Press Releases

    GA/PAL/978
    9 March 2005

    United Nations International Meeting on Question of Palestine Starts at Palais des Nations

    Secretary-General’s Message:  "This Is a Moment of Promise in the Search for Peace in the Middle East"

    (Reissued as received.)

    GENEVA, 8 March (UN Information Service) -- The United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine opened this morning at the Palais des Nations with a message from the Secretary-General which underscored that this was a moment of promise in the search for peace in the Middle East.

    Sergei Ordzhonikidze, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, read out the message sent by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in which he said: “This is a moment of promise in the search for peace in the Middle East. There is once again a real sense that, after long years of suffering, bitterness and despair, better days may at last lie ahead”.

    The theme of the Meeting is “Implementation of the ICJ advisory opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory -- the role of Governments, intergovernmental organizations and civil society”. In his message, the Secretary-General noted that in January, he had sent a letter to the President of the General Assembly in which he outlined a framework for the register of damage which the Assembly had asked him to establish. Work was proceeding on this, and he expected to report shortly.

    “Let us all remain focused on our long-standing objective of two States -- Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders, as called for by relevant Security Council resolutions. And let us do our utmost to turn the current moment of potential into a real end to the conflict”, the Secretary-General’s message said.

    Several speakers who took the floor this morning stressed that Israel continued to violate the rights of Palestinian people by constructing a wall of separation that impeded farmers from reaching their lands, students from reaching their schools and patients from reaching hospitals. Many of them urged Israel to discontinue building the wall and to dismantle the parts of it already built. They said that the building of the wall did not ensure Israel’s security concerns and increased the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

    When the Meeting reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it will hold a plenary discussion on the significance of the advisory opinion, including a legal analysis of the advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice, the response by the parties to the advisory opinion and the reaction of the international community.

    Statements

    SERGEI ORDZHONIKIDZE, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, read out the message from United Nations Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN in which he said that “This is a moment of promise in the search for peace in the Middle East.  There is once again a real sense that, after long years of suffering, bitterness and despair, better days may at last lie ahead”.

    Mr. Annan noted that the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in January had heralded a fresh start in efforts to end four years of bloodshed among Israelis and Palestinians. The agreement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to end violence signalled a new attitude of cooperation and the rebuilding of trust between the two sides. Last week’s meetings in London had built on that breakthrough. The Quartet had pledged to help Israelis and Palestinians implement the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings and their obligations under the “Road Map”. The Secretary-General said that he was determined that the United Nations would continue to work with the Palestinian Authority, the Government of Israel, the Quartet, donors and other partners to create an environment in which these new initiatives took root and flourished.

    The Secretary-General recalled that in January, he had sent a letter to the President of the General Assembly in which he had outlined a framework for the register of damage which the Assembly had asked him to establish. Work was proceeding on this, and he expected to report shortly.

    “The long cherished dream of a vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians has been to live a normal life in peace and security. At long last, all of us can sense a newfound movement towards that dream. I urge everyone -- the parties and the international community -- to refrain from any actions that would be detrimental to the resumption of negotiations and implementation of the Road Map, or that could prejudge the resolution of final status issues. Let us all remain focused on our long-standing objective of two States -- Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders, as called for by relevant Security Council resolutions. And let us do our utmost to turn the current moment of potential into a real end to the conflict”, the Secretary-General’s message said.

    PAUL BADJI, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the meeting was being held at a time when there was a sense of cautious optimism. The election of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas which was followed by the Sharm el-Sheikh summit were very promising developments. At the Summit, President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had reaffirmed their commitment to the Road Map and had reached an understanding on the need to put an end to violence. Both sides took a series of positive steps and there was great hope that those would lead to the resumption of political negotiations, an end to occupation, and a negotiated solution to the conflict. However, violent clashes in the occupied Palestinian territory continued between Israelis and Palestinians. That reminded the international community of the volatility of the situation on the ground.

    Mr. Badji said that it was distressing that, despite the positive movements on the ground in the areas of security coordination, Palestinian prisoner releases and democratic elections, thousands of Palestinians trapped in ghettos within the wall had yet to receive some relief to ease the debilitating conditions under which they lived.  Last January, construction had resumed in a section of the wall by the settlement of “Ariel”, located 12 miles deep into the West Bank. Israeli bulldozers had razed confiscated land in the area. The so-called “security barrier” was becoming a barrier to peace. The Government of Israel had to stop building the wall, dismantle what had been built, and compensate Palestinians for all the damage caused by the construction.

    The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People continued to believe that the Road Map remained the most practicable way to reach a negotiated solution. That plan envisaged such a goal -- two States living side by side in peace in security, within secure and recognized borders. The Committee was of the view that the pursuit of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East could be achieved through the early implementation of the Quartet’s Road Map, which was based on the United Nations resolutions, and accepted by both parties.

    ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, said the situation was bleak because of the occupation. However, there was still a chance for peace between Palestine and Israel. The meetings between Mr. Abbas and Mr. Sharon in Sharm el-Sheikh and the meeting held in London were positive signs for peace.  Many other efforts had also been made to create a peaceful environment in the region.

    With regard to the Road Map, Israel had to do a lot of things, Mr. Abdullah said. It should remove its punitive measures, including stopping the construction of the wall in the occupied Palestinian territory. The checkpoints set up by Israel had reduced the right to freedom of movement of people. Israel should also stop its resettlement programmes in order to achieve peace. The Israeli authorities should focus on implementing positive measures conducive to peace. All Palestinian prisoners should be freed. The obligations enshrined in the Road Map should be taken seriously by Israel.

    The realization of two States side by side could only be effective when Israel assumed its responsibility and contributed to the existence of two States in secure and recognized borders. Mr. Abdullah urged Israel to abide by myriad resolutions and international law on this issue, adding that the political process should be strengthened through Israel’s sincerity and adherence to international law.

    OUSMANE CAMARA, Senegal’s Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Member of the Special Committee on Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of Palestinian People and Other Arabs in the Occupied Territories, reading out the message of the Chairperson of the Committee, said the construction of the wall of separation, which started in June 2002, had continued despite the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and the General Assembly. The reasons given by Israel to justify its construction were that it had to ensure the security of its population which it said had been seriously compromised by the attacks of Palestinian militant groups, such as suicide bombings. The international community recognized Israel’s legitimate security preoccupation and its obligation to protect its population. However, such measures should take into account Israel’s obligations in matters pertaining to human rights and international humanitarian law. All measures taken by Israel to ensure its protection, as well as those of its citizens, should be inscribed within international law.

    The Chairperson of the Special Committee on Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of Palestinian People and Other Arabs in the Occupied Territories said Israel had never allowed the Committee to visit the occupied territories. The Committee was, therefore, depending on facts provided to it by witnesses, who experienced difficulties to travel and act as witnesses before the Committee. The witnesses had confirmed that a large amount of land had been confiscated, thousands of lemon and olive trees had been uprooted, and irrigation canals had been destroyed. They also confirmed that houses and factories had been demolished, seriously affecting the human rights and the economic and social life of the Palestinians. In addition, the construction of the wall of separation had impeded Palestinians from access to their agricultural lands, children from access to schools and pregnant women from access to hospitals.

    ABDELAZIZ ABUGOUSH, speaking on behalf of EKMELEDDIN IHSANOGLU, Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the International Court of Justice had unanimously decided that it had jurisdiction to give an advisory opinion, and had confirmed that the international humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention, was applicable to the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, and that the construction of the wall violated the inalienable Palestinian right to self-determination. That advisory opinion was the first intervention of the Court in the Palestinian cause, and constituted legal lines with a historical dimension that turned focus back to the essence of the Palestinian cause in the face of the Israel occupation and its practices, particularly settlements and the wall as a serious violation of the Palestinian right to self-determination.

    The wall being constructed by Israel on the occupied Palestinian territories was illegal. It was a violation of the general principles of international law, United Nations resolutions, Geneva conventions, and the fundamental Palestinian rights. The legal consequences had to be a condemnation of the State responsible for that act, reminding it of the need to dismantle the constructed part, and compensating the totality of damages caused by the construction of the wall. He drew attention to the need for international financial institutions to refrain from extending any facilities to the occupying State that helped establish the wall as a fait accompli.

    HSU KING BEE (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that, in spite of some developments in recent weeks which had offered a glimmer of hope for the future, the Movement continued to be seriously concerned about the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, as a result of the ongoing illegal policies and practices by Israel, the occupying Power. The construction of the expansionist wall was one of the many illegal policies and practices by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.

    The advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice was a significant milestone in international law, representing an historic opportunity for the necessity of returning to the rule of international law in all efforts to justly and peacefully address the question of Palestine and resolve the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All members of the international community –- governments, international and intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and civil society -– should look for ways to bring about the effective implementation of that historic opinion. The Non-Aligned Movement continued to reaffirm the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine until it was resolved in all aspects in a satisfactory manner on the basis of international legitimacy. At the same time, the Non-Aligned Movement would look to the international community and those directly engaged in the peace process, namely the Quartet, to exert the necessary efforts to salvage the Road Map and strive for a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to that question.

    The Representative of Mexico said the advisory opinion expressed by the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the wall had contributed to a clear understanding of the situation. Mexico acknowledged the role of the Court in interpreting international law and it had made recourse to the Court on many occasions in the past seeking its opinion.  Mexico had supported the resolution of the General Assembly on the need to seek the advisory opinion of the Court on the legal consequences of the construction of the wall of separation. The Court had clearly pronounced its opinion on the issue. He urged Israel to respect the opinion of the Court. He also appealed to the authorities of Israel and Palestine to seize all opportunities to implement the objectives contained in the Road Map.

    The Representative of Iran said the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in occupied Palestine was that it was contrary to international law.  The world community should be made aware of that fact and the occupying regime should terminate its frequent and repeated breaches of international law and should be held responsible for the devastating consequences of its illegal actions. The construction of the separation wall, even in the wake of the issuance of the advisory opinion and the international standards thereafter, not only was in clear defiance of international law, but was also an act of disrespect and intransigence towards the will of the international community.

    The construction of the “apartheid wall” in the occupied territories was another policy along with numerous other repressive and brutal plans which systematically violated the fundamental rights of the people of Palestine.

    The Representative of Indonesia said the International Court of Justice had determined that the construction of the wall by Israel was contrary to international law. The Court further stated that Israel was under obligation to cease the construction, and that it was to dismantle portions of the wall built on Palestinian land and provide compensation to the affected Palestinian people. Six months after the Court denounced the illegality of the construction of the wall by Israel, one had yet to see the implementation of the Court’s decision owing to the arrogance of Israel. It was against that background that the General Assembly, by resolution 95/28 and 59/29 of 1 December 2004, had mandated that Committee to convene this conference to discuss the issue with a view to promoting Israel’s adherence to international law and effecting the Court’s decision on the matter.

    The Representative of China said China had always been concerned about the Middle East situation and was dedicated to developing friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation with the people of all Middle Eastern countries. China hoped that peace, stability and development would be realized at an early date in that area. China had always maintained that realization of a just and lasting peace in the region should be based on the relevant United Nations resolutions and the principle of “land for peace”. Palestine and Israel should build mutual trust and resume the peace talks; implementation of the “Road Map” plan should be restarted and an independent Palestinian State should be established; negotiations at various fronts should be resumed as early as possible so as to realize a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the area; and the international community should intensify its mediation efforts.

    China supported a more important role by the United Nations to represent broader support of the international community for the Middle East peace process.  China had always held that constructing a wall on the occupied territory of Palestine could not resolve Israel’s security problems once and for all; it could only intensify divergences and conflicts between Palestine and Israel. China was opposed to the construction of the wall and was of the view that conflicts between two sides had to do with such important issues as the boundary demarcation and security, and it should be resolved through dialogue and political negotiation.

    The Representative of the Congo said he endorsed the statement made by Malaysia on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. The construction of the wall had been a source of a serious concern to the Government of the Congo. In the peace process, the Government of Congo supported the Road Map, which was intended to bring peace and security to the region. The present meeting was intended for a dialogue with both sides. However, Israel was absent from the meeting and its side of the facts would have been helpful to strengthen the dialogue.

    The Representative of Syria said the International Court of Justice on 9 July 2004 had been seized by the General Assembly to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the construction of the wall of separation that Israel had built in the occupied Palestinian territories. The opinion was clear: “The construction of the wall and the regime associated to it contradicted international law”. The Court had also said that Israel had the obligation to put an end to its violation of international law; to immediately stop its construction of the wall that Israel was still building within the Palestinian territory, and to dismantle the wall.

    Israel was obliged to compensate the damage it had caused by the construction of the wall. It was a pity that Israel had not yet responded to the opinion expressed by the Court.

    The Representative of Namibia said that, despite the difficult conditions emanating from the illegal occupation, the Palestinian people and their leadership continued to sustain their struggle for their inalienable right to self-determination. In the past few weeks the international community had witnessed positive developments in Israeli-Palestinian relations.  The Summit that was held in Sharm el-Sheikh between Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas on 8 February 2005 was a welcome initiative. One hoped that the understanding reached and commitments made at the meeting would be fully respected and implemented.  The release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners by the Government of Israel was another positive step.  However, one was fully convinced that the way for ensuring continued progress in the peace process and full implementation of the Road Map was ending the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory.

    Namibia’s experience was that one could not have peace and development under illegal occupation. He called on Israel to withdraw all its troops from all the Palestinian land as provided for under the Road Map.  While Namibia recognized Israel’s right to defend its citizens, it strongly believed that that should be done within its recognized borders.

    The Representative of Pakistan said the international community was alarmed at the construction of the separation wall in the occupied Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion of 9 July 2004 had declared the construction of the wall on the Palestinian territory as illegal and contrary to international law. The wall had serious implications for the Palestinian people. The wall did not address the security concerns of Israel; on the contrary, it only helped to add to the suffering of the Palestinian people.  If the wall was built purely from the security point of view, it should have followed the Green Line -- the 1967 boundary line between Israel and Palestine. The construction of the wall on the Palestinian territories could amount to de facto annexation of Palestinian land by Israel.

    The International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion had declared the construction of the separation wall on Palestinian territory as illegal and contrary to international law.  The construction of the wall continued to aggravate the suffering of the Palestinian people. The international community, and particularly the United Nations, had a responsibility to ensure that the construction of the wall was discontinued and dismantled in compliance with the advisory opinion of the Court, as well as the norms of international human rights and humanitarian law. In the past, the Security Council had declared Israel’s annexation of the Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem, as null and void. The international community should continue to oppose the construction of that wall of separation.

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