11 February 2009
General Assembly
GA/PAL/1111

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on the Inalienable Rights

of the Palestinian People

315th Meeting (PM)


‘SHOCKED’ BY DEVASTATION IN GAZA, SECRETARY-GENERAL ‘MORE DETERMINED THAN EVER’


TO ACHIEVE ESTABLISHMENT OF PALESTINIAN STATE, COEXISTING WITH ISRAEL IN PEACE


Opening 2009 Session of Palestinian Rights Committee,

Secretary-General Renews Pledge to Revitalize Middle East Peace Process


“What I saw left me shocked, but more determined than ever,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People this afternoon, expressing his determination not only to address Gaza’s humanitarian and reconstruction needs, but also achieve the end of the occupation that began in 1967, the establishment of a Palestinian State that would coexist alongside Israel in peace and security, and a comprehensive, just and lasting peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbours.


Updating the Committee on his trip to the Gaza Strip on 20 January, he described the tremendous suffering and hardship as a result of the recent conflict and warned that the situation remained fragile.  Efforts were under way, under Egyptian leadership, to transform unilateral ceasefires into a durable and fully respected ceasefire, as called for in Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).


Calling repeated shelling and destruction of United Nations facilities unacceptable, he said that he had demanded a thorough investigation into every single one of them.  Those responsible should be held accountable for their actions.  He was initiating a United Nations board of inquiry into the casualties and damage at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East (UNSCO) facilities in Gaza and had also raised with the Security Council the issue of an inquiry into the broader question of the parties’ conduct during the hostilities.


The United Nations had launched a flash appeal for humanitarian assistance, he continued, insisting that Gaza needed to be “brought back to a level of normality”.  The challenges of humanitarian assistance, early recovery and reconstruction would be discussed at a meeting in Cairo early next month.  The world body was working very closely with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as well as key partners, Egypt and other Arab countries, the European Commission, the World Bank, Norway as Chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, Turkey and the members of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process.


Another critical challenge was the re-opening of all Gaza crossings to allow full access for humanitarian goods, and eventually commercial traffic, based on the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, he said.  In addition, Palestinians needed to achieve reconciliation under the leadership of President Abbas, within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority.  The peace process must be revitalized, and negotiations should resume leading to a lasting settlement of the conflict, based on relevant Security Council resolutions, the Road Map, and the Arab Peace Initiative.


In connection with the United Nations inquiry, the representative of Malaysia, among the speakers making brief statements, urged the Secretary-General to include in the investigation the impact the events had had on the people of Gaza.


Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, said that, out of the ashes of the war in Gaza, Palestinians and Israelis should see hope of going back to the negotiations to reach an agreement, where the occupation would end and the Palestinian State would be born.  “We need all your help in this regard, and I am sure that you will help us,” he said, stressing the Committee’s crucial role in the face of this year’s challenges, which included the need to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza, open the crossings, ensure the unity of the Palestinian political system and land and make the Cairo meeting next month a success.


He did not know what Government would come to power in Israel after yesterday’s elections, but lessons should be drawn from the 2007 Annapolis conference, he continued.  It was also important not to repeat the mistakes of yesterday, expecting different results.


He stressed the importance of an immediate cessation of all settlement activities and said that Palestine could not negotiate indefinitely with any Israeli Government without the end of the occupation that had started in 1967 and without allowing a Palestinian State to be borne, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  As for Palestine, he said, it needed to “put our house in order as soon as possible”.  He also commented on some positive signs from the new Administration in Washington, including a successful recent visit of Special Envoy George Mitchell to the region.


Expressing appreciation for the Secretary-General’s decision to form a commission to investigate the events in Gaza, he expressed confidence that the terms of reference of that body would be inclusive enough to reflect what the representative of Malaysia had raised, so that all those guilty of the crimes against the civilian population and property of the United Nations were held accountable and faced justice.


Providing an update on developments in Gaza, Andrew Whitley UNRWA Representative Office, New York Director, said the population of Gaza remained in a state of shock, grief and in many cases anger.  The Agency itself had suffered heavily:  53 of its facilities had been damaged; its headquarters compound had been hit repeatedly by Israel Defense Forces shells, and $4.5 million worth of medicine and other goods had been lost.  Five staff had been killed, along with nine trainees from the Gaza Training Centre.  Approximately 290 refugee children had been killed and over 1,200 injured.


He said the speed and volume of financial support from donors had also been unprecedented, including from much of the Arab world.  Total pledges to the UNRWA flash appeal had reached $103 million so far.  Intended only for the most urgent relief and early recovery challenge, UNRWA’s appeal for nine months, however, amounted to $346 million.  The larger task of reconstruction was more problematic, given the severe restrictions imposed by Israel.


Reiterating the importance of full and consistent opening of all the Gaza crossings into Israel and Egypt, he said that, although 100 trucks of basic supplies and food had been permitted into Gaza daily, that figure should be compared with the 840 trucks required in normal times.  The banking system must be allowed to operate normally.  There must, of course, also be political reconciliation and a re-establishment of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.


He said that UNRWA had been doing its part to promote a rapid return to normalcy and had been assisting the 50,000 who had taken refuge in its schools to return to their homes or get temporary accommodation.  Most schoolchildren were back at their lessons.  UNRWA was helping to maintain essential local services such as water, fuel and sanitation, but it could not, and should not be expected to carry that burden on its own.


Committee Chairman Paul Badji (Senegal), speaking in his national capacity, said that, after three weeks of intense bombardments, the adoption of resolutions by the Security Council, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, a precarious ceasefire had been reached.  He invited the parties to strictly respect that ceasefire and reiterated his country’s appeal to establish an international observation mission, as well as mechanisms to investigate crimes committed in Gaza.


He said the repeated practices of Israel, the occupying Power, were clearly incompatible with the wish for lasting co-existence.  He also asked the Palestinian people and their leaders to do everything possible to build national unity so that negotiations could be pursued with a united front under President Abbas.


Further, the Security Council and Quartet should take the necessary measures to help the Palestinians to overcome the obstacles to independence.  Senegal would continue to demand the realization of indispensable conditions for peace, namely:  an end to the occupation; establishment of an independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital; and return of Palestinians to their homes and recovery of their property.  Senegal was not working against the interest of Israel; rather, it meant to aid Israel.


Also this afternoon, the Committee elected Paul Badji ( Senegal) as its Chairman; and Zahir Tanin ( Afghanistan) and Abelardo Moreno Fernández ( Cuba) as its Vice-Chairs.  Saviour F. Borg ( Malta) was elected the Committee’s Rapporteur.  The Committee also adopted its programme of work for 2009.


The Committee was informed about the developments and activities since its last meeting on 24 November 2008, including the adoption on 11 December of Assembly resolution 63/140 on assistance to the Palestinian people, which had been sponsored by 65 Member States; the adoption of resolution 1860 (2009) by the Security Council; and the resumption of the Assembly’s tenth emergency special session, which had adopted a resolution in support of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.  The Bureau of the Committee had also reacted to the situation in the Gaza Strip by issuing statements on 31 December and 8 January 2009.  On 29 January, the Bureau had met with UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd.


The Chairman also reported on the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace and the United Nations Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which had taken place in Santiago, Chile, on 11-12 December and 13 December, respectively.


He said that participants of the Meeting had called on all Palestinians to unite in support of President Abbas and his Government.  They further expressed the view that the process towards achieving a two-State solution could benefit from the experience of Latin American and Caribbean States in their quest for independence and for economic independence and sustainable development.  At the Public Forum, a key note presentation had been made by Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki.


The Committee also approved the provisional programme for the forthcoming United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, to be held on 9 and 10 March, on the theme of “International Response to the Humanitarian and Economic Needs of the Gaza Strip”.


Short statements were also made by representatives of Tunisia, Cyprus and Chile.


The next meeting of the Committee will be announced.


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For information media • not an official record