Press Releases

    GA/PAL/891
    25 June 2002

    UNITED NATIONS MEETING IN SUPPORT OF
    PALESTINIAN RIGHTS OPENS IN RABAT

    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)

    RABAT, 24 June -- Morocco rejected the logic of force and attempts to create an unbalanced situation to induce the weaker side to accept the conditions of the stronger, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco told the opening session of the United Nations African Meeting in Support of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People at the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs this morning.

    Such conditions were far removed from the common goal to enable all parties to accept the principle of coexistence, he added. Although Arab support for peace had been greeted with obduracy by Israel, he hoped that wisdom and the values of peace and legitimacy would prevail. Ensuring the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people was the true key to achieving peace.

    The Secretary-General, in an opening statement read out by the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), Mervat Tallawy, said both sides to the conflict must meet their obligations to protect civilians. The end goal of the peace process should be two States -- Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peace. He commended the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on its work in pursuance of the mandate entrusted to it by the General Assembly by which the Assembly authorized the Committee to promote the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

    Chairman of the Committee, Papa Louis Fall, said there was a systematic effort to discredit the representatives of the Palestinian people in order to support the implausible argument that there was no negotiating partner on the Palestinian side so there could be no negotiations. Nobody should buy into the argument that made the resumption of political talks conditional on sweeping reforms in the Palestinian Authority. The international community had seen what happened when one side imposed conditions and then was the judge of whether those conditions had been met. The Committee welcomed the recent steps towards reform but they were a domestic Palestinian affair and not a precondition for the peace talks.

    Statements were also made by the representatives of Palestine, Malaysia, Iran, Russian Federation, South Africa, United Arab Emirates and Nigeria.

    The representatives of the League of Arab States and the United Nations Population Fund also spoke.

    The general theme of the two-day Rabat meeting, convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, is "Achieving the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people -- a key to peace in the Middle East". In a series of panel discussions, experts will assess the impact of the Israeli military offensive in the occupied Palestinian territory and discuss international efforts at salvaging peace in the Middle East. They will also discuss African support for Palestinian rights.

    Invited to the Rabat meeting are high-level officials of the host government and the Palestinian Authority, internationally known experts including Palestinians and Israelis, representatives of United Nations Member States, intergovernmental organizations and the United Nations system, the academic community and the media. The meeting will be followed on Wednesday, 26 June by a Workshop of African Non-Governmental Organizations on the Questions of Palestine.

    This afternoon, in Plenary I, participants will hear presentations by experts on "The impact of the Israeli military offensive in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem". Panellists will explore the issues of Israeli attacks on the Palestinian Authority and its infrastructure; the security situation and the need for protection of the Palestinian civilian population; the destruction of the Palestinian economy and the urgency of assistance to the Palestinian people; the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory; and international efforts to establish facts about the Israeli military actions in Jenin and other Palestinian cities, in particular by the General Assembly.

    Opening Statements

    TAIEB FASSI FIHRI, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco, said today’s meeting was being held in international circumstances that would challenge the course of events and developments relating to the question of Palestine, a question which had now reached a dangerous, critical and decisive turning point.

    The conference would promote greater international concern for the justice and legitimacy of the rights of the Palestinian people. Morocco stood in the forefront of efforts to promote and create a climate of trust between Arabs and Israelis and supported regional and international efforts to establish peace, security and stability in a sensitive area of the world. The Palestinian Rights Committee played an important role by helping to reveal the truth about events taking place in the Palestinian area and by working to crystallize positions that better reflected that situation within United Nations agencies concerned with the Palestinian question.

    He said that King Mohammed VI, Chairman of the Jerusalem Committee, was exerting every effort to make the influential international parties aware of the necessity to find a definitive solution to the Palestinian question by relaunching the peace process and returning to the negotiating table, without imposing restrictions or conditions. The King also reaffirmed the special importance of Jerusalem, because it was sacred to Muslims and because it was a land in which the sons of Abraham must live together. Morocco rejected the logic of force and attempts to create an unbalanced situation to induce the weaker side to accept the conditions of the stronger. Such conditions were far removed from the common goal to enable all parties to accept the principle of coexistence with a view to achieving permanent stability in the Middle East region.

    Ensuring the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people was the key to achieving peace as a strategic option, he said. Arab support for peace had been greeted with obduracy by Israel. He hoped that wisdom and the values of peace and legitimacy would prevail and that the current impasse would be resolved. His Government supported the efforts of the Group of Four -- European Union, Russian Federation, United States and United Nations –- as an effective contribution to the implementation of United Nations resolutions. He also supported the right of Palestinians to live in security in an international recognized State with permanent political and economic institutions. The achievement of such a peace would also require the return of all occupied Arab territories in Syria and southern Lebanon.

    KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a statement read out by the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), MERVAT TALLAWY, said meetings like those organized under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People provided a valuable opportunity for the participants to take stock of developments in the Middle East and to adjust their ideas on ways to reach peace in the region. He congratulated the Committee on its decision to hold the meeting on the African continent and on its excellent work in pursuance of the mandate entrusted to it by the General Assembly.

    The Secretary-General said the realization of Palestinian rights was an essential component to any peace agreement that could bring stability and prosperity to the Middle East. However, recent developments were moving away from the realization of those rights. Israel’s disproportionate and excessive use of force in conducting its self-defence had caused the deaths of many Palestinian civilians, increased economic hardship and damaged the Palestinian Authority and its institutions, further weakening the Authority’s capacity to provide basic services to its population. He had called on Israel to halt its settlement activity. Also, he had said on many occasions that the willful killing of Israeli civilians in terrorist attacks could never be justified. The cause of the Palestinian people was not served by such acts and they should cease immediately. The Palestinian Authority must do more to prevent them. Both sides must do more to meet their obligations to protect civilians.

    Despite recent negative trends, there was a growing consensus that the end goal of the peace process should be two States, Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders. There could be no lasting security for Israel without an end to the occupation of Palestinian territory. Equally, there could be no permanent political settlement leading to the establishment of the State of Palestine unless there was also genuine security for Israel. Before that could become a reality, there had to be a timetable to address the permanent status issues. The leaders on both sides must make difficult decisions and painful compromises and he called on them to assume their responsibilities and lead their people away from the abyss. For that to happen, neither side should set conditions and no extremist should be allowed to derail that undertaking. The international community needed to help all the parties chart a clear path that would lead to resolving the conflict once and for all.

    He said the World Bank and the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator, together with the donor community, were assessing the damage to the Palestinian social and economic structure. A massive assistance programme was urgently needed to help Palestinians rebuild their lives and households. The United Nations was contributing to such efforts through its agencies in the region. He appealed to donors for help to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) which remained a lifeline to 3.9 million Palestinians. The call made by the "Quartet" (Russian Federation, United States, European Union, United Nations) for strengthening and assisting the Palestinian Authority must be accompanied by reform of Palestinian institutions, led by Palestinians themselves and supported by the international community. The steps taken by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Legislative Council towards enhanced accountability must now be fully implemented. The Secretary-General pledged to continue to do whatever it took to help the peace efforts. The support of international public opinion was indispensable, he said.

    Speaking as the Executive-Secretary of ESCWA, Ms. TALLAWY said that the United Nations agencies served as a warning system about the situation in the occupied territories. The conflict was negatively affecting the entire region, foremost its socio-economic development. It undermined progress and development and the impact on the region was unimaginable. The United Nations’ image and prestige was gravely affected by the continuation of the conflict.

    She said that ESCWA was organizing a conference on future plans for the rehabilitation of the occupied territories. It would allow for the entire United Nations entity to plan how they would participate at the end of the conflict. Every year, ESCWA prepared a report of the impact of the conflict on the socio-economic life of the Palestinian people.

    She said a major challenge to the question of Palestine was the existence of the settlements. A renowned Israeli writer had written a letter to the then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin predicting the current crisis. He had urged the Prime Minister to "let us not compel the Arabs to feel that they had been humiliated until they feel that hope was gone and they must die for Palestine." During the last 10 years the settler population in the territories had doubled, requiring the defence of borders that were about 2,000 miles long. Peace and security for the people of the entire region was now hostage to the Israeli settlers.

    PAPA LOUIS FALL, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that Morocco, always a staunch supporter of Palestinian rights, played a special role through the chairmanship of the Al-Quds/Jerusalem Committee of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) held by King Mohammed VI, inasmuch as the issue of Jerusalem was central to any settlement of the question of Palestine and the broader Arab-Israeli conflict.

    He said the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory remained tense and volatile. The international community was particularly concerned at the reports of grave breaches of international law and was eagerly awaiting the report of the Secretary-General in that regard. The situation had improved somewhat, but recently the illegal acts by the occupying Power had intensified. Incursions were being conducted on a daily basis and the Israeli forces now had authorization to reoccupy Palestinian population centres for prolonged periods of time. Arbitrary detentions and even extra-judicial killings continued. In violation of agreements and understandings reached between the parties, they continued their aggressive settlement expansion policies. Severe restrictions had also been imposed on the movement of personnel and goods by agencies of the United Nations system and other intergovernmental and non-governmental agencies.

    He drew attention to the sustained attack by the occupying Power on the Palestinian Authority, its institutions and leadership. He said there was a systematic effort to discredit the representatives of the Palestinian people in order to support the implausible argument that there was no negotiating partner on the Palestinian side, so there could be no negotiations. Nobody should buy into the argument that made the resumption of political talks conditional on sweeping reforms in the Palestinian Authority. The international community had seen what happened when one side imposed conditions and then was the judge of whether those conditions had been met. The Committee welcomed the recent steps towards reform, but they were a domestic Palestinian affair and not a precondition for the peace talks.

    The Committee had joined the world community’s condemnation of attacks on civilians, irrespective of the provenance of such attacks, he said. He supported the idea of a third party presence in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, perhaps within the framework of the Quartet. Moreover, the United Nations should continue to maintain its permanent responsibility towards all aspects of the question of Palestine. The heart of the question of Palestine was the illegal occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territory and swift steps must be taken to bring that to an end. The vision of two peacefully coexisting States -- Israel and Palestine -- had to become a reality. He supported an international conference with broad participation to help define the steps and time frame for that to happen. He also supported a greater involvement of the Secretary-General. The occupying Power should not be allowed to delay indefinitely or to dictate unilaterally the terms of a final settlement.

    He said today’s meeting was to sensitize the international public, in particular Africans, so that the pressure increased on those concerned to bring about an end to the conflict and recognize fully the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

    RAWHI FATTOUH, Secretary of the Palestinian Legislative Council, speaking as the Representative of Palestine, conveyed the wishes of Chairman Yasser Arafat for the success of the meeting.

    He said the Palestinian people had hoped to achieve their inalienable rights like all other people in the world. In spite of their terrible suffering, Palestinians welcomed peace and had offered an olive branch to plant in the muzzle of the Israeli rifle. The continued settlement expansion showed that Israeli claims of wishing for peace were deceitful. The city of Jerusalem was under racist Israeli policies that crushed any hope for peace. Hundreds of Palestinian houses had been destroyed under the pretext that they were built without permits. Israel had made it clear that it wanted to undermine any effort aimed at peace. It had reoccupied all towns and villages in the West Bank, dividing the West Bank into 64 cantons and the Gaza Strip into four cantons. Israel was destroying the whole of the West Bank and Gaza making it difficult to continue the hope for peace.

    He said Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity could not undermine the Palestinians’ belief in peace as a strategic choice. However, peace could not be achieved as long as the refugee problem was not settled in a just way. Settlers must be forced to leave the land. Only then could there be peace, which was the wish of all people of the region. The Palestinian people condemned any act that endangered the life of any civilian, Palestinian or Israeli.

    He called on the international community, which was waiting for the moment when peace would reign over the Middle East, to put pressure on the Government of Israel and Prime Minister Sharon to pull back his military forces which each day brought death to dozens of Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others. Israel must comply with the relevant United Nations resolutions. Preparations were under way for and international conference to revive the peace process but such a conference should have clear terms of references and framework.

    Statements by Representatives of Governments, Intergovernmental Organizations and United Nations Agencies.

    The representative of Malaysia affirmed his Government’s support for the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. He encouraged Palestine to consistently dispute and counter allegations that President Arafat was to blame for the failure to finally resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict when he had refused to accept the proposal made at the Camp David summit in July 2000. What had been offered to the Palestinians then was merely an Israeli scheme to detach extensive areas of the Palestinian territory, fragmenting it into cantons isolated from each other and maintaining control over a large part of the borders with the Arab world. The Palestinian people must be given renewed hope and vision for peace with a definite timetable for an independent Palestinian State through the formulation of a clear roadmap for solution on the basis Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 1397 (2002) and the 1991 Madrid Conference.

    The representative of Iran said the Israeli forces continued to wage a war against the Palestinians with impunity, exacerbating injuries to the body and soul of the Palestinian people. Provisions of Security Council resolutions and the laws of armed conflicts were being violated on a regular basis. Numerous calls, particularly by the Council, had failed to find a way to the ears of the Israelis.

    By challenging the entire international community and the United Nations system, Israel and its powerful sponsors not only ignored the efforts of a deprived nation struggling for its inalienable rights for decades, but also paralyzed the entire international system. A selective and discriminatory approach to international law and important issues of security paved the way for the wrong kind of sentiments to develop and to disturb peace and security around the globe. The Council must take punitive action against Israel, authorizing sanctions and the dispatch of an international monitoring force to protect the Palestinian people. The Committee should concentrate its work in the current meeting on the perilous situation on the ground and foster its efforts to find a way to stop the tragedy in the occupied Palestinian territory.

    The representative of the Russian Federation said his Government reiterated its deep concern for the evolving situation in the Middle East. The parties themselves and the international community should pursue a comprehensive strategy that included security and freedom from violence and terror for both Israelis and Palestinians, serious and accelerated negotiations leading to a just political settlement, and efforts to address urgent humanitarian needs and help to promote the rebuilding of strong accountable, democratic and market-oriented institutions as the basis for a viable sovereign State. That would require action by all parties concerned. He reiterated that there was no military solution to the conflict and recalled the need for a comprehensive settlement on the basis of United Nations resolutions in particular 242 (1967), 338 (1973) and 1397 (2002). He urged the parties to overcome the crisis by meaningful dialogue, dealing in parallel with its political, economic and security aspects, fully implementing all the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. The Russian Special Envoy would continue his efforts on the ground to assist the parties in reaching an end to confrontation and resumption of political negotiations.

    He said the Quartet stood ready to assist the parties in implementing their agreements. There must be immediate parallel and accelerated movement towards a tangible political progress. There must be a defined series of steps leading to permanent peace involving normalization and security between the sides, an end to Israeli occupation and an end to the conflict. He called on the international community to preserve, strengthen and assist the Palestinian Authority. He also called on the donor community to renew their pledge to provide humanitarian assistance. There was a vital need for the Quartet to keep the situation in the Middle East under review. His Government positively assessed the Washington meeting of the special envoys of the Quartet on 14 June in which the envoys had agreed to continue joint efforts particularly in the context of preparing for an international conference. If the conference took place, it had to be effective. Therefore painstaking work was currently being conducted with consultations with all the interested parties.

    The representative of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed concern that Israel had developed a culture of acting with impunity when it came to United Nations resolutions. It consistently ignored the resolutions of both the Security Council and the General Assembly. The Movement had repeatedly called on the Council to discharge its duties regarding the maintenance of international peace and security and to be sure that Israel complied with its resolutions. Unfortunately, the Council had failed to take any action, which had given Israel a green light to continue with its acts of aggression. He reiterated the Movement’s support for the Arab peace initiative as well as for the ongoing work of the Quartet and other international efforts towards reducing the violence and establishing a clearly defined political horizon.

    The representative of the United Arab Emirates said that, confronted with repetitive developments in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Committee must move to end the conflict and call on Israel to implement the relevant Security Council resolutions. He condemned the violations of international humanitarian law by the Israeli forces. His Government supported fully the Palestinian people and its leadership. He also supported their inalienable rights to self-defence, in acceptable ways, to deter Israeli crimes. He called on the international community to encourage Israel to put an end to the situation. Israel must seek to bring about peace in the region. The Beirut declaration embodied the principle of land for peace and should be the basis for a solution.

    The representative of Nigeria condemned the ongoing violence and destruction of lives and properties in the Middle East. It also condemned the use of human bombs on innocent civilians in Israel, the massacre of innocent refugees in Jenin, the siege of President Arafat and the systematic destruction of Palestinian infrastructures. Nigeria reaffirmed the rights of the Palestinian people to have their own independent State within clearly defined borders and living peacefully side-by side with the State of Israel. He urged all parties to return without delay to genuine substantive dialogue and negotiations.

    The representative of the League of Arab States commended the sincere and continuous efforts of King Mohammed VI of Morocco to work towards putting an end to Israel’s arrogance. Recalling the stand taken by African countries when they cut off diplomatic relations following the 1967 occupation, he said that Africa continued to be a mainstay of support for the Arab nation. The preparations for an international conference to revive the peace process would provide the Palestinian people with a hope of peace. The Arab countries had expressed their support for peace when they adopted the Arab peace initiative last March in Beirut. Israel had responded to that initiative by completely overrunning the West Bank, sowing death and destruction. Despite those actions, the Arab nation remained committed to a political solution. Yet, Israel continued its actions, the most dangerous of which was the construction of the wall. It was a confirmation of the Israeli intention to occupy further Palestinian lands. He proposed that a round of talks take place between the Arab countries and the United States or between the Arab countries and the Quartet, perhaps later this summer, either during the General Assembly session or in one of the Arab countries, to bring about a settlement of the current situation and to bring about peace.

    The representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said that since the outbreak of the Intifada, UNFPA had employed a two-tier strategy: responding to emergency needs and priorities, while maintaining development assistance. The Fund’s humanitarian assistance had focused on life-saving services, such as emergency obstetric care. Despite the prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty, UNFPA had reaffirmed its commitment to participate actively in the administrative and financial reform agenda put forth by the donor community and United Nations agencies and endorsed by the Palestinian Authority. He was, however, alarmed by new measures for further tightening of the closures and imposing additional restrictions on movement of goods and people, including local Palestinian United Nations staff. The UNFPA called on the Israeli authorities to allow staff of humanitarian organizations, the donor community and United Nations agencies safe and unhindered access within the occupied Palestinian territories.

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