Member States Have ‘Historic Moment’ to Act, Says Palestinian Envoy, Challenging General Assembly to Redress ‘Tragedy’, as Debate Opens on Question of Palestine

29 November 2011
GA/11179

Member States Have ‘Historic Moment’ to Act, Says Palestinian Envoy, Challenging General Assembly to Redress ‘Tragedy’, as Debate Opens on Question of Palestine

29 November 2011
General Assembly
GA/11179
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Plenary

67thMeeting (PM)

Member States Have ‘Historic Moment’ to Act, Says Palestinian Envoy, Challenging

General Assembly to Redress ‘Tragedy’, as Debate Opens on Question of Palestine

Says International Community’s Role ‘Pivotal’ As Window of Opportunity Narrows;

Israel Rejects as ‘Fiction’ Notion It Is Responsible for All Problems in Region

“A historic moment is before Member States to act, to uphold their legal obligations and the United Nations Charter,” declared the Permanent Observer of Palestine today, as he challenged the General Assembly to rectify the injustice that had uprooted millions of Palestinians from their homeland and had led to nearly 65 years of Israeli occupation.

Addressing the General Assembly’s annual debate on the “question of Palestine”, he said it could not be lost on Member States that Israel — the very State created by the Assembly’s own resolution — continued to deny the existence of the nation of Palestine and the rights of its people.  “The wound of this tragedy and injustice remains gaping and bleeding” and must be directly and urgently redressed.  Despite Israel’s intransigence, the Palestinian leadership remained committed to the two-State solution on the basis of pre-1967 borders and to the peace process.

On the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, he renewed his appeal for Member States to “answer the call of history”.  Israel, for its part, must prove that it was a peace-loving State and that it was ready to abandon its “occupier mentality”.  Calling on Member States to find the political will and the courage to fulfil the promise made to the Palestinian people with the historic adoption in 1947 of resolution 181 (II), which was to have partitioned Palestine into two States — one Arab and one Jewish — he stressed that the international community’s role was pivotal.  “We are at a crossroads,” he said, but action was needed now because the “window of opportunity is narrowing”.

He said the Palestinian call for peace and justice had taken on a new and significant dimension, as on 23 September, President Mahmoud Abbas had formally presented Palestine’s application for full membership in the United Nations, and had come before the Assembly to appeal for the international community “to do justice by the Palestinian people”.  The application had been transmitted to the Security Council, where it regrettably lacked a consensus among Council members.  What was preventing progress on the ground was the “deliberate, insidious and illegal” Israeli settlement campaign in the Occupied Palestinian Territory — especially in and around East Jerusalem.

Disagreeing sharply, the representative of Israel told the Assembly that, in reality, the “so-called right of return is the major obstacle” to peace.  Indeed, the notion that Israel would be flooded with millions of Palestinian refugees was a “non-starter and everybody knows that”, but the Palestinian people had refused to acknowledge it.  For decades, the Assembly had rubberstamped every Palestinian “whim”; its lip service had only done a disservice to the cause of peace.

“It is the words not spoken that speak volumes,” he continued, noting what he termed a lack of solidarity on the part of the Assembly with millions who suffered across the Middle East.  It showed no solidarity with the millions of Israelis that lived under the constant threat of violent attacks, with Israeli children who feared rockets, or with those who were victims of brutal Hamas rule — under which political opponents were tortured, women were subjugated and children were used as suicide bombers.  “Today, the people of the region demand real answers to their plight, not the fiction that Israel is responsible for all the problems in the region,” he declared.

The Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation, said that the fundamental changes witnessed across the Arab world in recent months had made the need for progress in the Middle East peace process all the more urgent.  Recent events had indeed shown the necessity of heeding the legitimate aspirations of peoples in the region, including those of Palestinians for statehood and of Israelis for security.  The European Union deplored the recent Israeli decisions to advance settlement expansion in Gilo and Givat Hamatos, and accelerate construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which ran counter to the Quartet’s efforts.

He said the European Union was also very concerned at the renewed exchange of fire in the Gaza Strip and the south of Israel following the firing of rockets by Islamic Jihad from Gaza into Israel.  The Union wholeheartedly condemned the indiscriminate targeting of civilians wherever they were, and called on all sides to respect the ceasefire brokered by Egypt.  He reiterated the appeal to the Israeli and Palestinian sides to resume negotiations under the terms and within the timelines indicated in the Quartet statement of 23 September.

As he opened the debate, Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, said it was his conviction that the 193‑member body had a role to play in driving the peace process.  He recalled the sustained and resolute commitment of the Assembly to the Palestinian people, to the peoples of the wider Middle East and to the overall peace process.  “We should continue to work collectively for the attainment of a just and comprehensive negotiated peace settlement in the Middle East,” he said, stressing that such a settlement should result in two States living side by side, in peace and security within recognized pre‑1967 borders.

In other business, Senegal’s representative, as Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, introduced four draft resolutions: “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People” (document A/66/L.15); “the Division for Palestinian Rights of the United Nations Secretariat” (document A/66/L.16); “The special information programme on the question of Palestine of the United Nations Department of Public Information” (document A/66/L.17); and “Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine” (document A/66/L.18).

The representative of Malta, as Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, introduced that Committee’s annual report (document A/66/35).

Also speaking today were representatives of Egypt (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), South Africa (also on behalf of India and Brazil), Syria, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iceland, Indonesia, Cuba and Oman.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Iran, Kuwait and Syria.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow to continue its debate on the question of Palestine.

Background

The Assembly met today to begin its consideration of the Question of Palestine.  For that discussion, it had before it several reports and draft resolutions.

The annual report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (document A/66/35), states that the last year the Palestinian issue had been characterized by stagnation in the political process and a volatile situation on the ground.  Indeed, the status quo had been characterized unanimously by the international community as unsustainable and requiring urgent attention.  However, despite the global calls for a complete cessation of illegal settlement activity, Israel had continued that campaign, further exacerbating tensions and mistrust between the two sides.  The critical humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip was also exacerbated by the continued imposition by Israel of a severe blockade on the territory.

The Israeli‑Palestinian peace talks, relaunched in September 2010 under the mediation of the United States, were stalled after merely a few rounds following Israel’s refusal to renew its moratorium on settlement activity.  In response, the Palestinian leadership, under President Mahmoud Abbas, sought on 23 September to gain international recognition by submitting to the Secretary‑General an application for membership in the United Nations.  Over the reporting period, the Palestinian Authority also successfully advanced its State‑building programme, with strong support from the international community.  Its institutional readiness for Statehood had been endorsed by the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the report states.

For its part, the Committee and its Bureau focused their work during the reporting period on the need to respect relevant United Nations resolutions and the urgency of resuming negotiations.  The first international meeting convened by the Committee in March 2011 focused on the urgency of realizing a two‑State solution, while the annual assistance seminar organized in May focused on the mobilization of support for the Palestinian state‑building programme.  At another international meeting held in Brussels in June, participants discussed the role of Europe in advancing Palestinian Statehood and achieving Israeli‑Palestinian peace.

Among its conclusions and recommendations, the Committee stated that it was frustrated by the continued stalemate in the peace process, and by the fact that the target date for its conclusion — September 2011 — had passed without a breakthrough.  It was, however, encouraged by the success of the Palestinian state‑building and reform programme, and welcomed the intra‑Palestinian agreement signed in Cairo as a step forward.  Further progress would require a dismantlement of the Israeli occupation, the report stresses.  Additionally, the financial situation of the Palestinian Authority should be stabilized.  The Committee called on donors to act in that respect, and looked forward to the early convening of a donors conference.

The Committee was deeply concerned by the situation on the ground in the occupied territories, the report continues, in particular with regards to women, children and prisoners.  The blockade of Gaza should end immediately.  In that regard, the Security Council and the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention should act urgently and decisively to guarantee the protection of civilians and ensure accountability for violations of international law.

With regards to its future work, the report states that the Committee would focus its upcoming programme of international meetings on widening support for the achievement of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self‑determination and sovereignty.  It would support campaigns to challenge Israeli impunity, and would continue to mobilize support for Palestinian institution‑building, among other efforts.  The Committee requested the United Nations Division for Palestinian Rights to continue its secretariat support, monitoring and informational activities.  Finally, the report notes, the Committee called upon the Security Council and the General Assembly to favourably consider Palestine’s application for United Nations membership.

Also before the Assembly was a report of the Secretary‑General on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (document A/66/367–S/2011/585).  Submitted pursuant to Assembly resolution 65/16 (2011), it contains replies received from Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to notes verbales sent by the Secretary‑General.  It also contains the observations of the Secretary‑General on the current state of the conflict and on international efforts to move the peace process forward.  The report covers the period from September 2010 through August 2011.

Israel, in its reply, notes that it had voted against resolution 65/16.  Despite significant efforts made by Israel to renew negotiations, Palestinian terrorism had continued during the reporting period; the reply describes hundreds of terrorist attacks that had emanated from, or were carried out in, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and  Jerusalem, and further makes note of the glorification of those who committed terrorist attacks against Israelis.  Hamas also continued to stockpile weapons through a smuggling operation under the Egypt‑Gaza border, it states.

Israel continued to facilitate the entry of large quantities of humanitarian supplies and other products into Gaza, the reply continues.  Increasing aid and other factors had led to an increase of 15 per cent in the gross domestic product of Gaza in 2010, a trend which had continued into 2011.  Israel had also authorized the easing of security‑related restrictions in the West Bank.  Moreover, it had repeatedly extended an open invitation to restart peace talks with no preconditions.  Israel rejected resolution 65/16 and other one‑sided resolutions passed annually by the Assembly, and encouraged a cessation of that counterproductive practice.

The report continues with the reply issued by the PLO, which deemed resolution 65/16 to be central to international efforts with regards to Palestine.  A strong international consensus existed in support of the two‑State solution of a State of Palestine living side by side with Israel in peace and security.  During the reporting period, the Palestinian leadership had continued to strive for that peaceful solution, acting at all levels — nationally, regionally and internationally — for the fulfilment of the Palestinian’s right to self‑determination.

Palestine’s commitment to a two‑State solution remained in place despite obstacles imposed by Israel in the form of illegal policies and practices.  The Palestinian leadership had agreed to direct negotiations in September 2010, the reply notes, an action which was supported by the Middle East Quartet.  Regrettably, the Israeli Government immediately thereafter refused to extend its partial moratorium on settlement activities in the occupied territories.  The Palestinian leadership continued to call for their complete cessation, a request which was not a Palestinian precondition, but rather a legal obligation incumbent upon Israel by the Fourth Geneva Convention, Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, as well as the Quartet Road Map.

Meanwhile, the development and strengthening of Palestinian State institutions continued — including efforts to advance Gaza’s reconstruction, to promote reconciliation and unity among Palestinian political factions and to broaden recognition of the State of Palestine — as part of the “Homestretch to Freedom” phase of Palestine’s national two‑year strategy.  Those efforts continued to bear in mind the internationally endorsed target date of September 2011 for the international recognition of the State of Palestine.

The observations of the Secretary‑General, also included in the report, address both the discontinued negotiations and the new low in mutual confidence that was reached by the two parties.  Following the halt of negotiations, the Secretary‑General had urged Israel to freeze settlement activity.  However, in August, no political breakthrough had been reached and Israeli settlement continued.  It was in that context that the Palestinian leadership confirmed its intention to approach the United Nations at the beginning of the sixty‑sixth session of the General Assembly to call upon Member States to recognize the Palestinian State and to apply for full membership in the United Nations.  The Government of Israel had expressed its strong opposition to such a move.

The Secretary‑General was an active proponent of the two‑State solution, and was, therefore, of the view that Palestinians should have their own State living side by side with Israel in peace and security.  Nonetheless, he would only transmit the Palestinian Statehood request to the Security Council, as issues of recognition and membership were for Member States and the Organization’s intergovernmental bodies alone to decide.  Further, regarding the terror attacks which continued to emanate from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — as well as violence against Palestinian civilians — he believed that the security concerns of both parties could be best addressed by intensified cooperation and the continued empowerment of the Palestinian Authority’s security efforts and performance.

Despite the political impasse and the persistent hostilities, the Palestinian Authority had successfully advanced its State‑building programme over the period under review.  However, donor support remained grossly insufficient, and the Secretary‑General continued to call for the timely provision of assistance to that agenda, as well as for Israel to take measures to facilitate growth, and to ease access and movement restrictions into and out of, the West Bank.  Additionally, the United Nations had also engaged intensively with Israel and within the Quartet to promote the reconstruction of Gaza, to further liberalize imports — in particular construction materials — and to allow exports.

As for the drafts before the Assembly, delegations were set to consider a text on the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (document A/66/L.15), by which the Assembly would affirm its support for the Middle East peace process on the basis of the relevant United Nations resolutions, and would request the Committee to continue to exert all efforts to promote the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self‑determination.

The Assembly would further request the Committee to continue to extend its cooperation and support to Palestinian and other civil society organizations and to continue to involve additional civil society organizations and parliamentarians in its work in order to mobilize international solidarity and support for the Palestinian people, “particularly during this critical period of political instability, humanitarian hardship and financial crisis.”

By a text on the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat (document A/66/L.16), the Assembly would consider that, by supporting the work of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Division continues to make a most useful and constructive contribution to raising international awareness of the question of Palestine and of the urgency of a peaceful settlement of the question in all its aspects on the basis of international law and United Nations resolutions.

The text would have the Assembly request the Secretary‑General to continue to provide the Division with the necessary resources and to ensure that it continues to carry out its programme of work.  It would request the Division, in particular, to continue to monitor developments relevant to the question of Palestine, organize international meetings and conferences in various regions with the participation of all sectors of the international community, and develop and expand the “Question of Palestine” website and the documents collection of the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine.

Another draft, on the special information programme on the question of Palestine of the Department of Public Information of the Secretariat (document A/66/L.17) would have the Assembly consider that the special information programme is very useful in raising the awareness of the international community concerning the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East and that the programme is contributing effectively to “an atmosphere conducive to dialogue and supportive of the peace process and should receive the necessary support for the fulfilment of its tasks”.

The text would also request the Department to, among other tasks, continue to issue, update and modernize publications and audio‑visual materials on the various aspects of the question of Palestine in all fields; expand its collection of such audio‑visual material and to update, on a periodic basis, the public exhibit on the question of Palestine displayed in the General Assembly building as well as at United Nations headquarters in Geneva and Vienna; to organize and promote fact‑finding news missions for journalists to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel; and to continue to provide assistance to the Palestinian people in the field of media development.

The resolution on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (document A/66/L.18) would have the Assembly reaffirm the illegality of the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territory and stress the extremely detrimental impact of Israeli settlement policies, decisions and activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, on efforts to resume and advance the peace process and to achieve peace in the Middle East.

It would recognize the efforts being undertaken by the Palestinian Authority, with international support, to rebuild, reform and strengthen its damaged institutions, and would welcome the continued efforts and tangible progress made by the Authority in the security sector by the Palestinian Authority, and call on the parties to continue cooperation that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis.  Expressing grave concern, in particular, over the crisis in the Gaza Strip as a result of the continuing prolonged Israeli closures and severe economic and movement restrictions that in effect amount to a blockade, the Assembly would stress the need for full implementation by all parties of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) of 8 January 2009 and General Assembly resolution ES‑10/18 of 16 January 2009.

Stressing the urgent need for sustained and active international involvement, including by the Quartet, to support both parties in resuming, advancing and accelerating the peace process negotiations for the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement, the Assembly would note the Quartet’s recent determination to support the parties throughout the negotiations, “which can be completed and resolve all final status issues within one year” and in the implementation of an agreement between the two sides that ends the occupation and results in the independence of a democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours.

Statement by General Assembly President

NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL‑NASSER, President of the General Assembly, said today’s meeting was of crucial importance and that the question of Palestine had been “particularly crucial” during the 193‑member body’s current session.  The international community had witnessed a historic development in New York this past September when Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, had transmitted to the Secretary‑General Palestine’s application for membership in the United Nations.  The Palestinian leader had announced the initiative in the Assembly.

Other developments had taken place since then, he said, noting that the Security Council Committee on the Admission of New Members had examined the Palestinian application; a widely commended exchange of prisoners had successfully taken place; and the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process had reinvigorated its efforts to relaunch negotiations.  Today, the world would observe the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which had been set aside to commemorate the adoption by the Assembly of resolution 181 (II), which had aimed to divide the territory into two States; one Jewish and one Arab.

He said that, at an earlier meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, he had recalled the sustained and resolute commitment of the Assembly to the Palestinian people, to the peoples of the wider Middle East and to the overall peace process.  “It is my conviction that the General Assembly has a role to play.  We should continue to work collectively for the attainment of a just and comprehensive negotiated peace settlement in the Middle East,” he said, stressing that such a settlement should result in two States living side by side, in peace and security within recognized pre‑1967 borders.

Therefore, all Member States must take steps to be able to receive, as soon as possible, Palestine as a new member of the Organization.  “I will not spare any effort in this direction,” he said, stressing that, in the short term, all stakeholders must take steps to alleviate the daily suffering of the Palestinian people.  Indeed, the humanitarian situation on the ground was a source of great concern, and he acknowledged the efforts of the United Nations and especially the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), non-governmental organizations and wider civil society, who had all played a critical role in helping to ease the suffering of the growing Palestinian refugee population.  Those groups and organizations had done so under difficult political and financial conditions and he urged all Member States to bolster their valuable contributions to UNRWA.

Introduction of Drafts

ABDOU SALAM DIALLO (Senegal), the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, introduced the four draft resolutions before the Assembly related to the question of Palestine.  He also noted that, throughout the year, the Committee had continued its support for the relaunching of meaningful permanent status negotiations with clear objectives and a specific time frame.  It was deplorable that the Quartet’s efforts in that same regard were being constantly undermined by the “large‑scale pursuit of the Israeli settlement campaign under the impotent evasive and embarrassed gaze of the international community.”

The resumption of negotiations therefore remained essentially contingent upon a permanent settlement freeze in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the dismantling of outposts.  He went on to say that the Committee, like the rest of the international community, had welcomed in mid‑October the first stage of the prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.  Unfortunately, the peace dividend that exchange had been rightly expected to generate did not materialize because of rocket fire from Gaza and Israel’s “disproportionate” response.  The Committee called on all parties to respect the truce brokered by Egypt, with a view to securing a lasting ceasefire and the complete lifting of the Gaza blockade.

He then introduced three of the draft resolutions related to the work of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (document A/66/L.15), the Division for Palestinian Rights of the United Nations Secretariat (document A/66/L.16), and the Special information programme on the question of Palestine of the United Nations Department of Public Information (document A/66/L.17).  The fourth draft, Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine (document A/66/L.18), reaffirmed the position of the General Assembly with regard to the essential elements of such a settlement and outlined the main developments in the past year, including the application of Palestine for admission to membership in the United Nations.

Introduction of Report

SAVIOUR BORG (Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, introduced the Committee’s annual report (document A/66/35), whose chapters I through III covered the body’s general perspective on events that had taken place during the year.  In chapter IV, the situation relating to the question of Palestine, as monitored by the Committee, was reviewed, including the daily difficulties faced by the population in the Occupied Territory as a result of restrictions, illegal settlement activities, demolitions, increased violence by Israeli settlers and the grave humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

He went on to note that chapter V reviewed actions taken by the Committee during the past year, including the Chairman’s participation in General Assembly and Security Council debates.  That section of the report also highlighted the close cooperation between the Committee and intergovernmental organizations, civil society groups and parliaments and inter‑parliamentary organizations.  He said that chapter VI of the report contains the Committees conclusions and recommendations, which, among other things, expressed the body’s frustration at the current stalemate in the peace process.  The Committee reiterated its call for the resumption of credible negotiations towards a two‑State solution.  It also reiterated that settlement activity was detrimental to the peace process and must, therefore, end.

He said that the Committee recommended that its programme of international meetings and conferences in 2012 be focused on widening international support for the achievement of the unalienable rights of the Palestinian people, as well as on strengthening international support for the resumption of negotiations.  The Committee would also aim to mobilize increased international scrutiny of the developments on the ground, in particular regarding the halting of all settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and to end all other illegal Israeli practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Finally, he said, the Committee called on the Security Council and the General Assembly to favourably consider the Palestinian application for United Nations membership, and support President Abbas’ call on all States that had not done so to recognize the State of Palestine.

Statements

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine, recalled that today marked the sixty‑fourth year since the General Assembly had adopted resolution 181 (II) partitioning Palestine into two States.  That action had set off a chain of events that dramatically altered the geopolitical landscape and future of the Middle East, he added, noting that, while the partition had led to the State of Israel, the rights of the Palestinian people had been unjustly obstructed and denied for more than six decades.  Today, there were nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees whose lives — alongside the prospects for peace and security regionally and globally — were gravely impacted by the conflict borne of that decision.

“The wound of this tragedy and injustice remains gaping and bleeding”, he said, adding that the situation of the Palestinian people today challenged the fundamental ideals and laws on which the international system had been established.  Not only had the conflict caused immense human suffering, but it had also undermined the credibility and efficacy of the United Nations and its legal instruments.  Year after year, Palestine continued to come before the bodies of the Organization, including the Assembly and the Security Council, striving for the realization of justice and the inalienable rights of its people, including the rights to return and to self‑determination and freedom.

This year, however, the appeal had taken on a new and significant dimension as, on 23 September 2011, President Mahmoud Abbas had formally presented Palestine’s application to the United Nations, and had come before the Assembly to appeal for the international community “to do justice by the Palestinian people”.  The application had been transmitted to the Security Council, where it regrettably lacked a consensus among Council members to recommend Palestine for membership.  Nonetheless, he said, Palestine would remain unwavering in its appeals for the recognition of its historic, natural and legal right to independence and to become a United Nations Member State.  Palestine firmly believed that good faith actions undertaken at the United Nations could, and should, contribute to actualizing the two‑State solution and would not obstruct that objective.  In fact, what was preventing progress towards that solution was the “deliberate, insidious and illegal” Israeli settlement campaign in the Occupied Palestinian Territory — especially in and around East Jerusalem.

In that context, he reiterated that there was no contradiction between the Quartet efforts to resume negotiations between the two sides, and the Council’s responsible consideration of Palestine’s application and that Palestine’s commitment to peace negotiations was unquestionable.  More than 130 countries had recognized the State of Palestine, he said, which was consistent with the relevant United Nations resolutions and the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice.  Palestine reaffirmed its gratitude for the more than 100 countries that had recognized Palestine, as well as those — including Brazil and other friendly countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region — that had recognized it as a State.  Meanwhile, he said, real progress had been made over the last two years in the building and strengthening of Palestinian national institutions, with the implementation of its two‑year plan to prepare for independence.  The initiative had made significant strides that reaffirmed that Palestine was ready for independence, a fact that was affirmed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other international entities.

As efforts entered a new phase this year, he continued, the global acknowledgment of the urgency of achieving the two‑State solution, which was being gravely threatened by Israel’s illegal actions, had prompted the aforementioned series of recognitions, as well as the proposal by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the growing support by Governments and civil society, and the Quartet statement of 23 September, as well as other efforts by concerned parties to resume credible negotiations between the two sides.  The revival of peace talks had proven elusive, due to Israel’s relentless breaches of the law and its refusal to commit to the fundamental parameters of the peace process, he said, adding that the constant provocations and “ridiculous, insulting pretexts” given for them continued to deepen mistrust and stroke tensions, making the prospects of serious negotiations even more remote.

The consequences of those actions had not been borne by Israel, which continued to act with “total arrogance and impunity”, but by generations of Palestinians “who continue to suffer the hardships of ongoing dispossession and the brutality of the Israeli occupation”.  Describing many of those hardships — including the blockade of the Gaza Strip, military raids and the confiscation of land — he added that the consequences of the conflict were also borne by the region and by the international community as a whole.  “The resulting situation is totally unsustainable and, in the absence of a political horizon and hope, we are facing a precipice”, he stressed.

It could not be lost on the Assembly that the very State created by its own resolution continued to deny the existence of the nation of Palestine and the rights of its people.  That injustice must be directly and urgently redressed.  Despite Israel’s intransigence, he said, the Palestinian leadership remained committed to the two‑State solution on the basis of pre‑1967 borders and committed to the peace process.  “We now renew our appeal for Member States to stand with us” and answer the call of history, he urged, adding, “a historic moment is before Member States to act to uphold the Charter and their legal obligations”.  Israel, for its part, must prove that it was a peace‑loving State and that it was ready to abandon its “occupier mentality”.  Further calling on Member States to find the political will and the courage to uphold their responsibilities to fulfil the promise made to the Palestinian people, he stressed that the international community’s role was pivotal.  “We are at a crossroads”, he said, but the “window of opportunity was narrowing”.  Action was needed now.

MAGED ABDEL AZIZ (Egypt) speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People was an opportunity to solidify international commitment to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.  That included the formation of an independent, sovereign, and viable state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, based on the two‑State solution in accordance with the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, the Madrid principles and the Arab Peace Initiative.  He condemned Israel for continuing to pursue its illegal settlement activities along with many other illegal policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  “All indications at the present time — from the provocative declarations, to accelerated construction on the ground, to the continued revocation of Palestinian residency rights — are confirming that Israel chooses settlements over peace, continues to choose occupation and conflict at the expense of the future of both peoples and the region as a whole.” 

He called for United Nations agencies to demand that Israel to abide by its legal obligations.  “Israel’s impunity must not continue to be tolerated,” he said, adding that Israel must abide by all of its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and United Nations resolutions.  That included the immediate cessation of all settlement activities and full respect for the international consensus on the issue.  He re‑emphasized the need for reconstruction of Gaza and called on Israel to open all its crossing points with Gaza and allow for the sustained and regular movement of persons and goods.  He strongly condemned the continued detention and imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails, where ill‑treatment and torture were widely used.

Israel was not committed to the path of peace, to the two‑State solution, and to the provisions of international law essential for justly and completely resolving the conflict, he said.  It was imperative that Israel respect its legal obligations and resume direct negotiations towards achieving the two‑State solution on the basis of Security Council resolutions.  He called on the international community to exert all efforts to compel Israel to abide by its obligations and commitments, bring the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 to an end and achieve the independence of the State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.

IOANNIS VRAILAS, Deputy Head of the European Union delegation, said the fundamental changes witnessed across the Arab world in recent months had made the need for progress in the Middle East peace process all the more urgent.  Recent events had indeed shown the necessity of heeding the legitimate aspirations of peoples in the region, including those of Palestinians for statehood and of Israelis for security.  He reiterated the appeal to the parties to resume negotiations under the terms and within the timelines indicated in the Quartet Statement of 23 September, and reaffirmed the Union’s clear position with regard to parameters, principles and issues.

He said the European Union deplored the recent Israeli decisions to advance settlement expansion in Gilo and Givat Hamatos, and accelerate construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which ran counter to the Quartet’s efforts.  He welcomed the presentation of the Palestinian National Development Plan 2011‑2013 on Governance, Economy, Social Development and Infrastructure, and stressed the need for continued international support for Palestinian State‑building.  He called for full implementation and complementary measures to achieve a fundamental change of policy allowing the reconstruction and economic recovery of Gaza, including through exports.  The Union was also very concerned at the renewed exchange of fire in the Gaza Strip and the south of Israel following the firing of rockets by Islamic Jihad from Gaza into Israel.  The Union wholeheartedly condemned the indiscriminate targeting of civilians wherever they were, and called on all sides to respect the ceasefire brokered by Egypt.

He reiterated the Union’s readiness to contribute substantially to a comprehensive and sustainable solution comprising the State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, and mutual recognition.

DOCTOR MASHANBE (South Africa), speaking also on behalf of India and Brazil, urged resumption of negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and commended the Palestinian leadership and people for their institution-building efforts.  Occupation, he said, was the single most important obstacle to economic development in Palestine, and peace prospects were dimmer, in light of Israel’s unabated settlement building, especially in East Jerusalem, which threatened “the very feasibility of a two-State solution”.  He strongly urged Israel to cease settlement activity, including “natural growth”, saying recent announcements, in that regard, were more deplorable, given that they came days after the Quartet’s call on parties “to refrain from provocative actions and abide by their international obligations under the Road Map”.

He welcomed the Quartet’s efforts to resume direct talks, hoping for comprehensive proposals on borders and security, and called for close monitoring of the Quartet’s activities through regular reporting to the Security Council.  The humanitarian situation in Gaza remained a cause for concern, he said, urging Israel to completely lift the blockade and expressing hope for concrete steps in that direction following the recent prisoner exchange.  He supported and appreciated mediation efforts aimed at domestic Palestinian reconciliation and urged participation from all interested parties.  He outlined projects supported by the India, Brazil and South Africa Trust Fund, which included a Palestinian Youth Sports League, the partial reconstruction of a Red Crescent hospital in Gaza and a recently inaugurated multi-purpose sports centre in Ramallah.

BASHAR JA'AFARI (Syria) called for an end to the tragedy of the Palestinian people, who suffered daily from six decades of occupation, murder and racism.  The “international legitimacy” had this morning renewed an expression of solidarity with the Palestinian peoples, and such solidarity and support had a special significance, especially after the Palestinian application to the United Nations to become a full-fledged Member State.  That presaged dire consequences in view of the continued State terrorism practised by Israel, the occupying Power, in the occupied territories, its continued policies of aggression and racism, and the systematic violations of rights in blatant defiance and cynical disregard for the will of the international community.

He said those actions placed the entire international community before an “acid test”, and greatly undermined the prestige and credibility of the United Nations itself and the principles that underpinned it.  It was no longer acceptable for the United Nations to stand idly by and fail to assume its responsibilities for the question of Palestine.  The Organization still had a chance to prove it was capable of preventing a small number of States that protected Israel from obstructing the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.  He affirmed the need for the “international legitimacy” to take concrete and serious steps compelling Israel to put an end to the “killing machine” and settlement activities, lift the embargo, end the occupation of the territories, and return to the pre-1967 borders.

AHMED AL-JARMAN (United Arab Emirates), noting that his Government had always supported regional and international endeavours made so far, including by the Quartet, to achieve a permanent settlement for the Palestinian issue, expressed deep concern at the continued breakdown in peace negotiations.  They had reached a stalemate because of repeated breaches by the Israeli Government of the simplest legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the principles of peace accords.  He called on the international community to compel Israel to immediately stop all its violations, particularly its illegitimate settlement campaign.  It must also remove and dismantle existing settlements, including the separation wall, and stop all provocative acts, including home demolitions, confiscation of land and properties, expulsions of original Arab inhabitants and the endangerment of sacred sites.

He called for the strengthening of the important role of the United Nations, especially that of the Security Council, including by holding Israel accountable for its illegal actions and determining the extent to which it complied with relevant international resolutions, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Affirming his Government’s support for Palestine’s full membership in the United Nations, he said that request neither contradicted the peace process, nor weakened its prospects.  He further called on the international community to impose concrete solutions that would ensure the lifting of Israel’s siege of Gaza and the release of Palestinian political prisoners.  He welcomed the Palestinian Reconciliation Agreement and stressed the importance of Israel’s transfer of tax proceeds to the Palestinian authority without delay.  The international community must increase economic, financial and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH A ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that, after six decades, the question of Palestine remained on the agenda of the United Nations and the international community had not yet been able to end the occupation.  That absence of political resolve had led Israel to become “even more arrogant”, to continue its aggressive policies and actions and to prevent the Palestinian people from exercising their basic rights.  Israel continued to exploit the absence of any condemnation by the United Nations.  That intransigence, in light of its occupying activities, its siege of Gaza and its detainment of Palestinians showed its sense of being “above the law” and “above any responsibility”.  Israel’s unilateral policies, aimed at changing the demographic on the ground, were the reason for the failure of negotiations; they made peace impossible and perpetuated the suffering of the Palestinian people.

The hopeless conditions of the Palestinians must not be allowed to continue, he stressed, calling for the international community to help ensure a life of dignity for the Palestinian people.  Israel’s goal of safety and security for its people would not be met as long as it remained the occupying Power in the region.  It must be pressured to comply with relevant United Nations resolutions, as well as with the Quartet Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.  Kuwait reiterated its solidarity with the Palestinian people, in particular, in support of their right to establish their own State.  Kuwait fully supported Palestine’s request for admission to the United Nations.  It also looked forward to Israel’s compliance with Security Council resolution 242 (1967) and its withdrawal from the occupied Syrian Golan, as well as its respect for the sovereignty of Lebanon and its airspace.

RON PROSOR (Israel) said there was a “drought of candour” in the Assembly’s discussion of the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict, and the real facts in the Assembly remained few and far between.  While there had been many recent changes across the Middle East, changes in the annual resolution condemning Israel were rare, with much of the text dating back five decades.  Indeed, the account heard today was one‑sided, unilateral, unjust and unhelpful.  It presented a distorted version of history, transforming the cause of Palestinian self‑determination into a deliberate attempt to defame and delegitimize the State of Israel.  “Every November, the leaves change colours in New York, but the automatic anti‑Israel majority never changes its votes,” he said, asking: “Is this the message that the General Assembly would want to send to the world?”

He recalled that, in 1964, the United Nations had in fact voted to partition Palestine into two States for two people, a plan that had been accepted by Israel.  However, the Arab inhabitants had rejected the plan, launching a “war of annihilation” against the new Jewish State in which a staggering 1 per cent of its population had perished.  As a result of that war, both Palestinians and Jewish refugees had fled.  However, the Jewish refugees had been absorbed into Israeli society, whereas the Palestinian refugees were not.  They had fled across the region, to a vast number of Middle Eastern countries, where they lacked even the most basic rights.  However, those facts were not reflected in the resolutions before the Assembly today.

The basic question that continued to underlie the conflict for 64 years was:  “Has the Arab World — particularly the Palestinians — internalized that Israel is here to stay and will remain the Nation‑State of the Jewish people?” he said.  Two months ago, President Abbas had stood in the very Hall where he stood today, trying to erase the unbroken connection between Israel and the Jewish people.  He had referred to biblical references to two monotheistic religions, not three.  However, the resolution that gave 29 November significance, resolution 181 (II), had spoken of the creation of a Jewish State no fewer than 25 times.  Arab leaders still refused to make reference to that fact or to utter the words “two States for two people”.

He said that while the fact that Israel would be flooded with millions of Palestinian refugees was a well known “non‑starter”, the Palestinian people refused to acknowledge it.  Moreover, the so‑called right to return was, and would remain, the major obstacle to peace.  For decades, the Assembly had rubber‑stamped every Palestinian “whim”; its lip service had only done a disservice to the cause of peace.  The lessons learned were clear:  bilateral negotiations, which addressed the concerns of both parties, were the only route to two States for two peoples, living side by side in security.  Time and again, Israel had extended its hand in peace to the Palestinians, and he recalled the recent address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Assembly’s general debate.  Mr. Prosor urged the Palestinians to “give up the false idol of unilateralism, and get back to the real, hard work of negotiations”.

The three conditions issued by the Quartet to Hamas, a major Palestinian political party, “set the bar very low”:  that it must renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by previous agreements.  At no point had Hamas satisfied those conditions.  There could be no adjustments, no bargaining, no “holiday discounts” on those conditions, in the Assembly Hall or any other place. 

“It is the words not spoken that speak volumes,” he continued, noting what he termed a lack of solidarity on the part of the Assembly with millions who suffered across the Middle East.  It showed no solidarity with the millions of Israelis that lived under the constant threat of violent attacks, with Israeli children who feared rockets or with those who were victims of brutal Hamas rule — under which political opponents were tortured, women were subjugated, and children were used as suicide bombers.  There was no solidarity with those in the Middle East who were slaughtered in the pursuit of peace across the region.  Today the people of the region demanded real answers to their plight, not the fiction that Israel was responsible for all the problems in the region.

Sustainable peace must take root in homes, in schools and media that taught tolerance.  It must come from a Palestinian leadership willing to tell its people about difficult compromises that they would have to make for statehood.  It would come through the hard work of State‑building, not the old habit of State‑bashing.  None of those truths had been spoken today, he said, adding that “the truth can be a burden”.  Nevertheless, he called on the Assembly to bring a new light to the long‑standing debate.  He hoped that it would embrace pragmatic solutions, speak with candour and glean truth from the historic day of 29 November.

NAWAF SALAM (Lebanon) said the 1948 resolution partitioning Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem as a separate entity, was unfair to Arabs, because the Arab population was double that of the Jews.  Data showed that while 93 per cent of the land of Palestine had been owned by the Arabs, the Jews had been given 55 per cent of that land, meaning that only a third of the people, who had historically only possessed 7 per cent of the land, now possessed more than half.  It was logical, therefore, that Arabs would reject that decision.  It was also normal that the Palestinians would come back and accept resolution 181 as a reference point, as set out in the 1988 Algeria declaration on the establishment of a Palestinian State.  It was also normal that the two‑State solution would be the cornerstone of the new peace initiative.

He said that the Palestinians had agreed to establish their State on only 22 per cent of the land of Palestine.  However the establishment of a Palestinian State was not a negotiable right.  The question was how to achieve productive negotiations as long as the Israeli leadership did not stop settlements, did not allow the return of refugees, did not accept the 1967 borders as a reference point, and would not negotiate the status of Jerusalem.

GRETA GUNNARSDOTTIR (Iceland), aligning herself with the statement made on behalf of the European Union, informed the Assembly about a resolution passed earlier by the Icelandic Parliament, with broad support and no negative votes, entrusting the Icelandic Government to recognize Palestine as an independent and sovereign State within the “pre‑Six Day War” borders.  The matter now rested with the Icelandic Government, she said.

TRIYONO WIBOWO (Indonesia), associating with the Non‑Aligned Movement, drew attention to the “unsettling and depressing” picture of developments relating to the question of Palestine over the last year.  The hopes nursed last year of positive developments leading to a resolution of the conflict had simply evaporated.  The United States‑sponsored proximity talks had failed.  Israel’s settlement practices made the already bad situation worse.  Aimed at altering the demographic composition, physical character and status of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, those settlement practices remained a blatant violation of international law.  In addition to its obnoxious settlement policy, Israel had continued the illegal construction of the separation wall and continued to maintain a grip on Gaza through a well‑controlled blockade that had seen little easing.  Years after the conflict there, the importation of essential supplies and reconstruction materials remained almost impossible.

He said his country was pleased that the Palestinian Authority’s state‑building programme continued to advance, he said.  It strongly supported Palestine’s application for United Nations membership.  Noting that Israel’s dogged resistance to progress that was seen over the last year coincided with the Arab Spring, he stressed that Palestine would not be immune to the message.  If Israel truly wished to resolve the conflict, it must work within the dictates of international rule, not its own narrow self interests.  Moreover, to break the current deadlock, all parties must show the necessary leadership, courage and responsibility to arrive at a mutually agreeable and lasting peace that would resolve all final status issues.  At the same time, a truly comprehensive and lasting peace required a solution that included the Israel‑Lebanon and Israel‑Syria tracks on the basis of relevant Council resolutions.

OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ (Cuba) observed that the Assembly had been unable to reverse the occupation of the Palestinian Territory by Israel, which had defied the international community with its constant violations of international law and United Nations resolutions.  Israel had not heeded the calls of international leaders to stop those actions, he said, adding that the situation had continued its “downward spiral” since the Assembly had last convened to address the matter.

He said that Israel had continued its illegal settlement activities in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and had ignored its international obligations, as well as the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  Further, it had failed to protect civilians living in the Gaza Strip, and attacks continued to be carried out against civilians by Israeli soldiers.  Those were only a few of the facts that underscored the gravity of the situation.

Indeed, there were ample reasons to adopt binding political measures against Israel in the Security Council, which remained “inert” in the face of Israel’s violations.  He further noted the hypocrisy and double standards imposed by a number of developed countries that claimed to defend human rights.  The United States, for one, refused to condemn Israel’s actions, whereas the countries of the global South did so.  Cuba roundly condemned those crimes; its position in that respect was unwavering.  It further supported the establishment of a Palestinian State, as well as Palestine’s request to join the United Nations.  Cuba condemned the illegal settlement construction and the imposition of “arbitrary and racist restrictions” throughout the occupied territories, among other transgressions.

Nevertheless, Cuba recognized the right of Israel to exist, and harboured fraternal feelings towards the Israeli people, who were also the victims of the same conflict.  Finally, the inclusion of Palestine as a United Nations Member State, and its full recognition, must be accomplished “with or without” the support of the Security Council, and with or without a United States veto.

LYUTHA AL-MUGHAIRY (Oman) said the Palestinian people remained under occupation and their situation worsened by the day as a result of the oppressive systematic practices by “the occupying Power”.  The international community could not remain silent and allow that situation to continue.  Now, in the sixth decade of the occupation, the Palestinians nevertheless remained undiscouraged and continued to claim their legitimate rights.  This year marked the sixty‑fourth anniversary of the adoption of resolution 181 by the United Nations on the division of the land of Palestine into two States in 1947.  The Palestinian people aspired to have the international community protect them from the inhuman, illegal and arbitrary acts undertaken by the successive Israeli Governments since that time.

She said that the international community should send a clear message to Israel to stop those policies.  Genuine negotiations were needed, leading to the establishment of security and stability on the principle of land for peace, Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), and the Arab initiative.  She sought the establishment of a Palestinian State based on the 4 June 1967 borders and its recognition as a full member of the United Nations.  That would lead to a just and comprehensive solution to the Arab‑Israeli conflict.  Oman had been one of the first countries to welcome the peace process and considered it a natural and civilized approach to settling the differences.

Right of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Iran said he had heard a baseless allegation against his country by the Zionist regime that based its own practices on State terrorism, torture and violence, and he said he wished to place on record that such remarks were a preposterous and well-worn practice by that regime to distract the international community’s attention from its own heinous crimes in the region.  There were rarely any human rights principles that were not systematically violated by the Israeli regime.  The regime had no respect for the basic values of the civilized world, nor did it respect basic human rights. It was high time for the international community to counter the Israeli regime’s inhuman polices and practices in imposing humanitarian disaster on the Palestinian people throughout the Palestinian Territory.

Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Kuwait said the delegate of Israel had said that Kuwait had expelled Palestinians in the 1990s, when in fact many had left the country as a result of the Iraq war and not because they had been expelled.  Palestinians expelled by Israel had amounted to more than 4 million refugees living in the Occupied Territory and neighbouring Arab States.  UNRWA had been established to assist the Palestinians, and Israel was now seeking feverishly to plunder more territories in blatant defiance of all international law and pertinent resolutions.

The representative of Syria also took the floor in exercise of the right of reply, saying that Israel’s delegate had been distressed by the fact that the General Assembly was celebrating solidarity with the Palestinian people.  To that delegate, all sentiments in support of the rights of the Palestinians were biased against Israel and a futile effort that served no useful purpose and added no value because they did not support Israeli aggression and occupation.  It seemed that Israel’s isolation in this serious debate had left its delegate with no alternative except to fabricate and expand the scope of the discussion beyond the limits and beyond the question of Palestine, in order to divert attention away from the crux of the matter, which was its oppression of the Palestinian people “around the clock” in a way that was indescribable.

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