Organizational session for 1998

General segment


Held at Headquarters, New York,

on Thursday, 23 July 1998, at 3 p.m.


















The meeting was called to order at 3.05 p.m.



Ms. SIBAL (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) referred to General Assembly resolution 52/170 calling on the agencies of the United Nations to assist in the development of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  UNESCO had worked closely with the Palestine Liberation Organization and through Palestinian institutions to that end, as documented in paragraphs 49 to 51 of the Secretary-General's report on assistance to the Palestinian people (A/53/153).

She also wished to inform the Council that, in the context of the agenda item entitled "Bethlehem 2000" proposed for the plenary of the fifty-third session of the General Assembly, her Organization, in cooperation with other agencies, organizations and Governments, had developed an emergency action plan for Bethlehem financed by the Government of Italy, involving some 100 projects in the areas of cultural heritage, infrastructure, the economy and tourism.  A donor's conference had been held in May with the participation of more than 600 representatives of Governments, the private sector and religious communities.  She hoped that with the support of Italy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank, the project could be implemented in the near future and contribute to the preservation of the heritage of Bethlehem and the surrounding area.

Mr. AMMARIN (Jordan) said that the signing of the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel on 26 October 1994 had signalled a new beginning in a region adversely affected by decades of wars and armed conflict.  Designed by able men and women who believed in a just and lasting peace that would serve future generations, it represented a model for regional cooperation for development. The signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993 and the relevant agreements had also marked a new beginning for the peoples of Palestine and Israel, paving the path towards a better future.

The United Nations had repeatedly emphasized the position of Member States on the illegal establishment of Israeli settlements on the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem.  The report of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ECSWA) accurately reflected current conditions in the occupied territories including Jerusalem, and in the Syrian Golan, as a result of the continued illegal building of Israeli settlements and noted the deliberate Israeli policy of changing the demographic nature of occupied east Jerusalem, contrary to the provisions of numerous United Nations resolutions.

In the interest of peace and security, he called on the Israeli Government to comply with all agreements, not to embark on any policy that prejudged the final status of the negotiations and to halt the construction of settlements in all occupied territories.

Mr. COHEN (Israel) said that he regretted the time lost in redundant debate on a report that did not reflect reality.  Indeed, the report was an obstacle to the commitment undertaken by both Palestinians and Israelis to resolve the conflict only through bilateral exchanges.  The Oslo Accord expressly forbade either party from unilaterally attempting to influence issues like settlements which had been reserved for the final status talks.  The Secretary-General's report and note (A/53/153-E/1998/75 and A/153/163-E/1998/79) which tried to use outside frameworks to influence the factors in discussion, could directly endanger the peace process and it would be regrettable if otherwise helpful Governments were to associate themselves with that report and thereby exclude themselves from the opportunity to play a constructive role in the peace process.

The report was outdated and obviously one-sided; ninety-eight per cent of Palestinians were living under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.  Furthermore, Israelis and Palestinians had begun many cooperative ventures to improve the economic and social conditions for Palestinians, including joint agricultural, environmental and health projects.

Following a number of suicide bombings in Israeli cities during early 1996, the number of work permits granted to Palestinians for employment in Israel had fallen to 22,000, but despite the failure of the Palestinian Authority to curb terrorism, Israel had taken risks to improve the Palestinian economy by issuing nearly 60,000 work permits, with the result that Palestinian earnings in Israel accounted for 40 per cent of the income of the Gaza Strip and 23 per cent of the income in the West Bank, and GNP had grown 5 per cent from 1996 to 1997.  In addition, truck traffic leaving the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, controlled by Israel, had grown by 32 per cent as a result of Israeli efforts to streamline crossing procedures, stimulating Palestinian exports.

Anyone who supported Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation and peaceful coexistence would oppose the report.  He regretted that ESCWA and the United Nations had squandered an opportunity to encourage peace by producing an inaccurate report which would probably hinder the peace process they claimed to support.  He hoped that the good will of both peoples would nevertheless prevail.

Mr. DONOKUSUMO (Observer for Indonesia) said that a critical juncture in the history of the Middle East region had been reached, with the peace process stalemated, the economic and social ordeal of the Palestinian people continuing and the deteriorating situation on the ground, as chronicled in the ESCWA report.

Aggressive Israeli settlement was a major obstacle to Palestinian socio-economic development and undermined the viability of a future Palestinian state.  The Tenth Emergency Special Session had unequivocally condemned Israel's settlement activities in the south of East Jerusalem as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, of 1949, international law and relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.  Those illegal settlements had also severely reduced Palestinian agricultural lands, resulting in loss of agricultural income as well as increased unemployment.

Israel was exploiting water resources in the occupied territories for its own population while restricting the consumption of that basic necessity for Palestinians, denying the inherent sovereign right of Palestinians to use their natural resources.  Israeli-owned factories in the occupied territories were subject to far less stringent environmental regulations than those in the State of Israel, leading to a high ratio of health-related problems, especially for those living near the industrial sites.

He pointed out that frequent closures had led to delays in the flow of goods into the territory and affected the production of goods, income generation, marketing and employment, and were undeniably a major factor in the dismal economic figures contained in the ESCWA report.

Given the economic and social situation, the United Nations system must continue to play its significant role in alleviating the plight of the Palestinian people and contributing to the formidable and challenging task of nation-building.  Indeed, it was crucial for the entire international community to extend every assistance in promoting the development which provided the basis for an enduring and stable peace.  His delegation reaffirmed its unwavering support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and their quest for a secure and flourishing independent homeland.

Mr. AL-HASSAN (Oman) expressed his concern at the worsening situation in the occupied territories.  He pointed out that it was Israel's duty as the occupying Power to respect international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and to protect the lives and livelihood of the Palestinian people.  Continued confiscations, restrictive measures, lack of access to water resources and increased pollution had all contributed to the plight of the Palestinian and other Arab peoples in the occupied territories.  He called on Israel to put an end to such measures and to demonstrate the political will to achieve peace through constructive action.

Mr. HAMDAN (Lebanon) echoed the misgivings expressed by the Observer for Palestine about report A/53/163-E/1998/79.  He added that great care must be taken in the terminology used in discussions of the issue because the political and the international law aspects of the issue, both of which were important, must be clearly distinguished.

He noted in connection with restrictions on housing construction that Israel's persistent policy had prohibited Arabs, even in Arab areas in Israel itself, from restoring their own old dwellings, and as a consequence the occupants had no alternative but to sell or leave when the buildings became dangerous; in effect, the buildings were confiscated.  If they were renovated or restored without permission, they would be demolished.

Paragraph 49 of report A/53/163-E/1998/79 referred inter alia to a deal whereby a private company, "McDonalds", obtained potatoes from a kibbutz in the Golan Heights.  Such economic involvement by private firms in occupied territories as clearly against the norms of international law, as repeatedly reaffirmed in General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, and all States should exact the legislation necessary to prohibit their private companies from becoming involved in such activities, which were detrimental to the interests and welfare of the people living under occupation.

Mr. AZAIEZ (Tunisia) said that authors of the ECSWA report had done a good job, considering the difficulties in obtaining the information they needed in the occupied territories which, he noted, included southern Lebanon.  Even so, the report was sufficient to give the lie to the utopian picture of the occupied territories painted by the representative of the occupying Power.

Tunisia demanded that the occupying Power should abide strictly by the Geneva Conventions in its treatment of the civilian population, that the United Nations should continue providing all forms of assistance to the Palestinian population until their legitimate rights were restored, and that the Council should keep the question of Palestine on its agenda until the Israeli occupation ended, the Palestinian people had their rights as a people restored and the other territories occupied by Israel had been liberated.

Mr. JILANI (Observer for Palestine) said that the report prepared by ESCWA had divided the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, into separate parts.  At the same time, the Council, in paragraph 1 of its resolution 1997/67, had stressed the need to preserve the territorial integrity of all of the occupied Palestinian territory.  While the need for separate statistics was understandable, it was incomprehensible that Jerusalem should at times be treated as if it was separate from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory.

The report used the terms "the West Bank and Gaza Strip" and "the areas" to refer to the occupied Palestinian territory.  Those terms were foreign to the language used in United Nations resolutions and reports, and his delegation rejected their use.  It wished to point out once more that the Council's resolutions and all the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly used the expression "the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem".  The report submitted to the Council under the present agenda item should also be separate from that submitted to the General Assembly under the item on permanent sovereignty over natural resources.

Those comments did not, however, diminish the importance of the report or of the information and figures it gave to illustrate the devastating impact of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan.  The report conveyed the scale and gravity of the Israeli colonization policy, as represented in particular by the building of settlements, the expropriation of land and the exploitation of the water resources of the occupied Palestinian territory for the benefit of Israel and of the settlers.

By at the end of 1998, more than 350,000 Israeli settlers would be living in more than 200 settlements established in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967.  The entire international community had condemned the Israeli building policies and practices and had declared them to be unlawful and a major impediment to the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace in the region.  They also violated the relevant United Nations resolutions and the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

In parallel with the policy of building settlements, the Israeli Government was also pursuing a policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinians.  The report indicated that 233 homes had been demolished in 1997 and 290 between January 1997 and March 1998.  A report by the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem indicated that 322 orders for the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem had been issued and that more than 1,000 homes were targeted for demolition by the Netanyahu Government.  The Government was also continuing to confiscate the identity documents of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem as part of its overall policy of creating a Jewish majority in East Jerusalem and thus judaizing the Holy City.  The recent decision by the Israeli Government to expand the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem in order to annex a number of Israeli settlements to the municipal administration had been taken in the same context.  In addition to their social and economic repercussions, those policies and practices also were aimed at destroying the peace process.

The Israeli Government had rejected the proposals made by the United States with a view to reviving the peace process.  The Palestinians had accepted them, despite the fact that they had been Israeli ideas put in the form of American proposals and were much closer to the Israeli position than to that of the Palestinians.  The Israeli Prime Minister was continuing to use all possible means to postpone and evade the fulfilment of his obligations and compliance with the agreements concluded, using flimsy excuses and false allegations that had destroyed his credibility even in Israel.

The international community must take appropriate measures, as dictated by moral and legal responsibility, to bring a halt those policies and practices and thus salvage the last chance for peace.

Mr. A'ALA (Observer for the Syrian Arab Republic) said that there was a consensus in the international community that the question of development should be placed at the top of the agenda of the organizations of the United Nations system.  The situation under consideration was one on the threshold of the twenty-first century, that still represented a manifest threat to international peace and security and a serious obstacle to genuine efforts for peace and development in the Middle East.

The continuation of the Israeli occupation was impeding sustainable development and obstructing the improvement of the economic environment in the region, not to speak of the devastating impact it had on the living conditions of Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan and of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory.  It was self-evident that the illegal practices of the occupation authorities had adverse repercussions on levels of investment and productivity and that they had perpetuated distortions and structural imbalances in the economic and social milieu of the occupied territories.

The ESCWA report presented many examples of Israeli practices in the occupied Arab territories, including Jerusalem, that were in violation of international law and of the resolutions of the United Nations.  Israel provided incentives for Israelis to settle in the occupied Golan while the living conditions of Syrian citizens there were deteriorating because of the settlements established, the restrictions imposed on educational opportunities and means of livelihood and the manifold and unjust taxation policies.

Israeli restrictions had resulted in a reduction in the area of land cultivated by Syrian citizens, particularly irrigated land, and in a decrease in the productivity of land under cultivation.  Many residents had been obliged to refrain from investing in agricultural or industrial projects and to leave for other locations.

Since the Israeli Government had taken office, the policy of encouraging Israeli settler colonialism in all the Arab territories occupied in 1967 had been stepped up and the Israeli Prime Minister had persisted in pursuing policies that were inimical to peace.

The "Golan 2000" programme mentioned in the report had the objective of increasing the number of settlers by some 10,000 over the next four years.  Israel was continuing to violate international law and the resolutions of the United Nations in its sustained effort to judaize the City of Jerusalem and to cut it off from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory.  Its recent decision to expand the City's municipal boundaries and the ongoing settlement activities at Jabal Abu Ghneim provided clear evidence of a policy of rejecting and evading the principles on which the peace process was based.

The resolutions of the Security Council, including its resolution 497 (1981), had expressed the position of the international community with regard to the occupation and had affirmed that Israel's decision to annex the Golan was null and void.  The Israeli Knesset had nevertheless adopted a bill opposing any withdrawal from the Golan or from any other territory annexed by Israel, thereby defying the will of the international community and contributing anew to the destruction of the peace process.

The persistence of the Israeli Government in adopting an approach that was inimical to peace, its continued evasion of its obligations and of the undertakings given at previous stages of the peace process and its rejection of the principles on which the peace process was based did nothing to promote peace in the Middle East or support efforts to advance development in the region.  The achievement of a just and lasting peace was the only way to guarantee security and thus ensure the success of efforts for that genuine and sustainable development that the United Nations had placed at the top of its agenda.

The Syrian Arab Republic had always maintained a firm position with regard to the principles on which the peace process was based, namely, the implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace.  That required complete Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied Arab territories, including the Golan, to the line of 4 June 1967, and from southern Lebanon and the western Bekaa, as well as a guarantee of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people.

Mr. FATTAH (Observer for Egypt) said that the ESCWA report again revealed the fact that Israel, the occupying Power, did not respect the norms of international law, the Fourth Geneva Convention or the relevant United Nations resolutions, all of which prohibited the occupying Power from transferring its civilian population to the territories under occupation and from exploiting the natural resources of those territories.

Israel's most injurious practice in the territories it occupied was its exploitation of the water resources.  The occupation authorities were also preventing Palestinians from using those resources, to the clear detriment of economic development in general and agricultural development in particular.  The areas of the occupied territories cultivated by Jewish settlers were seven to 13 times larger than those cultivated by Palestinians.

Control of water resources was a major reason for Israel's intransigence and its refusal to return the territories it was occupying.  It was not a matter of security or of ideology, but of Israel's plans to have dominion over the water resources of the Jordan River and the West Bank aquifer.

The Israeli authorities treated the West Bank as an enormous dump for the disposal of industrial and other waste, and Israeli companies disposed of waste there without regard for the fact that the territories were protected by international law and subject to the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Israel was seeking locations relatively remote from its own population centres for the disposal of the waste produced by Israeli society.  That was a practice that must be rejected by all members of the Council, as it had previously been rejected by the General Assembly in a number of its resolutions.

The Israeli policy of routinely closing areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority was causing obvious damage to the Palestinian economy, exacerbating unemployment in an already weakened economy and consequently having an adverse impact on the living conditions of the Palestinian people.

The practices of the Israeli Government in the occupied Syrian Golan revealed that it was endeavouring to perpetuate its occupation by establishing economic enterprises and granting Jewish settlers privileges and exemptions in order to induce them to settle there.

His delegation had hoped that, at its current session, the Council might consider ways of improving the economic and social conditions of the Palestinian people in the event the peace process had continued in the manner intended. Regrettably, however, the deterioration in the peace process over the past two years and the persistence of the Government of Israel in perpetuating his illegal presence in the occupied Arab territories by means of settlement in violation of all the relevant norms of international law, required that the Council should submit to the General Assembly a new draft resolution calling on Israel once more to honour its international obligations as the occupying Power.


The meeting rose at 5.30 p.m.

Document symbol: E/1998/SR.40
Document Type: Summary record
Document Sources: Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
Subject: Assistance, Bethlehem 2000, Economic issues, Golan Heights, Jerusalem, Living conditions, Settlements, Water
Publication Date: 23/07/1998