Press Releases

     

    GA/PAL/939
    17 December 2003

    UNITED NATIONS MEETING FOR ASIA AND PACIFIC ON
    QUESTION OF PALESTINE OPENS IN BEIJING

    (Received from a United Nations Press Officer.)

    BEIJING, 16 December -- Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of China Dai Bingguo told the opening session of the United Nations Meeting for Asia and the Pacific on the Question of Palestine in Beijing this morning that it was imperative for the international community to show greater courage, wisdom and resolve in helping the two parties to get rid of disturbances, abandon violence, continue peace talks and follow the Road Map in good faith.

    To that end, he said, the United Nations had an irreplaceable role in resolving issues in the Middle East.  The international community must strictly observe the principle of neutrality, objectivity and justice without favouring either party.  He stressed the importance of the role of civil society, stating that the participation of academia, the business community, non-governmental organizations and other members of civil society helped the international community to pool its wisdom and jointly promote the Middle East peace process.

    Secretary General Kofi Annan, expressing concern over the barrier being built in the West Bank, which ran contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Road Map, and sowed the seeds of mistrust and suspicion among Palestinians, said Israel had a legitimate right and duty to protect its people against terrorist attacks but that duty should not be carried out in a way that contradicted international law, damaged the longer-term prospects for peace or increased suffering among the Palestinian people

    In a statement read out by the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Kim Hak-Su, the Secretary-General urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to speed up efforts to restart negotiations.  He reaffirmed his commitment to work with all concerned to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement to the question of Palestine.

    Head of the Delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian Peoples, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said a determined effort by the world community was needed now more than ever if peace was to prevail in the Middle East.  The Quartet’s Road Map, which offered a solution that was accepted by both parties and enjoyed broad international support had regrettably been held back.  The Geneva and the People’s Voice initiatives were good examples of civil society on both sides coming together and grappling with a conflict that affected the future of their peoples.  While only the official negotiations could move the process forward, the voice of civil society reminded the international community that there were promising approaches that had yet to be seriously considered.

    Minister for Labour of the Palestinian Authority Ghassan Khatib said settlement expansion was widely considered to be the policy most responsible for hindering and preventing peace now and in the future.  It created concrete realities on the ground that prevented a resolution based on the establishment of two States.

    He said the question was no longer how to describe the situation on the ground but how the international community could do something practical to end those practices.

    Statements were also made by the representatives of Lebanon, Tunisia, India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Poland, Ukraine and Jordan.

    The representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the United Nations Development Programme also made statements.

    The two-day Beijing meeting will explore “Mobilizing international support for a peaceful solution to the question of Palestine”.  During the meeting, convened under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, experts in Plenary I will assess the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  Plenary II will take up the topic of strengthening international support for a peaceful solution of the question of Palestine.  In Plenary III, panellists will review support in Asia for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

     

    Invited to the meeting are eminent personalities, including high level officials from the host Government and the Palestinian Authority, internationally renowned experts, including Israelis and Palestinians, representatives of United Nations Member States, parliamentarians, representatives of intergovernmental organizations and United Nations agencies, the academic community, representatives of non-governmental and other civil society organizations and media.

    The Committee will also sponsor a Public Forum in Support of the Middle East to be held on the morning of 18 December.  At that meeting, a roundtable of experts from the International Meeting for Asia and the Pacific on the Question of Palestine will discuss a series of topics, including public perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:  the unchallenged media; the impact and educational responsibility of think tanks and academic institutions; and the role of civil society in raising public awareness about the question of Palestine.

    This afternoon, in Plenary I, participants will hear presentations by experts on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  Panellists will examine illegal policies and actions of the occupying Power against the Palestinian people; the urgency of international protection of the Palestinian people; and humanitarian emergency and the destruction of the Palestinian economy. 

    Opening Statements

    DAI BINGGUO, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of China said the key to a solution to the question of Palestine was in the hands of the Israelis and the Palestinians but international support was indispensable.  It was imperative for the international community to show greater courage, wisdom and resolve in helping the two parties get rid of disturbances, abandon violence, continue peace talks and follow the Road Map in good faith.  To that end, the United Nations had an irreplaceable role in resolving issues in the Middle East.  But, he said, United Nations peacemaking efforts in the Middle East had always been fraught with difficulties which were not conducive to Middle East peace and detrimental to United Nations authority. 

    The international community must strictly observe the principles of neutrality, objectivity and justice without favouring either party, he said.  The reasonable concerns and requirements of the two parties must be taken seriously with equal attention and care.  The legitimate rights of the Palestinian people must be restored at an early date.  Suicide bombings targeting civilians also should be checked effectively.  Only on a just, reasonable and comprehensive basis could the question of Palestine be solved properly.

    Also, he said, the role of civil society must be brought into full play.  The participation of academia, the business community, non-governmental organizations and other members of civil society helped the international community to pool its wisdom and jointly promote the Middle East peace process.  The painful sufferings of the two sides simply could not continue; the more than half a century-old hatred and animosity must come to an end.  All peace-loving countries were obligated to help those two great nations to remove their hate and feuds, live in peace and harmony and develop side by side.  China would continue to back the United Nations role in addressing the Middle East issue and was ready to join the rest of the international community in pushing forward the Middle East peace process.

    KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a statement read out by his representative, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific KIM HAK-SU, said the construction of a barrier in the West Bank caused great concern.  It deepened economic and humanitarian problems facing the Palestinians, ran contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Road Map, and sowed the seeds of mistrust and suspicion among Palestinians.  It was critical for both sides to take good-faith, confidence-building steps, so as not to impair future negotiations.  In that respect, the construction of the barrier was counterproductive.

    He said that Israel had a legitimate right and duty to protect its people against terrorist attacks.  That duty, however, should not be carried out in a way that contradicted international law, damaged the longer-term prospects for peace or increased suffering among the Palestinian people.  The practice of collective punishment and extrajudicial killings further diminished trust and raised levels of frustration and anger.  At the same time, the new Palestinian Cabinet must act decisively to put an end to terrorist attacks.  A solution would not be achieved through terrorism.  Suicide bombings against innocent Israeli civilians were morally reprehensible and could not be justified.  The Palestinian side should live up to its Road Map obligations as regards security and take immediate and practical steps to rein in extremists committing terrorist acts.

    He emphasized that the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians would not be resolved militarily.  Only through a political process could there be a solution resulting in a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement based on two States living side-by-side in peace within secure and recognized borders.  Recent efforts by civil society demonstrated that there were Palestinians and Israelis who felt that peace was an aspiration that could no longer be put on hold.  The Geneva Initiative, launched on 1 December, offered a detailed plan to resolve the conflict in a comprehensive manner.  The Ayalon-Nusseibeh statement of principles was another clear signal that the Israelis and Palestinians could act with reason and restraint and agree on how to live in peace.  Those creative Track Two initiatives were consistent and compatible with the Road Map.

    He said the international community needed to bolster its role in the peace process and he welcomed the Security Council’s unanimous endorsement of the Road Map in its resolution 1515.  It paved the way for a more vigorous involvement of the international community in helping the parties to implement their respective Road Map obligations.  He urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to speed up efforts to restart negotiations.  The international community should remain steadfast in its support for the quest for peace in the Middle East.  He would continue to work with all concerned to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement to the question of Palestine, based on Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, and the principle of land for peace.

    The Head of the Delegation of the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARILLA (Cuba) said a determined effort by the world community was needed now more than ever if peace was to prevail in the Middle East.  Palestinian civilians continued to suffer from oppressive Israeli policies and practices.  The day-to-day life of Palestinian men, women and children was marked by closures, curfews, house demolitions and other forms of collective punishment, hampering their ability to make a living and take care of their families.  The Committee condemned the Israeli practice of extrajudicial killings, as well as the suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, all of which harmed efforts to encourage reconciliation and pushed the goal of peaceful coexistence farther away. 

    Continuing, he said that in tandem with the continued sprawling of settlements, the Israeli Government had begun building a separation wall in the West Bank and around East Jerusalem.  The Israeli Government asserted that the wall was a temporary security measure and should not be perceived as a political border.  If that was so, why wasn’t Israel building the wall in its own territory parallel to the Green Line?, he asked.  The wall, if fully completed, would create unwanted facts on the ground and hamper negotiations on the future borders between Israel and a State of Palestine.  Ignoring the will of the international community, Israel had indicated its intention to complete the project.  The General Assembly on 8 December had adopted a resolution asking the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s construction of a separation wall in the West Bank.

    He said the Quartet’s Road Map offered a solution which was accepted by both parties and enjoyed broad international support.  Regrettably, the implementation of the Road Map had been held back but a group of Israelis and Palestinians had begun to explore possible alternative solutions.  The Geneva and the People’s Voice initiatives, which were compatible with the Road Map, were good examples of civil society on both sides coming together and grappling with a conflict that affected the future of their peoples.  In addition, they addressed painful, yet essential issues that would help start the process of finding ways to bridge the deep divide still separating the two sides.  While only the official negotiations could move the process forward, the voice of civil society reminded the international community that there were promising approaches that had yet to be seriously considered.  He called on both parties to heed the call to peace and to re-start the political process.  He also urged the international community to continue to give generously to the assistance programmes benefiting Palestinians and called on the Israeli Government to assure that donors and aid workers be allowed to deliver humanitarian assistance. 

    Statements

    The representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said there was a growing international awareness of the need to find a just and peaceful solution to the situation in the Middle East and to enable the Palestinian people to achieve their inalienable rights.  It was high time for concerted international efforts to stop the Israeli aggression and its violations of international law and agreements.  This required an end to all Israeli aggressions against land and people; the withdrawal of Israeli occupation authorities from the Occupied Palestinian Territory; a cessation and abolishment of all settlement operations and the removal of the apartheid wall; the release of all Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons; and the removal of all barricades and blockades imposed on the Palestinian people and its leadership and the dispatch of international disengagement forces to supervise the implementation of the Road Map.

    The representative of Lebanon said his Government had brought the Palestinian cause before the world.  The fact that Israel continued to occupy Lebanese and Syrian territories and continued its policy of death and destruction in the Occupied Palestinian territory made it impossible to talk in a reasonable manner about the peace in the Middle East.  Solidarity with the Palestinian people meant helping the people to return to their land.  The right to live in their own country and land was a fundamental right stipulated in international laws and the Charter of Human Rights.  Lebanon firmly supported the right of Palestinians to return to their country because it was a legal, moral and human right.  He opposed any attempt to implant Palestinian refugees on Lebanese territories.  He called for a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees in order to ensure the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right of return.

    The representative of Tunisia said his country's unswerving support for the Palestinian cause was long standing.  Tunisia actively had supported various peace processes in the Middle East from the outset.  The struggle against terrorism and the establishment of peace and security called for peaceful solutions to problems.  His Government had reiterated the urgency of the need to step up efforts to bring peace and to help the Palestinian people set up their own territory.  The application of the Road Map and the implementation of United Nations resolutions could put an end to the violence and bring a comprehensive and lasting peace to the peoples in the region.

    The representative of India said there was no military solution to the problem.  Both sides must cease all acts of violence and fully cooperate with the efforts of the international community.  The separation wall being built on the pretence of preventing violence was anachronistic.  There must be immediate, parallel and accelerated movement towards tangible political progress and a defined series of steps leading to permanent peace involving recognition, normalization and security between the two sides.

    The representative of Afghanistan said the Palestinian people had the right to enjoy their own State.  The illegality of settlements and the changing of the status of Jerusalem had been reaffirmed by the General Assembly.  A peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine was the basis of efforts by civil society to find a peaceful solution.  Palestinian suffering could not be ignored.  All acts of violence must end.  The time had come to create circumstances in which the Palestinian people could enjoy their human rights.  Afghanistan had always actively supported the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine.  All Muslims considered East Jerusalem as a sacred place and, therefore, Jerusalem was more important than just an Israeli-Palestinian matter.  Jerusalem was a global problem.

    The representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said a climate of democratic governance was developing in the Palestinian territory.  It was no small achievement for a people to discover the right to govern themselves under difficult conditions.  All the development work was being carried out under a state of emergency but there were many examples of progress.  For example, a woman's centre had helped women with little training to establish their own businesses.  The UNDP's Palestinian programme had had considerable experience and enjoyed trusted relationships with local counterparts.  All of its efforts required a participatory approach.  Even in times of crisis and conflict, one must not lose sight of the fact that the eternal task was to join with the people as partners for the future.

    The representative of Indonesia said his Government had consistently condemned the actions of the Israeli Government that assaulted the lives of Palestinians.  The construction of the wall made it difficult to believe that Israel was actually searching for peace.  He hoped that today's meeting would further the resolution of the question of Palestine and the keeping of a two-State solution.  He recalled that in the United Nations Special Coordinator's briefing to the Security Council, he had said that the stalemate in the peace process had been characterized by a period of relative quiet which provided a narrow window of opportunity to put the peace process back on track.  Indonesia shared that view.  Unless Israel demonstrated its interest in making the peace process work, it would be difficult to achieve any progress.

    The representative of Poland said that since the last meeting of the Committee, there had been further acts of violence in the region.  He expected the Palestinian cabinet to take steps to establish law and order.  During the last couple of weeks, there had been further construction of the Israeli barrier.  Poland had expressed its grave concern about the route of the wall and the likely effects on the Palestinians.  He supported the United Nations resolution to stop and reverse the wall but the construction had continued unabated.  Such acts were inconsistent with the Road Map and made the realization of a two-State solution more difficult.  He welcomed the new and promising spirit of the Geneva Accord and the Ayalon-Nusseibie initiative and said those initiatives should be welcomed in a positive spirit.

                                                                                                                                                 

    The representative of Ukraine said the peace process in the Middle East must be made irreversible.  He noted that the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Peace in the Middle East sponsored by the Committee and held in Kyiv last May was the first international event where the Road Map had received wide support in the world community. The only meaningful option was to continue negotiations with the objective of stabilizing the current situation and to achieve a complete and lasting peace. He confirmed his country's offer to provide good offices for holding peace negotiations in Ukraine. Present obstacles to the peace process needed to be overcome so that the negotiations on the final status could begin as soon as possible. The role of the international community in the settlement of the problem could not be overestimated. He called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to respect the principles of international law and the relevant Security Council resolutions.

    The representative of Jordan called on Israel to stop violence and refrain from closures, assassinations, demolishment of houses and all kinds of collective punishment and to stop immediately Israeli settlements and to abolish the wall.  He stressed the importance of the international community extending all kinds of assistance to the Palestinian people.  As the largest refugee host, he called on the international community to solve this problem in accordance with General Assembly resolution 194 (III) and other relevant resolutions.  He looked forward to a comprehensive peace in the region that involved not only Israel and the Palestinians, but also Syria and Jordan.

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