16 April 2004
Meeting Begins on Impact of Construction of Wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory
Speakers Decry Barrier as Further Blow To Palestinian Rights, Threat to Peace Process
(Reissued as received.)
GENEVA, 15 April (UN Information Service) - The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People opened this morning a two-day meeting on the Impact of the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, hearing a series of speakers contend that the barrier would worsen the already bleak situation of Palestinian civilians and could jeopardize the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the long-running conflict in the Middle East.
The Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Sergei Ordzhonikidze, delivered a message on behalf of Secretary-General Kofi Annan which said the Palestinian humanitarian plight was a cause of great concern, and the safety and stability of an already volatile region are at risk.
Paul Badji, Chairperson of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the situation as a result of Israeli construction of the wall remained unstable and dangerous. Violence in the region had undermined the resumption of peace talks by both parties; the political and socio-economic consequences of the construction of the wall needed to be examined. Among other things, the Chairperson expressed hope that the meeting would contribute new impetus to efforts made by the international community on the matter.
The Permanent Observer for the Palestinian Authority to United Nations Headquarters in New York, Nasser Al-Kidwa, said, among other things, that the wall had destroyed the lives and future of the Palestinian people and made the possibility of the two States living together in peace practically impossible. He termed the barrier a major colonial project aimed at illegally acquiring large parts of Palestinian land and said it represented a grave war crime against Palestinian people. Mr. Al-Kidwa said the decision to construct the wall would also allow Israel to carry out repeated attacks inside Gaza, which would amount to continued punishment for more than 1.2 million Palestinians.
Other speakers said Israel was in violation of international laws, including the Geneva Conventions and various United Nations resolutions. Others referred to the barrier as an example of Israeli attempts to expand its territory illegally. The Representative of Syria said the wall demonstrated Israeli intentions to draw up a new plan for the region according to a colonial mindset that would put Palestinians in enclaves. Several speakers urged the parties to return to the negotiating table and expressed overall support for the peace process.
A power point presentation on the consequences of the construction of the wall in the occupied Palestine territories was shown during the course of the morning session.
Addressing the meeting were representatives of Viet Nam, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement, the League of Arab States, Syria, Mexico, Bangladesh, Algeria, Pakistan, Egypt, India, and Namibia.
The meeting will resume today 3 p.m. when it is scheduled to hold a plenary session entitled The Construction of the Wall - Devastating the Lives and Future of the Palestinian Population.
SERGEI ORDZHONIKIDZE, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, delivered a statement on behalf of Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In the statement, the Secretary-General said the Palestinian humanitarian plight was a cause of great concern, adding that the safety and stability of an already volatile region are at risk. The statement referred to particular concerns expressed by the Secretary-General over the situation of Palestinian civilians who may have been placed between the barrier and the Green Line and thus deprived of full access to lands, livelihoods and services. The Secretary-General urged the parties to return to the negotiating table and said over the long term, the only real hope for the parties was in realizing the vision of a region where two States Israel and Palestine could live side by side in peace, within secure and recognized borders. The Secretary-General called on the international community to do everything in its power to see that the parties implemented the Quartets Road Map and resumed meaningful movement towards a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine.
PAUL BADJI, Chairperson of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that for decades the plight of the Palestinian people had been a story of oppression and despair. Living conditions in the territory had worsened, particularly during the last three years of the intifada, and violence continued unabated, claiming lives on both sides. The Palestinian people, who had been struggling to live normal lives in an independent State of their own, found their dreams slipping farther away. The construction of the wall, decided by the Israeli Cabinet, made the creation of a real and viable Palestinian State a very unlikely proposition. The international community had expressed opposition to the building of the wall, as it contradicted international law. The Committee was extremely disturbed by the alarming socio-economic and humanitarian consequences of the construction of the wall, which was inflicting damage on the livelihoods of the Palestinian population. The reality was that many Palestinian communities were cut into disjointed neighbourhoods and now found themselves separated from each other; Palestinians thus were separated from friends and families. Furthermore, basic services such as education and healthcare were being seriously restricted as a result of closures of gates leading to and from communities, and emergency medical cases were particularly problematic in cases where transit was required through the gates when they were closed.
Mr. Badji said that the level of violence and bitterness between Palestinians and Israelis was at a very dangerous point. Military raids and the use of disproportionate force had become a frequent occurrence and the continued practice of extrajudicial killings, including the recent assassination of the Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was a gross violation of international humanitarian law. Mr. Badji said the death toll since the start of the intifada had reached over 3,200 Palestinians and almost 1,000 Israelis, and women bore the brunt of the oppression resulting from the occupation. Recently, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which provided food to over 600,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, had announced that it had to stop its delivery of supplies because it was no longer allowed to take food containers out of Gaza. The Committee maintained that the United Nations had permanent responsibility with respect to all aspects of the question of Palestine until the matter was resolved in a satisfactory manner. The Committee believed that the pursuit of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East could be achieved through the implementation of the Quartets Road Map, based on United Nations resolutions. The international communitys role in reawakening the peace process was as critical and as urgent as ever.
Mr. Badji said the primary goal of the meeting was to put in sharp focus the magnitude of the problem facing the Palestinian people and the dangers to the peace process posed by the construction of the wall.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine to United Nations Headquarters in New York, said the meeting should be valued as an important event given the construction of the wall and the fact that it posed a central threat to efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East. The wall had destroyed the lives and futures of the Palestinian people and had made the possibility of the two States living together in peace practically impossible. Moreover, the wall was a major colonial project aimed at illegally acquiring large parts of Palestinian land. It represented a grave war crime against Palestinian people.
Referring to a General Assembly resolution which referred the matter of the wall to the International Court of Justice, Mr. Al-Kidwa said he had confidence that the Court would release an advisory opinion which would in turn need to be pursued and transferred in practical and political terms in accordance to the Charter of the United Nations as a way of resolving the dispute. The Israeli Government did not want peace and its actions and decisions had destroyed the progress made by the peace process made thus far.
Mr. Al-Kidwa said the construction of the wall was a violation of international law in that it attempted to acquire Palestinian territory illegally, in spite of international law. The construction also undermined the rights of Palestinian refugees under international law. Referring to a decision taken in Washington yesterday by which the United States signalled it would not object if Israel retained some settlements under a future peace accord, Mr. Al-Kidwa said the decision violated the principle of achieving independence in areas from which Israel might withdraw. The decision would also allow Israel to maintain the right to repeated attacks inside Gaza, which would amount to a continued punishment for more than 1.2 million Palestinians.
The Permanent Observer said the Quartet of countries leading the peace negotiations would not be able to function given the fact that one of its members had chosen to act unilaterally against the decision made by other members of the Quartet. Israel was not a passive, law-abiding State that was authorized to employ external military attacks; Israel was an occupying power that had been consistently violating international law, particularly the Geneva Convention. It was obvious that the Palestinian people needed the support of the international community, the protection of international law and the participation of the United Nations. Mr. Al-Kidwa said he hoped there would be a resumption of peace efforts leading to the two States living side-by-side in peace, community and prosperity.
A representative of Viet Nam said the Palestinian-Israel conflict was one of the most protracted in modern history. The Middle East had gone through five wars with disastrous aftermaths. It was regrettable that outcomes of initiatives made for peace had fallen short of expectations. Viet Nam fully supported the Palestinian peoples struggle for their fundamental right to establish an independent Palestinian State in their homeland and welcomed and supported initiatives and efforts by the international community to remove obstacles and resume peace talks with a view to reaching a lasting solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict on the basis of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
A representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference said the meeting reflected the commitment of the international community to continue its work to guarantee the rights of the Palestinian people. Israel was continuing to violate international law, had continued its aggression against the Palestinian people and had continued its acts of terrorism. Various special United Nations rapporteurs had also condemned these actions. The construction of the wall was one of the latest examples of Israeli attempts to expand its territory illegally. The construction of the wall violated international law and deprived Palestinians of the right to self-determination, among other things. It was a violation of the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Conventions and was an obstacle to the peace process since it undermined the essential elements of the Road Map. The wall only encouraged hatred and discouraged security for both parties; security could only come if there was respect for United Nations resolutions and international law.
Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, a representative of Malaysia said the Movement was fully supportive of the important work undertaken by the Committee and welcomed the meeting as an important initiative for dealing with the question of Palestine. At the two special sessions of the General Assembly in 2003, the Non-Aligned Movement had stated its positions on the Israeli wall: that it was illegal, that it must be dismantled, and that its further construction should be discontinued. Among other things, the wall presented a major obstacle to the implementation of the Road Map. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, John Dugard, had stated that the construction of the wall violated important norms of international humanitarian law which prohibited the annexation of occupied territory. Serious efforts should be undertaken to achieve a two-State solution that would ensure the creation of a sovereign, independent and viable State of Palestine. The Non-Aligned Movement remained fearful of the inevitable damaging and dangerous consequences if the wall were to continue along its planned route.
A representative of the League of Arab States said construction of the wall represented a racist act by Israel and presented obstacles to the peace initiatives made thus far. Israel had violated international law by annexing territory and violating the human rights of the people in the region. According to article 49 of the Geneva Conventions, the construction of the wall constituted a war crime. The rights of Palestinian children were being violated as per the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the wall had isolated a great part of the Palestinian population. Construction of the wall was comparable to the apartheid practices of the former South African regime. It was depriving Palestinian workers of their livelihoods. The League of Arab States was looking forward to a decision of the International Court of Justice prohibiting the wall. It encouraged Israel to return to the negotiating table.
A representative of Syria said the wall demonstrated Israels colonial mindset. It would put the Palestinian people in enclaves. Israel was annexing a large part of the West Bank through construction of the wall and was thus violating international law. Some 600,000 Palestinians would be displaced and dispossessed as a result of the wall, and Israeli would fill the land with new settlers in violation of international standards. The construction was a violation of General Assembly resolution 478 of 1980 and Israel was pre-empting the final conclusion of the peace process through the construction of the wall. Israel was a Government of war which wanted to kill the peace process. It was terrorizing the Palestinian population. Syria regretted deeply that one of the co-sponsors of the peace process recently had vetoed a relevant Security Council resolution. The failure of the Security Council to act in the matter had had a negative effect on the deteriorating situation in the region and had diminished the chances of reaching peace. The wall was a stumbling block on the road to peace.
A representative of Mexico said Mexico considered that a peaceful solution in the Middle East required recognition that Palestinians had the right to self-determination and to internationally recognized borders. Mexico supported the request for an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice and condemned terrorist acts in general. Israel must take full responsibility for complying with international laws. Mexico fully supported the efforts made by the Secretary-General and reiterated its strong commitment to the peace process in the Middle East. Occupation of territory by force was not justifiable under any circumstance whatsoever. Mexico urged the parties to return to the peace process.
A representative of Bangladesh said a just and lasting peace in the Middle East must be based on the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter and general international law; the forcible occupation of Palestinian territory was illegal, as was the attempted annexation of territory through the use of force. Bangladesh reaffirmed its total support for the legitimate and inalienable right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign and independent homeland.
A representative of Algeria said Israel had tried for four decades to reject and exclude the Palestinian population. The latest step was this apartheid wall. Collective punishment, imprisonment and destruction of houses, as well as violations of the rights to education and freedom of movement, among other things, had been carried out as a result of the construction of the wall. The strangling of the population by the presence of the wall was another example of the aggressive crimes carried out by Israel against the Palestinian people.
A representative of Pakistan said if the wall were being built just for security, it would have followed the green line. In fact the wall had grave economic and social impacts and violated the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. It also restricted freedom of movement and hindered access to education and healthcare as well as access to commerce, agriculture and water in the West Bank.
A representative of Egypt said Israel had committed flagrant violations of international humanitarian law through its construction of the wall. Among the basic rights being violated were the rights to access to health and education. International laws were being grossly violated. Egypt appealed to the international community to step up its commitment given the serious violations of international law occurring in the occupied territories. This meeting should mobilize the will of the international community to strive for peace in the region.
A representative of India said the meeting was taking place against the backdrop of a deteriorating situation in the Middle East. India supported United Nations resolutions aimed at stabilizing the situation. India believed there was no military solution to the situation in the region.
A representative of Namibia said that if the wall were completed, approximately 388,000 Palestinians would be placed on the Israeli side of the wall, which would pose not only additional security concerns, but also demographic problems. What was more appalling was that Israel was carrying out illegal activities with the blessing of some powerful countries who were also brokers of the peace process. It had to be asked how these countries could be honest brokers if they were openly siding with Israel. Having experienced the brutality of the apartheid regime of South Africa, the Namibian people shared a great deal of solidarity with the people of Palestine in their quest for self-determination. It was the hope of Namibia that the same support that had been given to the Namibian people would be given to the Palestinian people.
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