SETBACKS TO MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS ARE DEPLORED AT GENEVA NGO SYMPOSIUM ON QUESTION OF PALESTINE19970826 Violence and Israeli Counter-Measures Seen as Obstacles; PLO Office Says Millions of Dollars Lost Daily through Closing of Territory
GENEVA, 25 August (UN Information Service) -- The fledgling Middle East peace process was at the centre of discussion this morning at the opening session of a four-day symposium focusing on the role of non-governmental organizations in ending 30 years of occupation of Palestinian territory.
Opening the annual United Nations International NGO Meeting/European NGO Symposium on Palestine, Vladimir Petrovsky, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, read a message from Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressing concern over setbacks in the peace process. Mr. Petrovsky recalled that, in a recent report to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General had drawn attention to the deteriorating political and security situation, as well as to the negative impact of the Israeli settlement activities and the various Israeli measures affecting the rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied territory.
Ibra Deguene Ka (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the Committee had followed with distress and concern the erosion in the peace process, and the growing tension and violence on the ground since last year. The Committee believed that the measures imposed by Israel following the recent bombing in Jerusalem were a form of collective punishment.
As'ad Abdul-Rahman, Special Representative to President Yasir Arafat and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, said the Israeli closure of the Palestinian territory had adversely affected the economic situation, causing the daily loss of millions of dollars.
Also addressing the meeting were Don Betz, Chairman of the International Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine; John Gee, Chairman of the European Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine; Herman Leonard de Silva (Sri Lanka), Chairman of the United Nations Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories; Said
Kamal, Assistant Secretary-General for Palestinian Affairs of the Arab League; Abdelaziz Abou Ghosh, of the Islamic Conference Organization; and Venant Wege Nzomwita, of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
VLADIMIR PETROVSKY, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, read out a message from Secretary-General Kofi Annan (for full text, see Press Release SG/SM/6306-PAL/1841 of 25 August). The Secretary-General, he said, was firmly committed to strengthening the partnership between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations. The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, for its part, was to be commended for having recognized, since its inception, the important role that could be played by non-governmental organizations.
The Secretary-General, he went on, shared the grave concern of the international community over the setbacks in the peace process; it was regrettable that the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations had been deadlocked for several months now, for reasons of which the international community was well aware. In his report to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General drew attention to the deteriorating political and security situation, as well as the negative impact of the Israeli settlement activities and the various Israeli measures affecting the rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied territory.
The Secretary-General had repeatedly condemned in the strongest possible terms all acts of terrorism aimed at innocent civilians, of which the bombing in Jerusalem was the most recent; that cowardly act undermined and derailed the peace process. He had also underlined the need for a commitment by the Israeli Government to eschew unilateral acts which had the effect of pre- empting the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Measures that could be perceived as collective punishment against the Palestinian people were not conducive to understanding between negotiating partners; cooperation between the two parties would produce trust and confidence upon which progress in the peace process could be built.
IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that June 1997 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem. For 30 years, over 2 million Palestinians had lived with the constant threats to their security, freedoms and economic well-being posed by closures and roadblocks; military raids and arbitrary detention; land confiscation and the building of settlements; seizure of water resources; destruction of homes; separation of families; and the stifling of their economy.
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He said the Committee had followed with distress and concern the erosion in the peace process and the growing tension and violence on the ground since last year. According to the timetable laid down in the Oslo Declaration of Principles, Israeli withdrawals from the occupied territories should have taken place at regular intervals, and permanent-status negotiations should be well on their way. Instead, after the positive developments of the first two- and-a-half years after the signing of the Declaration, the Committee was faced with an almost total breakdown of the peace process and a return to many of the policies of the occupation. The measures imposed by Israel following the recent bombing in West Jerusalem, in particular the blockade of the Palestinian territory and the harsh economic measures, were a form of collective punishment. On the one hand, acts of violence against defenceless civilians should be condemned unreservedly. On the other hand, retaliatory measures exacerbated Palestinian suffering, led to increasing despair and were bound to be counterproductive and would not lead to peace.
AS'AD ABDUL-RAHMAN, Special Representative to President Yasir Arafat and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and influential members of his ruling coalition were seeking to put an end to the Oslo Accords. The Israeli closure of the Palestinian territory had adversely affected the economic situation, causing the daily loss of millions of dollars and worsening the already deteriorating living conditions of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Thousands had lost jobs, others businesses, small and large.
As for the Palestinian refugees, who were suffering most, the services of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had been curtailed, bringing transport of goods and supplies to half its former level; curtailing the free movement of UNRWA staff, which affected all services, including education and health; and creating the possibility of having to make emergency food distributions to the refugee camps.
Peace remained the strategic choice of President Arafat, of the Palestinian leadership and of the majority of the people, who would "not allow the fanatic Israeli and Palestinian minorities destroy the joint dream of peace-loving peoples and organizations".
DON BETZ, Chairman of the International Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine, said that since 1984 the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights had made United Nations-NGO relations an integral part of their programme of work in several ways. A "collective sense of outrage" had been stirred by the extended closing of the West Bank and Gaza with the resulting disastrous economic consequences; the progressive isolation of
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Palestinians from access to Jerusalem; the establishment and expansion of settlements; the denial of access to refugees; and the endless incarceration of prisoners.
JOHN GEE, Chairman of the European Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine, said the Israeli Government talked of its desire for peace while expanding the illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories it had occupied for the last 30 years. Those actions were not only a matter of present policy, but should be seen as indicator of the kind of control which Israel intended to retain in its hands in the future.
HERMAN LEONARD DE SILVA (Sri Lanka), Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, said the Palestinian people were currently facing an unprecedented double challenge: a virtual breakdown in the peace process and an escalation of human rights violations on the ground. The hopes entertained during and after the signing of the Oslo peace agreements regarding the continuation of the peace process had now virtually evaporated.
SAID KAMAL, Assistant Secretary-General for Palestinian Affairs of the Arab League, said the continued tensions were caused mainly by the refusal of the Israeli Government to implement the Oslo Accords. It refused to withdraw its military forces from the territories it occupied. It imposed collective punishment and failed to give effect to numerous General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, and had also annexed the Syrian Golan Heights. The Israeli Government must adopt peace and security as a strategic choice and withdraw its forces from Palestine, the Golan and southern Lebanon.
ABDELAZIZ ABOU GHOSH, of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said that since the coming to power of Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel, the situation had deteriorated because of lack of respect for international accords regarding a peaceful settlement. Israeli confiscation of Palestinian lands and destruction of homes only resulted in an escalation of tension that was a dangerous threat to peace.
VENANT WEGE NZOMWITA, of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), said his organization always supported the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination. Durable and just peace could not be achieved until Israel withdrew for the Syrian Golan Heights, southern Lebanon and Palestine. The Israeli decision to build new housing in Palestinian lands represented an obstacle to the peace process; such measures would compromise peace efforts and would lead to further conflict in the region.
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