called for a dialogue between civilizations on some of those issues, and to stem ideas of the supremacy of any one civilization over another.

    DON BETZ, Chairman, International Committee for Non-Governmental Organizations on the Question of Palestine, said that a pattern of repression could not be justified simply because it was familiar. Describing events such as the tanks flattening cars and grinding up narrow streets in West Bank towns and the 260 checkpoints which rendered Palestine into a disconnected collection of isolated atolls, he said the measures taken by Israeli occupation forces, both military and civilian, were indefensible.

    The immediate priority, he said, was to protect the people. The safety and security of the Palestinian people was an international obligation accepted by the United Nations and it was incumbent on all Member States to protect those people. The suffocating control that Israel and the Israeli Defence Force exercised over Palestinians must be lifted. International monitors, including those from the United Nations, governmental and non-governmental organizations, must observe and hopefully prevent the violation of human rights by all parties. Only when calm was restored could the international community proceed with ending the occupation and supplanting it with an independent Palestinian State with pre-1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital, side-by-side with the State of Israel.

    He said the numbing events of 11 September and the subsequent United States-led war on international terrorism had propelled the question of Palestine onto centre stage of popular discussion. The global public was asking questions about the occupation of Palestine, its historical background and about the possible resolution of the conflict. Now was the time for the United Nations, Member States and non-governmental organizations to actively collaborate and tell the story of Palestine, as the occupation of Palestine and the accompanying repression of the Palestinians living there was not well understood by the American public. Although the story of the Palestinian refugees pre-dated the trauma of Afghan refugees by three decades, it was clear that today more was known to the media watching public about the latter than the former.

    FAROUK KADDOUMI, Head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization, expressed appreciation to the Committee for its work on behalf of the rights of the Palestinian people, as well as for the statements of participants at today’s meeting. The inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were at the core of the solution to the problem of the Middle East and the stability of the region.

    He thanked all those who had sent messages, showing an international unanimity for a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Unsolved conflicts created hatred that would, in the end, lead to the emergence of terrorism. In the new international solidarity against terrorism, conflicts around the world, and their causes, must be seriously taken into account.

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