GENERAL ASSEMBLY, BY ONE OF SEVERAL TEXTS ADOPTED, DEFERS START OF TRANSITION PERIOD FOR GRADUATION OF MALDIVES FROM LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRY LIST

30 November 2005
GA/10427

GENERAL ASSEMBLY, BY ONE OF SEVERAL TEXTS ADOPTED, DEFERS START OF TRANSITION PERIOD FOR GRADUATION OF MALDIVES FROM LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRY LIST

30/11/2005
General Assembly
GA/10427
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixtieth General Assembly

Plenary

58th & 59th Meetings (AM & PM)

general assembly, by one of several texts adopted, defers start of transition

 

period for graduation of maldives from least developed country list

International Support for Afghanistan , Public

Administration, Global Public Health, among Other Issues Acted On

Maintaining the United Nations commitment to the recovery of the tsunami-ravaged Indian Ocean region, the General Assembly today deferred for three years the start of the transition period for the graduation of Maldives from the list of least developed countries, so that the country’s development momentum would not be disrupted while its Government coped with the social and economic fallout from the unprecedented natural disaster.

The Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution deferring the transition period until 1 January 2008.  Underlining the unique nature of the measure, the Assembly recalled the widespread destruction caused by the massive earthquake and tsunami that rocked the Indian Ocean last December, wrecking the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands across some 12 countries, including Maldives.

Praising the Assembly’s action, the representative of Maldives said that while the people of his country were determined to move ahead, they were realistic about the massive obstacles they faced to rebuild their nation –- while also attempting to attain “middle income” status by 2020 -- in the aftermath of the disaster, which had paralyzed the economy, leaving it facing a financial crisis for the first time.  Noting that Maldives was the only tsunami-affected country whose recovery programmes were facing a funding gap, he called on the global community for further assistance to help close that gap as soon as possible.

Also today, the Assembly wrapped up its discussion of the situation in Afghanistan with the adoption of a resolution calling on the international community to support the upcoming completion of the war-weary country’s political transition according to the Bonn process with the establishment of the National Assembly of Afghanistan.  The text also called for international support for the Afghan Government’s preparation of an interim national development strategy, which was to be considered at a conference in London planned for January 2006.

Other resolutions adopted without a vote were on public administration and development, by which the Assembly stressed that national efforts were essential for achieving agreed upon development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals; and on enhancing capacity-building in global public health, by which the Assembly urged Member States to integrate public health into national economic and social development strategies, and to increase investment in improving developing country health systems.

The Assembly also heard from some 30 speakers on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East.  On Palestine, delegations emphasized that positive developments in the past year had enhanced the prospects for reviving negotiations in the framework of the Quartet-backed Road Map peace plan, which called for parallel steps by both Palestinians and Israelis towards a final agreement.

But they also stressed that the continuation of violence, intensification of expanding settlements in some areas and the continued construction of the separation wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were matters of grave concern.  Of great concern was Israel’s ongoing construction of the separation wall in the West Bank, which many felt flouted the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion that had called for the barrier to be torn down.

Taking a dimmer view of the events over the past year, Iran’s representative said the Gaza withdrawal had been manipulated and exploited by the Israeli regime to complete its colonization and de facto annexations of the West Bank.  He said that the United Nations must take long-overdue measures to fully restore the Palestinian people’s rights, including the return of refugees to their homeland and the establishment of a Palestinian State with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.

When the discussion turned to the situation in the wider Middle East, Israel’s representative said his country had taken many courageous steps recently to make the future brighter for the region.  That reality should be reflected in the work of the United Nations, including in the Assembly Hall.  He urged everyone in the region to join together to turn the Middle East into a better neighbourhood for all their children.

At the same time, Malaysia’s representative warned that the situation in the region was at a “delicate crossroads”.  And while the question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict were at the core of regional tension, the situation was compounded by developments in Iraq and the disastrous threats of terrorists, as witnessed in Jordan.  He was among the many speakers welcoming Syria’s decision to allow the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission to question its senior officials in its probe of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  Speakers also warned that there could be no comprehensive peace in the region without progress on the Lebanese and Syrian tracks.

Addressing the Assembly on the situation in Afghanistan were the representatives of Turkey, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia.  Venezuela’s representative spoke in explanation of vote after the adoption of the resolution on the situation in Afghanistan.

Speaking on the question of Palestine were the representatives of Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, Syria, Canada, Lebanon, China, Indonesia, South Africa, Japan, Zambia, San Marino, Kuwait, Venezuela, Libya, Pakistan, Nigeria, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and United Kingdom (on behalf of the European Union).

Speaking on the situation in the Middle East were the representatives of United Kingdom (on behalf of the European Union), Jordan, Switzerland, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Burkina Faso, Norway, Lebanon, Australia, Turkey, Russian Federation, Venezuela and Brazil (also on behalf of Argentina), as well as the Observer of Palestine.

The representative of Egypt introduced draft resolutions on Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights.

The representative of Jamaica (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China) introduced the draft on Maldives, and the representative of the Republic of Korea introduced the draft resolution on public administration and development.   China’s representative introduced the text on enhancing capacity-building in global public health.

The representatives of Venezuela and Cuba spoke in explanation of vote after the adoption of the text on global public health.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 1 December, to take action on draft resolutions on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East.

Background

The General Assembly met today to conclude its consideration of the situation in Afghanistan; continue its debate on the question of Palestine; and discuss the situation in the Middle East.  It was also expected to take action on several draft resolutions.  (For a summary of the reports before the Assembly, see Press Release GA/10426 issued on 29 November.)

A draft resolution on the situation in Afghanistan (document A/60/L.27) would have the Assembly call on the international community to support the upcoming completion of Afghanistan’s political transition according to the Bonn process with the establishment of the National Assembly of Afghanistan.  The Assembly would urge the international community to support the Afghan Government’s preparation of an interim national development strategy, which is to be considered at a conference in London planned for January 2006.  It would also stress the importance of providing sufficient security in the post-Bonn process, and call on Member States to contribute personnel, equipment and other resources to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and to further develop provincial reconstruction teams in close coordination with the Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Regarding the Economic and Social Council, the Assembly had before it a draft resolution on the deferral of the smooth transition period for the graduation of Maldives from the list of least developed countries (document A/60/L.21).  The text would have the Assembly decide to defer the commencement of the three-year smooth transition period for that purpose in the case of Maldives for a period of three years, while underlining the unique nature of the decision, taken in context of the unprecedented natural disaster caused by the tsunami of 26 December 2004.

Also before the Assembly on that item is a draft concerning public administration and development (document A/60/L.24), by which it would stress that national efforts were essential for achieving agreed upon development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, and would encourage States to step up those efforts.  The international community would be encouraged to provide assistance towards that end.  All States would be requested to abide by principles of proper management of public affairs, agreeing that the United Nations should promote innovation in Government through existing channels such as the United Nations Public Service Day, the United Nations Public Service Awards mechanism and the United Nations Online Network in Public Administration and finance.

Further, the value of the Global Forum on Reinventing Government would be stressed in terms of exchanges in lessons learned.  The Assembly would take note with appreciation of the Seoul Declaration on Participatory and Transparent Governance adopted by the Sixth Global Forum in Seoul during May, and would emphasize the importance of the Seventh Global Forum to be hosted by the United Nations in 2007 on the theme of improving public administration to achieve the development goals.

In relation to the follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit, the Assembly has before it a draft on enhancing capacity-building in global public health (document A/60/L.26), by which it would urge Member States to integrate public health into national economic and social development strategies, and to increase investment in improving developing country health systems.  The Assembly would emphasize the importance of active international cooperation in the control of infectious diseases and would call for improving the global public health preparedness and response systems.  The World Health Assembly resolution adopted in May would be recognized with regard to strengthening pandemic-influenza preparedness and response, with States called on to implement the International Health Regulations adopted at the same time.

A draft resolution on the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (document A/60/L.28) would request the Committee to continue to exert all efforts to promote the realization of the rights of the Palestinian people, to support the Middle East peace process and to mobilize international support for and assistance to the Palestinian people.

A text on the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat (document A/60/L.29) would have the Assembly request the Secretary-General to continue to provide that Division with the necessary resources, to ensure that it continues to carry out its programme of work, and to ensure the continued cooperation of the Department of Public Information (DPI) and other units of the Secretariat in enabling the Division to perform its tasks and in covering adequately the various aspects of the question of Palestine.

A draft resolution on the special information programme on the question of Palestine of the Department of Public Information of the Secretariat (document A/60/L.30) would have the Assembly request the DPI, in cooperation and coordination with the Committee, to continue its special information programme through 2006-2007, in particular, to disseminate information on all the activities of the United Nations system relating to the question of Palestine; to expand its collection of audio-visual material on the question of Palestine in all fields; and to organize and promote fact-finding news missions for journalists to the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem.

A draft resolution on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (document A/60/L.31) would have the Assembly, while welcoming the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank as a step towards the implementation of the Road Map, call on both parties to fulfil their obligations for such implementation by taking parallel and reciprocal steps, and stress the urgency of establishing a credible and effective third-party monitoring mechanism.  It would call on Israel, the occupying Power, to comply strictly with its obligations under international law with respect to the alteration of the character and status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

Furthermore, the Assembly would demand that Israel immediately cease its construction of the wall, and demand the complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.  It would stress the need for the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 and for the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination and to their independent State.  It would also stress the need for resolving the problem of Palestine refugees in conformity with its resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948.

A draft resolution on the Syrian Golan (document A/60/L.32) would have the Assembly declare that the Israeli decision of 14 December 1981 to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan is null and void and has no validity whatsoever, and demand once more that Israel withdraw from all the occupied Syrian Golan to the line of 4 June 1967.  The Assembly would also call on Israel to resume the talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks and to respect the commitments and undertakings reached during the previous talks.

By the provisions of a draft resolution on Jerusalem (document A/60/L.33), the Assembly would reiterate its determination that any action taken by Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on Jerusalem are illegal and, therefore, null and void and have no validity whatsoever, and would deplore the transfer by some States of their diplomatic missions to that city.  It would stress that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Jerusalem should take into account the legitimate concerns of the Palestinian and Israeli sides, and should include internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent and unhindered access to the holy places by the people of all religions and nationalities.

BAKI ILKIN ( Turkey) stressed that Turkey was a co-sponsor of the present draft resolution, which he believed objectively reflected the successes and challenges encountered during the implementation of the Bonn Agreement.  He noted that Turkey had led the ISAF in Afghanistan two times for a duration of 14 months over the past three years, and reiterated Turkey’s commitment to help Afghanistan achieve lasting peace and security.   Turkey believed that the creation of a national army and police force was crucial for Afghanistan’s long-term security, as well as its national unity.  In that regard, Turkey had given support to relevant procurement and training programmes in Turkey and Afghanistan.

He added that Turkey’s support extended to Afghanistan’s social, health, education and agriculture sectors, and said the expeditious implementation of reconstruction projects was vital.  And on the topic of the country’s drug trade, he said that creating alternative livelihoods for the Afghan people was a crucial part of the fight against drug production and illicit trafficking.  The eradication of poppy fields should be seen in that larger context.

ALISHER VOHIDOV ( Uzbekistan) said that his country was interested in a stable Afghanistan as an integral part of the Central Asian space.  Uzbekistan had provided assistance in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, including in the area of road construction, water management and irrigation structures.  It had reduced the cost of transporting goods to Afghanistan and taken measures to improve the social infrastructure.  It was also delivering uninterrupted electricity supplies.  An important factor in its cooperation was the fact that the relevant agencies in Uzbekistan had 30 years of experience in economic development work in Afghanistan.  They had qualified experts who spoke the languages of the peoples there.  Uzbekistan was prepared to expand cooperation with the Afghan Government.  It was important to implement the initiative to establish a trans-Afghan transportation corridor, which was in the interest of Afghanistan, its neighbours and the entire international community.

He said concerns remained in the area of security, with the growth of terror activities of the Taliban and other terrorist groups.  To fight those ills, Afghanistan needed to be integrated into the political and economic system of Central Asia.  He looked forward to Afghanistan’s participation in establishing a common market in the region.  The country should be included in the activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an observer.  Without structural reforms of the Afghan economy, the growth of drug production plus terrorism threatened national security and the effective functioning of the Government.  The international community must deliver on pledges of assistance made at the Tokyo and Berlin Conferences.  He hoped the adoption of the resolution would affirm the international community’s willingness to do the utmost to assist in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

HASHAM SHATA ( Saudi Arabia) said that in past years, Afghanistan had made great progress in peacebuilding and reconstruction, but, like other countries emerging from conflict, it would need the continued support from the international community for, among other things, the fight against drugs and terrorism and for institution building.  On the basis of Afghanistan’s will to achieve peace and stability, Saudi Arabia had supported the country financially over the years, and had contributed some $400 million to, among others, the Special Trust Fund for Afghanistan managed by the World Bank.

He said Saudi Arabia was prepared to work closely with the Afghan Government and called on the international community to continue to support Afghanistan so that it could play its rightful role in the community of nations and achieve stability and peace.

Action on Draft

The Assembly then adopted, without a vote, the two-part draft resolution contained in document A/60/L.27, as orally revised, entitled “The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security” and “Emergency international assistance for peace, normalcy and reconstruction of war-stricken Afghanistan”.

In explanation of vote after the text’s adoption, IMERIA NÚÑEZ DE ODREMÁN ( Venezuela) said she had no objection to consensus on the draft because Venezuela fully supported efforts to achieve peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan.  Nonetheless, she was deeply concerned at the fragile situation there, which worked against political stability and the inalienable right of peoples to self-determination.  The situation had been used to justify the presence of foreign forces, which, in one way or another, interfered in the country’s internal affairs.  In Afghanistan, the principles of non-intervention and sovereign integrity had been violated because Operation Enduring Freedom established a provisional Government.  Presently, there was an elected Government in place.  The draft’s references to Operation Enduring Freedom seemed to justify the use of force on Afghan territory and affected provisions established by the United Nations regarding security, anti-terrorism, corruption, peacebuilding, stability and development.  Once again, that reflected the ambiguous way in which the United Nations had approached international emergency assistance for peace in Afghanistan and for normalcy and reconstruction of war-stricken countries.

She said there existed an idea of a collapsed, failed State and the right of the international community to determine the nature of the institutions that needed to be built in such a stigmatized nation.  That right only belonged to States in their sovereign exercise of self-determination.  The way the international community took action in the current context was a mere act of intervention.  Such actions did not decisively deal with the roots of the current situation and its grave social and political implications.  The Secretary-General’s report did not analyze that topic in depth.  Venezuela’s position was that the reconstruction of countries should be carried out with policies that supported the sustainable development of peoples.  The international community should give united and unconditional solidarity to Afghans by providing them with sufficient resources to solve their problems on their own terms.

Economic and Social Council

STAFFORD NEIL (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, introduced the draft resolution on deferral of the smooth transition period of the graduation of Maldives from the list of least developed countries (document A/60/L.21).  Recalling the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster of last December that, in a matter of hours, wreaked havoc on Maldives a week before it was to enter the transition, he said Maldives would have been able to build on the advances made even with the decreased assistance graduation from least developed status would have entailed.  After the tsunami, no experts could predict when, or even if, Maldives would ever return to its pre-December situation.  The Committee for Development Policy had indicated it would not have a basis for making a projection on Maldives in any reasonable timeframe.

Due to those circumstances, he said, some adjustments needed to be made to meet the changed situation, not just for Maldives but to demonstrate solidarity with the people.  The resolution before the Assembly was a straightforward decision to defer the smooth transition period for three years.

CHOI YOUNG-JIN ( Republic of Korea), introducing draft resolution A/60/L.24 entitled “public administration and development”, said the text highlighted the importance of good governance, as well as transparent and accountable public administration in achieving the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals.  Effective public administration and good governance were essential elements for developing countries to reduce extreme poverty and achieve improved living standards.

Entering an oral amendment, he said operative paragraph 5 should read as follows:  “Encourages the international community to increase support for national efforts, including those of developing countries, in public administration, including through North-South cooperation, South-South cooperation and public-private partnership to, inter alia, provide financial, educational, material and technical support and cooperation as appropriate”.

Action on Drafts

The Assembly then adopted, without a vote, draft resolutions A/60/L.21 and A/60/L.24, as orally revised.

MOHAMED LATHEEF ( Maldives) said the unanimous adoption of the text to defer the Maldives’ graduation from the list of least developed countries not only gave him hope and encouragement but demonstrated the international community’s unwavering commitment to ensuring a truly smooth transition that would not disrupt the development plans and projects of graduating countries.  The decision had also given his delegation the confidence that the international community would stand by the Maldives and provide whatever assistance might be necessary to press ahead with its development priorities in the wake of last December’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The people of the Maldives were determined to move ahead, but they were realistic about the massive obstacles they faced to rebuild their nation –- while also attempting to attain “middle income” status by 2020 -- in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster, which had effectively paralyzed the economy, leaving it facing a financial crisis for the first time in its history.

But he assured delegations, however, that with the help of international partners, the people -- and the country -- would rebound and be able to proceed with the graduation process outlined last year by the Assembly.  To that end, he pointed out that Maldives was the only tsunami-ravaged country facing a funding gap for recovery-related programmes.  Of the estimated $470 million required, nearly one third had yet to be pledged.  He called on the international community for further assistance to help close that gap as soon as possible.

Follow-up to Outcome of Millennium Summit

ZHANG YISHAN ( China), introducing draft resolution A/60/L.26 entitled “enhancing capacity-building in global public health”, said the international community was still confronted with serious challenges in the field of public health.  The threat of avian influenza and other infectious diseases was far from over, while national and international natural disasters had posed even more threats to public health systems.  The international community should already have realized that the weakness of the public health system had become an outstanding problem for countries in their efforts to obtain comprehensive sustainable development against the backdrop of globalization.  He said public health was not an issue limited by national boundaries, but required close international and regional cooperation.  Only through joint efforts by all Member States, could sustainable economic and social development be achieved.

His Government attached great importance to public health and had invested hugely to enhance capacity-building and improve emergency response mechanisms, he said.  It had made vigorous efforts to prevent and treat major infectious diseases through cooperation with many countries, as well as with the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank.  He expressed his conviction that, with the joint international endeavour to enhance capacity-building in global public health, the health-related development goals would be obtained.

In explanation of vote, Ms. NÚÑEZ DE ODREMÁN ( Venezuela) said capacity-building in the health sector was a primary means of battling inequality and poverty.  The resolution before the Assembly represented a new direction for social action in the field of health based on constructive values such as shared responsibility.  But Venezuela would not co-sponsor the draft because the second preambular paragraph made reference to the 2005 Summit Outcome Document, which had no validity for Venezuela.

JORGE CUMBERBACH MIGUÉN ( Cuba) said his country had a tradition of being active in the global health arena, including by issuing grants in the field of health to students from Asia and Africa and other parts of the world.  The resolution would strengthen the United Nations role in the area of global health, which was key for achieving development goals.  The health impacts of recent phenomena were proof of the urgent need for capacity-building in the field of health.

Action on Draft

The Assembly then adopted, without a vote, the resolution on capacity-building in the field of health as part of the follow-up to outcome of the Millennium Summit.

Question of Palestine

A. L. ABDUL AZEEZ ( Sri Lanka) said the mandate of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People could not be more relevant to the pursuit of peace, freedom and justice for the Palestinian people.  Developments of the past year had enhanced the prospects for reviving negotiations in the framework of the Road Map but the continuation of violence, intensification of expanding settlements in some areas and the continued construction of the separation wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in contravention of international law were matters of grave concern.  The Summit meeting in Egypt early this year had created a fresh momentum for resuming the peace process, particularly regarding the commitment to the cessation of all acts of violence.

While the removal of Israeli settlements from some areas and the withdrawal of forces from the Gaza Strip were welcome actions, he said, the continued control of borders by Israel prevented movement in and out of Gaza and thereby hampered the goal of economic development for the Palestinian people, living for far too long under extreme hardships.  The November agreement on the Gaza-Egypt border crossing would hopefully enhance freedom of movement.  That would contribute to confidence-building measures between the parties, help renew the focus on the peace process and lead the way to addressing other pressing issues, such as ending violence, stopping settlement activity and improving the living conditions of the Palestinian people.

JAVAD ZARIF ( Iran) recalled aspects of the Palestinian situation and said that as the Day of Solidarity was celebrated at Headquarters, Israel continued to defy the will of the international community.  Not only did Israel continue with construction of the wall in defiance of the International Court’s advisory ruling, it had announced it would accelerate its construction.  The direct and grave impact of that illegal practice on efforts to restore the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people was indisputable.

Furthermore, he said, settlement construction continued and expansion in the West Bank had been brisk in the past 12 months, with alarming reports of a plan for even more construction in the largest settlement project ever, involving the confiscation of an area larger than the Gaza Strip.  The disturbing fact about the Gaza disengagement was that Israel was conducting a massive propaganda campaign while concurrently implementing increased settlement activities, accelerated construction of the illegal wall and isolation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the Occupied Territories.  The Gaza withdrawal had been manipulated and exploited by the Israeli regime to complete its colonization and de facto annexations of the West Bank.  Even further, its illegal control of borders, territorial sea and air spaces, and the movement of the Palestinian people had turned the Gaza Strip into an open-air prison where economic development was crippled.

And in the meantime, he concluded, Israeli raids into Palestinian population centres continued in combination with extrajudicial killings.  Policies were deliberately aimed to destroy the already fragile Palestinian economy.  The time was long overdue for the United Nations to take meaningful measures on fully restoring the Palestinian people’s rights, including the return of refugees to their homeland and the establishment of a Palestinian State with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.  Israel’s threats against Lebanon must also stop.  The international community bore responsibility for addressing the Israeli policy of threatening other States in contravention of the Charter and international law.

NGUYEN DUY CHIEN ( Viet Nam) said the question of Palestine was the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict and its peaceful settlement was imperative for peace and stability in the Middle East.  Recent events had given hope and promise for the peace process within the framework of the Road Map.  Other developments on the ground, however, had complicated efforts.  The Palestinian people and institutions had achieved a peaceful, democratic and responsible transition.  Concerns remained, particularly the intensified expansion of Israeli settlements and the accelerated building of the illegal wall in defiance of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  Still, with the international community’s support, the just cause of the Palestinian people would be achieved.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD ( Syria) said that, in the twenty-first century, Palestinians continued to languish under Israeli occupation and suffer from killings and destruction, despite all efforts on the Arab side.  The withdrawal of Israel from any single inch of Palestinian or Arab soil was welcome, but Israel continued to resort to aggression and the most heinous forms of terror and oppression without regard for political or moral considerations.  Such actions included incursions into towns and villages in the occupied West Bank, assassinations, large-scale detentions and collective punishment.  Israel’s recent withdrawal from Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank was a grave misleading of world opinion.  Israel continued to expand settlements in the West Bank, to blockade the occupied city of Jerusalem, and accelerate construction of the racist separation wall, in grave defiance of United Nations resolutions.

He said recent Israeli escalations had dealt a real blow to peace efforts.  There existed scandalous double standards and a lack of sincerity on the part of Israel’s protectors when it came to implementing resolutions, to the point of not participating in Assembly votes on them.  Syria looked to Member States to give real support for the implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions in such a way that led to a complete withdrawal from the Syrian Golan Heights and Palestinian territory to the borders of June 1967, as well as from the Shabaa Farms.  Israel continued to resort to all sorts of devious ploys to win land and peace.  It was high time for the international community to take a firm position on Israel’s policies.

GILBERT LAURIN ( Canada) said it was not only in the region that positive change had been seen, but also at the United Nations.  His country commended Israel’s new engagement with the Organization, strongly supported Israel’s Vice-Presidency of the Assembly and applauded Israel’s representative for achieving consensus on the resolution on Holocaust remembrance.  At the same time, the Palestinian delegation had demonstrated a constructive approach to negotiations over their Assembly resolutions, which had been modified to welcome Israeli withdrawal and in some cases to remove provocative language.

Turning to the draft resolutions before the Assembly, he said his country had reviewed its voting on the numerous Middle East resolutions, as the annual process was becoming a diversion from the reality, and was divisive and unhelpful.  Although it would support today’s text on Jerusalem, it had concerns about the text on the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and on the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat.  Scarce United Nations resources should only be committed to bodies that could clearly demonstrate achievements in support of the peace process, and those bodies had not demonstrated added value over the past year.

He said, while Canada strongly supported the premise of the text on the Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, the broad resolution required a stronger and more unequivocal condemnation of suicide bombings.  It would not be able to support the text without it.  The draft on the Syrian Golan unfairly placed the onus of responsibility for renewed negotiations on Israel only, while in reality confidence-building measures and good-will gestures were needed from both sides.  Furthermore, Canada did not support the ongoing tabling of the resolution, while a broadly-supported resolution from the Fourth Committee on the Syrian Golan was adopted every year by the Assembly.

IBRAHIM ASSAF ( Lebanon) said the question of Palestine was the oldest item on the United Nations agenda and the issue would remain the responsibility of the United Nations until it was settled.  Recent events proved it was possible to make peace when the intention was there.

He said the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, their right to be free of occupation and their right to return had been established in the United Nations.  The road to peace was easily summed up:  the Israel withdrawal must be total and complete; the 200 settlements in the West Bank alone must be dismantled and future construction of such settlements must be given up as illegal; the wall that was a unilateral solution and would swallow up 1,000 kilometres of the West Bank must be demolished and Palestinians compensated for damages; Israel must allow refugees to return to the homeland; and Israel must cease its aggression against civilians, including extrajudicial killings.

His country fully supported the solution of two States, living side by side within the boundaries of the 1949 Armistice line under the land for peace principle, in line with United Nations resolutions.

Mr. ZHANG (China) said that since the beginning of the year, thanks to the efforts made by both the Palestinian and Israeli sides, as well as mediation by the international community, tensions in the region had eased somewhat.  Most saw 2005 as a year of opportunity for the overall Mid-East peace process, and China welcomed the smoother transition of the Palestinian leadership, the two meetings between President Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon, as well as the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

And while there were undoubtedly numerous challenges facing the resumption of negotiated peace talks, China would nevertheless call on both leaders to show the political will and courage needed to build the genuine trust that would be needed to begin implementing the Quartet-backed Road Map peace plan.  The question of Palestine was at the core of the Middle East question, he said, suggesting that the solution lay in conducting political talks guided by relevant United Nations resolutions and the principle of land for peace, as well as building an independent Palestinian State in line with the obligations set out in the Road Map.

At the same time, peace between the two sides could not be achieved without effective international support, he said, expressing support for the efforts undertaken thus far by the Diplomatic Quartet -- United Nations, European Union, Russian Federation and United States -- as well as the hope that the group would continue to press for early implementation of the Road Map.

Finally, he noted that progress along the Syrian and Lebanese tracks of the overall Middle East peace process was also necessary to ensure a comprehensive settlement.  He hoped that the Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese sides would resume their talks as soon as possible.  On a related matter, he praised the work of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission in its probe of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, but warned that the investigators should be mindful of the region’s complexities to avoid exacerbating or sparking new tensions.

ADIYATWIDI ADIWOSO ASMADY (Indonesia) said that despite hopeful developments in the Middle East during the past year, the situation in the Occupied Territories had deteriorated in the wake of the intensified expansion of Israeli settlements in parts of the West Bank, and accelerated work on the illegal separation wall, which specifically contravened Israel’s obligations under the Road Map peace plan, violated international humanitarian law and defied the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  And while Indonesia viewed Israel’s disengagement from Gaza as a positive step, it would nevertheless emphasize that the move affected only a fraction of the occupied lands and should be accompanied by Israel’s withdrawal from all remaining occupied areas.

She went on to say that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) continued to report difficulties in trying to deliver much-needed assistance to the territories, which was particularly troubling in light of the reported general deepening of food insecurity and dwindling sources of clean drinking water.   Israel’s military policies, continued violence against civilians, and closures had exacerbated the economic hardships facing Palestinian refugees.

With the end of 2005 rapidly approaching -- the end of the target timeframe set out in the Road Map peace plan for the establishment of a Palestinian State -- the international community must put pressure on Israel to uphold its obligations.   Israel must also be pressured to cease its construction of the illegal separation wall, as well as to assist UNRWA in delivering humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.  She also called on the international community to support the people of Palestine to ensure the smooth conduct of free and fair parliamentary elections this coming January.

XOLISA MABHONGO ( South Africa) said that, for once, there had been a number of positive changes in the Middle East that might present an opportunity to revitalize the peace process.  Even those hopeful signs, however, might not amount to much unless the international community became fully engaged in supporting the process.  Israel had taken a courageous step towards ending the occupation of Gaza by withdrawing its military forces and the illegal settlements from that area, as well as parts of the northern West Bank.  The Palestinian Authority had taken bold efforts to reform the Palestinian security services, re-establish the rule of law in areas that were only recently vacated by the Israeli military and prepare for fully inclusive and democratic legislative elections.

He said that the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that resulted in the re-opening of the Rafah border crossing might be the start of a process of cooperation between the parties, and should definitely be encouraged.  He remained concerned, however, that those latest opportunities for peace in the Middle East might be squandered if decisive action was not taken to stop the construction of settlements on Palestinian lands and to halt and reverse the construction of the separation wall.  Sixteen months ago, the General Assembly adopted resolution ES-10/15 by an overwhelming margin, upholding the International Court of Justice’s finding that the wall was illegal and that Israel had an obligation to dismantle it and make reparation for all damages it caused.  The Assembly had acted because the United Nations had a permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until it was resolved, he said.

SHINICHI KITAOKA ( Japan) said the past year had been a year of strong progress regarding the question of Palestine, including the Sharm-el-Sheikh commitment, the disengagement and the agreement on movement and access.  The Sharm-el-Sheikh commitment in February was significant as it was the product of restored confidence between the leaders of Israel and Palestine.  The Gaza withdrawal had been conducted relatively smoothly despite domestic Israeli opposition.  The Palestinian side made good efforts to maintain restraint.  The agreement on movement and access represented the culmination of the tireless efforts by the Israeli Government, the Palestinian Authority and the international community.  He hoped that the agreed measures concerning the Gaza-West Bank linkage and Gaza seaport would be implemented promptly and that consultations on a Gaza airport would speedily produce constructive results.

He said it was important that the two parties now achieve a real return to the Road Map.  For the Palestinian side, the first step would entail reforms, including security sector reform.  The Israeli side must halt all actions that might prejudge the result of final status negotiations, such as expansion of settlements.  As long as the will for peace on the part of both parties was clear, the international community would never cease to assist them.  Japan had announced an assistance package of $100 million.  Regarding the Syria track, he noted that not much progress had been made in the past year.  As was true for the Palestine track, however, the international community would support the peace process provided that the will for peace by the parties was clear.

TENS C. KAPOMA ( Zambia) welcomed recent developments in the Middle East peace process.  After 38 years of restrictions, the Palestinian people today were able to cross freely from the Gaza Strip into neighbouring Egypt, a long overdue development.  Israel should be encouraged to build on that positive step towards lasting peace in that troubled region.  The question of an independent Palestine living in peace side by side with Israel remained to date the ultimate objective of the Middle East peace process.  The way forward, therefore, was for the international community to impress upon the parties to take bold steps towards fulfilling the desired objectives.  Given the complex nature of the peace process, he urged the Secretary-General to spearhead international efforts to ensure its full fruition.

It was clear, he said, that both parties to the conflict were committed to seeking an acceptable resolution.  Some outstanding issues, however, required urgent attention, including Israel’s construction of the security wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which remained not only an obstacle to peace, but also a violation of international law.  Flexibility on the issue on Israel’s part would facilitate an early compromise and thus help to reach a satisfactory solution to the age-old Middle East conflict.  While a final solution to the question of Palestine was possible, it would require courage, compromise and skill on the part of the leaders of the two peoples.  Zambia fully supported the Road Map and was confident that, given the political will, a lasting peace would be achieved.

DANIELE D. BODINI ( San Marino) expressed his country’s solidarity with the peoples of Israel and Palestine, as well as its support for the process aimed at reaching the objectives of the Road Map.  His country’s history was defined by its search for peace and friendly cooperation among all peoples.  It categorically “refused” the choice of war and the incitement to violence or to conflict.  It positively condemned all kinds of terrorism or any justification whatsoever for terrorist behaviour.

He commended Prime Minister Sharon for his political courage and steady commitment to disengagement, and President Abbas for the responsible behaviour of the Palestinian Authority in facilitating a smooth and peaceful withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.  He hoped that Israel and Palestine would continue their efforts to implement the Road Map.  The existence of two States living peacefully side by side was both desirable and possible.  In such a difficult time in history, countries and organizations must reject threats and work to encourage every step towards the recognition of the responsibility that everyone had with regard to the rest of the world.

NABEELA ABDULLA AL-MULLA ( Kuwait) said the most important problem in her region was Israel’s continuation of illegal policies and its lack of cooperation with peaceful initiatives.  There was a continued deterioration of living standards in the Occupied Territories as a result of Israeli practices, which were against international norms and laws.  She called on Israel to abide by the Sharm el-Sheikh understanding, which called for ending the violence.  Kuwait completely supported the struggle of the Palestinians to achieve their full legitimate political rights, and called for Israel to abide by their international commitments.  She also called on Israel to end its policies of siege, starvation, military raids, and to release all Palestinian prisoners, respect the sanctity of holy shrines, and abide by the Arab identity of the city of Jerusalem.

She said the continued construction of the separation wall was a blatant violation of international law.  Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank was a first step that should lead to an independent Palestinian State on its national soil with holy Jerusalem as its capital.  The Rafah agreement could be seen as an indicator of progress, but more was required, especially the re-opening of Gaza’s airport and seaport and the free movement between Gaza and the West Bank, as well as within the West Bank itself.  There could be no comprehensive, lasting peace as long as Israel remained in lands it had occupied since 1967.  It must realize that achieving security was a demand and a right of all States in the region, not just Israel.

Ms. NÚÑEZ DE ODREMÁN ( Venezuela) said her country was proud to host the next regional meeting of the Committee in Caracas from 13 to 15 December.  The occupation of Palestinian territory was illegal and violated the principle of non-interference in internal affairs.  Sovereignty resided not only in States but in a people.  For violence to cease in both Israel and the Palestinian territory, the occupation must cease.  There could be no peace as long as there was occupation because the people would revolt against occupation.  Israel must withdraw from the Occupied Territories, and the rights of all people in the region must be respected, including of the Palestinian people.  Negotiations should ensure respect for the right of self-determination.

She said Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinian people brought to mind a story about an encounter on the high seas between Alexander the Great and a pirate.  Berated for his activities, the pirate said to Alexander:  “I have a small boat.  That’s why they call me a thief.  You have a fleet.  That’s why they call you emperor.”

OMAR IBRAHIM DABBASHI ( Libya) said most delegations had been expressing their disappointment at the United Nations for its failure over the past 58 years to achieve a just and lasting solution that ensured the legitimate and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.  Those included the right to return to their home, the right to self-determination and the right to establish an independent State on all of their land.  The cause of that dismal failure was easy to see.  Over the past decade, he had noted the Security Council’s dealings with the Israeli entity as it tried, with the support of its allies, to alter the history, geography and cultural identity of the region.  The Security Council had dealt with the occupation authorities as if they were above the law and above criticism.  All pressures had been brought to bear on the Palestinians to accept a fait accompli and to cease their demands for the restoration of their land.

The Israeli entity had used the international circumstances that had prevailed after September 2001 to mischaracterize the struggle of the Palestinians, when they were only striving to end an occupation.  Their struggle was a legitimate one ensured by all international norms and laws.  It was regrettable that a number of States that had struggled against Nazism and supported liberation movements against Nazi occupation had adopted the Israeli viewpoint, supporting the occupation and attempting to justify crimes against the Palestinians, which were no less cruel or heinous than those committed by the Nazis.

United Nations bodies, especially the Security Council, must put an end to double standards.  The Assembly must strive for genuine reforms that would ensure the abolition of the veto, or at least its restriction so as to not make Assembly resolutions dead letters.  It needed to ensure that international law was no longer a law for the powerful, to be interpreted according to their wish and whim.  Many plans had been put forward over the last few decades, the last of which was the Quartet’s Road Map.  There had been no tangible progress towards desired objectives because the Quartet left everything dependent on the wishes of the occupying Power.

MUNIR AKRAM ( Pakistan) said the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, had been embraced by the entire international community, which must work to realize that vision.  It was heartening to note that in the period under review, a number of positive developments had taken place.  Nevertheless, there were several challenges that could not be ignored.  Those included restrictions on, and suffering of, the Palestinians; construction of the separation wall; settlement activity in the West Bank; and incidents of violence.  What was most important at the current stage was for both parties to demonstrate their clear commitment to implement the Road Map, including withdrawal from the West Bank, leading to the establishment of a Palestinian State.

The parties also needed to ensure the safety and well-being of all civilians on both sides, halt all settlement expansion activities, remove illegal settlement outposts, and stop further construction of the security fence in the West Bank.  The parties also needed to ensure the continued development of the political process in the Palestinian territories, reform and reinforce Palestinian institutions, and provide international assistance to the Palestinian people and Authority.  Simultaneously, there was a pressing need for the economic reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  The Gleneagles Summit pledge of $3 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority needed to serve as an example for the entire international community.

For several decades, the denial of Palestinian rights, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the occupation of Palestinian territories had radiated to create an environment of anger, insecurity and confrontation in the Middle East.  The solution of that issue would produce an equally positive effect on the region, promoting the prospects of resolving other political, social and economic problems.

SIMEON A. ADEKANYE ( Nigeria) said that undoubtedly, the exertions of the Committee had helped to put a much-needed searchlight on the plight of the Palestinian people.  A just and lasting solution to the Palestinian question required from both sides to the conflict a genuine commitment to reject violence.  He called for an urgent resumption of negotiations within the framework of the Quartet in order to seize the momentum provided by recent positive developments.  He welcomed the recent pullout of the Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and commended the Rafah border agreement.  The leaders at the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit of February had reaffirmed their vision and commitment, and created a momentum that should not be allowed to wane.

Regarding the Syrian Golan, he called on the parties to adopt flexibility and to resume peace negotiations under the principle of land for peace.  The implementation of Assembly and Council resolutions would help to address the security concerns that had inhibited a solution.  Such a course of action would enhance the attainment of a just and comprehensive peace and create a climate of trust for the much-needed development in the region.

ALOUNKEO KITTIKHOUN (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) said it was regrettable that despite the efforts of the international community for a peaceful resolution of the question of Palestine, few tangible results had been achieved.  He urged the parties concerned to stop the violence and all acts that could increase tension and confrontation.  Both sides needed to exercise maximum restraint and resume negotiation as a precondition for implementing the Road Map, as well as relevant Security Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace.  There had been promising developments in the past year, which should be further promoted.  Further progress would be unlikely, however, if the efforts to expand the West Bank settlements and complete the construction of the wall on Palestinian land were not abandoned.

He said peace and stability in the Middle East would not likely be achieved unless the Palestinian issue was resolved in a just and reasonable manner.  His delegation reaffirmed its unswerving support of the struggle of the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination, including, to establish their independent State.  The peoples in the region of the Middle East, particularly the Palestinians, had long suffered.  Like other peoples the world over, they had all earned the right to live in peace.  The international community was duty bound to do all it could to help the parties concerned resolve their problems peacefully and as rapidly as possible.

ROSEMARY DAVIS ( United Kingdom), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said she welcomed the Agreement on Movement and Access.  The issues involved were fundamental to improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza and for promoting peaceful economic development.  The Union was prepared for the Third Party role as set out in the Agreement.  It would monitor operations at the Rafah border and provide assistance to reinforce Palestinian border management capacities, including through assistance in capacity-building, training, equipment and technical assistance.

Continuing, she said she also welcomed the multi-party elections foreseen for 25 January 2006.  Free and fair elections were an indispensable step towards the consolidation of democratic institutions.  The Palestinian Authority must uphold all provisions of the electoral law, and Israel should assist in preparations and conduct of the elections.  Those participating should refrain from armed activities since there was a fundamental contradiction between those activities and the building of a democratic State.  The Union was ready to send an observer mission, and actions prejudging a final status agreement should be avoided.

Situation in Middle East

TAREK ADEL ( Egypt) introduced the draft resolutions on the Syrian Golan (A/60/L.32) and on Jerusalem (A/60/L.33).  He said the Arab-Israeli conflict had lasted for decades because Israel’s occupation caused an imbalance in international security and stability.  The time had come to deal with that imbalance more seriously.  The Arab initiative of 2002 would open the door for normal relations between Israel and all Arab countries so that the entire region could live in peace and security.  In spite of the tireless efforts of Egypt’s leadership to implement that initiative, Israel’s insistence on unilateral steps was still the main obstacle for the international community.

He said he looked forward to a more active involvement of the major players, including the United Nations, to give momentum to the peace process.  Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank proved that when there was political will, the full implementation of obligations could be obtained.  It was important for the Quartet to intensify efforts to get Israel to implement the Road Map.  Israel should refrain from policies harmful to the peace process and begin promoting mutual trust with the Palestinians.  The end of the occupation of Arab territories should be complete and comprehensive, covering Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian territories.  It was time for the international community to take a comprehensive look at the Middle East.  The peoples of the region aspired to a stable peace and a process of development.  There was no way to realize either without the collective international will to give momentum to peace negotiations.

Ms. DAVIS (United Kingdom), speaking again on behalf of the European Union and associated States, reiterated that the Union was committed to the two-State solution laid out in the Road Map and as agreed to between the parties, which would lead to an independent Palestinian State existing side by side in peace with Israel, living in recognized and secure borders.

Also welcome, she said, were the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, the Agreement on Movement and Access, and the multi-party elections for the Legislative Council slated for 25 January 2006.  The Union urged the holding of free and fair elections with the assistance of Israel.

RADZI RAHMAN ( Malaysia) said the situation in the region was at a delicate crossroads.  The question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict was at the core of regional tension.  The situation was compounded by developments in Iraq and the disastrous threats of terrorists, as witnessed in Jordan.  Israel’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear ones, was another part of the instability that threatened the future of the peoples in the region.  It was necessary to pursue in earnest a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.  The Arab peace initiative of 2002 clearly pronounced peace to be an Arab strategic option.  The solution remained the end of the occupation of all Palestinian territories.

He welcomed Syria’s decision to allow the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission to question its senior officials over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  He urged all parties to allow the commission to conduct its work in accordance with its mandate and terms of reference.

He said the situation in Iraq posed serious implications to international and regional peace and security.  The country’s security must be the sole responsibility of an independent and sovereign Iraq.  There was also an urgent need for the Iraqi leadership to redouble its efforts to prevail upon all perpetrators of violence in its territory, be they Iraqis or non-Iraqis, on the basis of applicable national and international laws.  The United Nations had the best credentials to assist Iraq in its political process, as well as to create the right conditions to enable Member States to take part in peacebuilding and reconstruction there.

He called upon those who had the most influence to work seriously towards establishing enduring peace and security in the Middle East.  He urged Israel, in its own best interests, to look beyond its immediate security needs and engage its Arab neighbours in serious and meaningful dialogue towards the early realization of comprehensive peace.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Observer of Palestine, said the question of Palestine was the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict and had a direct and strong impact on the situation in the Middle East as a whole.  A resolution to the question of Palestine held the key to the achievement of a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region.  The issue of East Jerusalem was at the heart of the question of Palestine and had central importance for the Arab region and for the Islamic and Christian worlds in general.  Despite countless United Nations resolutions and repeated calls by the international community, the occupying Power had embarked on a crusade of relentless colonization in East Jerusalem.

He said, since 1967, Israel had systematically aimed to change the legal status, demographic composition and character of occupied East Jerusalem by creating a Jewish majority through the confiscation of land, the intensification of settlement construction, the transfer of settlers into the city and the construction of the wall, thereby isolating the city from the West Bank.  All those actions had been taken in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Regulations of 1907 and in blatant defiance of relevant Security Council resolutions.  The Palestinian side would not accept the annulment of Palestinian and Arab rights in East Jerusalem.  He affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to have Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of the independent State of Palestine.

He also affirmed the necessity of establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.  Israel’s refusal to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty and place its nuclear facilities under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) put the whole region in danger.  Peace could not be achieved through military might, and it would never grow under the mentality of deterrence and military edge.  In order to reach a solution to the decades of injustice and suffering the peoples of the Middle East had faced, one must revert to the basics:  the return to the rule of law, and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.  The international community must not allow Israel to continue to trample the rights of the Palestinian people and must compel it to comply with the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law and international humanitarian law.

DAN GILLERMAN ( Israel) said his country had not taken part in the annual ritual that yesterday’s day had been.  Dredging up the past was not constructive but only put a bleak light onto the future.  Israel had taken many courageous steps recently to make the future brighter for the region.  That reality should be reflected in the work of the United Nations, including in the Assembly Hall.  He urged everyone in the region to join together to turn the Middle East into a better neighbourhood for all their children.

HARON HASSAN (Jordan) said he was gratified to see the developments towards peace on both sides.  Israel must continue to withdraw from the occupied territories, stop its settlement activities and stop building the wall.  Both sides must continue to take steps to curb violence.  The Palestinian commitment to reform the Authority should enjoy the support of the Quartet.  The responsibility for the situation in the region lay with both parties.  Attacks on civilians were unacceptable under any conditions.  The Rafah border agreement should facilitate economic development for the Palestinian people.  However, the partial withdrawal in one area while settlement activities continued in another was unacceptable, as was the building of the wall, which was a violation of international law.  Israel should cease that activity and compensate affected Palestinians.

PETER MAURER ( Switzerland) said the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank had demonstrated to some extent the ability of the Government of Israel and of the Palestinian Authority to work together.  The only way to bring about a solution to the conflict was through negotiation.  Solutions needed to be found on a number of issues including borders, the question of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, which would require meaningful concessions from both sides.  Civil society must be made a part of the process and public opinion must be prepared for peace.  Negotiations would only bear fruit in an atmosphere of hope and confidence, with no further violence or arbitrary actions.

He said, while awaiting the resumption of political dialogue, the two parties must respect and implement their respective obligations and commitments.  To begin with, they must respect human rights and international humanitarian law, in particular the fourth Geneva Convention.  It was also important to avoid taking measures likely to prejudge the results of final status negotiations.  Priority must be given to respect for and maintenance of the territorial unity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  He called on the Israeli Government to freeze all settlement activities, and on the Palestinian Authority to apply itself with greater determination to the dismantling of terrorist infrastructures.

TAWFEEQ AHMED ALMANSOOR ( Bahrain) said Israel had continuously refused to abide by the will of the international community to withdraw its forces into its own territory.  It was clear that the two main obstacles to the peace process were the wall of separation and construction of further settlements in the West Bank and the Syrian Golan.  Israel’s policies and practices had been condemned repeatedly by the Security Council, which considered them grave obstacles to lasting peace in the Middle East.

It was regrettable that Israel, the occupying Power, continued to implement its designs aimed at changing the character of the occupied Arab territories, in total disregard of international humanitarian law and international conventions applicable to all occupied territories.  Israel’s authorization of new settlements in the Syrian Golan provided irrefutable proof of its intention to entrench occupation of that territory.

In spite of the vital importance and historical and geographical character of the Middle East, it had not enjoyed stability for many decades due to occupation of Arab territories, which depleted the capacities and capabilities of Arab States and their peoples.  Stability would not return as long as Israel continued its insistence on suppressive policies and practices.  He demanded that Israel implement all legal obligations in accordance with relevant resolutions, that it withdraw from the occupied Syrian Golan, and end its occupation and targeting of Lebanese territory.

ABDULAZIZ NASSER AL-SHAMSI (United Arab Emirates) said that Israel’s ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian lands amounted to a failure of international legitimacy, which had allowed Israel to continue its confiscation of lands and natural resources, and the enforcement of laws and regulations with a view to exercising its legal and administrative jurisdiction over the Arab and Palestinian territories, especially Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.  Those measures, which prevented the Arab population of the region from exercising their basic human rights, had been aimed at changing the geographical and historical nature of those territories, and replacing the Arab population with Jewish settlers.

The United Arab Emirates was concerned about Israel’s confiscation of more than 78 per cent of the Palestinian territories and its refusal to withdraw from the remaining territories, including East Jerusalem.  His country was also alarmed by Israel’s confiscation of some 98 per cent of the Golan Heights and strongly condemned such illegal practices, which proved Israel’s intentions not to seek peace.  A lasting and comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the establishment of security in the region required effective and urgent international action to ensure Israel’s withdrawal from all Arab territories.

That could be accomplished, among other ways, with the development of a mechanism to monitor Israel’s compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention; a demand upon Israel to stop its air and sea violations of Lebanese sovereignty; and serious steps by the diplomatic Quartet to ensure Israel’s commitment to resuming negotiations and ensure timely implementation of the requirements of the Road Map peace plan.

Mr. MEKDAD ( Syria) said the Middle East region was experiencing rapid changes that had the effect of redrawing its character.  Some sought those changes for the benefit of foreign powers, namely Israel, and looked to foster the conditions of “constructive chaos” to bring about change.  But the situation of instability in the region created a shadow over life itself.

He said the Middle East had been subjected to more outside interference and falsehoods than any other area.  The Israeli occupation violated the principles against the acquisition of land by force.  The “State aggression” that Israel had exercised in its attempt to change the character of the region had left half a million Syrians displaced and waiting for the day when they could return by virtue of their fundamental rights.  But Israel had not stopped there.  It had practised every form of racial discrimination and terror to impose its will, regardless of resolutions and legal obligations.  In the past year alone, Israel had built 44 settlements in the Golan.  Any talk of peace by Israel was a fabrication aimed at the international community, as seen in its actions of burying nuclear waste in the Golan, stealing water and imposing taxes, as well as the buried land mines that killed townspeople.  The “Israeli killing machine” must stop.

A few days ago, he concluded, Arab detainees in the Golan had called for international action on their behalf because of the human rights abuses and deteriorating health situation.  He added that Israel’s huge arsenal of nuclear weapons posed a great threat to the region, while others were told to abandon the pursuit of peaceful uses for nuclear power.  Why was Israel exempt?  The logic of the very few that some issues should be pursued at the United Nations and others dropped was not valid.  The reason Israel did not implement resolutions was because there was no pressure on Israel to do so.  Instead of looking to take elements out of the Road Map, Israel should look to fulfil its legal obligations.

MICHEL KAFANDO ( Burkina Faso) said the “seething caldron” that was the Middle East deserved special attention.  Indeed, it was incumbent upon the international community to bring an end to the violence, mistrust and insecurity that generally characterized the world’s view of the region.  Iraq was in turmoil, and it was time to speed up efforts to ensure that the Iraqi people took their destiny into their own hands.  Sadly, prospects for peace for other countries of the region were equally dire, and Burkina Faso was particularly concerned by the situation in Syria, Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

At the same time, Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank was a sign that there was still some hope, he said.  A comprehensive settlement required the support of the international community to ensure the re-launch of negotiations to implement the Road Map peace plan, towards the creation of a Palestinian State.  It was time for both parties to heed reason, particularly for the benefit of Palestinian and Israeli children, and to “bury the hatchet” for a concerted, collaborative push for a lasting peace.

MONA JUUL ( Norway) said her country was encouraged by the Israeli Government’s great courage in withdrawing from Gaza and parts of the West Bank and by the recent agreement over the Rafah border crossing.  Improving the situation in Gaza was just one of many steps required in order to make progress towards peace, however.  The next challenge was to address the situation in the West Bank.  The single most important thing that could be done to normalize the situation for Palestinians was either to change or to abolish the closure regime and allow free movement.

She said that while Norway recognized Israel’s security concerns, it could not accept the construction of the separation barrier on occupied land in the West Bank.  Nor could it accept the continued construction of settlements.  Such actions were in conflict with international law and created facts on the ground that were detrimental to a contiguous and viable Palestinian State.  The Palestinian Authority bore a major responsibility for achieving positive political and economic development.  She encouraged it to continue reforms, particularly within the police and security sectors.  Terrorism was unacceptable anywhere, at any time.  The Palestinian leadership must make a strategic decision to fight terrorism, in accordance with the Road Map.

Recent developments were important steps forward in the Middle East peace process.  There was no need for a new peace plan.  The Road Map contained all steps necessary for restarting the process.  Efforts must be made by all parties, including the international community, to seize the present opportunities and sustain the political momentum to foster further progress in the peace process.

Mr. ASSAF ( Lebanon) made note of the illegal actions being taken by Israel in the occupied territories, and said that in his country alone in the last month, Israel had taken 83 actions that were violations of international law, including such activities as breaking the sound barrier with its aircraft over cities to terrify people.  The cessation of such violations would calm the situation along the Blue Line.  Further, landmines laid down by Israel continued to injure people and prevented them from returning to their fields.  The solution was to implement resolutions calling for Israel to respect its international obligations and withdraw from the territories it occupied.  Normalized relations with its neighbours had been offered to Israel if it withdrew from the occupied territories.

Finally, he expressed his gratitude for the international community’s investigation into the assassination of his country’s former Prime Minister.  He called on all States to cooperate with the inquiry.

ANDREW SOUTHCOTT ( Australia) said that while there remained much that was cause for concern, there was also cause for guarded optimism in the situation in the Middle East.  Although the region continued to experience the evils of terrorism, he had been encouraged by some of the cooperation to combat that scourge.  His Government had been a steadfast supporter of spreading democracy, including in the Middle East.  Democracy would also encourage a more stable and secure environment.  Sceptics saying that democracy was a Western concept that would never take root in the Middle East were wrong.  “Not limited by geography, by culture nor by faith, the merits and appeal of democracy were truly universal”, he said, as was seen in Iraq and Lebanon.

He said the establishment of a Palestinian State living in peace, security and prosperity alongside Israel remained the paramount goal of the Middle East peace process.  Welcoming positive developments, he said among the remaining challenges was the need for a commitment by the Palestinians to stop terrorism and incitement to further bloodshed, and by Israel to address the issue of settlements.  Iraq had come a long way during the last year, as all sides of Iraqi politics and society began to engage in the political process, demonstrating that they had chosen freedom and democracy over the dark tyranny of terrorism.  As a member of the Board of Governors of the IAEA, Australia would continue to work constructively in support of efforts to resolve outstanding questions about Iran’s nuclear activities.  It had registered strong condemnation of the Iranian President’s comment that Israel should be “wiped off the map”.

Mr. ILKIN ( Turkey) said that for the attainment of peace, security, socio-economic development and progress in the Middle East, the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was essential.  The two sides must be assisted to seize the current window of opportunity for a genuine political dialogue under the Road Map.  Both parties had to stand firm against provocations by extreme elements.  The Palestinians must carry on with their reform process, paying special attention to the rehabilitation of the security sector.  Israel must help in sustaining a positive atmosphere, consolidating efforts for reform.  The Gaza initiative must be followed by similar steps in the West Bank; Israeli settlement activities must come to an end; and the construction of the wall should be halted.  The parties had to refrain from unilateral moves that might prejudge a final status agreement.

He said Turkey had been providing the Palestinian Authority with assistance in health, education, public financing, institution-building, security, tourism and agriculture under an action plan initiated in 2003.  It also helped to promote civil society and private sector contacts to strengthen the dialogue between the two parties.  In the context of a broader picture, the international community should bear in mind the potential impact of other tracks.  The Syrian and Lebanese tracks needed to be re-activated so that a peaceful, stable and prosperous environment for all the peoples of the Middle East could be achieved.

ALEXANDER KONUZIN ( Russian Federation) said that significant changes had occurred in the Middle East during the past year, and despite some tense moments and times of mistrust between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, 2005 had been marked by a host of positive events.  He praised both Israel and the Palestinian Authority for their comportment during Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and urged the parties, particularly Israel, to move forward with more comprehensive steps.  He added that the Palestinian Authority would require continued international assistance during the post-evacuation period.

His country, like other members of the diplomatic Quartet, would continue to work towards the establishment of a Palestinian State, following the requirements set out in the Road Map peace plan.  But at the same time, he warned that settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alone would not be enough to ensure stability and peace throughout the wider Middle East.  The international community must, therefore, continue to give constant and serious attention to the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, which were equally important to the overall peace process.

ELEYDA GARCÍA-MATOS ( Venezuela) said there was no justification for the occupation of one people by another in violation of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Syria’s willingness to resume negotiations on territories occupied by Israel was a positive sign for improvement of the situation in the Middle East.  Israel should accept the offer and withdraw from all the occupied territories.  Thousands of voices had been calling on Israel for many years to allow justice to be served on behalf of the heroic and long-suffering Palestinian people.  Israel should heed the call.

RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG (Brazil), also speaking on behalf of Argentina, said several positive developments had taken place in the last year, but it had been repeatedly demonstrated that progress towards peace was affected negatively by the ups and downs of the fragile situation on the ground.  The forces of moderation did not always prevail over those of extremism and violence.  The Road Map was the best tool for advancing peace negotiations.  Both parties must be ready to make concessions and accept long-term commitments.  In that regard, the Palestinian Authority should take measures to address legitimate Israeli security needs.  It should continue reforming and strengthening its security services while exercising its monopoly over the use of force in the territory under its control.  It was essential to ensure the safety and well-being of all civilians and condemn all acts of violence and terror against them on both sides, including suicide bombings, extrajudicial executions and the excessive use of force.

He said Israel should adequately address legitimate Palestinian aspirations for self-determination and the establishment of an independent State.  It should freeze all settlement-related activities, dismantle illegal outposts, cease construction of the separation barrier and adjust its route so as to not prejudge the final borders.  Freedom of movement of both people and goods within Gaza and the West Bank and between both territories was essential.  The international community had an important role to play in the process, but it could not impose a resumption of negotiations.  Israelis and Palestinians must take the required steps.

He said peace and stability depended on progress in other aspects of the Arab–Israeli conflict.  Peace talks must be resumed between Israel and Syria concerning the Golan Heights.  Parties should fully respect the “Blue Line” in southern Lebanon and abstain from any measures that could increase tensions in that area.  A definitive solution to the question of the status of Jerusalem should take into account the concerns of both Israelis and Palestinians.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.