Achieving final, peaceful settlement of Palestinian question key to Middle East stability, General Assembly told
Report, United Nations General Assembly, 30 November 2006
Sixty-first General Assembly
Plenary 61st & 62nd Meetings (AM & PM)
With speaker after speaker in the General Assembly urging the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to resume long-stalled peace talks and to shore up -- and even extend -- a fragile truce, as the ceasefire between the two sides moved into its fifth day, the world body, today, wrapped up a two-day debate which underscored, above all, that achieving a final and peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine was the key to stability in the Middle East.
Concluding the annual debate that traditionally opens its consideration of the question of Palestine and the situation in the wide Middle East - delegations will reconvene tomorrow to take action on six relevant draft resolutions - the Assembly heard calls ring out for sustained international involvement to support both the Palestinian and Israeli sides in revitalizing peace efforts, and to use the momentum generated by last Sunday's truce to "breathe new life" into faltering negotiations on the other tracks of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including regarding the Syrian Golan and Lebanon.
"If there is a true desire for peace in the Middle East, it must begin in Palestine, which had initiated the ceasefire, accepted by Israel, and had sparked a ray of hope in the midst of despair," said the Observer of Palestine, who added that, if extended to the West Bank, the ceasefire could pave the way for the resumption of peace talks.
He said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had been relentless in calling on the Israeli side to engage in final status negotiations, and hopefully, the response would be genuine and forthcoming. Israel's adherence to international law and compliance with its obligations would prove a step in the right direction. Israel should not waste anymore time, but should "grab the gesture" offered by Arab countries through their peace initiative. Israel should withdraw from the Arab Territories, which it had occupied since June 1967, and allow a just and comprehensive peace to emerge, he declared.
Among the nearly 70 delegations participating in the two-day debate, Switzerland's speaker acknowledged that, while it was his delegation's strong wish to see the ceasefire followed by a long-term armistice initiating a credible political process that would be supported by the international community, the truce was fragile. It was therefore imperative that both Palestinian and Israeli sides exercised maximum restraint when faced with violations of its terms. On the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, he urged the Assembly to recognize that the status quo was untenable, and that a settlement of those conflicts must address root causes - not only their consequences - and renew the respective peace processes.
Pakistan's representative said that, with the ceasefire holding, both Israel and the Palestinians should undertake confidence-building measures. Israel should, among other things, release Palestinian prisoners, freeze settlement activities and dismantle outposts, release payments to the Palestinian Authority and accept negotiations with the Authority led by President Abbas. The Palestinians should take firm steps to stop maverick rocket attacks, secure release of the captured Israeli soldiers, and establish a National Unity Government to negotiate peace with Israel. He was among several speakers who called for an international conference to be convened for the purpose of achieving a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
"The international community must abide by the principles of objectivity, neutrality and impartiality, giving equal attention and consideration to the legitimate concerns and demands of both sides," said China's representative, who called on the diplomatic Quartet -- comprised of the United Nations, European Union, Russian Federation and the United States -- to take more proactive initiatives to push both parties to break the current impasse and fulfil the obligations laid down in the Road Map. The United Nations and the Security Council should effectively shoulder their responsibilities, he added.
But the representative of Syria noted that "a Super-Power" had exercised its right to veto power 44 times to prevent the Security Council from discharging its responsibility to protect the Palestinian people from the "Israeli war machine". The whole world had seen the destruction and massacres -- the latest occurring in the town of Beit Hanoun -- which dated back to the beginning of the occupation, and those who provided the necessary tools and support to Israel were also responsible. Countless unheeded United Nations resolutions were more proof of Israel's irresponsibility, he said, calling on the international community to shoulder its responsibility. No one wanted to see the legitimacy of the United Nations sacrificed, he added.
Responding to comments that had been made throughout the debate, the United States representative said his Government was well aware of the suffering of all people of the Middle East, and for that reason, among others, it had been at the vanguard of the international community's efforts to ensure a comprehensive solution, most recently through its joint efforts with the diplomatic Quartet. Moreover, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was currently in the region holding consultations with Palestinian and Israeli officials. The United States' objective was clear: it would like to see a solution based on two States living side-by-side in peace, harmony and security for all. The way forward was through positive political negotiation and calm diplomatic action, not through unbalanced statements that hindered and impeded diplomacy, he added.
Also speaking on the question of Palestine were the representatives of Morocco, Lebanon, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Algeria, Lesotho, Oman, Canada, India, Venezuela, Norway, Japan, Iran, Libya.
Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply was the Permanent Observer of Palestine.
Egypt's representative introduced the draft resolutions on Jerusalem and the Syrian Arab Golan for consideration in context of the situation in the Middle East.
Additional speakers on that issue were the delegates of Cuba, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Finland, on behalf of the European Union, Bahrain, Jordan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Syria, Argentina and Turkey.
The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Friday, 1 December, when it is expected to take action on the draft resolutions related to the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East.
The General Assembly met today to continue its consideration of the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East. (For background, see Press Release GA/10541 of 29 November.)
EL MOSTAFA SAHEL (Morocco) said his delegation had studied the reports before the Assembly and was seriously concerned by the Secretary-General's pessimistic accounts of the current situation in the wider Middle East and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and its impact on the social and economic development of the Palestinian people. The ongoing violence in Gaza and Israel's continued construction of its separation wall were adding to the suffering of the Palestinian people. That situation had been exacerbated by the international community's inertia.
He said that it was high time the violence between Israel and the Palestinian side, which had escalated in recent weeks, be brought to an end and a comprehensive settlement sought. It was also essential to end any unilateral measures taking place in the West Bank. Morocco also urged the international community to search for new ways to breathe life into the peace process. His delegation, which had welcomed the 25 November ceasefire entered into by the Palestinian and Israeli leadership, now called for full adherence to that pact.
Morocco had also been following the ongoing discussions between Palestinian factions, and now called for all those groups to work positively towards cementing national unity in order to ensure a life for all Palestinians that was dignified and peaceful. Overall, comprehensive Middle East peace required the political will of the parties, and especially of the diplomatic Quartet, to ensure that no effort was spared to relaunch the regional dialogue for peace. Peace in the region largely hung on a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question, which should lead to two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and with mutual security.
HOUSSAM ASAAD DIAB (Lebanon) reiterated its solidarity with the people of Palestine in their fight for their inalienable rights. Each year, the same discussion took place -- resolutions were adopted with a large majority telling Israel to put a stop to their arbitrary practices against the Palestinian people.
In fact, there had been a disproportionate use of force by the Israeli army, he said. Referring to figures in the Secretary-General's report, he noted that in Gaza and the West Bank, there had been 185 deaths and more than 4,500 Palestinians wounded in 2005. Gaza, alone, had seen 129 deaths and more than 260 wounded. From January to May 2006, 50 Palestinian children had been wounded, 11 of which had died.
According to the report of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for 2005, more than 200 Palestinian buildings had been destroyed, along with more than 28,000 parcels of land. The material losses in the Occupied Palestinian Territory amounted to $3.5 billion.
Despite that, Israel continued to defy the international community and United Nations resolutions -- only increasing its violations against Palestinians -- including the recent tragedy at Beit Hanoun. The international community had been negligent in stopping such aggressions, he added.
On Lebanon specifically, he said that Israel's unprecedented aggression had led to 10,000 deaths -- the vast majority of whom were civilians. Vital infrastructure had also been destroyed. On the Syrian Golan, Israel's refusal to withdraw made that situation another source of tension in the region.
Given that sombre picture, the international community assumed the responsibility of breathing life into the peace process in the Middle East, for which the call for a conference was one step. After all, only peace would help in recovering stability and stopping the bloodshed of Palestinians. Indeed, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 had confirmed that peace was the choice of the Arab people.
ALOUNKEO KITTIKHOUN (Lao People's Democratic Republic) said that both sides in the conflict under consideration must stop the violence, along with all actions that could increase tension. Both sides needed to exercise maximum restraint, persevere with negotiations and take the steps to implement the Quartet's Road Map, relevant resolutions and the principle of land for peace. No room should be left for confrontation as both sides engaged in serious dialogue, undertook confidence-building measures, settled their conflict and realized the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, within secure and recognized borders, he stressed.
BASSAM DARWISH (Syria), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said a close reading of the Secretary-General's reports and briefings to the Security Council showed the Arab-Israeli conflict had strongly impacted international peace and security. The international community had stressed the importance of a just and lasting peace to the Palestinian question and was concerned with the lack of progress to a solution that would end the Israeli occupation. The occupation was the main reason for the absence of peace in the region and the escalation of tensions. That was aided by the super-Power support for the occupying Power. The whole world had seen the destruction and massacres, the latest occurring in the town of Beit Hanoun, which dated back to the beginning of the occupation.
He said that the United Nations had adopted 1,000 resolutions, which named and condemned Israel and its actions. Yet, Israel had not responded to those requests and had been the "devil of international terrorism". Those who provided the necessary tools and support to Israel were also responsible. He noted that a super-Power had exercised its right to veto power 44 times to prevent the Security Council from discharging its responsibility to protect the Palestinian people from the "Israeli war machine".
The United Nations draft resolutions were more proof of Israel's irresponsibility, he said. Even as the international community condemned its actions, Israel showed no regard for moral and humanitarian norms and denied the rules of the Organization that gave birth to those. Israel's desperate attempts to distort facts had extended to legal issues, despite the fact that, since 1967, Israel had been occupying land and denying people their basic rights, under international and humanitarian laws. No one wanted to see the legitimacy of the United Nations sacrificed, he said.
WANG GUANGYA (China) said that the first step towards peace in the Middle East was for both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to cease all hostilities, for Israel to immediately cease its military actions against Palestine, comply with international humanitarian laws and ensure the safety of the Palestinian people, as well as international relief workers. The Palestinian side must stop its rocket attacks against Israel. Both sides should honour their commitments and implement their recent ceasefire agreement. That should be followed immediately by the resumption of political negotiations between the two sides. The interests of both sides, and of the region, were best served by negotiating the establishment of an independent Palestinian State living side by side with Israel.
Meanwhile, he said, the international community must abide by the principles of objectivity, neutrality and impartiality, giving equal attention and consideration to the legitimate concerns and demands of both sides. The Quartet should take more proactive initiatives to push both parties to break the current impasse and fulfil the obligations laid down in the Road Map. The United Nations and the Security Council should effectively shoulder their responsibilities and it should be kept in mind that negotiations between Syria and Israel, as well as between Lebanon and Israel, were part and parcel of the Middle East peace process. A proper solution to those disputes was indispensable for a comprehensive peace in the region. Negotiations should resume, in search of a mutually acceptable solution, pursuant to the principles set forth in the Madrid Conference of 1991.
Concluding, he strongly condemned the recent assassination of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel and called on the Lebanese people to remain united as they passed through a difficult time. He called for both Lebanon and Israel to implement Council resolution 1701 (2006), as an important step towards resolving that conflict. Since the recent violence erupted, China had been talking to Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, appealing for restraint and for negotiations as the way to settle differences. China had also provided humanitarian assistance, participated in the expansion of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and advocated a greater United Nations and Security Council role in taking forward the Middle East peace process.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said hope for peace in the Middle East had been briefly aroused by the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza last year, but it was soon extinguished, paradoxically, pursuant to democratic elections in Palestine when the Palestinians and their elected Government were "quarantined", physically and fiscally, Gaza was soon reoccupied, Palestinian legislators and ministers were abducted and Israel continued construction of settlements and the separation wall, rejecting negotiations with even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as the Quartet's Road Map "disappeared off the political map". Now, there was hope in the recent ceasefire. That should spread to all occupied territories if it was not a mere "cosmetic step" designed by Tel Aviv to coincide with high-level visits to the region.
He said that, building on the ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Israel and the Palestinians should both undertake confidence-building measures. Israel should release Palestinian prisoners, remove checkpoints and obstacles, reverse construction of the wall, freeze settlement activities and dismantle outposts, release payments to the Palestinian Authority and accept negotiations with the Authority led by President Abbas. The Palestinians should take firm steps to stop maverick rocket attacks, secure release of the captured Israeli soldier, achieve internal cohesion and establish a National Unity Government to negotiate peace with Israel.
Such measures, he said, would pave the way for the peace process to resume, with the support and intercession of the Security Council, the Secretary-General, the Quartet and all others in a position to assist. An international conference should be convened for the purpose of achieving a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Genuine progress on Palestine would contribute to progress in all other aspects of the Middle East crisis, including the Israeli-Syrian dispute, the stabilization of Lebanon, the complex and chaotic conflict in Iraq and the resultant tensions throughout the region.
PRASAD KRIYAWASAM (Sri Lanka) said the reported agreement between Palestine and Israel to establish a mutual ceasefire in Gaza had been a welcome development, in the hope that both parties would abide by their commitments and refrain from any action that could dim prospects for peace in the region. The Quartet's efforts to reopen the peace negotiations were worthy of support and the parties must be encouraged to move forward towards sustained discussions to arrive at durable settlements on all issues of concern.
Of utmost importance, he stressed, was for all parties to respect their obligations and put an end to all violent acts. Serious efforts must be made for the early resumption of negotiations, with the objective of reaching a final agreement for both Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side within secure and recognized boundaries. All parties must take "concrete steps and confidence-building measures" towards the attainment of that objective.
HOANG CHI TRUNG (Viet Nam) welcomed the decisions by the Assembly and Human Rights Council to send fact-finding missions to investigate the "shocking" indiscriminate killings of women and children by Israeli military forces in Beit Hanoun on the eighth of this month. Israel must do its utmost to cooperate with those missions, so as to secure justice for the victims.
Further, he said, Israel must put an immediate end to military operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and abide by its obligations under the Geneva Convention. To facilitate the dialogue between the belligerents and pave the way for fruitful negotiations, Israel must also end its incursions into Gaza and release all Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinian Authority, on its side, must take effective actions to bring an end to violence, including the firing of rockets into Israel's territory.
Beyond that, he said that Israel must cancel all expansionist activities and its construction of the wall, while the Palestinians formed a National Unity Government. The international community, meanwhile, should focus on practical and meaningful measures to engage all parties in support of major international peace efforts, including the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet's Road Map. In that way, a negotiated solution would bring about a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement to the question of Palestine through the establishment of two States. Only then peace would prevail in the region.
ARIF HAVAS OEGROSENO (Indonesia), aligning himself with the position of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Assembly had met here two weeks ago to consider the situation in Palestine after the Security Council had failed to adopt a resolution to respond to the renewed violent assault by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. Despite that senseless violence and horror, the Council had been unable to do the decent and right thing. His delegation had been pleased that, at the resumed tenth emergency special session, the Assembly had done as was expected to do, by deploring the Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip, urging Israel to immediately withdraw its troops and calling for the immediate dispatch of a fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun.
He said that the time had come for the international community to take further action to advance the situation in Palestine. The Israeli's unilateral policy of withholding Palestinian taxes and customs collections should be terminated, without delay. He reiterated that the realization of two States, Palestine and Israel, living side by side within secure internationally recognized borders, remained the only way to end the region's cycle of violence. He supported the Arab League's proposal for an international conference to find a comprehensive framework for comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
MAHIEDDINE DJEFFAL (Algeria) said that the report of the Committee being considered today had accurately, and in detail, described the daily humiliations endured by Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Vain attempts to discredit the Committee's work had only further validated the facts and allegations made in that report.
He stressed that Palestinians had the right to self-determination, after all. Israel had tried to quell the will of an entire people in the name of self-defence. Through its inhumane practices, sparing neither women nor children, Israel was only confirming doubts about its sincerity in finding a solution to the Palestinian problem.
He added that it was imperative that the international community, including the Quartet, not remain passive. Israel's indiscriminate use of force, culminating in the massacre at Beit Hanoun on 8 November, had been a reminder that Israel needed to comply with the principles of international law, including that of international humanitarian law. On that note, the Security Council needed to take a more active role in ensuring that it urged adherence to its resolutions and to the Road Map.
Furthermore, he said that Israel's aggression in Lebanon last summer had been more proof of the fragility in the region. Israel's unilateral actions -- under the false pretext of a lack of negotiating partners -- only worsened the chances of finding a just and peaceful solution.
LEBOHANG MAEMA (Lesotho) said it was regrettable that the year 2006 had seen the highest level of disrespect for international humanitarian law in the Middle East, in the form of major military incursions and air strikes targeting the Palestinian civilian population, while the international community remained paralyzed or indifferent, particularly those tasked with maintaining international peace and security. All parties to the conflict must honour the recent fledgling ceasefire and show restraint.
Meanwhile, he said, international measures taken with regard to the Palestinians should neither worsen the humanitarian situation nor have a punitive effect on the entire Palestinian population. The relevant parties to the conflict should resume meaningful negotiations for a true and lasting peaceful settlement to the question of Palestine, while all parties adhered to the relevant principles of international law, implemented relevant resolutions and took all measures to address the basic issues of the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination. With the Quartet Road Map, the only path towards the settlement of the question, the cornerstone to the solution was the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.
MOHAMMED AQEEL BA-OMAR (Oman) said that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was deteriorating daily and should not be allowed to continue. It was up to the international community to help end the violence and support the efforts of the long-suffering Palestinian people to attain their legitimate and inalienable rights. Indeed, the eyes of the Palestinian people had long looked to the United Nations to issue a strong call on Israel to end its occupation and fully withdraw its troops. The Palestinian people also looked to the Organization to help generate the political will needed to drive the full implementation of the Quartet-backed Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Like previous speakers, he said that peace could not be achieved through violence and he called for strategic far-sightedness and genuine political will, not only to end hostilities, but to elaborate the benefits of a negotiated two-State solution. Oman, therefore, welcomed the recent efforts to resume the peace talks, particularly in light of the gravity of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the ongoing violence in the Occupied Territory. Oman also supported the Arab League's call for an international conference on the situation in the Middle East. He welcomed the ceasefire between the two sides, which went into effect last Sunday, and he expressed the hope that the truce might help the Security Council and other parties find ways to breathe new life into all tracks of the Arab-Israeli peace talks.
JOHN MCNEE (Canada) said Canada had always, and remained, fully committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. It supported Israel's right to live within secure borders, free from the threat of violence, conflict and terror. Canada supported a negotiated solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the creation of an independent, viable and democratic Palestinian State living side by side in peace with its neighbours. His country had been deeply disheartened, therefore, by the dramatic deterioration in the region's security and humanitarian situation, underscoring the need for both the Palestinian Authority and Israel to take immediate steps to bring peace, stability and security to their people.
With the Quartet in the lead, he urged the international community to do everything in its power to encourage renewed political dialogue and a return to negotiations. The United Nations and its Member States also needed to play a more constructive role in supporting the Middle East peace effort and he complimented the development and humanitarian work of United Nations agencies in the region. Nevertheless, not all United Nations work was helping to resolve the conflict and resolutions on the Middle East that came before the Assembly were rarely helpful in moving towards the goal of peace in the Middle East. Canada would not support resolutions that used emotive and provocative language in place of straight facts, he emphasized.
Member States must act with the greatest responsibility in their work in the General Assembly and throughout the United Nations system, he said. A negotiated settlement was ultimately the only road forward for peace and both sides must one day sit across the table from each other and negotiate a final status agreement. Canada was very encouraged by the agreement reached by President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert that important first step must be followed by clear action on both sides to build hope towards peace.
AJAI MALHOTRA (India) said that today's discussion on the question of Palestine reflected the same pessimistic outlook seen in both the Secretary-General's and Committee's reports. Despite repeated consideration of the matter, the international community was no closer to a solution today than at the same time last year. Recent events were very distressing. There was an absence of dialogue and a continuing vicious cycle of attacks and counter-attacks. Regardless of the nationality of the victims, there was no justification for such violence.
He said that meaningful, sincere and forward-looking dialogue was the only way to achieve a just and credible solution. His Government consistently called for a dialogue based on the Quartet principles and remained convinced that the Road Map was a valid framework of reference for an eventual settlement.
Expressing deep concern over the heavy humanitarian suffering, he called for the adoption of urgent measures to improve the living conditions of Palestinians. As the impact of their collapsing economy could lead to a dramatic humanitarian disaster, it was the collective responsibility of all to avert that at all cost.
JAVIER GOMEZ (Venezuela) called on Israel to abide by all relevant Security Council recommendations regarding the Palestinian question, as well as with recent resolutions on the Middle East adopted by the Human Rights Council. The situation in the Middle East was one of the most pressing matters on the international agenda and, in light of the Security Council's most recent failure to act to bring an end to Israel's violence - due to the exercise of the veto by the United States -- the General Assembly had been forced to resume its tenth emergency special session on illegal Israeli activities, two weeks ago. The Assembly had overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for an end to the violence, particularly the resurgent fighting in the Gaza Strip. Venezuela believed that the right to life was an inalienable and fundamental right. Later today, it would again be up to the Assembly to adopt measures that would send a clear, strong message to Israel on the need to protect all the rights of the Palestinian people.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said that recent developments in the Middle East warranted cautious optimism, including the ceasefire in Gaza and the restraint shown by the Israeli Government in not responding to provocations by extremists. Both parties to the conflict must take all necessary measures to break the cycle of violence and show goodwill. In that regard, the news had been welcome that the Israeli captured corporal would soon be freed and that Israel would release a number of Palestinian prisoners. Emphasis must also be placed on the release of 36 members of the Palestinian Government, as it was "absolutely unacceptable" that duly elected representatives were imprisoned. Thus, they must be freed without delay regardless of other developments.
She greatly anticipated the forming of a new national coalition cabinet on the Palestinian side. President Abbas enjoyed both Palestinian and international legitimacy and he stood firm on basic norms of international relations. The platform of any Palestinian Government must reflect the three principles set out by the Quartet: acceptance of previous agreements; renunciation of violence; and recognition of Israel's right to exist. If President Abbas succeeded in creating a Palestinian Government, the international community should not be slow to react, but must be ready to resume assistance and to work with the new leadership.
In that event, and as Chair of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee, she said that Norway was prepared to reinforce international efforts to financially support a new Palestinian administration. It was important that the Palestinian people see an immediate effect and that hardship on innocent civilians be eliminated, to the largest extent possible. The single most important measure to normalize the situation for Palestinians was to abolish the closure regime, in order to allow normal flows of imports and exports and allow for freedom of movement.
She said that the building of the barrier, the construction of settlements and the development of a separate "road net" for the settlements must stop. Those activities contravened with international law and created facts on the ground that impeded a contiguous and viable Palestinian State and, therefore, a peaceful solution of the conflict. "None of Israel's unilateral measures must prejudge a final solution of presently unresolved questions," she emphasized.
TAKAHIRO SHINYO (Japan) said that the international community had witnessed a large-scale crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian situation. He called upon both sides to exercise maximum self-restraint to ensure that the ceasefire remained in effect. It was Japan's hope that a direct summit meeting between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert would be held as soon as possible, with a view to early resumption of the peace talks. The two-State solution was the only way to attain peace and prosperity in the region, and the international community should provide the necessary assistance to Israel and Palestine, so that they might reach that goal, as soon as possible.
He said that Japan strongly expected that a new Palestinian Authority Government would be formed, which would purse peace with Israel. The international community should then respond positively and support its efforts. Noting the continuing deterioration of the humanitarian, economic and fiscal situation in Palestine, Japan said that Israel's resumption of the transfer of tax and customs revenues to the Palestinian Authority, as well as the easing of restrictions on movement, were priorities. Japan had long been a major donor to the Palestinian people and steadily implemented its pledged assistance, including the emergency humanitarian funds of $25 million announced in July.
The conflict that erupted this summer between Israel and Hizbollah had reinforced Japan's belief that regional peace and stability could not be achieved without stability in Lebanon, he said. That required the full implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions, for which active efforts by Syria were essential. A comprehensive peace, which included the Lebanese and Syrian tracks, was the only way to permanent peace, he said.
MEHDI DANESH YAZDI (Iran) said that the reports before the Assembly this year had once again highlighted the uninterrupted and increased violation of the rights of the Palestinian people by the Israeli regime. That regime's unrelenting actions had caused the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to deteriorate to unprecedented and intolerable levels. The reports revealed the systematic violation of the Palestinian peoples' human rights, as well as massive breaches of international law and international humanitarian law by the Israeli regime. A fundamental principle of international law was the illegality of acquiring territory by force. The occupation of Arab lands in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, which grossly contravened that principle, lay at the heart of the festering crisis in the Middle East.
During the year under review, he said that the Israeli regime had implemented a number of cruel restrictive and punitive measures, such as checkpoints, curfews and closures, which had adversely affected Palestinian lives and added to their suffering and hardship. At the same time, Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Territory continued unabated and the occupiers had begun to construct thousands of housing units in the West Bank.
He said that the situation in the occupied Syrian Golan was not very different and remained another source of tension in the region. Thus far, the Israeli regime had indicated that it had no intention to withdraw from the Golan. Further, the Israeli regime's humiliating defeat last summer in Lebanon had not stopped it from threatening the Lebanese people, largely through the daily violation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006). The only way to bring about peace in the Middle East was to end State terrorism and occupation and to restore the fundamental and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
RAMADAN IRHIAM (Libya) said that, although the question of Palestine had been discussed for six decades, it still remained on the agenda, proving that the international community had failed in its responsibility to establish peace and security in the region. The question of Palestine had, in fact, seen the highest application of double standards.
He said that the Palestinian people had suffered the most, however, as refugees in Palestine had not been allowed to return to their land. When Palestinians claimed their rights, the occupying Force was treated like a State above the law - all actions were considered justified and in self-defence. Indeed, destroying homes and families had happened in the name of self-defence. All those justifications had been advanced by great Powers, who claimed to be peace-loving and in compliance with international law.
The massacres in Beit Hanoun had been further proof of killings by Israel's defiance of the international community and its scorn for international law. Calling on Israel to end double standards and allow Palestinians to exercise their inalienable rights, he asked how the United Nations could have come about if people had been denied their right to pursue self-determination.
Furthermore, most of the United Nations membership felt that the Middle East peace process was dead, except through a radical solution that guaranteed the rights of all, he said. It was time for the United Nations to see to it that its resolutions were implemented -- without conditions - and to ensure Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and other occupied territories. On Iraq, he said that it was essential for the United Nations and the Arab League to work together to find a solution to the problem.
Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of the United States said his delegation had listened yesterday to the statement of the Palestinian Observer, which had indicated that the key to answering the question of Palestine was for both Israel and the United States to change their polices. But, the United States believed that the time allotted to the Observer would have been put to better use if that representative had outlined the ways in which his own Government might work to end violence, return to the negotiating table and evince the political will among the Palestinian parties to arrive at a just, lasting and comprehensive solution to the matter.
He said that the United States was well aware that all the people of the Middle East had long suffered from a lack of peace and the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in particular, which represented a threat to international peace and security. For that and other reasons, the United States had been at the vanguard of the international community's efforts to ensure a comprehensive solution, most recently through its joint efforts with the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process. Moreover, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was currently in the region holding consultations with the leaders of both sides.
The United States' objective was clear: it would like to see a solution based on two States living side by side in peace, harmony and security for all, he said. As for the two remaining tracks, the United States was committed to a comprehensive solution based on the principles of the Madrid Conference, including the principle of land for peace. The way forward was through positive political negotiation and calm diplomatic action, not through unbalanced statements that hindered and impeded diplomacy, he added.
Responding, the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations drew the United States' attention to the fact that the Palestinian position on the peace process was crystal clear and well known. That position had been restated as recently as yesterday during President Abbas' meeting with Secretary of State Rice. The Palestinian side was ready to immediately engage in final peace negotiations, without preconditions. He also drew attention to President Abbas' efforts to organize the recent ceasefire. If that truce was expanded, it would constitute a major step on which peace could be built.
Introduction of Drafts
Turning next to the agenda item on the situation in the Middle East, MAGED ABDEL AZIZ (Egypt) said the time had come to address the situation in the Middle East with great seriousness, particularly in light of the recent Arab reiteration of the commitment to a just and comprehensive peace, as reflected in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. In an expression of opposition by the international community to the continuing Israeli occupation, the General Assembly annually adopted, under an agenda item titled "The Situation in the Middle East", two resolutions of great importance. The first dealt with Jerusalem and the second with the occupied Syrian Golan.
Before presenting the two resolutions, he said that reaching a final settlement should be based on a two-State solution and the updating of the Road Map to reflect a set of definite steps and a timetable that included consideration of the Arab Peace Initiative. Israel should refrain from all policies and actions that contradicted the peace process. Egypt reiterated its satisfaction with the agreement between Palestinians and Israelis to cease hostilities and the Israeli Prime Minister's announcement of his readiness to reach peace with the Palestinians. Egypt also looked forward to more serious engagement by relevant international parties, especially the Quartet.
He then presented the two draft resolutions. Entitled " Jerusalem", the first text reaffirmed that the relevant Assembly and Security Council resolutions remained the main terms of reference for the special status of Jerusalem. It confirmed the renunciation and repudiation of all legislative and administrative measures and actions undertaken by Israel to Jerusalem's status.
The second draft resolution, entitled "The Syrian Golan", reaffirmed Security Council resolution 497 (1981) and highlighted Israel's continued non-compliance, he explained. It also confirmed the application of The Hague Convention of 1907 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 on the Syrian Territory occupied since 1967, as well as the illegitimacy of the application of Israeli law on that Territory and the settlement operations. The draft resolution also renewed calls upon Israel to withdraw from the Golan to the 4 June 1967 borders, the resumption of peace talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, and the respect for commitments reached during previous negotiations.
ILEANA NUNEZ MORDOCHE (Cuba), speaking of behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the toll of human lives, injured, displaced, homeless, and persons without access to basic needs, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, was increasing at an alarming rate. The poverty rate there was almost 50 per cent, and in the Gaza strip, it had reached 70 per cent. Israel continued to illegally build the separation wall on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, which, upon completion, would further isolate more than 230,000 Palestinians.
On Lebanon, she said that its sovereignty and territorial integrity needed to be fully respected. In addition, the Israeli Government should fulfil its obligations and immediately cease all acts of provocation against Lebanon, including violating its air space. Concerning the occupied Syrian Golan, her delegation demanded that Israel withdraw completely from there to the 4 June 1967 borders.
While rejecting any attempts to modify the mandate of the peace process and the imposition of unilateral measures, she called for the resumption of direct and serious negotiations between the parties, so that a just, lasting and peaceful agreement could be reached.
TOM GRONBERG (Finland) spoke on behalf of the European Union and welcomed the agreement between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert. The Union regarded that as a promising first step on a path towards peace, and called on both parties to strictly adhere to their commitments, and to extend the ceasefire to the West Bank. It also called on both parties to do more to reinvigorate the peace process. He urged Palestinians to work towards national unity and form a Government with a platform reflecting the Quartet principles.
He emphasized the importance for both parties to implement the Agreement of Movement and Access of November 2005 and he called on Israel to respect previous agreements and fulfil its obligations, particularly to allow for regular operations at Gaza crossings, notably Rafah. The Union remained deeply concerned over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and repeated its call for Israel to resume the transfers of withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues. It repeated its intentions, to actively contribute to the Quartet's work to get the Middle East peace process back on track and move towards a comprehensive settlement, based on the Road Map, relevant Security Council resolutions and the commitments made at Sharm-el-Sheikh in 2005.
RIYAD MONSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine, said the question of Palestine was the core of the problem in the Middle East. Among the most important developments over the 40 years of occupation had been the Arab Peace Initiative adopted in 2002 at the Arab Summit in Beirut, and reiterated, in March, in the Sudan. The Initiative called for full Israeli withdrawal from all Arab Territories occupied since June 1967, in implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions and reaffirmed by the 1991 Madrid Conference and the land for peace principle. The Initiative also called on Israel to accept an independent Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, Israel was to have received a normalization of relations, in the context of a comprehensive peace. Israel, however, had violently rejected the hand of peace offered by Arabs, as it continued to unleash its brutal force against the Palestinian people, held hostage by Israel's occupation.
Jerusalem was of utmost importance to the Palestinian people, as well as to Arab nations, Muslims and Christians the world over, he said. Yet, Israel had accelerated its illegal colonization policy and de facto annexation of areas in occupied East Jerusalem. It did so by building settlements and unlawfully constructing its wall. Its so-called "E-1 Plan" was of especially grave concern, as that would hamper Palestinian movement and isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian Territory. It would essentially undermine the territorial integrity of Palestinian land and make a two-State solution impossible.
The international community must activate itself to end the brutality of the occupying Power against the Palestinian people, he urged. If there was a true desire for peace in the Middle East, it must begin in Palestine, which had initiated the ceasefire, accepted by Israel, and sparked a ray of hope in the midst of despair. Especially if extended to the West Bank, the ceasefire could pave the way for the resumption of peace talks. President Abbas had been relentless in calling for the Israeli side to engage in final status negotiations, and hopefully, the response would be genuine and forthcoming. Israel's adherence to international law and compliance with its obligations would prove a step in the right direction. Israel should not waste anymore time, but should "grab the gesture" offered by Arab countries through their peace initiative. It should withdraw from the Arab Territories, which it had occupied since June 1967, and allow a just and comprehensive peace to emerge.
TAWFEEQ AHMED ALMANSOOR (Bahrain) said that, while the second decade of decolonization had come to an end, there was still no glimmer of hope for the Occupied Arab Territories. People there were still suffering under the yoke of occupation. Israel had used all forms of force in the establishment of more settlements, and expansion of those continued.
In addition, he said, Israel's prevarication and refusal to comply with international resolutions jeopardized the region and its security. The most prominent of Israel's aggressions had occurred last summer in Lebanon, continuing for 33 days. There, cluster bombs and other such sophisticated weapons were used to destroy infrastructure and kill hundreds of people. No one was spared -- not even United Nations observers on 23 July.
He said that, although international convention did not allow for the acquisition of territory by force, that was what had happened in the Syrian Golan -- where Israel's expansionist ambitions had been highlighted. There was a need, therefore, to intensify international efforts to reach a peaceful settlement and implement the provisions of the Road Map. Otherwise, the bloodshed would never end, he warned.
ANDREAS BAUM (Switzerland) welcomed the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, reached last weekend, by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as the signs of openness, expressed by both parties in the past few days. Switzerland was convinced that the ceasefire could lay the foundations for a whole series of confidence-building measures and pave the way for the resumption of the political dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. "It is our strong wish to see the ceasefire extended to the whole of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, followed by a long-term armistice initiating a credible political process supported by the international community," he said, but stressed, at the same time, that the truce was fragile and that it was imperative that the parties exercised maximum restraint when faced with violations of its terms.
He said that the Palestinian Authority must, without delay, take all necessary measures to put an end to the firing of Qassam rockets against Israeli Territory and re-establish security. Switzerland called on all political groups to overcome their differences and divisions, and to take into consideration the overall interests of the people living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Israel, for its part, must cease all actions that might compromise the creation of a future Palestinian State. It must end the construction and expansion of settlements, which violated international law and represented a major obstacle to peace. It was imperative that the territorial unity of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, be respected. Turning to the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, he urged the Assembly to recognize that the status quo in those situations was untenable and that a settlement of those conflicts must address root causes - not only their consequences - and renew the respective peace processes.
BASHEER F. ZOUBI (Jordan) said it was time to give thought to practical measures to break the deadlock in the peace process, and he was pleased to see the beginning of a process to defuse the crisis. During its emergency session, the Assembly had condemned the Israeli attacks on Gaza and had asked for an immediate cessation of hostilities by Israel. Jordan also wished to condemn the massacres carried out in Iraq and Lebanon, including the recent assassination of the former Lebanese Interior Minister, Pierre Gemayel.
He said that the integrity of Lebanon and Iraq must be preserved. Jordan deplored the resumption of violence in all forms, and urged all parties to work towards reconciliation and peace. The international community should render assistance to development programmes, which could help the region. It should also do everything possible to help curtail the radical elements that shattered security and safety. The King of Jordan had reaffirmed that the Palestinian problem was at the crux of the Middle East issue and a source of instability in the region. He called on the Quartet and all involved parties to work towards a peace agreement.
In addition, international assistance should be supplied to the Palestinians to ease their suffering, and restrictions on their movement should be lifted as a confidence-building measure. The Israeli military operation against Gaza and the West Bank had shown that there could not be a unilateral solution and justice could not be built on the ashes of destruction. Israel was violating international law and the only way to produce a just solution hinged on the negotiations of the two parties within delineated frameworks and United Nations resolutions. The issue of the Palestine refugees must also be resolved. Israel must show moderation to restart the peace process, he urged.
HAMIDON ALI (Malaysia), aligning himself with the statements made by the Non-Aligned Movement and Egypt, said the question of Palestine remained at the heart of regional tensions in the Middle East. At the present critical juncture, the Quartet, with the cooperation of countries in the region, should ensure that both sides return immediately to the negotiating table. The Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative were indispensable in that regard; the Road Map should be accepted and implemented by both sides, and the Arab Peace Initiative should be seriously considered by Israel. Indeed, the creation of an independent and sovereign State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, was long overdue.
Even with the indispensable need to resume the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, he said that the Syrian and Lebanese tracks should also be reactivated. The lack of progress on the Israeli-Syrian front was of great concern, and Israel's occupation of the Syrian Golan remained a serious violation of international law and defied relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. Turning to Lebanon, he condemned the assassination of former Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, and shared the international community's concerns at attempts to adversely impact the political stability in Lebanon. He, meanwhile, encouraged efforts by the Lebanese Government to strengthen democracy. The situation in Iraq had serious implications for international and regional peace and security, and the Iraqi leadership had the duty to maintain law and order throughout its Territory and to achieve political stability. The security of Iraq should be the sole responsibility of an independent and sovereign Iraq.
ARIF HAVAS DEGROSENO (Indonesia) said that the situation in the Middle East was of tremendous importance to his country. The report of the Secretary-General clearly emphasized the failure of the Israeli Government to implement its obligations under the Road Map. It also described the dire humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people. While the democratic process had been expected to take the Palestinian people forward, it had instead inflicted upon them a life of deeper poverty and frustration, generating feelings of injustice and persecution.
Regarding Jerusalem, he said that Indonesia was gravely concerned about ongoing illegal settlement, which could prejudge a final status agreement. Israel had to end its occupation of the Syrian Golan, and desist from imposing its citizenship on Syrian citizens there. In Lebanon, Indonesia was pleased that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) - to which it had contributed troops - had begun to fulfil some of its responsibilities; sight could not be lost, however, of the importance of channelling humanitarian assistance to those who had been most affected by the conflict.
The solution in the Middle East rested on the land-for-peace formula, with the question of Palestine at its core, he said. Israel must abandon its aggressive policies and heavy-handed approach, comply with international law and the Geneva Convention, and withdraw fully from all Occupied Territories. The modalities had been clearly reflected in relevant resolutions of the United Nations; for there to be a sustainable peace, the international community had an obligation to ensure that Israel abided by those resolutions.
BASHAR JAAFARI (Syria) said that, despite adopting hundreds of United Nations resolutions in an effort to attain a just settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the international community had learned that Israel had impeded all attempts to find a solution. In fact, Israel had only continued its heinous crimes against humanity, hostilities, and aggression.
He said that today's discussion happened every year, while the region was "gradually turning into a keg of gunpowder", and one country -- supported by a specific super-Power -- continued to flout international law. Indeed, there was a policy of double standards being applied, while the repression of victims persisted and the aggressor continued to act unchecked.
The international community needed to redirect the present stalemate by putting it on the right path, but after a series of continued aggressions in the Gaza strip and Syrian Golan, Israeli occupation remained at the core of the fury, he said. Instead of peace, that serious and complex anger had led to confrontation.
He said that the Syrian Golan continued to be occupied, and forces there plundered its natural resources, and most notably, its water. Israel sought to build a dam, with a storage capacity of two million cubic metres, in order to divert water from feeding the Yarmuk River. Construction of the dam would also endanger many people, in the case of floods. Exploitation of Golan's water did not end there, however, as Israeli businessmen were selling it, with sales reaching almost $80 million to date.
Referring to resolution 1701 (2006), he said that Israel was not complying with its provisions, thereby threatening the lives of UNIFIL personnel. Syria was committed to applying those provisions, despite what a few opportunistic and cynical voices had been saying. His delegation emphasized the sovereignty of Lebanon and remained full of hope on that issue. Indeed, his Government wanted to bring about stability and peace in the region -- it had participated in the peace process since its beginning in Madrid.
DIEGO LIMERES (Argentina), speaking also on behalf of Brazil, said that the events of 2006 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lebanon and Israel had shown that the delay in achieving a negotiated settlement to the conflict only contributed to an increase in civilian suffering and in mistrust and resentment among the parties. The stalemate kept the whole region under permanent instability. The use of force could not substitute for a political settlement. For those reasons, it was imperative to re-launch the peace process, with the United Nations and the international community assuming a more proactive role. The time was right to convene an international conference under United Nations auspices.
He condemned military operations that caused the death of innocent civilians, as well as all acts of terrorism and violence. The parties should fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, putting an end to excessive and disproportionate use of force and to attacks against civilians. Hopefully, the announced ceasefire in the Gaza Strip would be maintained and extended to the West Bank. He called on both parties to abide by the commitment and avoid any measure that could jeopardize it, to make headway in solving the problem of prisoners and the speedy release of the Israeli soldier and Palestinian Ministers and legislators. Israeli settlement activities and the construction of the separation barrier in the West Bank must also cease immediately.
The international community should take urgent measures to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian population, he stressed. Israel must also contribute towards that effort by implementing its obligations under the Agreement on Movement and Access and transferring Palestinian tax and custom revenues withheld since the beginning of the year. Additional efforts should be made to preserve and strengthen Palestinian institutions. Israel must also cease its aerial incursions into Lebanese Territory, while Lebanon should ensure that the area south of the Litani River was kept free of weapons and that no attacks against Israeli targets occurred from there. Progress should also be made on the Syrian-Israeli track, in order to put an end to the occupation of the Golan Heights.
BAKI ILKIN (Turkey), aligning himself with the European Union's statement, said that recent events had shown that neither military measures nor unilateral moves could provide a lasting remedy to the quest for a just and comprehensive settlement. Turkey had said many times that, unless the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people were addressed, the desired peace and security in the Middle East would not be achieved. The vision of two States, living side-by-side within secure and recognized borders, was not a mirage, but a realistic goal. The parties needed to fulfil their respective obligations, as laid out by the Quartet's Road Map and other relevant agreements, including Security Council resolutions.
He said he welcomed the recent ceasefire agreement of President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert in the Gaza Strip, adding that its expansion to the West Bank would further alleviate the tense situation. Turkey wished to see the leadership on both sides build on their constructive approach and engage in a genuine dialogue. That would revive the peace process. He reiterated Turkey's commitment to support all efforts to resolve the Middle East question. The Syrian and Lebanese tracks of the peace process awaited re-activation, in order to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace in the entire region.
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